More than just a trophy
A preview of Twenty20 Finals Day where the winning county will earn a trip to Antigua and there is still prospect of Champions League places
Kent are the defending champions, but will face stiff competition as they aim to bag a lucrative trip to Antigua
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"Show me the money," hails from the film Jerry Maguire
, but it could just as easily fit with the ECB in recent months. When Allen Stanford landed his helicopter at Lord's in June he offered England's elite players a chance at the biggest payday of the lives. And it hasn't stopped there. Now county cricket gets its slice of the action after it was confirmed the winners
of Saturday's Twenty20 Cup will form part of the Stanford Super Series event in Antigua in October.
The highlight of that tournament is the All-Stars match on November 1, but one successful county will play three matches - against the England XI, Stanford All-Stars and Trinidad and Tobago - with the prospect of a bumper payday if they are successful. If the winning county beats Trinidad and Tobago, the reigning Stanford 20/20 champions, they stand to pocket US$400,000 (£200,000).
It adds even more spice to Finals Day, when defending champions Kent along with Durham, Middlesex and Essex will battle for the big prize. To put into perspective the riches on offer, winning the Twenty20 Cup itself brings a cheque for £42,000.
Even before Stanford's latest proposal, there was a huge financial carrot being dangled in front of the counties with the multi-million dollar Champions League. However, that event continues to be shrouded in doubt with Lalit Modi, the IPL commissioner, maintaining the stance that any team with ICL links wouldn't be invited to join. That would rule out Durham and Kent if either progressed to the Twenty20 final.
It has gone against the odds that two of the three counties without ICL players - Essex and Middlesex - have made it to Finals Day, but even if they both qualify there is still plenty of uncertainly whether the Champions League will get off the ground. The other aspect is that before Stanford's offer, the semi-finals where shaping as the most important matches of the day, but now the result of the final brings more than just the domestic Twenty20 crown.
It's notoriously difficult to pick where the trophy will finish in Twenty20, but Durham have a side packed with international stars and also have the advantage of playing a recent Twenty20 match - the delayed quarter-final where they thrashed Glamorgan. They have managed to retain Shaun Pollock while Shivnarine Chanderpaul gives the top-order an international feel. This will also be Steve Harmison's biggest stage since he was dropped by England.
Essex, though, are the form team going into Finals Day and have played outstanding one-day cricket this season. Graham Napier has become one of the most talked-about players on the circuit, and could yet be tapped up by the IPL following his record-breaking 152 against Sussex. They have a well-balanced team, with Danish Kaneria's legspin being their trump card with the ball.
But you can't discount any defending champions; Kent have the been-there-done-that knowledge of how to succeed on Finals Day. As with all four sides, Kent bat deep into their order but their key weapon, especially when the pressure is on, is the death bowling of Azhar Mahmood and Yasir Arafat. Joe Denly was one of the surprise omissions from England's 30-man Champions Trophy and has another chance to show the talent that has brought him 384 runs this year.
Middlesex are the dark horses of this year's tournament, having had a miserable Twenty20 record since it began in 2003. They have formed a powerful unit and swept all before them during the qualifying stages, yet saved their most impressive performance for the quarter-final against Lancashire. They were 21 for 4 when 20-year-old Dawid Malan played one of the innings of the season with 103 off 54 balls before the bowlers took over. Their five main bowlers have all taken at least 10 wickets, a key to them being able to restrict opposition.
The live music and mascot race which have been part of Twenty20 cricket remain - and like everything in this form of the game the mascot race is bigger this year - but the format has developed out of sight from its early days. No longer is it a bonus trophy, but the path to previously unheard-of riches. This is serious cricket with a serious prize at the end.
Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo