It’s Bears v Pears time on Friday evening at Edgbaston.
With Lancashire looking like runaway winners of the North Group, there are still three quarter final places up for grabs; and the table is tightly packed. Worcestershire are in second place with 12 points whereas the Birmingham Bears are down in sixth with nine points.
If any more incentive should be needed, the Norman Gifford Trophy, named after the veteran ex-captains of both teams, will be at stake.
So far in the Blast, Birmingham have relied heavily for runs on the trio of Sam Hain, Dom Sibley and Adam Hose. With the ball, captain Jeetan Patel has been as reliably economical as ever. Henry Brookes, though more expensive, has taken 12 wickets.
For the Rapids, Martin Guptill has batted consistently, avaeraging 33 with a strike rate of 143. Wayne Parnell’s all round contribution includes ten wickets as well as valuable runs when needed.
Like everyone else scheduled to play last Friday, the Bears endured a wash-out. The last time they actually got onto the field of play, they inflicted on Lancashire their only defeat of the campaign so far.
The Rapids escaped the Friday deluge by playing Durham the night before. They pulled off a bizarre win. Having scored just 117-7 off their 20 overs, they saw Durham reach 79-0 midway through their 12th over. Then everything went pear-shaped for Durham; and still needing nine runs off Pat Brown’s last over, they finished three short.
Overall, this looks like a match that is too close to call. Getting team selection right in relation to the pitch and weather conditions will be crucial. In that respect, the Bears’ local knowledge may just give them the edge.
For the Birmingham Bears, Australian Chris Green has come in as a replacement for the injured Ashton Agar.
An off-spinning all-rounder, he is very much a T20 specialist. Guyana Amazon Warriors, Lahore Qalandars, Multan Sultans, Sydney Thunder – he has represented all of them around the world but has never played in a first-class match.
In his two games to date for the Bears, he has conceded only 29 runs in six overs. If he can maintain anything like that economy rate, he will be a key factor in the Bears’ push for the quarter finals.
Worcestershire Rapids have seen little of Moeen Ali in the Blast so far. But his penchant for delivering match-winning performance against his old club is well known. Last year, the two teams clashed in the final group game and Moeen destroyed the Bears’ hopes of quarter final qualfication with a blistering innings of 115 off just 56 balls.
The Bears will be without Chris Woakes, on England duty. Ian Bell is out for the season, as are bowlers Olly Stone, Liam Norwell and Ryan Sidebottom. Fidel Edwards has completed his loan period and returned to Hampshire.
Birmingham squad: tbc
The Rapids have brought in Hamish Rutherford to replace Callum Ferguson who has returned to New Zealand for personal reasons. Rutherford made a big impression when he played for Worcestershire earlier in the season, scoring centuries on both his first-class and List A debuts.
Josh Tongue has a side strain and is out for the rest of the season.
Worcestershire Rapids squad: tbc
Weather and conditions
The forecasters are suggesting a warm, dry evening with maybe even a hint of evening sunshine.
The Edgbaston square has been much used this season, with Ashes and World Cup commitments added to the usual schedule of county games. So it wouldn’t be surprising to find a used pitch on offer, especially as the Bears have, in Jeetan Patel, Chris Green and Alex Thomson, a trio of spinners who could exploit a worn surface
Date: 23 August 2019
Time: 7.00 pm
Ground: Stadium Edgbaston
Odds (SkyBet): Birmingham Bears 11/10 ; Worcestershire Rapids 8/11