Northamptonshire and Birmingham Bears go into Tuesday evening’s televised clash at Wantage Road knowing the winner will all but be assured of a place in the Natwest t20 Blast quarter finals.
Both sides have had their slip ups in the past couple of weeks, but remain well placed for the top four with three games remaining, whilst the winner will also take pole position in the race for a home quarter final, especially in Northants case sitting a point above the Bears in that second place.
However since thrashing the Bears at Edgbaston a little over two weeks ago the Steelbacks have suffered from a dramatic loss of having and having lost just one of their first 11 games, have seen back to back defeats to Nottinghamshire and Durham.
Both those defeats came having been asked to bat first, and setting a total has proved an issue for Alex Wakely’s men with all three of their defeats having come when batting, with just one successful defence, whilst all five run chases have proved successful.
With the Bears also preferring to chase, four of their six wins have come in that fashion, the toss could is likely to be crucial at Wantage Road, with Ian Bell’s men also having had their struggles in recent times.
Having won their four previous completed matches prior to the defeat to Northants, the eight wicket reverse to the Steelbacks, after being restricted to just 86-8 in 16 overs, was then followed by loses on the road at Yorkshire and Worcestershire.
However they got back on track with victory against Leicestershire on Sunday and will now look to seal a last eight place to maintain chances of reaching a third successive Finals Day on home turf.
It is a rather belated appearance in front of the camera for the Steelbacks, who despite being last year’s runners up and spending this year’s group stages in the top two, have so far been ignored by Sky Sports.
Every other county has been shown at least twice so far this season, with some as much as five times, but Northants have thrived upon proving people wrong and will have the extra motivation of putting in a performance to show Sky just what they’ve been missing.
Northants will be without Ben Duckett after the rising star’s inclusion in the England Lions squad, his place in the batting order set to be taken by either Rob Keogh or Rob Newton, whilst Rory Kleinveldt returned to the side in Friday’s defeat at Durham.
Northants squad: Richard Levi, Adam Rossington, Josh Cobb, Rob Keogh, Steven Crook, Alex wkaely, Seekkuge Prasanna, Graeme White, Richard Gleeson, Moin Ashraf, Rory Kleinveldt, Ben Sanderson, Muhammed Azharullah, Rob Newton.
The Bears could name an unchanged line-up, with the 11 who beat Leicestershire on Sunday all included in a 14-man squad, with Mark Adair, Recordo Gordon and Chris Wright included if they feel the need to make a change.
Bears squad: Ian Bell, Mark Adair, Keith Barker, Rikki Clarke, Laurie Evans, Recordo Gordon, Sam Hain, Oliver Hannon-Dalby, Ateeq Javid, Jeetan Patel, Josh Poysden, Aaron Thomason, Matthew Wade, Chris Wright.
Only Michael Klinger has passed 50 more times than Josh Cobb in this season’s Blast, with his 68 at Durham on Friday night his fourth half century, providing a consistent form for Northants at number three, a position which will be more crucial with usual number four, Ben Duckett, unavailable, with Cobb having showed his experience in Northants 100% chasing record.
Matthew Wade was a late signing for the Bears to replace Luke Ronchi after his call up to the New Zealand squad, but the Australian has made an instant impression with a spectacular 74 off just 32 balls in his second appearance, providing some power to the more traditional style of openers Sam Hain and Ian Bell.
Weather and conditions
Tuesday is set to be the hottest day of the year as summer belatedly arrives, with temperatures still forecast to be 30 degrees into the evening and the 6:30 start time. A fresh pitch is likely to be produced for the TV cameras, which usually means plenty of runs at Wantage Road.
Date: Tuesday July 18
Venue: Wantage Road Northampton
Umpires: Neil Mallender, Steve Garratt, Paul Baldwin (3rd umpire)
Odds: Northamptonshire 10/11, Bears 10/11
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