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No rest for Somerset and Leicestershire as they head to India in search of lucrative Champions League pay-off

Two counties begin Champions League campaigns in India on Wednesday exhausted from a long summer and minus leading players but clinging to the hope their “nothing to lose” attitude will bring a lucrative surprise.


Leicestershire and Somerset, the Twenty20 champions and runners-up, compete for a £1.6 million ($2.5 million) first prize but could be back home by Thursday evening if they fail to survive the preliminary round.

Somerset arrived in India last night and will have spent their flight trying to forget their defeat in the CB40 final on Saturday. They play the Auckland Aces, who by contrast have spent the past two weeks in India preparing for the tournament.

“We go from the airport, to the hotel, to the ground,” said Brian Rose, the Somerset director of cricket. “It is the way it is. We just have to accept it but there is nothing to lose. Nobody expects us to win, particularly as I only have half a side with the lads away playing for England. Tres [Marcus Trescothick] will not be there and people will not know the first three or four who rock out to bat for Somerset.”

Rose only had 12 players last week but the late addition of second XI cricketers and Steve Snell, a wicketkeeper who plays Minor Counties for Hertfordshire, made up the numbers. Kieran Pollard, their star overseas player, will represent his IPL franchise, Mumbai Indians, while Joss Buttler and Craig Kieswetter miss the preliminary round due to England call ups.

Even George Dockrell, their teenage spinner, is unavailable as he is playing for Ireland and Somerset did not broach the subject of Trescothick making the trip. He had to return home from the tournament in 2009 when he suffered a relapse of his illness.

Alfonso Thomas leads the team in Trescothick’s absence. After playing Auckland Somerset face the Kolkata Knight Riders of the IPL tomorrow. Six teams make up the preliminary round split into two groups of three. The winners of each group qualify along with the best runner-up. The tournament then splits into a further group stage before semi-finals and a final in Chennai on Oct 9.

Leicestershire finished rock bottom of Division Two of the County Championship but were surprise winners of the Twenty20 Cup. They arrived 24 hours before Somerset but Matthew Hoggard, their captain, has few illusions.

“We are the underdogs. Everyone expects us to go home,” he said. “We do not have too many star players. But we have got some good solid match-winners. Two games is a bit of a lottery but it also takes only two good games to take it away from the opposition. We have come with high hopes.”

The Champions League has not been the spectacular success expected when it was launched in 2009 on the back of a mammoth television deal worth more than £635 million ($1 billion) with ESPN. An extra IPL team has been added this year to boost flagging viewing figures but politics have caused problems with players of Pakistan origin, including England’s Owais Shah and Adil Rashid, learning only on Sunday night they had been granted visas by the Indian government.

Somerset’s Gemaal Hussain was another who struggled for clearance but despite the problems his county have fond memories of their trip two years ago when they beat the IPL champions Deccan Chargers although failed to make the knockout stage.

“I really liked it,” said Rose. “It was a gripping contest. It puts the players in the spotlight. It makes the younger players like Joss Buttler and Luke Gregory, who you are expecting to do things for you in the future, face the travel, the different environment and going away together. We will not make a lot of money if we come back after preliminary round. It will be for the experience. But if we get in the top of second qualifying group then you do start making money and it is a big prize at the end of it.”

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