Red Rose Can Bloom Again
The Twenty20 Cup faces its biggest test this season when it goes head-to-head with the World Cup.
But there's little sign of its popularity diminishing, with the 'sold out' signs already up for plenty of the matches - including the Roses clash at Old Trafford on July 7.
The competition will follow last year's format which saw each side play eight matches in the group stage to determine the quarter-final line-up.
We're not going to pretend this is the greatest betting heat given shock winners in the last two seasons in the shape of Somerset and Leicestershire.
But the latter were tipped up here in the Bettingzone on the basis that they'd proved their ability in the 20-over game and we're going to stick with that method now.
We've at least got three years of form to go on and the clearest trend so far is that big guns Lancashire and Surrey have both been forces to be reckoned with in this format of the game.
Surrey were the inaugural winners in 2003, reached the final in 2004 and were beaten by Lancashire in the semis in 2005.
For their part the Red Rose county also reached finals day in 2004 and the only team whose record compares with that pair are the aforementioned Leicestershire, the Foxes never having failed to make the last four.
Ironically Lancashire and Surrey's success in the Twenty20 has come when they've been struggling in the County Championship (Surrey were relegated last year and Lancashire the season before) but this time around they are both flying.
Lancashire top Division One and have reached the C&G Trophy final while Surrey are out on their own in the second tier so they both head into Twenty20 in great form.
It's a real surprise Lancashire are on offer at as big as 7/1 when you consider they were shorter for C&G glory despite the fact that - thanks to the imbecilic format of that competition - there was no margin for error in the group stages.
Admittedly they had the world's two best all-rounders in Andrew Symonds and Andrew Flintoff in their Twenty20 ranks last year along with Brad Hodge who has managed over 850 runs in this competition in the last three years.
Hodge leaving for an Australia A series probably explains the price on offer but given their past form in the Twenty20 and their displays this season Lancashire simply have to head our staking plan.
We also wouldn't put anyone off Surrey at 12/1 but they've regressed slightly in the last three years of Twenty20 so we'll look elsewhere for a second recommendation.
It's no surprise to see Shane Warne's Hampshire prominent in the betting, especially as Kevin Pietersen could make the odd fleeting appearance but that's fully factored into their price and the general 10/1 makes minimal appeal.
Essex too have strong claims as they ran away with the National League last season but there's no clear correlation between the two formats and we simply haven't seen enough worthwhile form in Twenty20 from the Eagles to get with them.
Holders Somerset are easy to discount as they surely wouldn't have won it without the inspirational Graeme Smith 12 months ago and he's not on hand to lead them this time around - though they are boosted by veteran Aussie opener Justin Langer.
Leicestershire have to be respected given their heroics in Twenty20 over the last three years but we just prefer the claims of Durham at 20/1.
Martyn Moxon's side have done superbly well to hold their own in the top flight of the County Championship this term and have also excelled in the C&G, just losing out on a final spot to Lancashire.
Crucially they've shown they can excel even without England trio Steve Harmison, Paul Collingwood and Liam Plunkett and that fact appears to have been missed by the layers.
We're therefore expecting an improved showing from them in Twenty20 and even though they are in the same north section as Lancashire we've high hopes that both will progress.
Finally Warwickshire could be worth an interest to top the Midlands/Wales/West section at 4/1.
The Bears have a decent record in this format (finalists in 2003, quarter-finals both years since) and are in what looks the weakest group alongside Northants, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Glamorgan.
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