The fast and furious manor of this year’s Natwest T20 Blast continues this week, as Northamptonshire host Birmingham Bears at Wantage Road on Tuesday night. Both sides are well aware that a win will take them top of the tightly contested North Group.
The sides are currently third and fourth, in a top six separated by just two points in a battle for four quarter final-places. Birmingham are a point ahead of the Steelbacks who, alongside Nottinghamshire, have a game in hand on the other four sides.
Tuesday is the first of three games in five days for Northants, a home double header with Lancashire visiting on Thursday before the trip to struggling Worcestershire on Saturday. They will be aiming for a minimum of two wins from three, to egde their noses ahead going into the final run in.
The return of Richard Levi has proved crucial for the Steelbacks at the top of the order but they continue to have injury problems in the spin department, leaving Rob Keogh to play the role as sole spinner, yet it didn’t stop them dispatching Worcestershire with ease last Thursday.
The Bears, meanwhile, have had an up and down campaign, starting with back to back wins, then three defeats followed by a recent run of three victories. There was a washout in between, to put them right back in the mix, but it is Northants who have won the last four encounters between the sides, sealing victory off the final ball at Edgbaston earlier in July.
Richard Levi missed the opening four games of the Blast, due to concussion, but has been a man making up for lost time since returning at Grace Road 10 days ago – smashing 41 on his comeback, before a 43 ball 88 at Trent Bridge the following day, and then 47 against Worcs. His partnership with Adam Rossington can be lethal if it comes off.
Adam Hose’s sudden mid-season move from Somerset to Warwickshire may have come as a surprise, but the 24-year-old took no time in getting used to his new surroundings. His 76 off 43 balls powered the Bears chase against Lancashire on Sunday, adding further strength to a top order that already includes the class of Ian Bell and Sam Hain.
Muhammad Azharullah returns to the Northants squad for the first time in this season’s Blast, after picking up an arm injury in the week before the first game, whilst Saif Zaib and Tom Sole provide extra spin options should the Steelbacks opt to give either a debut with Graeme White and Josh Cobb out injured.
Northants squad: Azharullah, Nathan Buck, Josh Cobb, Steven Crook, Ben Duckett, Richard Gleeson, Rob Keogh, Adam Rossington, Ben Sanderson, Richard Levi, Rory Kleinveldt, Rob Newton, Tom Sole, Alex Wakely, Saif Zaib.
Birmingham have no new injury worries, with Adam Hose having made his stunning debut at Edgbaston last weekend. Will Porterfield, who he replaced, retains his place in the squad, with Oliver Hannon-Dalby, Ateeq Javid and Boyd Rankin providing further options.
Birmingham Bears squad: Ian Bell, Keith Barker, Colin de Grandhomme, Grant Elliott, Sam Hain, Oliver Hannon-Dalby, Adam Hose, Ateeq Javid, Alex Mellor, Jeetan Patel, Ed Pollock, William Porterfield, Josh Poysden, Boyd Rankin, Aaron Thomason
Weather and conditions
Rain is forecast for Tuesday afternoon in Northampton, but is currently expected to clear in time for the scheduled 6:30pm start. Northants produced a more seamer friendly wicket for the Worcestershire game last week, perhaps understandable given their lack of spin options, so don’t be surprised if they do so again.
Date: Tuesday August 1
Venue: Wantage Road
Odds: Northants 10/11, Bears 10/11