The clash tonight between the Birmingham Bears and the Notts Outlaws will provide the winners with a certain passage to the quarter finals of this year’s NatWest T20 Blast.
After 12 games each, there seems little to choose between the two teams. The Outlaws sit in second place in the North Group, with the Bears three points behind in third.
Recent form, however, tells a different story. Discounting abandoned and no-result matches, the Outlaws have won six games in a row. They look a far more confident outfit than the team that lost to the Bears in the first match of the campaign back in May.
The Bears, on the other hand, have lost four of their last five games and have a batting line-up that is more prone to collapse than a sappling in a gale.
The Bears’ most recent collapse against the Steelbacks saw them make a lively start and then lose all ten wickets in just 11 overs. More worryingly, this was after a lacklustre performance from a bowling unit that had previously held firm. The averages tell their own story. Openers Ian Bell and Sam Hain average over 35; but next best is the now-departed Luke Ronchi on 22. Players as talented as Rikki Clarke, Laurie Evans and Ateeq Javid are all in desperate need of a decent score.
Despite a battering from the Steelbacks, Rikki Clarke is, as ever, holding the bowling attack together with support from fellow veteran Jeetan Patel.
Whilst the Outlaws also rely quite heavily on two batsmen, Rikki Wessels and captain Dan Christian, they have a bowling attack in which the two spinners, Imran Tahir and Samit Patel, are going for less than seven runs an over and four of the seamers in tonight’s squad (Ball, Mullaney, Fletcher and Gurney) conceding less than eight.
It would be easy to choose Bell, Clarke or Patel as the key man for the Bears. But here’s a choice totally out of left field. How about young batsman Matt Lamb? Just 20, he has yet to make his debut. But even the cautious Dougie Brown surely cannot leave out a man who has just scored a century and a double (372 runs in the match) for the second team against a strong Middlesex outfit. If he does make his first appearance tonight, could he be the man to shore up that tottering edifice that is the Bears’ middle order?
For the Outlaws’ key man, we could go for Riki Wessels who is averaging more than 50 at a healthy strike rate of 144.76. But surely a better choice is ex-Bear Imran Tahir. Take a side with a fragile batting line-up and throw in a leg-spin and googly expert and a collapse of epic proportions is surely on the cards.
The Bears are without Chris Woakes, absent for England. William Porterfield returns from duty with Ireland and, as already mentioned , Matt Lamb comes into the squad. Leg spinner Josh Poysden keeps his squad place but has had little success so far and may not make the final eleven.
Birmingham Bears squad: Ian Bell (c), Keith Barker, Rikki Clarke, Laurie Evans, Recordo Gordon, Sam Hain, Oliver Hannon-Dalby, Ateeq Javid, Matt Lamb, Jeetan Patel, William Porterfield, Josh Poysden, Aaron Thomason, Matthew Wade (wk)
For the Outlaws, Jake Ball becomes available, having been dropped by England. Alex Hales and Stuart Broad remain on England duty.
Notts Outlaws squad: Dan Christian(c), Jake Ball, Luke Fletcher, Will Gidman, Harry Gurney, Michael Lumb, Steve Mullaney, Samit Patel, Chris Read (wk), Greg Smith, Imran Tahir, Brendan Taylor, Riki Wessels, Luke Wood
Birmingham Bears: LWLLLW
Notts Outlaws: WAWWAW
Weather and conditions
Dare I say it, we should have a warm, dry evening with only a light breeze, ideal for playing or watching cricket…
Groundsman Gary Barwell generally produces pretty good pitches for one day matches and this should be no exception.
Date: 22 July 2016
Time: 7.00 pm
Ground: Stadium Edgbaston
Umpires: Michael Burns and Nigel Cowley
Odds (SkyBet): Birmingham 1/1; Notts 4/5