A week after the conclusion of a topsy-turvy, rather old-fashioned test series – featuring dramatic collapses, doughty recoveries, pressure-building spin and lazily beautiful cover drives – cricket will this weekend show a different side with the conclusion of the T20 Blast. Northamptonshire, Yorkshire, Durham and Nottinghamshire (or, if you prefer, the Steelbacks, Vikings, Jets and Outlaws) will fight it out for pyrotechnic glory at Edgbaston, with a hefty £175k prize pot on offer for the winners.
Notts are arguably the team to beat, having lost just twice during the group stage and defeated a strong Essex in the quarter-finals. Stuart Broad and Alex Hales will be on hand to bolster the ranks and in Australian skipper Dan Christian they have a chief Outlaw to match both Robin Hood and Ned Kelly.
But one of the joys of T20 cricket is that differences in quality can become marginal on any given day, so predicting a winner is no easy task (though rain may be in with a decent shout).
For Yorkshire, David Willey is a key all-round presence, and the bowling attack draws strength from being multi-faceted: Bresnan, Rashid, Plunkett, Willey are a fearsome foursome. They will take on Durham in the day’s second semi-final. Stokes is back from injury for the Jets (the club’s sponsor is the Emirates airline), as is Mark Woods. But it is Paul Collingwood’s stubborn leadership which perhaps gives Durham their best hope of victory.
Northants, however, have the best record of the four semi-finalists in this competition. Runners-up last year and winners in 2013, the county has understood better than most what is needed to be consistent challengers in cricket’s shortest form. And in Ben Duckett the Steelbacks have one of England’s brightest – and most explosive – batting prospects. He could be the man to light up Birmingham tomorrow.
Duckett looks to T20 light relief
A successful T20 finals day for Duckett would be some consolation for having been overlooked for a spot in England’s one-day squad to face Pakistan (and for Northamptonshire’s narrow failure this week to make the semi-finals of the Royal London One Day Cup).
After all, having scored a startling 220 not out off 131 balls for England Lions against Sri Lanka A last month, Duckett must wonder what he has to do to get noticed. He had already scored 163 not out against Pakistan A earlier in the tri-tournament (and another fifty against the Sri Lankans). He is probably not alone in feeling disappointed. Sam Billings, Dawid Malan and Daniel Bell-Drummond all scored heavily in the three-way competition. Surrey’s Curran brothers are both knocking patiently on the door of the England selectors too.
In fact, of the England Lions who performed so terrifically in July, only Mark Wood – returning from injury – made it into the senior squad. Given recent successes, that is perhaps understandable and the positive way to look at things is that there is a genuine depth of talent waiting to be plundered. On the other hand, with five ODIs to come in the next fortnight, it seems a shame not to test some of those who are presumed to be next in line for full honours. Still, at least the Lions’ success will keep England’s current incumbents on their toes.
Sri Lanka a different side at home
After their dismal tour of England, Sri Lanka looked more like no-hopers than world-beaters. In three tests not a single one of the team’s batsmen scored a total of two hundred runs, and only Nuwan Pradeep scooped more than seven English wickets.
Back on home soil, however, it’s a different game. Against the mighty Australians, Sri Lanka pulled off a 3-0 whitewash, winning by 163 runs, 229 runs and 106 runs. For Rangana Herath, 28 wickets at 12.75 tell their own story. For the Aussies, it was nothing sort of a thrashing.
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