The Natwest t20 Blast quarter-finals kick off at Hove on Wednesday night as Sussex Sharks face the Northants Steelbacks with both looking to reach Finals Day and move a step closer to a second domestic t20 crown.
In a tightly contested South group, a run of five consecutive wins in the second half of the competition saw Sussex pull away from the pack and secure second place behind Kent, and a home tie in the last eight.
The backbone of that run was four away wins in a row, and they have struggled at Hove, with four of their five defeats in the competitions coming in their six matches at their county HQ.
In Luke Wright, the Sharks’ captain is one of the most experienced t20 cricketers in this country, and has enjoyed a stellar campaign with 564 runs, only second to Michael Klinger in the competition, and his opening partnership with Chris Nash, who has 391 runs, is crucial, while Tymal Mills has provided 18 wickets in 11 games.
While Northants have not have had any standout performers, Richard Levi is fifteenth in the run scoring charts with 351. While they have no bowler in the top 20 wicket takers, they have plenty of potential match-winners, with a deep batting line-up full of power and bowling options including the experience of Rory Kleinveldt and Azharullah at the death.
The Steelbacks were slow starters in the North group, losing their first three matches, but fought back to only lose two more, winning seven out of eight completed matches as the 2013 Champions look to regain the momentum that carried them to an unlikely crown two years ago.
However, the Steelbacks will have to buck the trend that has seen them lose all three of their previous away quarter finals by heavy margins, at Nottinghamshire in 2006, Essex in 2008 and Somerset in 2010.
The two sides have only met once previously in the shortest form on the game, in the 2009 semi-final, where Sussex comfortable won by seven wickets on route to the title at Edgbaston, beating Somerset by 63 runs in the final.
The toss could be crucial, with both sides having shown a preference to chasing so far in the competition. Sussex’s last five wins have all come batting second, although the Steelbacks have enjoyed success defending totals at the death.
In Luke Wright, Sussex have one of county cricket’s most experienced t20 players, with over five thousand career runs in 227 games in the format. That experience will prove crucial as he looks to lead his side to Finals Day, whilst he has hit 564 runs, with a century and three fifties in a partnership with Chris Nash which has proved the backbone to Sussex’s success.
David Willey looks likely to leave Wantage Road at the end of the season, but the home town hero will want to sign off on a high, and can play a major part in taking Northants back to Edgbaston. He may have struggled with injury recently, but smashed 91 in the most recent One-Day Cup match, whilst his bowling and fielding provide a great balance to the Steelbacks side.
For Sussex, Mahela Jayawardena returns, having played the first seven group games. Chris Jordan is available after a lengthy injury.
Sussex Sharks squad: Luke Wright (c), George Bailey, Will Beer, Craig Cachopa (wk), Chris Liddle, Mahela Jayawardena, Chris Jordan, Matt Machan, Tymal Mills, Chris Nash, Steffan Piolet, Oliver Robinson, Michael Yardy
Northants rested a number of players for the Championship match at Kent, with David Willey, Steven Crook and Rory Kleinveldt all not involved. Adam Rossington missed the last three One-Day Cup matches with a back injury and remains a doubt, though Willey should be fit despite struggles with knee and ankle injuries.
Northants Steelbacks squad: tba
Weather and conditions
Morning showers are forecast for Hove on Wednesday, but they should pass by lunchtime ensuring a dry, if slightly cloudy evening on the South Cost, and ensuring the reserve day will not be required, with temperatures set to be pleasant in the late teens.
Date: Wednesday August 12th 2015
Venue: BrightonandHoveJobs.com County Ground, Hove.
Odds: Sussex 8/11, Northants 11/10