Stanford to add to Twenty20 pot of gold
When the Twenty20 Cup was first launched in 2003 I remember speaking to several players who admitted it was a competition that they would not be taking seriously. The phrase "hit and giggle" was often used about the new format of the game, while broadcasters like us were promised unique access to players throughout matches hinting that they didn't mind being disturbed as it was "only Twenty20".
Well I can guarantee that the players from Essex, Kent, Middlesex and Durham will be taking the 2008 Twenty20 Cup finals day very seriously. Not only has the competition become one of the players' favourites over the past five years, mainly because of the large crowds it attracts and the excellent atmosphere created at grounds, but this year's Twenty20 stands to be the most lucrative competition in county cricket history.
We know that this year's finalists will qualify for the proposed new "Champions League", where the winning team stands to win £2.5m with large amounts on offer for other sides who do well in the competition. Saturday's Rose Bowl finalists will join teams from India, Australia and South Africa in an eight-team event to be played either in the Middle East or India in September.
But on top of that Saturday's victorious team will now be offered the chance to share in the money bonanza being created by Texan billionaire Sir Allen Stanford. On Friday, details will be confirmed of a match between Stanford's All Star West Indian XI and the new Twenty20 champions. The game will feature as one of a series of warm-up matches in Antigua before England take on the All Stars in the much publicised multi-million pound winner-takes-all game being played on 1 November. The county players could reportedly earn around £30,000 each - but again that money will only be available if they win the match.
The potential bonus of Stanford money could become very important because although the Champions League has been agreed by the ECB and other boards, some doubts still remain.
We still await the details of exactly how the competition will work and most importantly who will be allowed to play in it. There is still great confusion over whether teams who have featured players who took part in the so-called rebel Indian Cricket League will be allowed to qualify for the Champions League. Essex and Middlesex have not included ICL players, but Durham and Kent could find themselves excluded even if they qualify by winning their semi-finals. Durham's captain Dale Benkenstein, for example, played in the ICL as did Kent's Justin Kemp and Pakistan all-rounder Azhar Mahmood.
The attitudes of the counties towards the threat have been very different. Some county chief executives have told us they are concentrating on getting to the final first and will then tackle the implications. Quarter-finalists Glamorgan decided not to risk playing Australian Jason Gillespie in their line-up on Tuesday for fear of being banned from the potential Champions League pot of gold.
Talking about Jason Gillespie, I am delighted to announce that "Dizzy" will be joining the BBC commentary team on Finals Day. Gillespie will join Phil Tufnell, Alex Tudor and Simon Hughes providing coverage on 5 Live and 5 Live Sports Extra.
Throughout both semi-finals Mark Pougatch will lead extensive coverage on 5 Live , whilst if you want ball-by-ball commentary don't miss our unique finals day programme starting on 5 Live Sports Extra from 1115 BST on Saturday morning.
If you've heard our coverage before you will know that our commentary on this special day is a little different. We have broadcasters not only in the commentary box, but also on the boundary edges and in the players' dugout as we bring you our unique "3D-style coverage". It will be dynamic, dramatic and at times dangerous as the ball lands inches from our brave boundary reporters, especially if the likes of new Twenty20 stars Graham Napier and Dawid Malan get going.
Commentary will also come from Arlo White, Kevin Howells and Alison Mitchell who will also be providing truly unique coverage of the now-legendary mascot race. Every year our commentators battle it out to be selected to describe the efforts of "Bomber the Kent Spitfire" or "Lanky the Lancashire Giraffe". But this year Alison will not only be describing the race - she'll be in it! Alison will be dressed as an orb and will be running to help raise money for the PCA Benevolent Fund.
Other highlights this year include boundary dancers for the first time on finals day after their success during the ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa. Instead of a specific band, music will instead be provided by top DJs Karl "K Gee" Gordon and Big Ted who have worked with the likes of All Saints, Busta Rhymes and Alesha. The DJs will be leading a mascot dance-off as well as encouraging crowd karaoke.
So Saturday promises as always plenty of razzmatazz - but I doubt the players will find themselves distracted by the side shows. This year the eyes will be on the prize. And what a prize it could be.