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Page last updated at 11:26 GMT, Friday, 25 July 2008 12:26 UK

Twenty20 players to watch

By Oliver Brett

Rob Key
Rob Key's Kent are defending the Cup they won at Edgbaston

If 2003 was the year the professional game first took an interest in Twenty20 cricket, then 2008 is when the sport truly embraced the newest version of the game.

The sixth finals day of the English domestic Twenty20 - where it all started - takes place at the Rose Bowl on Saturday and there is more than ever at stake for the four teams taking part.

With money flooding into Twenty20 cricket from every direction, it's no wonder that this year's finals day has captured the imagination of cricket fans.

But with all the money on offer, it is easy to lose sight of the cricket, so here is BBC Sport's guide to the four teams with so much to play for.

DURHAM - top of north division, beat Glamorgan in quarter-finals

Shaun Pollock
Shaun Pollock has more know-how than any other bowler on show

Star players: It's all been about the bowlers at the Riverside this year. One year after Ottis Gibson left to become England's bowling coach, the rest have picked up the baton with aplomb. Steve Harmison has taken nine wickets at just 5.70 an over, while fellow England reject Liam Plunkett has 13 wickets behind him and costs 6.09 an over.

But the best of the lot has been former South Africa star Shaun Pollock. Having bowled at the best batsmen in the world for years on the international scene, this man knows his lines and lengths better than anybody.


Word from the camp: "I would say we are favourites. The other three are great sides but we've got batsmen like Paul Collingwood, Shiv Chanderpaul and Phil Mustard and our seam attack has to be one of the strongest around. There are some big characters who have done it at international level." - batsman Will Smith.

Odds: 15/8 favourites

KENT - third in south division, beat Warwickshire in quarter-finals

Azhar Mahmood
Azhar Mahmood has been Kent's most dangerous batsman

Star players: Kent are clearly vulnerable, having lost four of their matches in the south division. But Pakistan veteran Azhar Mahmood has been outstanding, particularly with the bat.

With 384 runs in this competition so far, youngster Joe Denly has the knack of performing under pressure and has been earmarked for national honours in the future. And off-spinner James Tredwell continues to be one of county cricket's most under-rated players.

Word from the camp: "From a business point of view, Twenty20 cricket is huge for a county like Kent. This year it's been hard, with extra pressure, big crowds, the TV and the importance of Twenty20 going up and up and the chance for an individual player to stake a claim. That takes a lot of mental energy. We need more time in between games." - skipper Rob Key.

Odds: 9/4

ESSEX - second in south division, beat Northants in quarter-finals

Graham Napier
Graham Napier has excelled in a pinch-hitting role at number three

Star players: Previously regarded as a reliable seamer who could bat a bit, Graham Napier was planning a career in photography after being demoted to Essex's second XI. But after impressing in the nets one day, he was promoted to bat at three in a televised match against Sussex. He hit 152, followed it up with some more meaty knocks and now has an agent - and possibly an IPL contract in the offing.

Wicket-keeper James Foster has a better average than Napier (40.85) and 286 runs in all, while spinner Danish Kaneria can be a nightmare to face when a team needs nine or 10 an over to win.

Word from the camp: "The last month has been unbelievable for Napes. In the past everyone said he wasn't fulfilling his potential, that he had all this ability but was getting out playing stupid shots. But one game on TV has changed his life. He is also very destructive with the ball, bowling in the high 80s [mph] and he swings it. He works extremely hard and I'm pleased for him." - bowler Alex Tudor.

Odds: 100/30

MIDDLESEX - top of south division, beat Lancashire in quarter-finals

Dawid Malan
Dawid Malan is an awesome talent, who dazzled in the quarter-finals

Star players: Not yet 21, but one of the finds of the summer, Dawid Malan produced the innings that won Middlesex their quarter-final when he hit a stunning 103 off 51 balls. His footwork, particularly against the spinners, was outstanding. He is confident on the pitch, and self-effacing off it.

It's not all about the kids at Middlesex. That wily old dog, Shaun Udal, is doing the business with both bat and ball in his first season for his new club, while another veteran in Tyron Henderson has also produced excellent numbers in both disciplines.

Word from the camp: "The beauty of Twenty20 cricket is no matter what situation you are in, it can change so very quickly. You are never out of a game in Twenty20. We have performed brilliantly all season, nobody won more group games than Middlesex and we are confident this is coming at the right time for us." - spinner Shaun Udal.

Odds: 7/2

(player interviews conducted by BBC Radio 5 Live)

see also
Twenty20 winners to face England
25 Jul 08 |  Cricket
Counties embrace new Twenty20 EPL
17 Jul 08 |  Counties
England bag 50m Twenty20 bonanza
11 Jun 08 |  Cricket
Durham book Twenty20 finals place
22 Jul 08 |  Counties
Jones 'confident' of Twenty20 win
24 Jul 08 |  Counties
Awesome Napier shatters records
24 Jun 08 |  Counties
Malan powers Middlesex to finals
08 Jul 08 |  Counties
Bopara eyes Twenty20 prizes
24 Jul 08 |  Essex
How to win at Twenty20
12 Jun 08 |  Skills
New-look English Twenty20 agreed
16 Jul 08 |  Counties

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