The secret to success in English county cricket these days seems to lie in spending pre-season in the UAE. Of the three limited-overs trophies on offer in English domestic cricket last summer all bar one - the Twenty20 Cup, which was won by Middlesex - were won by sides who played in the Emirates Airline ProArch Trophy last year.
The competition was the brainchild of the Sussex and England seamer James Kirtley, and started as a two-way duel between Essex and Kirtley's Sussex two years ago. The profile of the competition increased last year, due in part to a public relations drive by the organisers. Most of the interest from the United Kingdom was a result of the unexpected appearance of England's Andrew Flintoff. The all-rounder arrived on these shores with his county, Lancashire, as he stepped up his recuperation from an ankle injury.
Interest in his convalescence even prompted Sky Sports, a TV broadcaster, to send a team to monitor his form in the tournament. The competition was a precursor to Sussex winning the English Pro40 championship. Essex, who are also back for a third time, won the 50-over county knock-out trophy, earned promotion to Division One of the Pro40, and reached the finals day of the Twenty20 Cup as well. Now six counties will be competing for the trophy, bringing the prospect of a Roses duel between Lancashire and Yorkshire - though this will only be if the county rivals meet in the play-offs as they are in separate groups - as well as a London derby between Middlesex and Surrey. Participation from the Emirates has doubled from last year, with the UAE national team now joined by domestic cricket's premier club side Fly Emirates.
So confident are the airline side of holding their own against first-class opposition from England that they eschewed the chance of calling up celebrity ringers for the tournament. They face Essex in their opening game today. firstname.lastname@example.org