Finals day is around the corner, but first teams have to face the potential heart break of the quarters..:
After six weeks of group matches we have reached the quarter final stage of the Vitality Blast, with the four matches being played over two evenings. Birmingham Bears host the Essex Eagles on Thursday 6 July, while the remaining three games take place on Friday 7 July: Somerset v Notts Outlaws at Taunton, Hampshire Hawks v Worcestershire Rapids at the Ageas Bowl and Lancashire Lightning v Surrey at Old Trafford.
In the North Group the top four teams remained unchanged after the last weekend of fixtures, the Bears extending their lead at the top with wins against the Outlaws and Durham. Durham were one of the early front runners in the competition, winning four of their first five games, but have gained only three points from two ties and a rained off match in their last nine. The tie that the Rapids earned in their penultimate match against Durham, which involved Duckworth Lewis, was enough to keep them above the Outlaws, but not enough to displace the Lightening from second place and earn a home quarter final. They went on to secure a 28 run win over Derbyshire in their final game, having posted 222/5.
The Lightning had a comfortable win against Northamptonshire Steelbacks in their final match, chasing down a target of 139 in 16.4 overs and keeping their net run rate above the Rapids. Their penultimate match against Yorkshire Vikings had been washed out. The Vikings might count themselves unlucky finishing in fifth place, being the only team to have lost two matches to the weather, but their negative net run rate would likely have seen them lose out even if they had collected the additional two points. The Outlaws secured fourth place with a four run victory over Leicestershire Foxes, having lost to the Bears in their penultimate game.
Somerset have continued their dominance of the South Group, reaching a record-making twelve wins, the most ever in the group stages of the Blast. In their final two matches they overcame two teams who still had plenty to play for. Firstly they defeated Surrey at the Oval by 18 runs and then, in their final group game, beat Kent by 15 runs. In both matches Somerset posted over 200 batting first.
Kent had also lost to Sussex on Friday night and the two defeats resulted in them losing out on a quarter final spot to Essex. Surrey also lost both their last two games, going down to Essex in their final match. Essex had to win to overtake Kent and needed eight runs from the last over, bowled by Sean Abbott. The first five deliveries went for singles, so a boundary was required off the last ball. Feroze Khushi duly delivered, flat-batting the ball over wide long on for six, but only just as Chris Jordan provided a sensational effort. He sprinted around and took the catch, then nearly flicked the ball back to Jamie Overton before momentum took him over the rope. A couple of inches the difference between which team won this one.
As well as securing Essex fourth spot, it also relegated Surrey to third, and gave the Hawks a home quarter final. The Hawks managed wins in both their final two games, neither Glamorgan nor Gloucestershire putting up any significant resistance. They have put up a strong finish to the group stage with four consecutive wins, following a mid campaign wobble of three losses. They are also only one of two sides to beat Somerset, the other being Surrey.
Birmingham Bears v Essex Eagles
The Bears were clear winners of the North Group, but have lost Hasan Ali, who was replaced by West Indian all-rounder Dominic Drakes in their last game. Their other overseas player, Glenn Maxwell, is yet to fire with the bat having made just 216 runs from 13 innings, with a top score of 47.
Alex Davies has taken over the captaincy in the absence of Moeen Ali and they may have unearthed a future star in the form of the 21-year-old all-rounder, Dan Mousley. With his off breaks he has so far taken 20 wickets with an economy rate of 7.28 and scored 247 runs at a strike rate of 134.97.
Meanwhile, Essex have a great blend of youth and experience, led ably by Simon Harmer and as they showed by the way they reached the quarter-final stages, they are capable of taking on anyone. Daniel Sams has been in fine form with bat and ball, scoring 340 runs at a strike rate of 174.35 and taking 22 wickets with an economy rate of 8.09. While the Bears will start as favourites, an upset would not be a surprise at Edgbaston.
Odds (SkyBet): Bears 1/2; Eagles 6/4
Somerset v Notts Outlaws
Somerset have been a class above the other teams in the South Group, although they will be without Peter Siddle, who has returned to Australia with a hand injury. He has been replaced by New Zealand leg-spinner, Ish Sodhi. Roelof van der Merwe is also out but they had skipper, Lewis Gregory back for their last match.
Meanwhile the Outlaws have the likes of Alex Hales and Joe Clarke at the top of their batting line-up. They have one big miss though, Shaheen Shah Afridi has taken 20 wickets in the competition so far, including six in the last two games, but like Siddle has returned home now.
Hales has been relatively quiet with the bat, scoring 328 runs at a strike rate of 141.99. Nevertheless it would be an upset if Somerset did not go through in Taunton.
Odds (SkyBet): Somerset 8/11; Outlaws 11/8
Hampshire Hawks v Worcestershire Rapids
The Hawks have a strong history in this format with three titles, a feat matched only by the Leicestershire Foxes. As the current holders and with a strong finish to the group stages they look clear favourites against a Rapids team that has surprised many in maintaining their strong start to the competition.
Kiwi left arm spinner Mitchell Santner has come to the fore in their last three games, scoring 162 runs and taking 4/78. It is perhaps unfortunate timing regarding the announcement of the potential departure of a number of out-of-contract players, specifically Josh Tongue and Dillon Pennington.
Odds (SkyBet): Hawks 5/6; Raids 5/4
Lancashire Lightning v Surrey
Both these teams have blown hot and cold during the group stages making any prediction as to the outcome of this game impossible. The bookmakers think likewise. Both teams are packed with international stars and it is a dream fixture for the spectator. After a slow start to the competition, Jos Buttler has been finding the middle of the bat more recently, while another Kiwi, Daryl Mitchell, is the team’s leading run scorer with 409 at a strike rate of 162.3. He has also taken 12 wickets with an economy rate of 7.90.
Surrey have the fifth and sixth highest run scorers in the competition so far, in Will Jacks with 541 at a strike rate of 163.44 and Laurie Evans with 493 at a strike rate of 161.63. There are also a host of quality bowlers on show, with the likes of Sam Curran, Chris Jordan and Sunil Narine for Surrey and the Luke’s, Wood and Wells for Lancashire.
Odds (SkyBet): Lightening 1/1; Surrey 1/1