After 130 games the NatWest T20 Blast culminates this weekend in the traditional finals day spectacular - with Hampshire, Lancashire, Surrey and Birmingham battling it out.
In the first semi-final last year’s runners-up Surrey do battle with Birmingham - who are making their first finals day appearance since the inaugural tournament since back in 2003.
Surrey will look to positively draw on the experience gained from last year’s event, rather than engineer thoughts that last year’s mauling at the hands of Northants - which saw Surrey freeze on the grandest stage - could prove psychologically detrimental to their chances.
For both sides arguably their stronger facet has been in the bowling department, with miserly attacks the fundamental factor in their respective journey’s this far, although that is possibly undervaluing the explosive exploits of Surrey’s Jason Roy.
Surrey’s attack is unrivalled in terms of its well-rounded nature and variety, with virtually every base being covered and at the same time the likes of Azhar Mahmood, Gareth Batty and Robin Peterson bring unmatched experienced levels.
Birmingham have been spearheaded by Jeetan Patel - statistically the tournaments best bowler with 23 wickets at an economy rate of just 5.63 - so how Surrey handle the New Zealander could prove a deciding factor in which way the first semi swings.
NatWest T20 Blast Finals Day
Semi-Final 1, 11:00 local time
Birmingham Bears v Surrey
Semi-Final 2, 14:30 local time
Hampshire v Lancashire Lightning
Final, 18:45 local time
With the blade there are question marks surrounding both. For Surrey in spite of considerable batting riches, most notably Kevin Pietersen and Tillakaratne Dilshan, there has been an over-reliance on opener Roy, who has contributed eight of their 10 half-centuries to date.
Posting 197 against Essex in the quarter-finals went someway to alleviating concerns surrounding Birmingham’s firepower, whilst the availability of Ian Bell should further aid them in this regard - nonetheless in comparison to the other three it remains difficult to the argue that the Bears are on a par in regards to batting artillery.
To vindicate that point Laurie Evans is the only Birmingham batsmen currently with a strike rate exceeding 140.
In the later semi-final Hampshire, contesting their fifth successive finals day, take on a Lancashire side who have won their last seven Twenty20 fixtures.
The experience gained from their previous adventures makes Hampshire seasoned pros at handling the pressure cooker situation of finals day – an attribute which should not be undervalued.
That prowess in anxious moments was in full evidence at Trent Bridge in the quarter-finals, where without a hint of panic Hampshire successful pursued Nottinghamshire’s 195 with an over to spare.
Together will their unequalled experience levels, Hampshire also offer a batting line-up of serious formidability - Michael Carberry and James Vince amongst their most striking assets.
Conversely Hampshire’s only batting flaw has been misfiring Australian Glenn Maxwell who has scored just 127 runs in 11 innings. For a player considered to be amongst the pinnacle of Twenty20 hitters that is a deplorable return.
With the ball Hampshire are seemingly well-oiled with spin duo Will Smith and Danny Briggs particularly efficient at their roles, however, arguably aside from Chris Wood there is a seam bowling limitation open to exploitation.
Surrey 8/11 v Birmingham 11/10
Hampshire 8/11 v Lancashire 11/10
To win overall:
Odds from bet365 - correct at 22/08/2012 12pm
Lancashire will arrive at Edgbaston as underdogs - at least in the eyes of the bookies - yet nobody should be fooled by that tag given the Lightning have won more T20 Blast games than any other side.
Further to that with the England hierarchy making Jos Buttler eligible for selection, Lancashire can call on a player with unparalleled game-changing capabilities: his tournament strike rate of 174 is by some distance the tournament’s best.
There are however vulnerabilities to Lancashire. For all their batting aptitude - nobody can boast a higher average run-rate - there are worries beyond the top order, although Buttler should ease those substantially.
Should Kabir Ali not pass a late fitness test there are also concerns surrounding Lancashire’s death bowling. What would they give to still have Junaid Khan at their disposal?
Another issue is that Lancashire could be rusty in relation to chasing, given that all 11 of their victories have come batting first. James Vince could be well advised to ask them to chase should he call correctly at the toss.
Intriguingly both Hampshire and Lancashire, alongside Surrey, enter the day off the back of cloudy form. Between them the trio they possess just four Royal London Cup victories.
Granted, form across tournaments is only comparable to an extent, nevertheless it is far from irrelevant given momentum can rarely be turned on and off.
Birmingham are however contradicting the viewpoint that challenging on three fronts is simply too arduous of a task to maintain – with the Bears having advanced to the Royal London Cup quarter-finals.
At the same Birmingham can also boast four consecutive Twenty20 wins and critically all of these have arrived in must-win scenarios, showcasing both the Edgbaston outfit’s resolve in pressure situations and that they arguably enter finals day on the largest momentum wave.
As in the majority of previous finals days the trophy is liable to be won and lost on small margins with all four of the sides competing presenting viable cases for why they will be celebrating come Saturday evening.
Surrey will rely on their well-travelled unit combined with Jason Roy to guide them through, Hampshire that recent history can give their well-polished side the edge, while Birmingham will hope their recent proficiency in pressure environments can prove the critical factor and finally Lancashire might just be reliant on Jos Buttler’s x-factor to propel them to a first Twenty20 trophy.
© Cricket World 2014