The Friday evening contest between the Birmingham Bears and the Northants Steelbacks is hardly a top-of-the-table clash, more like an opportunity for the Lost Boys of the Bash to redeem themselves.
Last weekend was disastrous for the Birmingham Bears, who conceded two totals of over 200 and lost to both the Leicestershire Foxes and the Durham Jets. This leaves them sitting in seventh place in the table with just two wins from five games.
The Northants Steelbacks come to Edgbaston straight off the back of defeat yesterday evening to the Derbyshire Falcons. This was their fifth consecutive loss and leaves them with only the faintest hope of returning to Edgbaston for Finals Day in September.
The Bears maybe showed some complacency in making no changes after their defeat to the Foxes, and paid the price with another sub-standard bowling performance against the Jets.
They have plenty of effective batting, led by Sam Hain and Ian Bell who average 54.50 and 52.00 respectively, followed by Colin de Grandhomme whose strike rate is 188.46. It’s the bowling that is causing concern. Only two bowlers have strike rates below nine an over and top wicket-taker Ollie Hannon-Dalby goes for 10.75 runs per over.
The Steelbacks may count themselves unlucky in losing to Worcestershire in a game reduced to nine overs a side, but all their other defeats have been by large margins. In three out of five games, the opposition have batted first and topped 200.
They have problems with both bat and ball. Captain Alex Wakely is bravely keeping his head above water, averaging 46.33; and the talented Ben Duckett is close behind with 40.40. After that it is a sorry story with batsmen such as Josh Cobb, Richard Levi and Steven Crook all averaging below 20.
As for the bowlers, it is probably best to draw a veil over their averages and economy rates. Suffice it to say that Rory Kleinveldt tops the averages but his five wickets have cost 38 runs each and his economy rate is 12.12.
After the defeat to the Falcons, skipper Wakely confessed that he had few explanations for his team’s failures since they were, he felt, doing all the right things in preparing for matches.
For the Bears, Colin de Grandhomme has the ability and power with the bat to destroy any attack. Against Durham Jets, he and Sam Hain put on 110 in just 50 balls. The New Zealander hit leg-spinner Imran Tahir for four consecutive sixes. With that hitting ability, he has the power to turn any game.
The Steelbacks have, in Ben Duckett, someone who can, like de Grandhomme, take a game by the scruff of the neck and transform it. He has scored two half centuries already in the competition, but the Steelbacks could do with him hitting an even richer vein of form throughout the rest of the competition, starting with this game at Edgbaston.
Bears coach Jim Troughton is clear where his side’s failings have been. “We need to nail our bowling skills better – we can’t keep leaving ourselves needing the perfect batting performance,” he says. That suggests that there may be changes to the bowling unit. Ex-Steelback Olly Stone may just about be fit again and would give an edge of pace to the attack.
Another returning from injury is young all-rounder Aaron Thomason who scored a T20 century for the second team this week as well as taking useful wickets.
Birmingham squad: Grant Elliott (c), Tim Ambrose (wicket keeper), Ian Bell, Henry Brookes, Colin de Grandhomme, Oliver Hannon-Dalby, Sam Hain, Adam Hose, Jeetan Patel, Ed Pollock, Josh Poysden, Boyd Rankin, Will Rhodes, Dom Sibley, Olly Stone
Northants also have some head-scratching to do before they announce their team. Quick man Richard Gleeson has just about recovered from injury, and has had games for the second XI, so it will surely be tempting to play him. Others such as Kyle Coetzer and Saif Zaib may come into contention but it is difficult to see too many options that would actually strengthen the team.
Northants squad: tbc
Weather and conditions
The forecast for Friday is that cloud may increase giving at least a possibility of showers in the evening. Hopefully Messrs Duckworth and Lewis can take another evening off, but there is just a possibility that they may be needed.
We can expect, weather permitting, a true pitch with potential for more high run scoring.
Date: 20 July 2018
Time: 7.00 pm
Odds (SkyBet): Birmingham 4/7 ; Northants11/8