Essex seek winning Twenty20 Cup start

THE Twenty20 Cup competition gets underway today with Essex treading new ground when they travel to Beckenham to take on Kent starting at 5.30pm.Between now and their next Championship duel against Gloucestershire at Bristol in the second week of July, Essex are involved in eight Twenty20 Group games - and hopefully their interest in the competition will continue all the way through to the finals day which takes place at Trent Bridge on August 20.

THE Twenty20 Cup competition gets underway today with Essex treading new ground when they travel to Beckenham to take on Kent starting at 5.30pm.

Between now and their next Championship duel against Gloucestershire at Bristol in the second week of July, Essex are involved in eight Twenty20 Group games - and hopefully their interest in the competition will continue all the way through to the finals day which takes place at Trent Bridge on August 20.

Essex have failed to realise their potential so far in the tournament that now commences its fourth year, although leading batsman Andy Flower believes that the county's shortcomings are somewhat self-inflicted. “We don't seem to have learned a lot on how to play this game and the strategy required but, hopefully, things will improve this time around,” he said.

The former Zimbabwe captain proved the most successful Essex batsman last season totalling 144 runs in six innings and holds the county record for the highest number of runs in the competition.

That was achieved in 2003 when he scored 266 at an average of 266 and the 38-year-old has also featured in five record wicket partnerships for the county in the competition, including 67 on two occasions for the first wicket, both with captain Ronnie Irani.

If launching the innings with a flourish is one of the keys to success, then Essex will need to address an ongoing problem that blighted their season last year.

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In six innings in 2005 - the game against Hampshire at the Rose Bowl was abandoned without a ball being bowled while the weather prevented Essex from batting in the return fixture - the first wicket produced scores of 2, 5, 1, 4, 58 and 10.

Irani and James Middlebrook opened on four occasions while Will Jefferson and Alastair Cook accompanied the captain to the middle in the other two matches.

This time around, it could be Mark Pettini who is given the responsibility of initiating the required tempo after showing his versatility with a whirlwind performance on Sunday against Surrey in the Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy match.

He struck a 19-ball half-century that embraced 11 boundaries, including one six, and that's just the type of rate to get the innings buzzing and form a perfect platform from which to build a defendable total. Following today's opening fixture with Kent, the county return to Chelmsford for a meeting with Sussex tomorrow evening under the County Ground floodlights.

Squads for today's match

Kent (from): R Key, D Stevens, M Van Jaarsveld, M Walker, A Hall, J Denly, J Tredwell, N Dexter, A Khan, N O'Brien, S Cook, M Dennington, M Patel, R Joseph and S Cusden.

Essex (from): R Irani, M Pettini, A Flower, R Bopra, J Foster, R ten Doeschate, G Napier, J Middlebrook, T Phillips, A Bichel, A Adams, D Gough, A Tudor, G Flower and J Ahmed.

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