Kent play Warwickshire before Nottinghamshire host Durham in the semi-finals of the Royal London One-Day Cup. Matt Carter assesses each of the remaining teams' chances.
It has taken the final furlongs of the limited overs season for Durham to find their stride - a three-game winning streak took Mark Stoneman’s side to an unlikely negotiation of the group stages, before the Chester-le-Street outfit held their nerve to deny fancied Yorkshire in the quarter-finals.
That proficiency in testing situations should not be undervalued as the tournament approaches its crunch and Durham will hope that asset can act as an equaliser to their power limitation with the bat.
Notts undoubtedly will hold the edge in regards to batting artillery, with the hosts likely to reliant on skipper Stoneman and the ageless Paul Collingwood – the latter currently averages 64 in the tournament at a strike rate of 106.
Collingwood has also proved an invaluable cog with the ball, his economy rate of 3.79 being a tournament best and a fundamental components of a hugely efficient attack, John Hastings being another invaluable asset in that department.
The benefit of a home semi-final is another advantage which shouldn’t be underestimated, with Chester-le-Street so often a venue that opposition find arduous to counteract – particularly when the home side are on song.
The Trent Bridge outfit and their arsenal of quality personnel need no substantial breakdown – the vast resources at their disposal has become a persistent refrain to any analysis of Nottinghamshire throughout the season.
Nevertheless for all the talent Notts have capable of turning a game, the loss of Alex Hales is a significant loss – as it would be for any team – with the England opener able to boast three centuries in just five Royal London innings.
That being said few sides are as equipped to handle such a loss and provided James Taylor, whose supreme century fired them past Derbyshire in the last eight, remains available the Outlaws should still carry significant batting prowess over Durham.
With the ball Harry Gurney, if England do not choose to release him, will be a noteworthy loss and one which leaves much hinging on the shoulders of the ever improving Luke Fletcher.
In truth Notts’ problems are not in relation to talent but mentality with not even last year’s 40-over trophy success seemingly enough to break the shackles of those who believe Taylor’s side are fragile in the high intensity environment brought about by knockout cricket – those being demons reignited by a Twenty20 last eight defeat to Hampshire at Trent Bridge.
Further playing on the Notts psyche will be that on three occasions already Chester-le-Street has failed to prove a happy hunting ground, the latest being this week’s critical championship defeat which may take some recovering from. That, combined with Durham’s burgeoning momentum somewhat nullifies Nott’s personnel advantage.
Riding on a tidal wave of momentum Kent face an unenviable task when they tackle Warwickshire at Edgbaston.
The Bears have already showcased their proficiency in anxious situations by prevailing in the pressure cooker of Twenty20 finals day, whilst a second consecutive quarter-final victory at a baying Chelmsford only enhanced that attribute.
Picking flaws within the Warwickshire juggernaut if a futile task. Their attack is arguably the most rounded in the country – with the resurgence of Boyd Rankin adding star quality to a highly functional unit - while Varun Chopra and Jonathan Trott mean rarely will the Edgbaston outfit not be afforded a batting anchor.
Being hyper-critical it could be suggested Warwickshire lack genuine oomph aside from Laurie Evans, although their Twenty20 success somewhat negates that question mark.
There are others who will ponder whether talk of an unprecedented double might begin to take its toll on their bears, yet once again the mental resilience showcased on finals day is an undeniably annulling factor to that reservation.
As daunting as Kent’s proposition maybe they will not enter the contest shy of confidence, having only been defeated once in this format – that coming in a dead rubber against Middlesex.
Having not negotiated their way to a knockout fixture since 2011 and barely threatening to do so in the subsequent years, Kent’s upsurge has been unforeseen – even if this year’s Twenty20 and 2013’s 40-over competition hinted at progress.
Alongside the momentum gained by their group stage heroics Kent can also enter boast the advantage of having minimal expectations hanging over them – which should ensure there is no repeat of the nervy moments that might have permanently derailed them in the last eight against Gloucestershire.
Their formula for success has revolved around emerging talents combining with several old hands – seasoned heads such James Tredwell and Darren Stevens complimenting the likes of Sam Billings and Fabian Cowdrey.
Billings has proven to be a revelation, with the keeper currently remarkably combining third spot in the run scoring charts with a strike rate of 163 – providing Kent an unrivalled game changer.
Where Kent do however concede a potentially critical deficit is with the ball – particularly if Tredwell is not available – with their seamers in particularly looking an area of vulnerability.
Against a well-oiled and buoyant Warwickshire, Kent’s aspirations may centre on the x-factor of Billings and even then the Canterbury outfit are liable to require the combination of an optimum performance and the home sides having a rare off day.
© Cricket World 2014