On Thursday evening, the Vitality Blast North Group winners will entertain Essex Eagles at Edgbaston. Formerly playing in T20 as Warwickshire and then as Birmingham, the home side are now badged as just The Bears. But, as a Warwickshire man once said, “Whats in a name?”
The Eagles finished fourth in the South Group thanks to a dramatic last ball win against Surrey in their final Group game. They won eight and lost six of their 14 games.
If form in the Group stages was a reliable predictor of success in the knockout rounds, we might as well pencil in a Somerset v Bears final because those two teams won 23 of their 28 Group matches. But aficionados of T20 cricket know it doesn’t work that way. On their day, any team can beat any other. Derbyshire, who only finished sixth in the North Group, actually beat the Bears twice. Somerset only lost to Surrey and Hampshire, both fellow quarter-finalists, in the entire group stage-a record-making twelve wins, the most ever in the group stages of the Blast.
And so Essex can travel to Birmingham with at least a fair degree of hope, in the knowledge that they have a strong squad and, at times, have played some excellent cricket. Michael Pepper and Daniel Sams have scored over 700 runs between them and five other batters have scored at least one half-century. The bowling quartet of Matt Critchley, Sam Cook, Simon Harmer and Daniel Sams all took wickets and bowled reasonably economically.
For the Bears, Sam Hain has the ridiculous batting average of 107.25. Rob Yates, Dan Mousley and Alex Davies have all scored well. Dan Mousley has been their top bowler with 20 wickets but injuries and Test calls have meant that only Henry Brookes and Jake Lintott have provided regular support and they have both been fairly expensive.
Assuming that he recovers from the finger injury he sustained in the last Group match, 21-year-old Dan Mousley will be a key player for the Bears. Ever since he made his debut at the age of 17, he has been seen as a great prospect as a left-handed batter and he has scored usefully in the competition this year. But it is with the ball that he has surprisingly starred, often opening the bowling with brisk and accurate off-spin. His 20 wickets have cost only 16.45 apiece and he has conceded just fractionally over seven runs an over.
It could be the battle of the Dans because, for Essex, Australian Daniel Sams has been outstanding. In addition to taking 22 wickets with his left arm fast medium bowling, he has averaged over 30 with the bat and scored at a strike rate of 174.35.
Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes are currently playing for England at Headingley so are unavailable for the Bears; and they will also be without Hasan Ali who has deservedly been called up by Pakistan. In his place, they have signed Barbadian left arm pace man Dominic Drakes, whose father Vasbert also appeared for the Bears, back in 2001. Sam Hain has recovered from a hamstring injury. Danny Briggs, Craig Miles and Liam Norwell all are out with injuries, however. Although promising all-rounder Jacob Bethell will probably play, a stress fracture of the back means he can bat but not bowl.
Bears squad: tbc
Although they have included him in their 16-man squad, Essex may well have lost Dan Lawrence to England. Not selected in the side to play at Headingley, he could be kept on as a possible concussion substitute. Otherwise, Essex may not stray too far from the team that pulled off that win against Surrey.
Essex squad: Simon Harmer (c), Ben Allison, Aaron Beard, Will Buttleman, Sam Cook, Matt Critchley, Robin Das, Feroze Khushi, Dan Lawrence, Aron Nijjar, Michael Pepper, Adam Rossington, Daniel Sams, Shane Snater, Paul Walter, Tom Westley
Weather and Conditions
A fine evening is forecast with the temperature starting at about 19 degrees before falling slightly during the game. Groundsman Gary Barwell normally prepares a hybrid pitch for white ball games. For those who don’t know, that’s a mix of natural grass and synthetic fibres. The pitches tend to lack a little pace but do offer at least some turn.
Thursday 6 July
Edgbaston Stadium, Birmingham
Odds (SkyBet): Bears 1/2; Eagles 6/4