The T20 Blast group stages begin to enter the final stretch this weekend, as North group leaders Northamptonshire host Nottinghamshire at Wantage Road.
The Steelbacks are three points ahead at the top of the table after a thumping victory at second placed Birmingham Bears last Friday, whilst Notts have recovered from a uncertain start to move into fourth place.
The next week is likely to be crucial for the Outlaws hopes, with four games in the next eight days, with home games against Worcestershire and Yorkshire, either side of the short trip to Leicestershire next Tuesday.
At the end of that run they will only have two games to play, but they currently enjoy a point cushion, with a game in hand, over those chasing the final quarter final spot and three wins from the four will put them in pole position for the knock-out stages.
That comes after a start that saw them win only one of their first four games and having missed out of the quarter finals last year despite being highly fancied, the team will be looking to put any lingering demons to bed.
Northants meanwhile sit pretty at the top of the table, having won their last three completed games, despite enduring a frustrating abandonment against Derbyshire last Sunday, and one win from their final five games is likely to be all they need to make the last eight.
The Steelbacks have higher aims now and are now targeting a home quarter final, with a four point gap, having played a game less, to third placed Worcestershire. If they can secure a home tie, as well as the crucial home advantage, it would also provide a much need cash boost to the financially struggling county.
Wantage Road may seem an unlikely fortress, but Northants have won their last seven completed matches on home turf, including all four of their home games so far this season.
However, Nottinghamshire have proved something of a bogey side in recent years, as it is almost a decade since they tasted victory in any competition against their hosts – a run of 17 matches, going all the way back to a Pro 40 clash back in July 2006.
Northants have also never beaten the Outlaws in T20, and although the sides have often been in different groups, they have played six completed games, although remarkably both matches in the 2010 group stage were tied, that’s as close as they’ve come and David Ripley’s men will perhaps be glad that the format only pairs the sides once in the group stage.
The last time the two sides met saw them share 870 runs in 98 overs at Trent Bridge in that remarkable, record breaking One-Day Cup clash, where Northants came within 20 runs of chasing Notts 445-8, the sides sharing the second highest match aggregate in worldwide List A history.
Overseas signing Seekkuge Prasanna is back with the Steelbacks, following the conclusion of Sri Lanka’s tour and is likely to replace Rob Keogh from the 11 that beat Birmingham last Friday, while Rory Kleinveldt is still a couple of weeks from fitness. Rob Newton and Ben Sanderson provide cover in the 14 man squad.
Northants squad: Alex Wakely (c), Moin Ashraf, Muhammed Azharullah, Josh Cobb, Steven Crook, Ben Duckett, Richard Gleeson, Rob Keogh, Richard Levi, Rob Newton, Seekkuge Prasanna, Adam Rossington (wkt), Ben Sanderson, Graeme White.
Nottinghamshire welcome back Chris Read to the First Team squad for the first time since his hand injury. While England call-up Jake Ball is clear to play, his international teammate Alex Hales will not be involved. Andre Russell’s short stint has ended, but Imran Tahir has replaced him and made his debut in the Championship game last week. Luke Fletcher has also returned from a groin injury and is included in a 14 man squad.
Nottinghamshire squad: Dan Christian (C), Jake Ball, Luke Fletcher, Harry Gurney, Brett Hutton, Michael Lumb, Steven Mullaney, Samit Patel, Chris Read, Greg Smith, Imran Tahir, Brendan Taylor, Riki Wessels (wkt), Sam Wood.
Northants may not have missed Seekkuge Prasanna, having won three, and had the other two abandoned, in the five games he missed whilst on Sri Lanka duty, but the big hitting all-rounder certainly provides an extra balance to the Steelbacks side, his leg spin proving economical in the competition so far, whilst he adds to a batting line up full of six hitters.
Riki Wessels has enjoyed batting against his former club in recent times, smashing a century in the record breaking opening stand with Michael Lumb in that One-Day Cup game and with Mick Newell predicting a high scoring encounter, a good powerplay will be crucial, and Wessels can provide the flying start for the Outlaws.
Weather and conditions
A dry Friday is forecast for Northampton, with everything set for a fine July evening of T20 cricket – temperatures should be around 20 degrees and there’ll be plenty of sun to be had as well. Pitches at Northampton have proved good for batting in T20s this season, and whilst it might be a used wicket, there should still be plenty of runs to be had.
Venue: Wantage Road, Northampton
Date: Friday 7th July 2016
Umpires: Neil Bainton, Jeremy Lloyds
Odds: Northants 11/10, Notts 8/11