Tuesday 29 July 2014 

NatWest T20 Blast Quarter-Final Preview - We Assess Each Team's Chances...

Lancashire players
Lancashire have been outstanding when batting first - but can they cope without Junaid Khan?
© REUTERS / Action Images
 
NatWest T20 Blast unveiling
18 sides began the tournament - now just eight remain
© REUTERS / Action Images
 

18 teams began the season with hopes of reaching Finals Day at Edgbaston. Now just eight remain in contention. Ahead of this week's quarter-finals, Matt Carter assesses their chances.

Lancashire

Why they can win it

With just two defeats to their name nobody has lost fewer games than Lancashire, while their 10 wins can only be equalled by South Division table-toppers Essex and further to that five successive wins indicate they are in formidable form.

Lancashire’s formula for victory has been a consistent one, with all 10 of their wins coming after batting first. Inserting them is a gamble that few will be willing to take.

Why they can’t

Lancashire will be without bowling spearhead Junaid Khan for the remainder of the tournament, the Pakistani - who can vaunt the most miserly strike rate of any seamer – having now ended his stint. Further to that for the quarter-final at least Jos Buttler will also be absent – a huge loss given that nobody in the tournament can better his strike rate of 174.

Finally it is worth mentioning that in regards to chasing Lancashire could be undercooked – the only time they were asked to bat second they suffered a rare defeat.

Key men

Excluding Buttler – whose availability remains up in the air – Lancashire are well-oiled unit rather than a side littered with star names. That being said in Junaid’s absence Kabir Ali – joint fourth alongside Junaid in the wicket-taking charts – will shoulder significant bowling responsibility and at the same time the unheralded Tom Smith is a vital clog at the top of the order, the all-rounder boasting a seasonal strike-rate of 144.

Glamorgan

Why they can win it

Having reached the knockout stages for only the second time in their history, Glamorgan are the undoubted underdogs, Nonetheless their vastly experienced limited overs outfit should not be underestimated.

Their strengths reside at the top of the order with openers Jim Allenby and Jacques Rudolph ranked fourth and sixth on the run-scoring charts respectively.

It is worth noting that although Glamorgan lack Twenty20 knockout experience, progressing to the final of last year’s Pro40 tournament should be of considerable benefit to the Welsh county.

Why they can’t

There is no hiding the fact that nobody in the last eight has won fewer games than Glamorgan, while at no point have Jim Allenby’s side recorded three wins on the bounce.

There will be concerns regarding the effectiveness of their backup bowling and at the same time it can be argued they lack the finishing firepower that a number of their rivals possess.

Key men

In Michael Hogan Glamorgan can vaunt a death bowler of unrivalled proficiency, with the Australian’s heroics at the back end of innings a huge factor in their progression to a first quarter-final since 2008.

Accounting for Glamorgan’s relative lack of power hitting lower down, there will be much pressure on Chris Cooke’s shoulders to perform the critical finisher’s role – the middle-order man currently proclaiming the sixth best strike rate in the tournament.

Surrey

Why they can win it

The experience of falling at the final furlong to Northants last year should stand Surrey in good stead for another tilt at the trophy – further to that they hold unparalleled levels of international experience.

The batting boasts plenty of firework potential – the trio of Jason Roy, Kevin Pietersen and Tillakaratne Dilshan amongst their most noteworthy hitters – however Surrey’s miserly bowlers have proven to be their strongest asset to date. On average, they conced 7.73 runs per over, the lowest in the South Group.

Why they can’t

For all Surrey’s batting prowess there have been occasions already this summer where they’ve been outhit, making them perhaps vulnerable on surfaces that are not so conducive as The Oval has been in regards to squeezing the opposition’s batting.

Further to that there is a worrying over-reliance on Jason Roy. If they are to succeed more is needed from the likes of Pietersen.

Key men

Few men have set the tournament alight in the manner that Roy has, the explosive opener having fired seven half-centuries thus far and has only been toppled from the run-scoring apex due to Luke Wright’s extraordinary recent feats. Further to that nobody left in the tournament has scored more than Roy’s 22 maximums.

Worcestershire

Why they can win it

Like Northants last year, Worcestershire arrive in the knock-out stages off the back of a season in which they have been riding a tidal wave of momentum – with the self-belief generated by that making them a hugely dangerous proposition.

The togetherness within the squad is undeniably but there is plenty of ability to combine with that. Saeed Ajmal grabbed the headlines, but it is Worcestershire’s batsmen who have arguably been the substantial factor in progression – their average run rate of 8.78 the highest in the North Group.

Why they can’t

Without Ajmal – whose economy rate was an eye catching 6.07 - there is significant apprehension in relation to Worcestershire’s ability to keep things under wraps with the ball. For example, all their seamers aside from Jack Leach currently retain economy rates in excess of eight runs per over.

On paper at least Steve Rhodes’ side lack the genuine star quality and big-match experience that certain other counties can rely on, which has the potential to be a hindrance at the tournament’s business end – although Northants highlighted last year that such a deficiency is far from critical. 

Key men

Leader and talisman Daryl Mitchell has led from the front throughout 2014 and more often than not when he excels so do Worcestershire. New Zeaalnder Colin Munro has provided consistent impetus to the middle order, however whether the hit and miss Ross Whiteley comes off might just hold the key to Worcestershire’s trophy hopes.

