On Saturday 29th August, eyes will turn to Edgbaston as the most exciting event on the English domestic cricket calendar takes place: T20 Finals Day. This year hosts and reigning champions Birmingham Bears will take on Northants Steelbacks in semi- final one, and Hampshire play Lancashire Lightning in semi-final two. And the winners will meet in the final, where they play for the T20 Blast crown.
The Bears will go into finals day as favourites after topping the North group, winning ten of their fourteen games and cruising past Essex in the quarter finals. Add that to the fact they have the massive advantage of playing in front of a home crowd at Edgbaston, AND they’re the reigning T20 Blast champions. So adding all those factors together I think it’s clear that it’ll take something special to beat the Bears.
Bowling and fielding has been the Bears strength throughout this competition thus far, with Recordo Gordon and Oliver Hannon- Dalby taking 21 and 19 wickets respectively. And with a battery of spinners in their squad, including overseas star Jeetan Patel and impressive youngster Josh Poysden, the Bears will be suited to pretty much any pitch that is produced. Adding England man, Chris Woakes’ return to fitness, the Bears’ bowling attack is certainly something to be feared. Though, with Ian Bell coming back to an already experienced batting line up, despite the missing Brendon McCullum, their batting is not to be scoffed at.
After losing their opening three games in the competition, they’ve built up some real momentum, winning seven of their last eight T20 matches, to finish third in the North group. And they had David Willey to thank for their finals day place, following a sublime 40-ball century in their quarter final win over Sussex.
The winners in 2013, the Steelbacks have based their success around a powerful batting line up this season with the aforementioned David Willey leading the way, with back up from South African big-hitter Richard Levi and Josh Cobb. As well as Rory Kleinveldt, primarily in the side for his bowling (13 T20 Blast wickets) he boasts a ridiculous strike rate of 225.6. Willey also pedigree with the ball, and has previous on finals day as it was his hattrick with the ball in the final which helped them become the 2013 T20 Blast champions. But it is experienced Pakistani, Azharullah who leads the attack for the Steelbacks, having taken 15 wickets at 22.46 this season. The Steelbacks will also receive a massive boost as overseas superstar Shahid Afridi returns for them.
Hampshire, arguably the most consistent performers of English domestic T20 over the years, have reached their sixth Finals Day in a row. The winners from 2010 and 2012, ensured their place this year by finishing third in the South group and then beating Worcester in the quarter final thanks to a superb 107 not out from Captain James Vince.
Hampshire’s limited over success has traditionally been down too their use of spin, but this year their game is been slightly more balanced- despite the emergence of young leg-spinner Mason Crane and Danny Briggs and Will Smith’s consistent displays. Their seam attack has looked stronger this year with left armer Chris Wood and Yasir Arafat taking 18 and 17 wickets respectively, bowling predominantly at the death. James Vince’s batting form has earned him a spot in England T20 squad, and he definitely deserves it after scoring 641 runs at 58.27. And with two former England men, in Michael Carberry and Owais Shah at the top of the order with Vince, the Hampshire batting line up is always dangerous.
Following a tie in their quarter final encounter with Kent, and only finishing fourth in the North group, Lancashire may count themselves lucky to be at Finals Day. Though last year’s losing finalists certainly have pedigree in the T20 game as this is their sixth finals day, also losing out in the 2003 final.
Despite traditionally being the ‘nearly men’ of the competition, this year might be different as they have come through a number of high pressure situations this year and they boast an impressive all round side, and with Ashes winner, Jos Buttler returning to the side they have another hugely impressive batsman in their line-up. The two key performers for the Lightning thus far have been; Captain Stephen Croft and Australian star James Faulkner, both have excelled in all three aspects of the game, with Croft scoring 460 runs at 51.11 and taking 11 wickets, whilst Faulkner has taken 20 wickets at 13.1 and scored 277 runs. They have received support from experienced South African batsman Ashwell Prince and consistent the Karl Brown who have both scored over 300 T20 runs this year. And left-arm spinner Stephen Parry has weighed in with an important 21 wickets.
And now for some tips from our very own Burn FM Sports team…
Matt Bullin – Head of Sport
Winner: Birmingham Bears. I think the home advantage is not something that can be ignored; it’ll give them a huge boost. As well as that, they’ve been the most consistent other the course of the competition and have looked one of the most well rounded sides. And with Ian Bell returning, they’ve got a class act back in the opening spot.
Jack Fantham – Deputy Head of Sport
Winner: Northants Steelbacks. We saw how destructive David Willey can be with the bat in the quarter final, and what a match winner he is with the ball in the 2013 final. Add in Azharullah, one of the most underrated bowlers in the county and a solid squad, on their day they can beat anyone.
Matt Riley – Webmaster/ Cricket correspondent
Winner: Lancashire Lightning. I think we’ll have a repeat of last year’s final this time with Lancashire coming out on top – form goes out the window for finals day but I feel the Bears haven’t performed as well under pressure situations this year where as Lancs have such as the Roses game or their Quarter Final against Kent.
Niall Flynn – Head of Station
Winner: Lancashire Lightning. I’ll go with Lancs, it’s a very tough one to call this is one of the most even Finals Days in years. I think Jos Buttler, is going to swing it their way- he’s a fantastic player.
Jack Johnson – Sports commentator
Winner: Birmingham Bears. I’m backing the Bears because the passion of the Edgbaston crowd has carried them so far this summer, and I think the crowd will act as a great 12th man.
Sam Bernard – Sports commentator
Winner: Hampshire. I’m a huge fan of James Vince, and I think he’s really going to put his stamp on this Finals Day and take Hampshire to victory. I hope he secures a spot in the England side, I love the way he caresses the ball to the boundary.
Sam Harrison – Sports commentator
Winner: Birmingham Bears. The home advantage is a big one for me, and every time I’ve seen them they’ve been consistently good- to win 10/14 group games is a massive statement.
Will Poyser – Sports commentator
Winner: Lancashire Lightning. Does Freddy Flintoff play for Lancaster? I’ll go with them. (I didn’t have the heart to tell him)