The NatWest t20 Blast: A day most cricketers dream of – and what a blast it is set to be!
In his exclusive column, Don Topley looks ahead to the t20 Blast Finals Day at Edgbaston
The highest profile day of the domestic cricket season – The NatWest t20 Blast Finals Day – will be held tomorrow at Edgbaston.
This year it will be reminiscent of days gone by when the old Nat West Trophy or Gillette Cup Final was celebrated and played in early September.
It’s the day all 18 counties and their players dream of. Playing in front of a capacity crowd at a Test Ground is the greatest day of a county player’s career.
Nottinghamshire Outlaws, already with one white ball trophy in their cabinet - Royal London 50 Over One Day Cup - are probably favourites tomorrow and will be joined by explosive Hampshire, unfancied Glamorgan and hosts, Birmingham Bears, who will have huge support at their home ground.
It’s good and right to see a few England players return to their counties to play in this prestigious day. Stuart Broad, Mason Crane and Chris Woakes all return to strengthen their counties, but spare a thought for the regular journeyman who will be tapped on the shoulder and informed he’s not in the selected 11 for the big day. Normally, a captain will apologise before he announces, “We cannot play 12” - a very awkward moment.
Notts Outlaws are a terrific team who are running away with Division Two of the Championship and, with their One Day Cup success, are still in search of an incredible treble. Peter Moores, my old room-mate at MCC Young Cricketers at Lord’s, has done an excellent job at Notts after being severely and unfairly criticised when in post as England supremo.
Moore’s has a cartel of decent fast bowlers who dominate county cricket in Stuart Broad, Harry Gurney, Jake Ball, Dan Christian. They will bowl eight overs of spin too with Kiwi international Ish Sodi, and the vastly under-rated and former England allrounder Samit Patel. They boast a fine set of t20 bowlers who all have played international cricket. Add the explosive Alex Hales and Rikki Wessels at the top of their order, one can see why they are so dangerous.
Hampshire possess great batting and often tee-off from the very first ball. They have issues with the immensely talented opening batsman, Riley Rousseau, who is out for the season with a badly broken finger. In the Semi-Final last week, Hampshire’s management found some inspiration to promote Pakistan veteran, Shahid Afridi, who smashed an unbelievable 43 ball century. But does lightning strike twice?
Hampshire, missing the England international skills of Reece Topley (stricken with another stress fracture) will bowl 12/20 overs of spin by Crane, Afridi and Liam Dawson. Hampshire play a different brand of cricket with spin and larger boundaries. If Edgbaston have small boundaries tomorrow, the South Coast side will be disappointed and challenged.
Credit to Birmingham Bears and Ashley Giles who have put together useful victories at the end of the campaign to qualify. Investing in youth, poaching batters Dominic Sibley and Adam Hose, together with the pleasing return of Oli Stone, Warwickshire are full of enthusiasm and excitement. Playing in front of a noisy home crowd will help but did the Bears play ‘their final’ by defeating strongly fancied Surrey at The Oval in the emotionally- charged and energy-sapping Semi-Final.
It’s great to see Norfolk’s Oli Stone back, after his high profile move to Warwickshire from Northants in 2015. He has been out for over a year with an horrific knee injury. Stone’s plight, together with Suffolk’s, Reece Topley, reminds us all of the huge challenges of fast bowling on the body.
Glamorgan witnessed more abandoned games than any other county and possibly were aided by those four rained-off matches. They boast a clever set of bowlers but only have three genuine Welshmen and one Englishman. ‘Biltong and barbies’ are most certainly being introduced into the valleys.
This week reaffirmed to me that many counties are not ambitious and don’t even care about the County Championship; Glamorgan put out a 2nd XI side for the visit of in-form Sussex. They rested their t20 players from the tiring four-day game and spent their time preparing for tomorrow’s white ball day.
Four batsmen to watch: James Vince, Alex Hales, Colin Ingham and Dominic Sibley.
Four bowlers to watch: Mason Crane, Oli Stone, Craig Meschede and Jake Ball.
11am Birmingham Bears v Glamorgan
2.30pm Hampshire v Notts Outlaws
6.45pm The Final.