Twenty20 specialists Hampshire begin their journey towards a sixth consecutive T20 finals day against Essex at the Ageas Bowl on Friday night.
Their squad is full of T20 pedigree, with ace death bowler Yasir Arafat boosting their already strong squad for the fixture. Hampshire have won the domestic English T20 tournament twice in the last five years, and they have not failed to qualify from the group stages since 2008. After a humbling defeat to Yorkshire in the LV County Championship at Headingley, they will be looking forward to returning to their strongest format.
The Essex Eagles have never won the domestic T20 tournament, but they have passed through the group stages in seven of the last eleven seasons, and topped the South Division in 2014. They have a dynamic batsman in Jesse Ryder, and former Netherlands captain Ryan ten Doeschate is another man with IPL experience. Ravi Bopara is away with the Sunrisers Hyderabad, but Essex have a strong team. They haven’t beaten Hampshire in Twenty20 cricket since 2011, losing five games, with two lost to rain.
James Vince was handed his ODI debut in Malahide on May 8, but could only chip in with a catch before rain intervened to spoil the match. He failed twice in Hampshire’s LVCC game at Headingley, but he has plenty of fans and is often talked about as the future of English batting, especially in the limited-overs formats in which he captains Hampshire this year. He has plenty of quality, but his form is not anything to write home about: he hasn’t passed 50 in his last nine innings, but are his fortunes about to change?
Jesse Ryder has surprised many people by contributing as much if not more with the ball than with the bat during his stints with Essex. His classy batsmanship has earned him as many fans as his controversial behaviour off the field has lost him. Hounded by the press in New Zealand and exiled from the national side, he appears to have found a home in county cricket. He ripped through Kent Spitfires with figures of 5/27 last year, and he could pose an interesting challenge to Hampshire with bat or ball in his hand.
Owais Shah joins the Hampshire squad for the first time this season, as does specialist T20 bowler Yasir Arafat. Overseas bowler Fidel Edwards will play his first Twenty20 match of the season, and Jimmy Adams returns to the side after the birth of his second child. Adam Wheater is expected to return from the ankle injury that kept him out of the LVCC game against Yorkshire, and Chris Wood is also back in the squad.
Australian paceman Shaun Tait returns to Essex Eagles for the 2015 season, having played for them previously in 2013. Captain Ryan ten Doeschate has flown back from the Indian Premier League for these fixtures, but Ravi Bopara is unavailable as he is still playing for the Sunrisers Hyderabad. Essex’s top-scorer in last year’s T20 Blast, Tom Westley, is still recovering from a broken thumb and is therefore not going to play.
Hampshire squad: James Vince (c), Jimmy Adams, Yasir Arafat, Gareth Berg, Danny Briggs, Michael Carberry, Liam Dawson, Fidel Edwards, Sean Ervine, Lewis McManus, Owais Shah, Will Smith, Adam Wheater (wk), Chris Wood.
Essex Eagles squad: Ryan ten Doeschate (c), Nick Browne, Dan Lawrence, Adeel Malik, David Masters, Jaik Mickleburgh, Graham Napier, Mark Pettini, Jesse Ryder, Greg Smith, Shaun Tait, Callum Taylor, Reece Topley, Kishen Velani.
Weather and conditions
Grey skies are forecast for this game, but conditions should otherwise be warm enough for spectators and there should be a full game to play.
Date: 15th May 2015
Ground: Ageas Bowl
Umpires: Steve Garratt & David Millns
Odds (SkyBet): Hampshire 8/11, Essex 11/10
Natwest T20 Blast Match Stats (in association with Opta):
Essex have been involved in the three widest run-margin results in English T20s – they lost by 143 runs against Sussex in 2011, beat the Sharks by 128 runs in 2008 and beat Gloucestershire by 122 runs in 2011.
Hampshire have reached the quarter-finals in each of the last six seasons.