Nottinghamshire Outlaws will be hoping to end a miserable season on a high as they aim to win a second Vitality Blast title in three years.
Indeed, a win on Saturday will only add some sheen to a season that has long turned sour.
It is a sound theory to treat each competition by merit, however, and the T20 side should find themselves free of the burden and strain imposed on the club as a result of their emphatic relegation from Division One in the County Championship; a factor that has likely aided their place at Finals Day in the first place.
The Outlaws should focus on enjoying the biggest day of the county season and will likely end up playing their best cricket as a result.
A second place finish in the North Group is a solid return in a section that many thought to be much weaker compared to the South, despite three of the four teams at Finals Day coming from the North.
An emphatic 10-wicket quarter-final win over Middlesex in which Alex Hales was in devastating touch leaves the Outlaws in red-hot form going into their semi-final against the tournament holders, Worcestershire Rapids.
It is the first time a ten-wicket win had been achieved in a Blast quarter-final, and against the tournament favourites no less.
The bowling attack in particular has a different feel to the side that won two years ago, with a big emphasis on spin. Matt Carter often opens the bowling with Samit Patel and overseas signing, Imad Wasim, bowling a large proportion of the middle overs.
Harry Gurney has become one of the hottest bowling properties in franchise cricket around the world since Notts won the title in 2017; and he will be at Dan Christian’s disposal at any point in the innings.
Edgbaston has often produced quite a slow wicket on Finals Day in the past few years and, given the amount of cricket the ground has had to cater for this season, it could be the same again. If so, it could play right into the hands of the Outlaws’ new bowling formula.
Alex Hales found his best form during the quarter-final as the 30-year-old decimated the Middlesex attack during an unbeaten innings of 83 off 47 balls. It was his highest score in the Blast for two years and a welcome boost after a difficult season. Hales has effectively been told that his England career is over; although Notts have stuck by their long-term player by offering him a renewed two-year deal to play white-ball cricket.
Those close to him have already noted a marked improvement in the players’ attitude and maturity. A strong showing at Finals Day would be a forward step in rebuilding the broken relationship with the national side.
Despite having a vast artillery of spin bowlers, Harry Gurney will be the most potent threat in the bowling attack. Gurney, 32, can bowl at any stage of the innings and has an extensive set of skiils to boot. Only three bowlers have bettered the left-armers’ haul of 20 wickets.
Four abandonments meant that six victories were sufficient to take Notts through to the knockouts. It is probably fair to say that the Outlaws are yet to find their best form in the competition, a factor that has aided winning sides in the past. There hasn’t been any consistencies regarding the toss, with a slight lean towards bowling second.
Finals Day Record:
This will be a fifth trip to finals day for the Outlaws. A runners-up place was achieved way back in 2006, with two semi-final appearances coming in 2010 and 2016. Eight players are likely to be in this year’s squad from the 2017 triumph with only Jake Ball likely to miss out this year.
Likely squad: Dan Christian (C), Alex Hales, Chris Nash, Ben Duckett, Jake Libby, Samit Patel, Tom Moores (WK), Imad Wasim, Luke Wood, Matt Carter, Harry Gurney, Joe Clarke, Jake Ball, Zak Chappell.
Counties often select a squad of 14 or 15 players for Finals Day to provide plenty of options depending on injuries and conditions.
Chris Nash is likely to retain his place at the top of the order following his quarter-final performance; although it won’t a surprise to see Joe Clarke recalled.
Alex Hales will return from the Caribbean Premier League where he has been keeping up his form for the Barbados Tridents.
Overseas players often return home following the group stage due to the delay in Finals Day taking place, but Imad Wasim is expected to play. When signed in the early stages of the competition, it was stated that Wasim will be available for the remainder of the competition.
The Outlaws have a great chance of winning a second Blast title if they can get past the holders, Worcestershire.
The two sides are evenly matched in the competition with four wins for either side from the last nine completed matches (one abandonment). The rapids are a savvy side, however, and the Outlaws will have to be at the top of their game to get past them.