Twenty20 Cup 2009 May 24, 2009

Counties sharpen their Twenty20 vision

For those who fear Twenty20 is taking over the game, it's probably a good time to look away. No sooner has the IPL come to a finish then the English Twenty20 Cup, albeit a far less glitzy and glamorous event, begins on Monday with plenty at stake for the counties. Individual thoughts will be in the players' minds, too, with a strong season opening the door to the possibility of IPL riches.

Apart from winning the trophy there are other crucial prizes at stake. Firstly comes qualification for next year's P20, the ECB's attempt at competing with the IPL, which will include two divisions, and the top three teams from each group will make up the top division. Then there is the Champions League, postponed from last year after the Mumbai terror attacks, now slated to take place from October 8-23 after the Champions Trophy.

After lengthy negotiations between the ECB and BCCI an agreement has been reached whereby the two finalists can qualify for the event even if they have used ICL players, as long as they have resigned from the ICL by May 31. However, those players wouldn't be allowed to take part in the Champions League itself. Still keeping up?

Of course, this year there is no Stanford match to aim for. Middlesex, last year's winners, who secured the title without any ICL players so therefore qualified for the first Champions League, are still ruing missing out on the chance of taking part in the event. "It would have been great to take part, and who knows we could have come out as champions," captain Shaun Udal said.

Don't rule out a successful defence from them, but they will find it much harder without Owais Shah and Eoin Morgan who are both on England duty for the first stage of qualifying (which is split either side of the ICC World Twenty20). And they no longer have the services of Dirk Nannes, who as been a star at the IPL this year.

Dawid Malan will have to repeat the sort of stunning innings he produced in the quarter-final against Lancashire last year. Will Andrew Strauss find a place in the team when he stands aside from the England captaincy for Paul Collingwood in the ICC World Twenty20?

Given how quickly 20-over cricket has developed at the professional level it's easy to forget that the humble Twenty20 Cup is where it all began back in 2003. During the opening round of matches on June 13 Strauss, captaining Middlesex, hit 52 off 48 balls opening the batting against a Surrey attack that included Martin Bicknell, James Ormond and Azhar Mahmood. Much has happened to Strauss's career since, and much has happened to the game of Twenty20.

Now, the ECB are in danger of being left behind as mainly India, but with support from South Africa and Australia, take the game forward to bigger and more lucrative audiences. Hosting a successful ICC World Twenty20 would help to even the scales a little, but it's at the domestic (or franchise) level that the shortest format has had the biggest impact. And the revolution doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

Title contenders

Somerset - A side with the batting strength of Marcus Trescothick and Justin Langer will always be a threat.

Nottinghamshire - Will be without Ryan Sidebottom and Graeme Swann, but Samit Patel has plenty to prove and their squad has depth.

Gloucestershire - John Bracewell is slowly working his magic again. Hamish Marshall and Craig Spearman can destroy attacks.

Dark horses

Derbyshire - A major blow to lose Charl Langeveldt through injury, but their young allrounders should be competitive.

Glamorgan - This may be the tournament to bring some joy to long-suffering fans. Mark Cosgrove is capable of match-winning displays.

How it works

This year the qualifying stage is split into two sections, either side of the ICC World Twenty20. The top two teams from each of the three groups, plus the two best third-placed sides, will qualify for the quarter-finals from where it becomes knock-out cricket. The quarter-finals take place on July 27, 28, 29 with Finals Day on August 15 at Edgbaston.

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo