Yorkshire conclude their T20 Blast campaign at home to Northamptonshire on Thursday night, knowing that only a win will be enough to keep their quarter-final hopes alive. Northants are also looking for the win that will take then to the verge of the last eight.
The Vikings surged to the top of the North group at the midway point but four defeats in their last five mean that, despite victory in the Roses clash at Headingley last Friday, they go into their final game outside of the qualification places because of Derbyshire’s win on Tuesday night.
Even a victory would leave a nervous wait for Friday’s last round of fixtures, where they would require favours from elsewhere. To their advantage, however, is that they have the best NRR in the group so far.
Given their recent Championship struggles, the pressure is on Andrew Gale as coach, with Tim Bresnan leading the side, and the home crowd will be expectant. A last eight place is the minimum expectation following last year’s Finals Day appearance.
It leaves Northants in their common role as the underdog, but the game is almost as important for the Steelbacks, who know victory could, if coupled with a Derbyshire win at Leicestershire, seal their own place in the knock-out stages, and keep alive hopes of a home tie.
Even if the Foxes beat Derbyshire, one victory from their final two, with Durham visiting Wantage Road on Friday, would be enough unless Birmingham, Derbyshire and Leicestesrhire all win on Friday night.
The Steelbacks have had their injury problems, particularly in the spin department, meaning the game could be decided in the powerplay. Their recent victories have tended to come on the back of early wickets, whilst in contrast Yorkshire’s success have come from their top order.
David Willey blew cold more often than not in his first season at Headingley, but has lived up to his potential with the bat this year, with over 400 runs at a strike rate of 167, including a scintillating century against Worcestershire. Willey thrives on the big occasion and will relish the chance to face his former club, having blasted 74 in this fixture last year.
Josh Cobb has missed the last six matches for Northants with a hand injury, and his absence was felt both at the top of the order and in the bowling department, given fellow injuries to Graeme White and Seekkuage Prasanna. His return will bring balance and depth to the batting line up, and an experienced second spinner alongside Rob Keogh.
Gary Ballance returns to the Yorkshire squad for the first time since breaking a finger in the second test against South Africa, and joins Matthew Fisher in a 13-man squad on top of the side who lost to Leicestershire last weekend. Sarfaraz Ahmed plays his final game before he departs, even if the Vikings qualify.
Yorkshire squad: Gary Ballance, Tim Bresnan, Matthew Fisher, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Jack Leaning, Adam Lyth, Shaun Marsh, Steven Patterson, Liam Plunkett, Azeem Rafiq, Adil Rashid, Sarfaraz Ahmed, David Willey
As mentioned above, Josh Cobb returns to the Northants squad after a hand injury, but Graeme White remains on the sidelines with a shoulder issue. Nathan Buck is also rulled out. Cobb is likely to replace Saif Zaib in the only change to the side that also lost to Leicester last Friday.
Northants squad: Muhammed Azharullah, Josh Cobb, Steven Crook Ben Duckett, Richard Gleeson, Rob Keogh, Rory Kleinveldt, Richard Levi, Rob Newton, Tom Sole, Ben Sanderson, Alex Wakely, Saif Zaib
Weather and conditions
The game between the two sides at Wantage Road at the start of the campaign was washed out, but there should be no such issues at Leeds on Thursday with dry, if slightly cloudy conditions expected, temperatures remaining in the high teens.
Date: Thursday August 17
Odds: Yorkshire 4/6, Northants 6/5