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Part two of the Twenty20 Champions League Preview:

  • The Bangalore Royal Challengers have almost as many South Africans in their squad as the sides representing that country (even without the injured Kevin Pietersen). Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and Dale Steyn all feature, whilst Rahul Dravid demonstrated in this year’s IPL that there’s a role for him in Twenty20 cricket which doesn’t simply involve driving down the run-rate.
  • Somerset‘s preparation has been dominated by Marcus Trescothick’s return to India, with some of the coverage seemingly willing him to suffer a breakdown. Assuming all is well with Trescothick, he and Justin Langer make an experience opening pair, with possible future ‘England’ wicketkeeper Craig Kieswetter also capable of making quick runs. It’s difficult to assess how well the English sides will do, but at first glance it seems a mighty task for Somerset to win the tournament.
  • Sussex have a reasonably balanced side which was impressive during the English domestic Twenty20 Cup, with the batting of Michael Yardy and Ed Joyce and the bowling of James Kirtley particular highlights, with Luke Wright and to some extent Yasir Arafat capable both of adding runs and taking wickets at crucial moments. The side may struggle against some of the millionaire IPL teams, but perhaps greater experience of Twenty20 cricket will count in their favour.
  • Trinidad & Tobago are arguably considerably stronger than the side which is representing the West Indies at the moment, with Dwayne Bravo one of the stars of the (now presumably defunct) Stanford 20/20 competition alongside spinner Dave Mohammed, and with Windies wicketkeeper Dinesh Ramdin also in the side.
  • Wayamba have the experience of Mahela Jayawardene and the magic of Mendis. The latter will most likely bamboozle a number of players who are missing international experience, although he didn’t quite live up to his billing for Kolkatta in the IPL. The side look more like dark horses than front-runners, but, as I’ve already said, anything could happen over 20 overs.
  • Victoria might suffer for the loss of Dirk Nannes, but David Hussey and Brad Hodge have the class to make an impact with the bat. Bryce McGain has another chance to make an impact outside of Australia following his disappointing Test ‘career’.
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The Twenty20 reaches its conclusion this weekend with the now traditional Finals Day. This year will be the last season of the current format, and will also see the first qualifiers decided for the Champions League after last year’s cancellation.

As well as the exciting prospect of the mascot race being commentated on by Phil Tufnell, the cricket should be of a high standard, with four good sides involved:

  • Somerset, like Kent, are former winners, and the quality of their top order (Trescothick, Langer, Kieswetter…) is beyond question. The bowling is not quite as strong, but if the batsmen make a big enough score that won’t matter too much, and the experience of the older heads will be priceless in the field.
  • Sussex may be missing Matt Prior for Finals Day, but they have quality bowlers in Yasir Arafat and James Kirtley, whilst Luke Wright can make an impact with bat or ball (or both). Defeat in the Friends Provident Trophy final may have sharpened their hunger for success, but Murray Goodwin will need to regain his form if they are to lift the trophy.

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A number of sides have left it until the last minute to announce their squads for the upcoming World Twenty20 (the final deadline is May 5), but Pakistan’s has grabbed a couple of headlines for the inclusion of relative unknowns Shahzaib Hasan (scorer of 607 runs in ten matches for Karachi in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy) and Mohammad Aamer (who has taken 56 first-class wickets in ten matches for Rawalpindi this season).

The rest of the 15 is as follows: Younis Khan (the captain), Salman Butt, Ahmed Shehzad, Shoaib Malik, Misbah-ul-Haq, Shahid Afridi, Kamran Akmal, Fawad Alam, Shoaib Akhtar (who may be lucky to be included given continuing doubts over his fitness), Sohail Tanvir, Umar Gul, Yasir Arafat and Saeed Ajmal.