Essex

Why they can win it

Never far away, Essex have looked more formidable than ever throughout the group stages – winning 10 of eleven prior to tailing off following qualification being secured.

Their batting has unquestionably been the tournament’s standout – that they possess three players in both the competition’s top 10 run-scorers and highest 10 strike rates being testimony to that. At the same time Essex’s startling average run rate of 9.07 is by some distance the tournament’s best.

That batting aptitude has been most evident when in pursuit of a total, with Essex astonishingly boasting a 100 percent record from nine chases – on three of those occasions gunning down scores in excess of 180.

Why they can’t

Although a current run of three consecutive defeats can be put down to each of those games being dead rubbers, there is a danger that Essex are losing momentum at exactly the wrong time.

Further to that, all those losses have come having batted first, which indicates that as good as Essex are in relation to chasing they perhaps aren’t the same animal when the boot is on the other foot – this underlining their bowling limitations rather than flaws in their batsmen’s target setting ability.

Key men

To highlight Essex’s intimidating batting riches any one of Jesse Ryder, Ryan ten Doeschate, Ravi Bopara or Tom Westley could be picked out as a potential game-changer – the latter of the quartet having scored two Twenty20 centuries this season and topping the county’s run scoring charts at a strike rate of 153.

Birmingham

Why they can win it

A run of three consecutive victories – all games which in hindsight were must-win fixtures – indicates that Birmingham have the necessary stomach for the high-pressure environment that knockout cricket represents.

Their progress has undoubtedly been based around tight performances in the field and with the ball rather than blowing sides away with the blade – nobody has conceded fewer runs in getting this far.

Birmingham’s formula will be for their steady batsmen to accumulate enough runs so that the squeeze can be applied – with New Zealand's Jeetan Patel the spearhead of that strangle mission.

Why they can’t

Birmingham look seriously short of batting ammunition. They can’t boast a single batsman amongst those with the highest 20 strike rates nor anybody in the leading 30 six-hitters. Outlining their problems is that of their recognised batsmen only Laurie Evans and William Porterfield can vaunt strike rates that exceed 120.

For all the merits of their bowlers it is hard to see them on three consecutive occasions that masking their limitations with the bat – their trip to Chelmsford on Saturday in itself presents a substantial hurdle.

Key men

For all their flaws, what Birmingham do possess in Jeetan Patel is by some distance the tournament’s best bowler. Patel is both the leading wicket-taker with 23 scalps and the owner of the lowest economy rate – his overs on average costing a mere 5.62 runs.

At the top of the order much will hinge on Irishman Porterfield to provide impetus.

Nottinghamshire

Why they can win it

Having overcome a sticky opening third to their campaign which saw them unexpectedly lose three in five Nottinghamshire are now showcasing exactly why so many have tipped them to go deep into the tournament – the Outlaws currently on a run of seven consecutive victories.

There were never any doubts surrounding a talent-littered batting unit, yet the concerns regarding their bowlers have thus far not materialised with Notts claiming the lowest average bowling run rate in the North Group.

Batting first, Notts have been immovable with seven wins in as many games, while although they have lost on three of the five occasions they’ve been asked to bat second, last Friday’s superb pursuit of 200 at Headingley outlines chasing is far from an issue.

Why they can’t

Dominating the group stage is nothing new for Notts, however, the last eight has proven their nemesis in each of the previous three years – losing to Sunday’s opponents, Hampshire back in 2012.

Aside from their quarter-final demons it is difficult to pinpoint holes in Notts’ armoury – provided their big players fire – although being overly critical it could be argued they carry a weakness in regards to slow-bowling resources.

Key men

Amidst a plethora of internationally experienced batsmen – including one of the world’s best Twenty20 players in Alex Hales – Riki Wessels has arguably proven to be Notts’ leading light. The reinvigorated ex-Northants man tops the Outlaws table in regards to runs, strike-rate and sixes.

Alongside their brimming batting stocks, the seam duo of Harry Gurney and Luke Fletcher are just as important with economy rates of below 7.2 vindication of their worth.

Hampshire

Why they can win it

Nobody quite possesses Twenty20 pedigree like Hampshire, given they have been involved in each of the last four finals days, lifting the trophy in both 2010 and 2012. The experience gained from those adventures is an advantage that should not be overlooked, particularly if they again progress to the finals day pressure cooker.

Their Twenty20 side remains a well-polished unit and one in which it is arduous to find bases that aren’t covered.

The batting possess no shortage of x-factor – Michael Carberry and James Vince to name but a few match-winners - while should they encounter pitches conducive to spin, Jimmy Adams’ side arguably have an unrivalled edge given their home conditions and relative resources available.

Why they can’t

The loss of Neil McKenzie, who so often produced his best on the grandest stage, is a substantial one particularly with Glenn Maxwell as of yet failing to have the desired impact. If you were to be hyper-critical it could be argued Hampshire are slightly lacking in the seam department when compared against certain other sides – even accounting for Chris Wood’s excellent death bowling capability.

Further to that Hampshire could pay dearly for narrowly missing out on a home quarter-final, considering that the draw has handed them a date with debatably the most rounded side left in the competition.

Key men

There is only so long that Maxwell can go without firing and an explosive century in the Royal London Cup last weekend suggests the Australian – who lit up the IPL recently – might just be peaking at exactly the right time.

© Cricket World 2014