Whilst the Roses clash will grab the lions share of the attention on Friday night, the North group offers another blockbuster clash as the top two sides, Birmingham Bears and Northamptonshire Steelbacks, meet at Edgbaston.
The 2013 and 2014 Champions are separated by only net run-rate at the top of the group, Northants edging the Bears with both having won five of their opening seven games. Each will know a win on Friday will put them on the verge of a quarter final place, with six games still to play.
It is also a repeat of last year’s semi-final when Northants stunned the Bears on home turf; David Willey’s three wicket burst leaving the hosts 14-4, a position from which they couldn’t recover. Northants comfortably progressed into the final, only to be denied a second title in three years by Lancashire.
Despite that setback the Bears have become a force to be reckoned with in the shortest format, following their title win in 2014 by topping the North group last year, and are once again looking well set for a top two finish.
Their only defeat so far came against Worcestershire in their opening home game, but Ian Bell’s men have gone on to win their next four completed games.
Whilst their batting may not boost the power of many they do enjoy an experienced bowling attack, led by Rikki Clark and Jeetan Patel, to restrict the opposition total before the likes of Ian Bell and Varun Chopra use all their experience in the run chase. It may not be pretty, but it has proved highly effective.
Northants meanwhile may not have the same quality on paper, but they pack plenty of power hitting in their line-up, even without their overseas players, Rory Kleinveldt and Seekkuge Prasanna.
After winning their first three games, the Steelbacks have managed to maintain their momentum despite losing four key plays to injury. They have followed a defeat to Worcestershire with successive victories over Durham and Leicestershire.
The Steelbacks’ injury crisis has forced them to think slightly outside the box, especially in the bowling department, but Richard Gleeson and Moin Ashraf have come in and played starting roles in recent victories, the former despite continuing to work part time for the Lancashire Cricket Board.
The toss could be vital on Friday night as both sides have shown a preference to chase so far in the competition, with both having won four of their five respective wins when batting second. Apart from last-year’s semi-final, Edgbaston hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Northants. They have booked just the one win in their last six group clashes in the second city.
Rikki Clark has often led the way for the Bears with the new ball and once again sits top of the wicket taking charts, whilst boasting an economy rate of below a run a ball. The all-rounder has often been a thorn in the Northants side, with a remarkable economy of just 3.76 in his last six matches against the Steelbacks.
Adam Rossington has moved up to the top of the order this season and, after a few short and frenetic innings early on, has settled into the role, giving himself a bit more time rather than instantly shooting from the hip. That led to a half century in the win against Leicester, whilst a run a ball Championship century suggests he is in good touch.
The Bears are likely to name an unchanged team, with the 11 who comprehensively beat Leicestershire last Friday all included, in a 13-man squad. Josh Poysden is likely to offer a second spin option, should it be required, whilst 19-year-old Aaron Thomason makes up the squad. Friday will be Luke Ronchi’s final match before joining up with the New Zealand squad.
Birmingham squad: Ian Bell, Mark Adair, Rikki Clarke, Laurie Evans, Recordo Gordon, Sam Hain, Oliver Hannon-Dalby, Ateeq Javid, Jeetan Patel, William Porterfield, Luke Ronchi, Josh Poydsen, Aaron Thomason
Northants are also coming off the back of comfortable victory over Leicestershire and are also likely to be unchanged, with Richard Levi having made his comeback in the victory last Sunday. Rory Kleinveldt is on the road to recovery, but his return is still a few weeks away, whilst Seekkuge Prasanna will rejoin the club next week following the end of the Sri Lanka ODI series.
Northants squad: Alex Wakely, Muhammed Azharullah, Moin Ashraf, Josh Cobb, Steven Crook, Ben Duckett, Rob Keogh, Richard Gleeson, Richard Levi, Rob Newton, Adam Rossington, Ben Sanderson, Graeme White
Date: Friday July 1st
Umpires: Steve Gale, Martin Saggers
Odds: Bears 8/11, Steelbacks 11/10