In line with the summer heatwave currently warming the British Isles, the Natwest T20 Blast is heating up as the final group games of the tournament are played this Friday.
Knockout stage qualification has yet to be fully decided in both the North and South groups, with the honour of playing a quarter-final at home still a possibility for some counties.
Hampshire are the only side to have already played all of their group matches. They are assured passage to the final eight, but are clinging onto a home tie in the latter stages.
They have a two-point advantage over Surrey, who play two games in as many days. With their net run rate currently worse than the Royals’, they should be hoping for four points to guarantee second-place in the group, although they will at least finish in the top three.
Kevin Pietersen & Co. traveled to Lord’s to play Middlesex on Thursday night and secured a dramatic two-wicket win from the final ball. They are now above Hants in second place for the time being at least.
Surrey play away again when they travel to Canterbury on Friday. Kent – who have an outside shot of sneaking into the knockout phase – will be aided by the all-round ability of Darren Stevens.
The big hitter took 4-17 in the side’s Duckworth Lewis method win over Somerset last time out in this competition, before recording second innings figures of 5-68 when Kent beat Surrey in the County Championship earlier this week.
Glamorgan require a point at home to eighth-placed Gloucestershire to send themselves through. But defeat would open the door to both Kent and Somerset, who both trail the Welsh county by two points.
Somerset will fancy their chances against bottom side Middlesex when they meet at Taunton on Friday evening. However, they will be without the services of England international Craig Kieswetter, who is still recovering from the broken nose and fractured eye socket he sustained when he was struck in the head with a ball whilst batting against Northamptonshire.
The only other remaining match in the south sees guaranteed group winners, Essex, host Sussex at Chelmsford. Qualification is just out of reach for the south coast side, deeming this match a dead rubber.
In the North Group, Birmingham Bears are the only side that can still gatecrash the top four. They play second-bottom, Leicestershire, at Edgbaston on Friday night.
If Warwickshire win, then they need Yorkshire to come unstuck against Nottinghamshire at Headingley. Despite Tim Bresnan’s 45 not out, Yorkshire lost their last game – which was
against Warwickshire – to open up the door for the fifth-placed team.
Lancashire are the group winners, having secured victory on Thursday against Durham. Usman Khawaja (44) and Ashwell Prince (43) both batted supremely to ensure a home quarter-final.
Worcestershire – despite their superior net run rate – have a small chance of missing out on the quarter finals, but only if they are to lose at home to Derbyshire, and both Yorkshire and Warwickshire win their games handsomely.
Instead, it seems more likely that the County Championship Division Two leaders will qualify, and a home victory will give them the opportunity to potentially leapfrog second-placed Nottinghamshire, which would provide them with a home quarter-final.
Samit Patel (44) led Notts to victory in a low-scoring encounter against Leicestershire last week, securing their passage to the final eight.
The only other game is between Durham and Northamptonshire on Friday, which will be the North Eastern county’s second game in as many days as well. Both sides can no longer qualify, but will battle it out for sixth place in the North Group.
For the lucky eight teams that progress, they won’t have long to wait until their next match in the competition. The knockout stages commence a week on Friday, carrying on throughout that weekend.
Quarter-final victors will then book their place into the 12th staging of the English domestic T20 Finals Day, scheduled to be hosted at Edgbaston on August 23.