Even just three matches into this year’s Natwest T20 Blast, a sizeable gulf has opened up between Hampshire and Sussex, two sides who play each other for the second time in just over a week.
The hosts have won all three and sit joint top, while the visitors have garnered just a solitary point, claimed during a washout against Gloucestershire, and are rooted to the foot of the South Group.
Defeat for Essex last night gives Sussex an opportunity to move up the table, a victory essential to kick start what has been a disappointing start to the shortest format.
Their batting has let them down thus far, falling short chasing totals of 198 and 188 – that one in the reverse fixture last week – and setting just 156 against Gloucester, a total one might imagine the joint leaders would have been able to chase, but for rain.
Luke Wright has passed fifty on two occasions – converting one into a century – but no other batsman has reached that milestone this season.
Hampshire, meanwhile, have been in fine form, setting defendable totals and being clinical with the ball. Legspinner Mason Crane has six wickets with four apiece for the remaining four bowlers, with the same XI featuring in each victory.
After failing to reach Finals Day last year, the first time since 2009, it is beginning to look like Hampshire’s 2016 T20 struggles may have been just a blip.
When they met at Hove last Wednesday, Hampshire made it 13 wins in 14 matches over the Sharks, who have won just three times at The Ageas Bowl in this format.
Mason Crane is a Sussex boy – he was born in Shoreham – and his home county may well regret the decision to leave him out at Under 14 level. He’s had a strong Blast campaign so far with six wickets at just under 11, his variations with the ball dangerous. Crane gave the Sharks a taste of his rapidly-developing talent last week with two scalps, and on a pitch likely to offer him assistance, his spell could turn the match.
Sussex have suffered their two defeats chasing and, regardless of when they bat in this match, they’ll need their top order to play a strong hand. Look no further than Ross Taylor, his talent immense and his experience deep. The skipper has just 91 from so far this campaign but is certainly capable of producing plenty of fireworks, and the Sharks will need him to fire if they are to break their duck.
The hosts have named an unchanged squad from their win over Middlesex on Friday. Jimmy Adams and Chris Wood are the two members of the 13 who haven’t featured and, barring any late injuries, expect them to remain unused.
Hampshire squad: James Vince (c), Lewis McManus (wk), Kyle Abbott, Jimmy Adams, Shahid Afridi, George Bailey, Gareth Berg, Michael Carberry, Mason Crane, Sean Ervine, Rilee Rossouw, Reece Topley, Chris Wood
Tymal Mills featured for Sussex’s second XI on Tuesday having recovered from a hamstring injury and could make his first appearance of the season at Southampton. The remaining 13 members of the squad are unchanged from Sunday’s washed out match at Cheltenham.
Sussex squad: Ross Taylor (c), Ben Brown (wk), Jofra Archer, Will Beer, Danny Briggs, Laurie Evans, George Garton, Chris Jordan, Tymal Mills, Chris Nash, Phil Salt, David Wiese, Luke Wright, Stiaan van Zyl
Weather and conditions
It’s set to be a mildly sunny evening at Southampton and on a generally true surface, this match could be a high-scoring affair.
Date: 20th July 2017
Ground: The Ageas Bowl
Umpires: Paul Baldwin & Michael Gough
Odds (SkyBet): Hampshire 4/7, Sussex 11/8