Northamptonshire, Essex, Hampshire and Surrey will battle it out for glory this weekend at Edgbaston as the Friends Life T20 comes to its grand finale on finals day.
Northants will take on Essex in the first semi-final while champions Hampshire will fight to regain their crown against Surrey. Katherine Lucas looks ahead at how each of the counties should fair.
The Steelbacks’ trophy cabinet has been locked since 1992 and they will certainly be the underdogs on finals day. This weekend will mark their first appearance at finals day since 2009, but this season they have enjoyed a stunning reversal of fortunes in both the County Championship and the T20 under the captaincy of Alex Wakely.
Azharullah has arguably been their talisman with the ball, and the Pakistani seamer is the leading wicket taker in this year’s competition thus far.
With the bat, Kyle Coetzer has displayed fine form in getting Northants to the semi-finals, including a knock of 44 against Durham in the quarter-finals.
The side delighted home fans with an impressive victory by 36 runs at Wantage Road but they will have to dig deep to replace their morale-boosting home advantage that helped them through to the last four.
Some might say the Eagles are lucky to be there after only scraping through the South Division as one of the best third placed teams. They rode that luck, however, with a resounding 47-run victory against Notts in the last eight.
Ryan ten Doeschate hit an astonishing 82 off 44 balls in that match, and Essex will be relying on the Dutch international to display that kind of form again this weekend.
Shaun Tait has also been instrumental in propelling Essex to finals day. If the weather forecast is to be believed, the Australian fast-bowler will have an ideal wicket to bowl on at Edgbaston.
The Eagles can also call on the experienced shoulders of Ravi Bopara at the crease, and the semi-final against Northants looks fairly evenly poised.
If Surrey are to conquer the competition, they will have to do it without captain Gareth Batty. The veteran spinner has been banned for two games by the ECB after what was described as “appalling” conduct in their quarter-final against Somerset.
Batty clashed with Peter Trego after dismissing the Somerset batsman, and all three umpires reported the incident after the match.
Without Batty, Surrey face an uphill struggle to reach the final, going up against the defending champions in Hampshire, against whom they have lost their last four T20 meetings.
T20 is not Surrey’s forte, some might say; in fact, this is the first time in six years that the London side have made it past the group stage. Nonetheless, their top order has been in fine form so far, particularly former England internationals Steve Davies and Vikram Solanki.
In contrast to their semi-final opponents Surrey, all eyes will be on Hampshire’s captain, Dimitri Mascarenhas who will retire at the end of the season.
The Royals will look to give ‘Dimi’ a fitting tribute in one of his last game’s for the county after a prolific career with bat and ball.
As the defending champions, Hampshire will arguably be the favourites for this year’s title, having performed consistently throughout the competition. However, their battle against Lancashire in the last eight was far from a one-sided affair and the south coast side scraped through by just one run.
Michael Carberry may once again prove to be the difference on finals day. He scored a brilliant 100 off 66 balls in the quarter-final, and perhaps even more astoundingly, his tally for this year’s T20 now stands at 496 runs – potentially with two games still to play.
Going into the weekend’s play, the Royals are firmly poised as the ones to beat.
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