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  • Durham surprised a lot of people with their Championship win last year, and with Steve Harmison out of favour with England once again, their bowling attack looks just as strong as it was in 2008. Ian Blackwell has come in to bolster the middle order and add a spin option, and Shivnarine Chanderpaul returns in June following the World Twenty20.
  • Hampshire arguably owe last year’s survival, let alone their eventual third place, to the spin bowling of Imran Tahir, who returns from June. In the meantime, Australian Marcus North comes in as an overseas player to add runs, and Dominic Cork also arrives following his release by Lancashire. Chris Tremlett will also be key for the attack, whilst Mascarenhas’ England and IPL commitments will drain the Rose Bowl’s resources for much of the season.
  • Lancashire have released Dominic Cork and Stuart Law, whilst Andrew Flintoff and James Anderson are likely to make very few appearances for their county, so the Red Rose lineup will be somewhat unfamiliar in places. Mark Chilton and Francois Du Plessis need to improve on last year’s performances with the bat, or relegation may threaten to make Peter Moores’ 2009 even worse.
  • Nottinghamshire may spend the majority of the season watching their three best bowlers ply their trade for England, so the likes of Shreck and Pattinson will be key. If Samit Patel gets fit enough to be called up as well, the side could look a little thin in the middle order, but if newlywed Adam Voges can translate his limited-overs form to the four-day game then the prospect of a title challenge isn’t too far-fetched to consider.
  • Somerset continue to have an incredibly strong top order (especially with and Marcus Trescothick as an opening pair), but with Ian Blackwell moving to Durham and Andy Caddick into his 40s, the bowling attack looks worryingly thin. Unless a young gun steps up to take wickets, a proliferation of draws may ensue.
  • Warwickshire face the step up from Division Two without Ian Salisbury, but Jeetan Patel should be a strong addition to their four-day side. If Ian Bell stays out of the England team long enough to feature regularly, then the Bears can reap the benefits. Similarly, Tim Ambrose will be a force in the County game even he doesn’t cut it at Test level.
  • Worcestershire enter the post-Hick era in 2009, which puts a lot of pressure on Vikram Solanki and the likes of Stephen Moore. Gareth Batty’s recent England call-up underlined his quality with the ball, but the pace attack is relatively weak, especially given Simon Jones’ continuing injury problems. If Solanki and Kabir Ali find form, then the side can look for more than just consolidation in their return to Division One.
  • Yorkshire came uncomfortably close to relegation last year, but players of the quality of Michael Vaughan, Anthony McGrath, Matthew Hoggard and Adil Rashid should see them improve in 2009 (assuming England call-ups don’t intervene). A championship challenge may be asking too much, and adjusting to life without Darren Gough will be difficult, but there is enough class (especially with Jacques Rudolph in the side) for a top-half finish.

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In tomorrow’s Friends Provident Trophy Final, the Kent of Rob Key, Joe Denly and Yasir Arafat take on the Essex of Ryan ten Doeschate, Ravi Bopara and Graham Napier.

Both sides have been on top limited-overs form this season, with this being their second finals day meeting of the summer. Whilst Kent, on paper, are the better side, I don’t think the match is going to be played on paper this year, and Bopara in particular always has the ability to make a game-changingly big score.

I think Kent will edge it, unless one of Essex’s big hitters goes ballistic.

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With the Twenty20 Cup having reached the Quarter-Final stage, the remaining eight sides are only three matches away from the riches of the inaugural Twenty20 Champions’ League (providing, of course, they don’t field any players from the ICL, and aren’t replaced by teams from Pakistan).

  • Durham, before this year’s tournament began, had won fewer games of Twenty20 than any other county (a mere 8), but Shaun Pollock’s economy rate has been consistently low, and even a certain, currently banned player has turned out for the now-quite-well-named Dynamos, taking 5-14 against Derbyshire. Add to that the fact that runs are being contributed from a variety of sources, and Durham look like genuine contenders.
  • Lancashire have always been quite good at twenty20, so it’s no surprise that the Lemurs have made it to this stage. Lou Vincent and Mal Loye have been scoring plenty of runs, whilst Mahmood and Marshall have been taking wickets. I’d like to think they can win the whole thing (preferably with Freddie bowling some overs and scoring some runs in the final).
  • Middlesex’s record in the Twenty20 Cup was, like Durham’s, pretty poor before the start of this year’s competition, but they’ve been making up for it this year, mainly due to an improvement in their bowling. They have no ICL players, so they could actually compete in the Champions’ League with their current team, which is a plus. Also, they have Dirty Dirk Nannes.
  • Northamptonshire, unlike Middlesex, have loads of ICL players, so will probably not be Lalit Modi‘s favourites. I wouldn’t have picked them to make it this far, to be truthful, but Rob White has made plenty of runs and numerous others have put in good performances at crucial times to put the Steelbacks into the last eight. Given that they’ve surprised me so far, I’m not going to write them off at this stage.
  • Warwickshire haven’t made too many runs – they have only once scored above 160. Despite this, they’ve lost none, had a tie (ooh, a tie) and two matches which ended in no result, which means that their bowlers must be doing something right. Of those bowlers, Salisbury and Botha have been the pick, taking wickets and going for not many runs at all. All in all, the King of Spain‘s men definitely have the pedigree to make the finals day.
  • Yorkshire are strong contenders for the overall win. Adil Rashid has got a lot of people excited, and his 4-24 last night was proof that he can perform on the big occasion. Anthony McGrath, meanwhile, has scored more runs than anyone else in the competition. In addition, there’s always Dazzler to spice things up a bit.

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