T20 Finals Day preview
For a side whose focus so often falls upon the shorter format of the game, it’s somewhat of a surprise how close Essex came to missing out on qualification from the South Group. Ending up as one of the two best third-placed teams, the Eagles have since demonstrated why so much is expected of them in Twenty20, with a formidable 47-run victory over Nottinghamshire in the quarter-finals at Trent Bridge.
Essex stunned the Outlaws with arguably the best bowling attack in the competition – Shaun Tait, Reece Topley and Graham Napier. Noticeably they didn’t revert to spin in the middle overs, instead pursuing with an array of electric pace, with Tait rewarding the faith in pace with his first hat-trick.
History dictates that Essex resides in the first semi-final. This will be their fifth occasion competing in the opening tie of the day – where they have lost every time. If they are to realise their potential they will have to overcome their underachievers tag.
The Royals enter Finals Day as favourites and look as assured of winning as Shane Watson is to be dismissed LBW, so consistent have they been. Only a shock loss to Kent has dented their unbeaten record. Stability has proved crucial for Hampshire’s endeavors, maintaining a top order of James Vince, Michael Carberry and Jimmy Adams throughout the tournament.
Carberry, in particular, has flourished of late, confidently smashing an unbeaten century to help the reigning champions to their fourth successive Finals Day. In his last five T20 matches he averages 92.33 with the bat and will be sorely missed if removed cheaply. But, as skipper Dimitri Mascarenhas has reiterated in the build-up to Saturday’s six-hitting bonanza, Hampshire is more than one man: Neil McKenzie has hit almost 300 runs this season in the competition and four bowlers have claimed 10 or more wickets.
More disheartening for county cricket fans though, will be the absence of Mascarenhas from next year’s contest, when he retires at the end of this season. It would be a fitting tribute to the captain if he continued Hampshire’s heritage in the format with a record first back-to-back tournament win.
The Steelbacks have stunned many with their disciplined bowling and spirited batting performances. They started the season having won only three out of their previous 27 matches since 2010, but topped the Midlands, Wales and West Group top, winning seven and losing three.
In Muhammad Azharullah, a Pakistan fast bowler found playing in the Bradford Cricket League, Northants posses the leading wicket-taker in the tournament with 24 wickets. While he has led the attack, 23-year-old David Willey’s proven to be a suitable foil, whose stroke-play should not be underestimated. The youngster, who begins Finals Day as the fifth highest wicket-taker this year, was recently rewarded for his performances with a call-up by Ashley Giles to the England Lions squad.
But it is the fully-fledged international batting pair of Australia’s Cameron White and Scotland’s Kyle Coetzer, whose maturity at the top has guided Northants through their campaign, which will decide whether they reach the final.
The absence of captain Gareth Batty from the side – due to a two-game ban after his shouty exchange with Somerset’s Peter Trego during the quarter-final stage – has left Surry rudderless at a time when they need steering the most. Making their first appearance at Finals Day for seven years, success at Edgbaston may offer the respite needed to revive a dour Championship season.
An insistence on bringing in high-class foreign talent on short-term contracts has assisted Surrey in qualification but at the detriment of the players not knowing whom they could be sitting next to in the changing room. The return of Chris Tremlett from injury and international duty adds another destructive bowler to their already well-stocked ranks.
The London side has lost all four of their previous T20 fixtures with Hampshire, and the Brown Caps batsman must produce an imposing target if they are to have any chance of reaching their first final in nine years.