Nottingham is preparing for a cricketing extravaganza to hit Trent Bridge this weekend as the Twenty20 Cup Finals Day makes a return visit.
Four teams - Nottinghamshire Outlaws, Surrey Brown Caps, Leicestershire Foxes and Essex Eagles - will fight it out for the right to be crowned 2006 Twenty20 Cup champions.
The Outlaws in particular will be keen to lift the silverware in front of their home crowd and will be boosted by the inclusion of England wicket-keeper Chris Read.
The national selectors have made both him and Essex batsman Alastair Cook available for the day, in line with policy in previous years.
Notts take on Surrey in the second semi-final, and Read said: “I’m really looking forward to it. I remember helping out with commentary for Finals Day back in 2003 and the atmosphere was tremendous.
“To actually experience that atmosphere out on the pitch will be fantastic. I’m sure there’ll be a few butterflies but we’ve been well supported all the way through the competition and the quarter-final was a good taster of what’s to come.
“I can see plenty of runs been scored as both Surrey and ourselves have strong batting line-ups. There certainly aren’t any weak sides at this stage of the competition but the performances we have produced so far should give us confidence.”
Surrey skipper Mark Butcher is also looking forward to sampling the atmosphere of Finals Day having missed out on the last three due to injury or England commitments.
Surrey have featured in the latter stages on every occasion since the competition began in 2003.
Butcher said: “For me it is just fantastic to be back playing. I have really enjoyed leading the team. The team have really responded well to me and I have scored a few runs along the way.
“It is all good. It will be my first Finals Day in the Twenty20.
"The first year I was contracted with England and the second year I played three games and injured myself during that run when all I had to do was get up in the morning to pick up a knock.
“Then last year I had the wrist injury all season. It will be fantastic to play on Finals Day. I’ve been to all of the days but not been able to feature.”
The opening semi-final sees Essex Eagles - led by the effervescent Ronnie Irani - take on 2004 champions Leicestershire Foxes.
Irani leads his side out on Finals Day for the first time, and said: “I’m really looking forward to our big day out at Trent Bridge. We’ll look forward to the occasion. Hopefully we’ll have some good support on the day and those watching at home on TV will also be egging us on.”
Essex batting coach Graham Gooch echoed Irani’s comments, and added: “I think we have as good a chance as anyone. Leicestershire and Surrey have been there every year in the finals and this is our first experience but the way we’ve been playing we have nothing to fear.”
If they are going to stand a chance of claiming the title they are going to have to see of the formidable challenge presented by Leicestershire who, like Surrey, have an outstanding pedigree in 20-over cricket.
Flamboyant Foxes batsman Darren Maddy is eager to live up to his reputation as ‘Mr Twenty20’ on Saturday.
The former England right-hander is the most prolific runscorer in the Twenty20 Cup; a fact he underlined with a Man-of-the-Match performance in the quarter-final triumph over Kent Spitfires.
Maddy said: “This is the most exciting day of the season, but although there is a strong element of fun, we want to go there and put on a good show to maintain our proud record.
"It has been a frustrating season for me, but I’ve been playing well in one-day cricket recently and I am delighted that I have been able to play my part in getting us this far in the competition.
“The buzz of this occasion will bring the best out in us once again and I am confident that we can win the Cup again, even though many people will still look upon us as underdogs.
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