Although six of the eight quarter-final spots have already been signed, sealed and delivered, the final round of fixtures in the T20 Blast holds plenty of intrigue.
If Birmingham slip up on their visit to Old Trafford to face holders Lancashire, Derbyshire and Durham are well-positioned to strike and seal progress with a win; with the two doing battle on Friday night in the North-East.
The Bears have been highly inconsistent in white-ball cricket this season and although their hosts have enjoyed a poor defence of their title, Lancashire represent a banana skin that could plunge tonight’s fixture at Emirates Durham into the spotlight.
Both sides have been suffering from inconsistency down the stretch, winning two and losing two of their last four games in a period with a high number of format changes.
Durham have played some good cricket in this competition- particularly at home- where they have won all four of their completed games to put themselves in contention for the knockout stages.
The Jets are a side that rely on collective will as opposed to individual brilliance. Their leading run-scorer is Phil Mustard but he has departed on loan to Gloucestershire in a search for red-ball cricket while Paul Coughlin has proved a canny operator with the ball, taking 16 wickets.
Derbyshire nurse a wretched Twenty20 record but have moulded themselves into a vibrant and enterprising white-ball outfit. They have enjoyed themselves this season when able to put runs on the board.
Hamish Rutherford is a fine striker of the ball, fan favourite Jimmy Neesham has proved his worth as a 360 degree cricketer and in Matt Critchley the Falcons have unearthed a leg-spinner of some potential.
Neither of these sides are known for their prowess in the shortest form of the game. Tomorrow night could provide them with the breakthrough they are searching for in the format, or sound another note of disappointment all too familiar in recent seasons.
Keaton Jennings has enjoyed a highly profitable year in all formats, with the role he plays for his county in Twenty20 cricket adding another layer of intrigue to his development.
Jennings opens the batting in the four-day game but is held back in the lower middle-order in T20 matches, earning his place in the side with some nagging wicket-to-wicket bowling. The 24 year-old often sneaks an economical spell in just after the powerplay, when sides look to consolidate.
Derbyshire’s top-order can be explosive with the likes of Durston and Rutherford, so Jennings’ role in stemming the rate- which he’s done nicely this season going at 7.34 an over- could be crucial.
Overseas players are like gold-dust in the county game, but it’s fair to say that Neil Broom hasn’t lit up the Blast this season.
The New Zealander, despite being the team’s joint-high appearance maker, averages 16 at just over a run-a-ball. The Falcons will want, nay demand, greater productivity from him in the rest of the season. A fine 59 against Leicestershire proves that he is up to the task.
Jets coach Jon Lewis has drafted teenage all-rounder Adam Hickey into the squad for tonight’s crucial fixture. The 19 year-old from Darlington made his County Championship debut in Durham’s win at Southport, taking two second-innings scalps and contributing 27 not out to a tight run-chase.
At the other end of the spectrum, this could be Gordon Muchall’s final Twenty20 for the team, although his colleagues will be keen to give him a more fitting send-off in the knockouts.
Durham squad: Paul Collingwood, Keaton Jennings, Calum McLeod, Gordon Muchall, Michael Richardson, Paul Coughlin, Ryan Pringle, Stuart Poynter, Scott Borthwick, Usman Arshad, Chris Rushworth, Adam Hickey
Alex Mellor, wicketkeeper recently brought in on loan from Warwickshire, goes straight into the Falcons squad for the trip to Durham and is likely to take the place of Harvey Hosein behind the stumps, who broke his thumb in the televised Royal London loss to Lancashire.
Derbyshire squad: Wes Durston, Billy Godleman, Ben Slater, Chesney Hughes, Hamish Rutherford, Wayne Madsen, Neil Broom, Jimmy Neesham, Shiv Thakor, Alex Hughes, Alex Mellor, Matt Critchley, Tony Palladino, Ben Cotton, Will Davis
Weather and conditions
The forecast looks OK for tomorrow night in the North-East, although there is a slight possibility of a passing shower disrupting proceedings briefly early in the piece.
Matchups at the Riverside tend not to be prodigiously high-scoring, with Yorkshire the only side to pass 200 this term.
On a side-note, it will be disheartening for the hard-working people at Durham that they have only sold 24% of their Twenty20 tickets at home this season- the lowest of all 18 counties. A bumper crowd and a positive result would do spirits no harm.
Date: Friday 29th July
Ground: Emirates Durham ICG