After 126 Group matches and four Quarter Finals, all packed into 48 days, we now know who will contest the Vitality Blast Finals Day on 15 July. Hampshire Hawks will play Essex Eagles and Somerset will take on Surrey.
You don’t need a degree in Geography to spot that the four teams are from the south of England. They all played in the South Group, which suggests that there is a distinct imbalance in strength between southern and northern teams in this particular form of the game. Although last year’s finalists were evenly split between north and south, there were four southern teams contesting Finals Day in 2021 so there may be some truth to the suggestion.
As to the reason for this division of ability and success, that is much harder to fathom. It is true that counties such as Surrey are well placed financially to attract the best players. But northern teams such as Lancashire and Nottinghamshire are also well resourced.
Whatever the reasons, the four teams will each approach Finals Day with a sense of optimism. That is especially true of Somerset who have won 12 of 15 games in the competition so far and overcame a stern quarter final test against Notts Outlaws. Even though the Outlaws’ total of 157-6 seemed under par, Somerset were struggling on 62-5 before Lewis Gregory and Ben Green added 96 to take them home with just three balls to spare.
The most decisive victory in the quarters was Hampshire Hawks’ five wicket win over the Worcestershire Rapids who were bowled out for just 100, with Nathan Ellis taking 4-6. Although the Hawks lost five wickets in the chase, the result was never really in doubt and they got home with more than 4 overs to spare. As the reigning Blast champions, they will walk with confidence through the gates at Edgbaston.
As for Surrey, they travelled to Old Trafford where Lancashire Lightning had not lost in 22 games. Surrey posted 187-5 with Laurie Evans top scoring with 70; and although the Lightning stayed in touch with their target, the pressure told, and they finished 13 runs short.
Essex may only have finished fourth in the South Group – and needed a last ball six to achieve that – but they stood toe-to-toe with the Bears, the North group winners. After a thrilling game of fluctuating fortunes, they topped the home side’s 167-7 with two balls to spare, thanks to a six from Shane Snater after an accomplished innings of 62 from Dan Lawrence. They will be back at Edgbaston for Finals Day knowing what it is like to win on the ground.
All we need now is a dry, sunny day next Saturday. There will be a sell-out crowd that will become more raucous as the sun goes down. Maybe a northern mascot will win the Mascot Race. But it can only be a southern triumph in the main event.