As the final round of the T20 Blast group stage comes around, defending champions Lancashire are left clinging to the slimmest of chances that they can progress to the knockout phase.
Second-bottom in the North Group, the Lightning need to defeat fourth-placed Birmingham and hope that there is no result between Durham and Derbyshire if they are to continue in the competition.
Some might suggest that Lancashire may as well keep an eye on the pigs flying over Old Trafford as the scoreline at Durham, but while there is a chance, Lancashire must take care of their own business.
And that has been somewhat troublesome for them this season. After getting off to a flyer in the Championship at the start of the year, the emergence of the white ball formats has brought with it inconsistency and mediocrity. The Lightning have won three and lost three of their last six white-ball games.
The defence of their maiden T20 crown has been more David Moyes’ Manchester United or Lleyton Hewitt at Wimbledon 2003 than Ashley Giles would have been hoping. After opening up with two heavy defeats at home to Derbyshire and Durham, Lancashire have failed to build any momentum and that leaves them with precious little chance of retaining their title.
A clash against Birmingham is a repeat of the 2014 Blast final and represents a meeting of the last two T20 champions. The Bears’ own form in the competition has been patchy, with six wins and six defeats leaving them in the final qualification spot – knowing that victory at Old Trafford will seal their progression to the quarter-finals.
It’s a must-win clash for both sides and that should make for a fascinating contest. Lancashire will at least want to go out on a high in front of their own fans, while Birmingham will be determined to continue their pursuit of another T20 Blast title.
It’s been a big season for Lancashire batsman Liam Livingstone. Solid and consistent performances with the bat across all formats have earned the 22-year-old recognition with the England Lions and made him a shoo-in with many to sweep the board at Lancashire’s end of season awards. His 98 against Derbyshire in the Royal London One-Day Cup on Wednesday was instrumental in the Lightning’s victory, and the right-hander is now a crucial part of Ashley Giles’ side.
Ian Bell has been in impressive form in the T20 Blast this season, racking up five half-centuries on his way to a solid average of 43.27 from his 12 innings. Bell has provided experience and class at the top of the order after the somewhat mystifying decision by the club to drop the ever-consistent Varun Chopra from their white-ball sides. They will look to the right-hander, who still holds hope of reclaiming his England place, to see them over the line at Old Trafford.
Keith Barker returns to the Bears squad at Old Trafford, while Australian keeper Matthew Wade will continue to keep the gloves. All-rounder Rikki Clarke will hope to add to his 14 wickets in the competition this season.
Birmingham squad: Ian Bell (c), Keith Barker, Rikki Clarke, Laurie Evans, Recordo Gordon, Sam Hain, Oliver Hannon-Dalby, Ateeq Javid, Matt Lamb, Jeetan Patel, Josh Poysden, William Porterfield, Aaron Thomason, Matthew Wade (wk), Chris Wright
Weather and Conditions
Manchester is expecting a little rain through the day today, but everything should be clear and bright by the time they toss that coin.
Date: 29th July 2016
Ground: Emirates Old Trafford
Umpires: Steve Garratt, Graham Lloyd
Odds: Lancashire 1/1, Birmingham 4/5