Under-dogs well prepared for challenge
Four sides brimming with confidence in their own abilities confront each other at Trent Bridge tomorrow with Twenty20 Cup glory at stake.
Hosts Nottinghamshire Outlaws, vastly improved in the 20-over game this season, face a Surrey Brown Caps side who have seen it all before. They won the inaugural competition, lost in the final a year later and then bowed out in the semis in front of their own supporters at The Oval 12 months ago.
Make no mistake about it, Mark Butcher's team will be focused on adding to their array of silverware.
Nobody, though, is likely to be better prepared than the Leicestershire Foxes, who kick off proceedings tomorrow (11.30am) against the Essex Eagles, a side facing up to finals day for the first time.
Senior coach Tim Boon and skipper Jeremy Snape will have left no stone unturned as they plot a course for a second triumph in three years, the Foxes having shocked Surrey at Edgbaston two years ago.
Leicestershire will not be put off, either, by the fact that they are never fancied by anybody at any stage of any competition.
In fact, they seem to have thrived on that in Twenty20 cricket.
Snape and Co won through a tough northern-group section, which also included Notts, and then wiped the floor with Kent Spitfires in a one-sided quarter-final.
They know, then, that they are up to the task. Providing, off course, that everybody is firing.
That has been the key to their progress this season, working tightly as a unit with performances coming from players throughout the side with either bat or ball - backed by some of the best fielding they have produced in recent years.
Darren Maddy and HD Ackerman are vital up front, there is no doubt about that, but Snape, Paul Nixon, Jimmy Allenby, John Sadler and Paul Harrison can all clock up runs rapidly.
Similarly, new-ball pair Adam Griffith and Stuart Broad have picked up key early wickets - but David Masters, Snape, Allenby, Nick Walker and Claude Henderson have provided solid backing when called upon.
But what of the opposition? Ronnie Irani has led from the front in his usual forthright manner, hammering 338 runs in the competition to date.
Mark Pettini and Ryan ten Doeschate have been the chief support players but runs can come from anywhere - look at the capabilities of men like Andy Bichel, Will Jefferson and Andre Adams (if fit), with Darren Gough also pitching in.
Pacemen Gough and Bichel hold the key with the ball for the Eagles with slow left-armer Tim Phillips also proving his value in tieing down the opposition.
"We beat them in the quarter-finals two years ago but I think both sides have evolved since then," said Foxes' middle-order batter Sadler. "All the sides in the semi-finals are good. They have to be to get to this stage.
"Irani has been a massive player up front for them and Goughie is always in the thick of it with bat and ball! They look as though they have strength all the way down. Whether a side gets 120 or 180, these games seem to have a habit of going down to the wire. Essex have got match-winners in their side - but so have we."
Occasions do not get any bigger than this on the domestic knock-out stage and whoever grasps the nettle will move a huge step closer to popping those champagne corks.