Thursday sees Lord’s host the battle of the sexes. No, it’s not some naff Channel 5 game show, but Middlesex vs Essex in the Natwest T20 Blast.
Both sides currently have five points from their seven games, however Middlesex find themselves bottom of the Southern Group by virtue of net run rate, while Essex sit in fifth. A win for both sides could would see them catapulted up the table into third or fourth place, depending on how other results go for them.
Both sides will be disappointed by their return in the competition so far this season. Both would have started the tournament with ambitions of making it to finals day, and will be looking for Thursday night’s game to build momentum as the group stages reach the halfway point.
The South Group is very tight, with just four points separating 1st to 9th place. A win now could see whichever side attains it set up for the rest of the campaign.
Middlesex have invested heavily in this competition this season, bringing in a specialist coach in Daniel Vettori and, fellow Kiwi, the big hitting Brendan McCullum. No doubt they will be hoping for a return on this investment.
Essex have also brought in a renowned white ball cricketer in Mohammed Amir who, fresh off the back of his Champions Trophy victory, will be looking for more success with his new county side.
With this being a local derby it will be close to a sell out at the home of cricket, and spectators will be hoping for an atmosphere similar to the last game played at Lords, when the Women’s World Cup was won by England on Sunday. We will all have our fingers crossed that the weather stays away and the game can reach its full conclusion.
The bookmakers’ odds indicate a tight match, with Middlesex just favourites, and when you look at their squad it is easy to see why. Cricket is a funny game, though, and especially in the shortest format of the game. If I were a betting man, I’d have a small wager on an Essex away win on Thursday night.
Brendum McCullum at the top of the order will be key for Middlesex, especially with Malan away on England duty. McCullum has had an indifferent start to the campaign and will be looking to make that right on Thursday night. His experience of international cricket will also be vital as he captains a side with a huge amount of expectation on it – expectation that I am sure McCullum will be feeling with his side currently bottom of the group.
With Tom Westley also away on England duty, Ravi Bopara will be even more vital for Essex than usual. His ability to score runs quickly and pace an innings will be key to Essex, either setting or chasing a total. His nagging medium pace and variations will also give skipper Ryan ten Doeschate control in the middle overs, and not allow the run rate of Middlesex to spiral out of control. Bopara’s experience is also key in the field where Ten Doeschate can lean on him for advice too.
Essex will be without Tom Westley and Alistair Cook who are both away on England duty. Cook, who is not a regular in the T20 Blast for Essex, will not be a big loss. Westley, however, is a mainstay of the T20 side for Essex and will be very much missed. Apart from Westley and Cook, Essex have no new injury concerns or players missing from their squad.
Middlesex are also missing a player to England duty in Dawid Malan who, like Westley, looks set to make his debut on the same day against South Africa across London at the oval. Middlesex do, however, still have a squad bursting with international class and experience with McCullum, Morgan, Finn and Southee to name but a few.
Middlesex squad: TBA
Essex Eagles squad: Ryan ten Doeschate (C,) Mohammad Amir, Ravi Bopara, Varun Chopra, Matt Dixon, James Foster (wk), Simon Harmer, Dan Lawrence, Jamie Porter, Callum Taylor, Paul Walter, Adam Wheater, Ashar Zaidi
Essex eagles: AWLLWL
Weather and conditions
The weather looks set fair for the hours of the game, however there is rain forecast for earlier in the afternoon, so don’t be discouraged. Temperatures cannot be described as tropical, but wrap up warm and you will be fine.
Date: 27th July 2017
Ground: Lord’s Cricket Ground
Umpires: Robinson and Warren
Odds (SkyBet): Middlesex 4/5 Essex evens