Cricket

Natwest T20 Blast Finals Day Preview

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It’s time once again for county cricket’s showpiece occasion, where fans from across the country descend to watch a day of fun, drama and big hits.

T20 Finals Day has been the biggest day of the year for county sides since its inception in 2003. Just reaching the final four has been the aim for every side, for the excitement and thrills it can provide.

This year will be no different, as Edgbaston again plays host to the top four sides from the revamped Natwest T20 Blast. Hampshire, Lancashire, Surrey and the newly-named Birmingham Bears will battle it out for the crown this season and here we look ahead at the teams involved and who could make the difference and clinch the trophy.

Semi Final One – Surrey v Birmingham Bears

Surrey

Gary Wilson will skipper a side who may have their best chance of winning the trophy since they took home the inaugural T20 crown in 2003. Packed with explosive batting at the top of the order, Surrey are capable of taking a game away from you in the Powerplay overs.

They finished second in the South Division behind group winners Essex and were handed a quarter-final tie against the Worcestershire Rapids at the Oval. A 23-ball 53 from Jason Roy helped Surrey chase down their target of 142 with 21 balls to spare to reach Finals Day.

Surrey’s batting will probably see them enter the semi-final as favourites to progress, but they will need their somewhat more unreliable bowling unit, featuring the erratic Jade Dernbach, to fire in order to see them through to the final.

Key men

Jason Roy: The young English opener has had an incredible season. He is the top run scorer in the competition having amassed 619 runs at an average of 47.61 and a frightening strike rate of 152.46. Birmingham need to remove him cheaply.

Kevin Pietersen: The man is box office but hasn’t set the world alight this year with a meagre average of 23.55. He is a big game player though and if he is on form, could win matches for Surrey on his own.

Azhar Mahmood: Vastly experienced and a wiley T20 campaigner, Mahmood is critical for Surrey with bat and ball. He is Surrey’s leading wicket taker and is also destructive with the bat on his day.

Birmingham Bears

Without doubt Birmingham will enter Finals Day as the underdogs, given that they only scraped through the group with the final round of fixtures and don’t possess a batting lineup with the power of a Surrey or Hampshire.

Despite this, they should not be taken lightly especially with Finals Day at their home ground. They rebranded for this seasons competition, changing name from Warwickshire to Birmingham, but the club have never been T20 champions. The closest they came was runners up to Surrey in 2003.

Varun Chopra’s side defied the odds to reach Finals Day by beating South Division winners Essex at Chelmsford. Chopra starred with 86 not out and Rikki Clarke smashed a 45-ball 70 to set Essex an unassailable target. Birmingham will require similar heroics if they are to get past Surrey.

KEY MEN

Varun Chopra: A classy batsman who seems to make runs in an understated and unflashy manner, Chopra is crucial to Birmingham’s batting unit. With an average of over 40 this season, the right-hander will be a concern for Surrey.

Rikki Clarke: He seems to be enjoying something of a renaissance after a few years in the county wilderness. Clarke is a superb all-rounder and Birmingham will look to him for quick runs and economical bowling.

Jeetan Patel: The best spinner in the competition this year, Birmingham’s overseas star is the second highest wicket-taker with 23 scalps and could cause Surrey all sorts of trouble on Saturday.

PREDICTION: This semi-final is too close to call. Surrey are the more explosive unit and have the capacity to blow Birmingham away, but the hosts look the stronger all-round team. If Roy and Pietersen don’t fire, expect Birmingham to take this one.

Semi Final Two – Hampshire v Lancashire Lightning

Hampshire

The south coast side are the standout T20 side at finals day without a doubt. Hampshire have clinched the trophy twice since 2010 and will be looking for another victory to pull them level with Leicestershire on three titles.

Hampshire finished third in the South Division, level on points with Surrey, before chasing down an imposing 198 to beat Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge in the quarter finals.

There aren’t too many weaknesses in the Hampshire side. With Michael Carberry and James Vince they have two star names with the bat, while Chris Wood and Danny Briggs are exceptional T20 bowlers. Add to that the experience of this side, and Lancashire have a serious challenge on their hands to reach the final.

KEY MEN

James Vince: The captain and the key batsman. Vince has the ability to score quickly and score big and his average of 30.61 this season doesn’t reflect his real value to this Hampshire side.

Jimmy Adams: If Vince and Carberry have quiet days, the experienced Jimmy Adams is invariably there to guide Hampshire to a strong total. Adams has been an ever present this year and his three 50s have been crucial in getting Hampshire this far.

Danny Briggs: Briggs is the best English spinner in T20 cricket. Year after year he performs for Hampshire and is critical to their bowling unit, with his economy rate and ability to take wickets.

Lancashire Lightning

Only Hampshire have won more T20 matches than Lancashire since 2003, yet the Lightning have never won the trophy and have finished as runners up just once – losing to Somerset in 2005.

This year, Red Rose were superb in the group stage, dominating the North Division to finish as group winners, before they defied the rain to clinch a dramatic one-run victory over Glamorgan with the final ball in the quarter final.

England stars James Anderson and Jos Buttler will be available for selection which will give Lancashire a major boost. They will require big performances from their squad lacking major superstars if they are to reach the final.

KEY MEN

Tom Smith: The all-rounder is enjoying the best season of his career in all formats. In T20 cricket he is charged with getting Lancashire off to a flyer and his strike rate of 141.59 shows how destructive he can be at the top of the order.

Steven Croft: Nobody has played more T20 games for Lancashire and Croft is essential to everything Lancashire do. A brilliant fielder, Croft also bowls and bats in the middle order, making him a vital cog in Lancashire’s side.

Jos Buttler: Probably the only box office T20 star Lancashire have, Buttler will need to have a massive day if Lancashire are to win silverware in his debut season at the club. He is capable of winning matches on his own.

PREDICTION: It’s impossible to look past Hampshire. Carberry and Vince are such dangerous batsmen and when backed up by Briggs and Wood, they are an imposing unit. Lancashire will need heroics from Smith and Buttler to even stand a chance.

FINAL PREDICTION – Hampshire v Birmingham Bears. Hampshire must be favourites to take home the trophy but Birmingham could push them close. With the batting prowess and the added experience of Hampshire, they should take the trophy.

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Topics:
Cricket
Kevin Pietersen
T20
England cricket
James Anderson (cricket)

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