The Essex Eagles will play Finals Day virgins Derbyshire in the second semi-final of the Vitality Blast T20 competition at Edgbaston on Saturday.
Essex go into the day as the only representative of the South Group. They are also battling hard at the top of the Specsavers County Championship so will need to maintain a dual focus until Finals Day is over.
The Eagles have a well balanced side but their main strength is in the batting line-up. 25 is a decent batting average in T20 cricket and in this year’s Blast, Essex have six players above that figure, four of them with impressive strike rates of 150 or more.
The Essex bowling attack won’t have overseas star Mohammad Amir as its spearhead. He was only available for the first half of the Group games, during which he was mightily effective. But Jamie Porter, who played just three Group games, should be fit and ready for action.
South African Kolpak Simon Harmer provides testing spin and there is plenty of medium pace (or slightly faster) available from Ravi Bopara, Cameron Delport and Aaron Beard.
Ravi Bopara, a relative veteran at age 34, is a key player for Essex. For reasons surrounded in mystery, he was dropped at one stage during the Blast campaign. But he re-emerged as a highly effective finisher, batting at number six. And he has taken ten wickets with an economy rate of under eight runs per over. His vast experience and cool head will be vital amidst the pressures of Finals Day in front of a full house.
Equally important for Essex is the contribution of South Africa born Netherlands international Ryan ten Doeschate. His bowling days seem to be behind him now but, like Bopara, he averages over 40 with the bat in this year’s Blast and brings to Finals Day a wealth of experience from around the world including an IPL stint.
Road to Finals Day
Essex squeaked into the quarter finals of the Blast despite winning only five group games. To be fair, they had four no-result matches as well as a tie against Hampshire. No-one could have known at the time that the point gained by Adam Zampa’s throw to run out Sam Northeast off the last ball of that match would be so crucial for Essex.
Essex won their quarter-final against Lancashire, played somewhat bizarrely at a largely deserted Durham because of the Old Trafford Test. Equally strange was the decision of Lancashire captain Dane Vilas to give the penultimate over of the Essex innings to part-time spinner Liam Livingstone. All but one of the 23 runs needed came from the over and Essex were on their way to Edgbaston.
Finals Day Record
If Essex were to win this weekend, it would be their first T20 Final victory. Their last appearance was six years ago. They would also be the first winners from the South since Hampshire way back in 2012.
The semi-final with Derbyshire pairs the two outsiders so it is reasonable to assume that the winners of the first semi final between Notts and Worcestershire will be favourites to carry off the trophy.
But in T20 cricket, you never know!