Ian Ward previews Twenty20 Finals Day and although he is sticking with Kent, says anyone can win it.
Last Updated: 24/07/08 2:53pm
It's not just the Champions League and the money knocking about that make this Twenty20 finals day so special, it is the four finalists on show.
I've got to say I am hugely chuffed that we have Kent, Essex, Middlesex and Durham doing battle because they will all bring something slightly different to the table.
You couldn't wish for a more diverse quartet, you really couldn't. From the spinning options of Essex, to the ferocious pace attack of Durham to dark horses Middlesex and reigning champions Kent, the line-up is brilliant.
Finals day is always fabulous - long, but a great day nonetheless - but with the other little factors coming into play, this year has something extra.
For a start we're talking about Champions League qualification and the small matter of $5million down the line and then we still don't really know what will happen with the ICL players involved at the Rose Bowl.
I hope that is sorted before we start. The ICL have made it pretty clear where they stand on those players but I do feel some sympathy for the ECB, who are not being helped by the way employment law works in this country.
I have also read an article this week from Steve James suggesting the Stanford competition will be a week-long party, with our winners taking on 'his' Twenty20 winners, Trinidad & Tobago, where you'll pocket just £50,000 for turning up!
Whatever the rewards on offer, Finals Day is not like a normal game of Twenty20, it has a real festival feel about it. I have been trying to work out whether it's better to play in the second semi, when you are technically the fresher of the two finalists, or in the first, so you can rest, and build yourself up again.
Even having been there with Surrey, I'm still not sure to be honest, because the game's are so intense, they can take a lot out of you. And the beauty of this format is anyone can win a Twenty20 game, at any given time, or on any given day.
I am still sticking with my early prediction and backing Kent to retain the trophy, but only because I have to!
I like the fact they've got match-winners throughout the side and I like the way Rob Key captains his men.
They are pretty relaxed and do not seem to get too serious or intense, and of course, on Saturday they will have the advantage of having seen it all before.
They are joint favourites with Durham, but as I say, anyone can win it on the day...
Wardy's guide to the four finalists
Captain: Rob Key
2008 record: P11 W7 L4 T0 NR0
Leading batsman: Azhar Mahmood (Ave 44.00)
Leading bowler: James Tredwwell (15wkts at 14.06)
Sky Bet odds: 2/1
WARDY SAYS: I have to admit I picked them to win it again early on, so I am going to stick with that - but I have still been impressed by the Spitfires. I like the fact they've got match-winners throughout the side: with the bat Rob Key, Joe Denly and Darren Stevens and Martin van Jaarsveld are all capable of big innings while they have proper bowlers capable of taking wickets in Yasir Arafat and Azhar Mahmood, who has become a dangerous domestic all-rounder. The spin of James Tredwell has also proved a vital option but above all, I like the way Key captains his side. They are pretty relaxed and not too serious and of course, on Saturday they will have the advantage of having seen it all before.
Captain: Mark Pettini
2008 record: P11 W7 L3 T1 NR0
Leading batsman: James Foster (Ave 40.85)
Leading bowler: Danish Kaneria (18wkts at 13.77)
Sky Bet odds: 3/1
WARDY SAYS: Their biggest challenge is to recreate that intensity that has served them so well at Chelmsford. There they have fantastic pitches that suit them, but that's what home advantage is all about. Their three spinners, with Danish Kaneria at the fore are a potent mix and of course when it comes to batting, all eyes will be on him of the sixes, Graham Napier. But it would be a mistake to ignore the rest of the Essex batting, because Ravi Bopara has a Friends Provident double hundred under his belt this season and James Foster and Grant Flower are intelligent players. It will be interesting to see where Napier bats because they tend to keep him away from the spinners, which is why we sometimes see him down the order. But I expect the Rose Bowl to favour the seamers, which means Napes coming in at three.
Captain: Ed Joyce
2008 record: P11 W8 L2 T0 NR0
Leading batsman: Dawid Malan (Ave 60.00)
Leading bowler: Tyron Henderson (19wkts at 13.68)
Sky Bet odds: 10/3
WARDY SAYS: They have surprised us all this season, for one simple reason: they have no pedigree in this competition at all. In fact, until this season they've had an absolute shocker. They are just a good, solid all-round side who have got some nice momentum going, but I have been particularly impressed with the bowling. Dirk Nannes swings it and has got some heat on him which should be handy at the Rose Bowl, and their slower bowlers, Shaun Udal and Murali Kartik always do well and Tim Murtagh has come in and taken wickets as well. Batting-wise the young guys like Dawid Malan and Eoin Morgan are in fine form and Ed Joyce has also scored runs. I don't think losing Andrew Strauss will be too much of a blow and I can't see it detracting from their side - and he's just become a father so I think, putting into perspective, he will appreciate a Saturday off.
Captain: Dale Benkenstein
2008 record: W7 L1 T1 NR2
Leading batsman: Dale Benkenstein (Ave 39.83)
Leading bowler: Shaun Pollock (13wkts at 14.92)
Sky Bet odds: 2/1
WARDY SAYS: It was not as if it was a case of justice being done with Durham getting through, but I do think it would have been terrible if they weren't at Finals Day. Now their supporters can go and have a day out at the Rose Bowl and they - and their side - will add something different to the occasion. There is no Albie Morkel, but he's been replaced by Shiv Chanderpaul and they still have a superstar side, epitomised by a tremendously potent bowling attack, who all take wickets. Steve Harmison, Liam Plunkett, Graham Onions and Neil Kileen, plus the experience of Shaun Pollock is almost a Fantasy Cricket line-up! Good luck to Napier and co trying to whack them out of the ground. Durham have been criticised for playing Kolpak players but they still have plenty of local lads and they still produce England cricketers - and a good balanced side.