The Birmingham Bears and Worcestershire Rapids will compete, not just for important points in the T20 Blast North Group and for local bragging rights but for the inaugural Norman Gifford Trophy.
A former captain of both Warwickshire and Worcestershire, Norman took more than 2000 first-class wickets in a 29-year career, with the trophy named in his honour following a social media campaign amongst supporters of both teams. It will be awarded to tonight’s winners and then contested at each future T20 Blast meeting between the two sides.
Both teams started their 2016 T20 campaigns with impressive wins last week. The Bears chased down a target of 180 to beat Notts by six wickets. Jeetan Patel was back in the old routine with 3-23 off his four overs; and Sam Hain, though suffering a miserable run of form in four day cricket, hit a majestic unbeaten 92 off just 54 balls. Meanwhile, the Rapids had their own young batting hero, Tom Kohler-Cadmore compiling 127, also off 54 balls, and with Joe Leach taking 5-33, the home side saw off Durham by a clear 38 run margin.
Add in the fact that these teams were the top two in their group last year plus the certainty of a near-sell out crowd and we have an exciting prospect ahead of us. ECB chairman Colin Graves, who recently described the T20 Blast as “mediocre” will presumably have something better to do on a Friday evening than come to Edgbaston or tune in to Sky TV. Should he be tempted to take a look, he might well have occasion for a rethink.
New Zealander Luke Ronchi is no Brendon McCullum. But, as a wicketkeeper-batsman, he has been brought in to provide impetus to the Bears’ batting line-up. His brief innings of 22 off just ten balls did exactly that last week at a vital time and powered the Bears to victory over Notts when they seemed to be faltering.
For the Rapids, vice-captain Joe Leach is a key performer. A whole-hearted fast-medium bowler, he has consistently taken wickets across all competitions in the last two seasons. His batting skills are not to be ignored either. Rapids’ bowling coach Matt Mason has been quoted as believing that Leach is good enough to push for an England Lions spot as a genuine all-rounder.
The Bears are without two key all-rounders. Chris Woakes is on England duty and Rikki Clarke is unavailable for personal reasons. Boyd Rankin returns from injury to reinforce bowling resources that were starting to look slightly stretched. The Bears also include two young all-rounders in their squad, Irishman Mark Adair and Birmingham-born Aaron Thomason.
Birmingham Bears squad: Ian Bell (captain), Mark Adair, Laurie Evans, Recordo Gordon, Sam Hain, Oliver Hannon-Dalby, Ateeq Javid, Jeetan Patel, William Porterfield, Josh Poysden, Boyd Rankin, Luke Ronchi (wicket-keeper), Aaron Thomason, Chris Wright
The Rapids have named an unchanged squad. Moeen Ali is, of course, still absent on England duty. Pacemen Chris Russell and Charlie Morris plus batsman Alexei Kervezee join the team that beat Durham last week.
Worcestershire Rapids squad: Daryl Mitchell (captain), Ed Barnard, Joe Clarke, Ben Cox (wicket-keeper), Brett D’Oliveira, Matt Henry, Alexei Kervezee, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Joe Leach, Charlie Morris, Chris Russell, Mitchell Santner, Jack Shantry, Ross Whiteley
Weather and conditions
We should get a fine evening, though the temperature will probably drop several degrees during the game.
Groundsman Gary Barwell will hopefully live up to his reputation for producing good T20 pitches that offer a little help to the bowlers whilst rewarding shot-making skills.
Date: 27 May 2016
Time: 7.00 pm
Ground: Stadium Edgbaston
Umpires: Rob Bailey and Neil Mallender. Third umpire Peter Hartley
Odds (SkyBet): Birmingham 4/6; Worcestershire 6/5