T20 Blast Quarter-final Preview: Northamptonshire Steelbacks v Middlesex

Northamptonshire and Middlesex will fight it out to join Nottinghamshire as the second team to book their place at Edgbaston for T20 Blast Finals Day, in what will be the first ever meeting between the two sides in the shortest format.

In fact it is over six years since the sides faced off in any white-ball match, when they shared a victory apiece in the 2010 Clydesdale Bank 40 group stage, leaving a fresh matchup with the highest of stakes with Finals Day within touching distance.
Both sides are previous winners of the competition, however Middlesex’s triumph in 2008 is the only time they have reached finals Day, whilst Northants are looking to qualify for the Edgbaston finale for the third time in four years, following their 2013 title and runners up finish last season.

The Steelbacks have thrived on the underdogs tag for the past four years, constantly proving the doubter wrong to become one of the most consistent T20 sides. Even with David Willey’s departure they finished second in the North group, and are the only county to have home quarter-finals in both white-ball competitions after topping the One-Day Cup North Group.

Six wins in their first seven completed fixtures set the base for their qualification, although they did stumble over the qualification line with four defeats in their last five, including back-to-back reverses to a resurgent Yorkshire, but they did just enough to seal a home quarter final on net run-rate.

The Steelbacks boast a batting line up full of power, from the returning Richard Levi at the top and the red-hot Ben Duckett, to the hitting of Rory Kleinveldt and Seekkuge Prasanna, whilst Richard Gleeson has been one of the breakthrough stars of the competition, hitting 90mph.

Perhaps for the first time they will arrive on home turf with the expectations and favourites tag against a Middlesex side missing star names Brendan McCullum, who hasn’t returned from the CPL due to a back injury, and England captain Eoin Morgan, who is still recovering from a chipped finger.

Middlesex also ended the campaign with two defeats that dented hopes of a home tie in front of a packed Lord’s, but it has already been a successful year in comparison to successive Southern group wooden spoons that have preceded 2016, with a first quarter final since their 2008 triumph.

Despite the missing duo, Dawid Malan leads a batting line up with plenty of experience from James Franklin, Paul Stirling and George Bailey, and with Wantage Road generally having provided good batting surfaces, a high scoring encounter could be on the cards.

Team news

Northants welcome back Richard Levi after the big-hitting opening batsmen injured his shoulder taking a spectacular catch at Headingley in the penultimate round of group fixtures. Long term absentee Olly Stone is the only man missing for the Steelbacks, who’s second overseas player Seekkuge Prasanna has extended his deal for the knockout stages.

Northants squad: Alex Wakely (c), Ben Duckett, Josh Cobb, Richard Levi, Adam Rossington, Graeme White, Steven Crook, Seekkuge Prasanna, Rory Kleinveldt, Richard Gleeson, Muhammed Azharullah, Rob Keogh, Moin Ashraf, Ben Sanderson.

Middlesex meanwhile are without a key quartet of players, with McCullum and Morgan joined on the sidelines by the injured James Fuller, whilst Stephen Finn has not been released from the Test squad. George Bailey plays his last game before joining up with the Australia ODI squad.

Middlesex squad: Dawid Malan (c), George Bailey, Stephen Eskinazi, James Franklin, Nick Gubbins, Ryan Higgins, James Harris, Harry Podmore, Tim Murtagh, Toby Roland-Jones, Ollie Rayner, Nathan Sowter, John Simpson, Paul Stirling.

Key men

Richard Levi has been restricted to only eight innings in the Blast due to two separate shoulder injuries, but the big South African has made the most of his appearances by giving the Steelbacks explosive starts, with 255 runs at a strike rate of 157, his impact felt most in the early stages of the campaign.

In the absence of two of the World’s best T20 batsmen, McCullum and Morgan, much will be riding on Middlesex captain Malan at the top of the order. Four fifties have come in 11 innings, all at a good pace, whilst he has good recent memories of Wantage Road having smashed an unbeaten 185 on the ground last month for the England Lions.

Weather and conditions

The weather is set fair for Northampton on Tuesday evening and, although the temperatures won’t hit the heights of the past few weeks, it is set to be dry if slightly cloudy with temperatures in the high teens. A fresh pitch is likely to be used for the quarter final, and generally the one-day pitches at Wantage Road have been good for batting.

Date: Tuesday August 9
Time: 6:30pm
Venue: Wantage Road, Northampton
Umpires: TBA
Odds: Northants 4/5 Middlesex 1/1

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