Matt Carter previews the Royal London One-Day Cup quarter-finals which take place later today, on Thursday and Friday of this week.
Derbyshire, competing in their first knockout limited overs fixture since 2005, face a daunting assignment in their bid to book an unexpected last four spot. The hosts - although made to wait until the last moment to book their last-eight spot - topped Group B with just a single defeat to their name.
Whereas Derbyshire are reliant on a select few, primarily Wes Durston, Wayne Madsen and Mark Footitt, Nottinghamshire are cluttered with match winners, so much so that the loss of Alex Hales – who scored three group-stage centuries in just five innings – should not prove hugely detrimental at this stage.
There are perceptions surrounding Notts’ mental toughness in knockout situations, although many of those fears were alleviated in lifting last year’s limited overs trophy.
In truth Derbyshire should be lauded in negotiating their way this far, given they began the season under a points deduction – courtesy of a poor pitch in the equivalent tournament last year.
Derbyshire’s batting will reside almost entirely on the shoulders of Durston and Madsen and the former currently averages 75 in the tournament. For Notts any number of a handful of players could be picked out as their progress thus far has taken in some unlikely match winners but in Hales’ absence the Outlaws will look for Michael Lumb to lay the platform.
Durham and Yorkshire have put frustrating Twenty20 seasons behind them, the former topping Group A whilst the latter stormed through at the last with three wins on the spin.
Durham will hope that momentum can give them the edge at Headingley, however Yorkshire have only lost twice all tournament. Further to that, there are question marks regarding whether Durham have the hitting power to exploit Yorkshire’s lack of that facet when compared with the likes of Notts and Essex.
Both Yorkshire and Durham have built their respective successes around bowling strength rather than batting muscle – that point being particularly appropriate to Yorkshire given they possess five bowlers with economy rates of below five.
That Durham have made it this far is no small part down to the evergreen Paul Collingwood, who can combine seventh spot on the run scoring charts with 10 wickets at an economy of less than four. With Ben Stokes now absent the reliance on Collingwood and Australian John Hastings will only heighten.
For Yorkshire, Tim Bresnan and Adil Rashid have both been key components in a highly functioning attack, however in a batting unit lacking ammunition when analysed against certain others a significant chunk of Yorkshire’s aspirations will fall on the shoulders of Johnny Bairstow.
In the heavyweight affair of the round Essex will host Warwickshire in a re-run of the pair’s Twenty20 quarter-final.
In similar vein to the Twenty20 Essex will again look towards batting prowess to propel them into the last four, however for all their batting muscle there are question marks surrounding Essex’s aptitude with the ball; their Twenty20 defeat to Warwickshire indicated that deficiency has the capability to prove terminal in the business end of tournaments.
Warwickshire will enter the clash on a wave of momentum following their Twenty20 finals day victory, although Essex will hope there is hangover from that success – a trip to a baying Chelmsford is unlikely to allow Warwickshire room for manoeuvre should they have an off day.
The Edgbaston outfit questionably have the most rounded side in the tournament - in many ways they are better suited to the longer format - however Essex and their batting armoury have the weapons to derail the buoyant Bears.
England’s loss is most certainly Essex’s gain, with Ravi Bopara's unexpected availability a substantial boost. At the same time Bopara will be in determined mood to force his way back into the fold with the World Cup now less than six months away.
With the likes of Laurie Evans waiting down the order, much will depend on Essex shifting the trio of Varun Chopra, Jonathan Trott and William Porterfield early – the former of that threesome currently averaging 80 in the tournament.
Somewhat of a surprising last eight dual given both sides' recent limited overs pedigree, Kent and Gloucestershire will both be eyeing a golden semi-final appearance opportunity.
The home side are the undoubted favourites, as they have only been beaten on one occasion throughout the tournament and that was a final round dead rubber defeat to Middlesex.
Gloucestershire also booked their last eight spot with a fixture to spare, although their progress has been less spectacular than a Kent side who have been the story of the tournament so far.
The visitors have been reliant on bowling strength to get them this far, however Canterbury is likely to negate that facet somewhat and against what has thus far been a proficient batting arsenal the odds looked stacked against the visitors. What could nonetheless prove an equaliser is that both sides are in relatively alien territory: who can handle the occasion better could go some distance to deciding the final last four berth.
Sam Billings' statistics make frightening reading with his 357 runs arriving at both an average of 119 and strike rate of 161. Without opener Michael Klinger Gloucestershire look desperately short of batting strength and his absence will only heighten the pressure on both Alex Gidman and Gloucestershire’s bowlers to minimise the work of the batsmen.
At the forefront of that bowling assignment is Will Gidman and the all-rounder will be determined to end his Gloucestershire career on a high.
© Cricket World 2014