Northants Steelbacks return to Edgbaston for the first time after winning their second T20 Blast title in four years, almost 11 months ago. Constantly written off and underrated, Northants will have no doubts about mounting a strong challenge to their title this year.
The Steelbacks would have been disappointed with their RLODC campaign, as only Warwickshire finished below them in the North Group. Five wins from eight in the Championship, however, could have seen them sit higher than fourth in previous years were it not for the strength of the division this season.
Ben Duckett scored his first hundreds of the season in games seven and eight and the 22-year-old has taken his return to form straight into the Blast with scores of 72 and 69 in the opening two matches.
A change of name has produced a change in form for the Bears as their season to date has produced nothing to write home about. The Blast has provided a much needed change of pace for the 2014 Champions after winning their first two matches – despite a lucky escape against Notts.
The result between the Birmingham Bears and the Notts Outlaws could not have been less relevant, when Luke Fletcher was lying on the turf on Saturday evening. Thankfully, Fletcher has been discharged from hospital since, although he has been forced to sit out of the rest of the season in order to undertake a full recovery period. It’s a small price to pay for what could have been unimaginably worse.
The Bears made two changes from their opening win against their local rivals, opting for another spinner in Ateeq Javid. Olly Stone was most likely left out against Notts as a precaution after he made his long awaited return from injury – his figures of 0-32 not reflecting the youngster’s natural pace and aggression. Jonathan Trott has been overlooked so far in the Blast, despite being the shining light with the bat for his side this season.
Birmingham Squad: TBA.
Northants, on the other hand, fielded the same XI in both matches against Derbyshire and Durham. A top order of Duckett, Rossington, and Cobb is formidable as any in the country. All-rounders Crook and Kleinveldt are vital at the end of an innings with both bat and ball but the Steelbacks’ real strength lies in their spin attack. Graeme White and overseas signing Tabraiz Shamsi’s guile and variation will threaten any line-up in the country.
Northants Squad: TBA.
Jeetan Patel proves his worth to his adopted county more so in the Blast than in any other competition. The off spinner rarely concedes over thirty from his four overs and is constantly at the right end of the wicket-takers list come the knockout stage. He already has six wickets this year – taking 4-22 against the Outlaws.
Ben Duckett’s susceptibility against spin is the main reason the left-hander is playing for Northants at the moment instead of being involved in the England setup. Nevertheless, 361 runs in his last four matches (in all competitions) resembles the kind of form which lead to his England call up this time last year. More so, his role as opener allows the youngster to play his natural attacking style.
Birmingham Bears: WW
Northants Steelbacks: AWL
Weather & Conditions:
Nottinghamshire’s score of 158 was only par despite Birmingham only just chasing it down. Both sides will back themselves to go higher, even though the hosts resisted the temptation to bring in the boundaries on Saturday evening. Clouds will likely cover Edgbaston but it should stay dry and the extra rain this week should not affect the fast outfield.
Odds (SkyBet): Birmingham 4/5 Northants 1/1