Twenty20 Cup Finals Day 10.30am, Saturday, Sky Sports 1
It's that time of the season yet again. This is about as glitzy and razzmatazz as the glorious game gets! Yes, Twenty20 Finals Day is upon us. Despite the weather trying its worst to scupper the competition, we are down to the last four teams and we should look forward to some fantastic cricket on Saturday.
Lancashire v Gloucestershire
It's hard to put a handle on whether Lancashire are playing good Twenty20 cricket or not this season. Mark Chilton, the captain, said as much in an interview in the latter stages of the group stage.
Simply because of the amount of games that they've lost to the weather. Four of their eight matches were washed out yet they still made it through. It wasn't the usual qualification for the quarter-finals, put it that way.
Having said that Saj Mahmood has come back into the side and found some form with five wickets against Sri Lanka A. Freddie Flintoff will certainly be fit to bat, if not to bowl, so two big players have come back at the right time to bolster an already talented squad.
Lancashire Lightning have the likes of Brad Hodge, who is arguably the best batsman in Twenty20 history, and Mal Loye - we all know about his destructive batting in this all-action form of cricket. They also have the craft of Dominic Cork and Glen Chapple in the seam bowling department and Jimmy Anderson will be available also. And then they have the real trump card in Muttiah Muralitharen.
On paper they are a ferocious side, it's just whether they can make that step across the line, which they've not been able to do in the last three Twenty20 finals day's. I wouldn't go as far as to say that they are chokers, but there comes a time when they have really got to close the deal and they haven't done that in the last few years.
In their way are a Gloucestershire side that are on good form and although they haven't had success of late in terms of silverware, they still have the ethos and game plans that they had under Mark Alleyne's captaincy when they won so many one-day competitions.
Steve Adshed, the wicketkeeper, has a big part to play. I recently interviewed Jack Russell at his Art gallery and we were talking about the blueprint that Gloucestershire had put together under John Bracewell and how they implemented their game plans. Jack said that he, himself, used to orchestrate: he was the master in charge of fielding. I know Alleyne sees fielding on a par with batting and bowling, so Adshed standing up to the stumps to Jon Lewis and Alex Gidman and generally keeping the troops on their toes will be key.
As will the captain himself, Lewis. He bowls with a lot of craft and guile which is needed in Twenty20. What their bowling attack lacks though is a genuine wicket taker. When you compare them with their semi-final opponents, Lancashire have Murali, Mahmood and Anderson but Gloucester only really have Lewis.
Craig Spearman will have to play well at the top of the order if Gloucester are to reach the final, but I think Lancashire will just about squeak through this one, simply because of the firepower they have on paper and even if they don't perform they have enough match winners that one of them should be able to get them across the line.
Kent v Sussex
Sussex have been awful in Twenty20 cricket until this year. It was quite bizarre for me going from the Surrey dressing room, where we had won the Twenty20 Cup in 2003, to play for Sussex as they just had different feel for it. Don't ask me to put my finger on it because I can't. But this year they've got it - they've got that feel for Twenty20. James Kirtley admitted as much after the Quarter-Final win over Yorkshire.
They are a very dangerous team with Kirtley and Rana Naved bowling together at the death of an innings and with Mushtaq Ahmed and Saqlain Mushtaq bowling in tandem. We always talk about the importance of spin bowling in Twenty20 and these two are world class. They also have a fantastic slow bowler in Mike Yardy.
Add to that Luke Wright with his sharp medium pace and especially with the bat. He has been fantastic in Twenty20 this season. He is the leading run scorer in the competition and has been smashing it to all parts.
Sussex are brilliantly led by Chris Adams and they also have the class of Murray Goodwin. Like Lancashire, on paper they should do well. They are playing excellent Twento20 cricket and I would say they are almost favourites, despite the lack of pedigree in this competition.
Kent are a funny team in that they always seem to be in a quandary as to their focus on one-day cricket as opposed to four-day cricket. Over the last couple of years they've made a much bigger effort in the one-day game.
In Twenty20 many thought they would struggle, especially as Andrew Hall was on international duty for South Africa, but they got through to finals day and thoroughly deserve their place. They have some dangerous hitters: Geraint Jones is obviously looking to make an impression and he is a very good one-day player. The captain, Rob Key has scored two one-day hundreds this season, so they do have quality in their ranks.
In many ways they are the dark horses to win the Twenty20 Cup, but they can't be underestimated as in the Quarter-Final they went up to Trent Bridge and beat a very organised and talented Nottinghamshire Outlaws side. To go up there and beat a side captained by Stephen Fleming is a fair effort so I wouldn't count them out.
But if I was forced to pick a winner I would just side with my old team Sussex.
If Lancashire meet Sussex in the final it would be a really interesting one. It would give Lancashire an opportunity to win a one-day trophy, something they have been close to a few times recently and they will really want to put it to bed this time. But the pressure won't just be on Chilton's men as Sussex are playing in their first finals day and will want to make it count.
Lancashire would have a slight advantage in that they have a few more players with international experience and experience of high pressure situations. Saying that, Sussex have an added advantage in that Lancashire play in the first Semi-Final which I think is huge.
When I played in finals day in 2003, we played in the second semi and after the match you get a little bit of down-time - you may keep your eye on the concert, Atomic Kitten I think it was when we won it - and then you're back into it.
If Lancashire beat Gloucestershire they'll have an entire match to sit through and then a concert, and you can easily go off the boil. Only Leicestershire, last year, have bucked the trend of winning when playing in the second semi. They went through an elaborate routine as they went back to the hotel and had massages with a rolling buffet and DVDs to watch - anything to calm them down and build them up for the final.
That's something that whoever wins the first semi will have to deal with and I think that will be quite tough. But, I will stick my neck out and tip Lancashire to finally win the Twenty20 Cup. It should be a run-fest at Edgbasten, whatever the outcome, so sit back and enjoy.
Ian Ward was talking to James Root