Natwest T20 Blast Quarter Finals Preview: Klinger, Ingram primed to succeed
Often criticized for its large number of teams (18 in total) and a long season, England’s domestic T20 tournament, known as the Natwest T20 Blast, has never been as popular as the IPL or the Big Bash or the Caribbean Premier League. But, a combination of the influx of international stars in little phases of the tournament and the sudden rise of English cricket on the international stage has gone a long way in generating interest around the world.
According to reports, ECB also has plans to organize a shorter T20 tournament to rival the other big leagues around the world. However, it is believed that the 18-team county format, which spans over four months, will be retained, meaning England could have two domestic T20 competitions.
This season, a grueling 125-game league phase culminated with dramatic last-day encounters which decided the final quarterfinal spots. The knockout phase kicks off today with the Nottinghamshire Outlaws taking on the Essex Eagles at Trent Bridge in Nottingham.
The semifinals and the finals of the Natwest T20 Blast are played on the same day known as the Finals Day. They will be played in Birmingham on Aug. 20 this year.
Nottinghamshire Outlaws vs. Essex Eagles
Captained by Australian all-rounder Dan Christian, the Outlaws got off to a rocky start falling to the Birmingham Bears and the Durham Jets in the first two games. But a scintillating comeback saw them embark on an eight-game winning streak putting them on top of the North Group. Their opponents, the Eagles, got a tad lucky on the last day of the group phase after a washout against Glamorgan at Chelmsford gave them a point that edged Surrey out of the competition. Colin Ingram’s 56-ball 101 had put Glamorgan in a commanding position as they posted 184-5 in 20 overs, but then the heavens opened and the game was called off. Surrey trounced Kent by 37 runs on the same day, with Jason Roy plundering 120 off 62 balls, but that was not enough for them to qualify as they finished fifth in the South Group with 14 points from 14 games, one behind Essex, who took the fourth spot.
In the quarters, Nottinghamshire will be looking for yet another solid display from wicketkeeper-batsman Ricki Wessels, who has been the Outlaws’ highest run-getter this season with 360 runs in 10 innings at an average of 45 and a strike rate of 143. His opening partner Michael Lumb has been a touch inconsistent in the tournament, but an unbeaten innings of 69 from 26 balls against the Leicestershire Foxes in the last game must have been a huge confidence-booster. Captain Christian, who himself hammered a 16-ball 54 in the game against the Foxes, which Nottinghamshire won by 8 wickets through D/L method, will hold the key for the side that is struggling for survival in the Division One of the County Championship and has failed to book a place in the quarter-finals of the Royal London One-Day tournament.
Nottinghamshire will also rely on the miserly Samit Patil, who has given away runs at an economy of 6.25. His 12 wickets make him the second highest wicket-taker of the season for the Outlaws, as left-arm pacer Harry Gurney leads the pack with 14.
Essex, meanwhile, is sitting pretty on top of the Divison Two of the County Championship and has also qualified for the quarter-finals of the Royal London One-Day Cup, after finishing third in the South Group behind Somerset and Kent. A team packed with all-rounders, the Eagles have been led from the front by Ravi Bopara. But, it is the belligerence of Ashar Zaidi that has stolen the limelight this season. Zaidi, who has scored 357 runs at an average of 44.62 and a strike rate of 167.60 from 10 innings, has three half-centuries to his credit. While the Eagles will pin their hopes on this 35-year-old Karachi-born left-handed all-rounder to play another explosive knock, they will also be relying on the consistency of Graham Napier and Matt Quinn with the ball. With 20 wickets from 11 games, Napier is the second highest wicket-taker in the tournament so far, while New Zealand-born Quinn has taken 16 wickets this season, with a best of 4 for 35 against Surrey on the opening day, a game that Essex lost by 8 runs. Tom Westley with 395 runs is the team’s leading scorer. The tall right-hander has got starts but hasn’t been able to convert them into big scores, having scored just one 50 in 13 innings.
With the 19-year-old Dan Lawrence chipping in with both bat and ball on a regular basis and the experienced Jesse Ryder and Ryan ten Doeschate in the ranks, Essex seem to be a good contender for a Finals Day spot.
Northamptonshire Steelbacks vs Middlesex
Third-placed South Group team, Middlesex, will travel to the runner-up of the North Group, Northamptonshire, on Tuesday for the second quarterfinal. Aided by an explosive top four, an exciting Sri Lankan all-rounder and a few quality bowlers, the Steelbacks have been on the money when it comes to white ball cricket this summer, as they have also reached the last eight of the one-day competition where they face Surrey.
With Richard Levi, Adam Rossington, Josh Cobb and Ben Duckett providing the impetus at the top of the order, Northants look a formidable opponent. All-rounder Cobb has scored 365 runs, including four fifties, and chipped in with the ball at crucial moments, while Duckett, who recently was in the news for smashing a 131-ball 220 for England Lions against Sri Lanka A in a List A game, aggregated 360 runs this season at an average of 45.
In the game against Sri Lanka A, Duckett shared a 367-run stand with Kent opener Daniel Bell-Drummond, who himself scored 171 off 139 balls as the Lions scored a mammoth 425-1 in 50 overs. Days before that innings Duckett had played a knock of 163 not out in a winning cause against Pakistan A. With a string of good performances, Duckett has made a big impression and could well be knocking on the doors of the national team.
Sri Lankan all-rounder Seekkuge Prasanna, who impressed with his national team this summer, has not done much with the bat for Northants in the T20 format, but with 10 wickets at an economy of 7.18, his services will be needed to restrict an attacking Middlesex lineup. Richard Gleeson and Graeme White with 12 wickets each are the joint leading wicket-takers for their side. Add to that the all-round skills of South African Rory Klienveldt and Middlesex have a lot to worry about.
Leading the Division 1 of the County Championship, Middlesex will have sights firmly set on a double this season. With Eoin Morgan and George Bailey in the lineup and James Franklin playing a vital role in the lower middle order, Middlesex probably have the most experienced bunch of international cricketers, which also included Brendon McCullum and Adam Voges in the first half of the tournament.
Dawid Malan, who has scored 368 runs at an average of 40.89 and a strike rate of 148.99, which include four half-centuries and Toby-Roland Jones who has picked up 15 wickets in 12 games and played some handy knocks lower down the order have been the stand-out performers.
Paul Sterling, who was away on Ireland duty for some time, has amassed 231 runs from his nine matches at a strike rate of 162.68, and will be a key to Middlesex’s chances in the quarters along with Kiwi pacer James Fuller who has picked 14 wickets this season.