We may be neck deep in two Ashes series but any excuse to fill Edgbaston for some cricket can’t be sniffed at, because it’s Twenty20 Blast Finals Day this weekend and England is set to crown a new champion.
Finals Day is a spectacle; three matches involving four teams in front of a barmy crowd of over 25,000. It’s boozy, good natured and addictive.
Despite far more money and effort going into marketing The Hundred, the T20 Blast continues to hold its own.
In the T20 mix
A competition rooted in county cricket rather than franchises has maintained its aura, and this year, it’s a contest between four counties from the south.
One of Essex Eagles, Hampshire Hawks, Somerset or Surrey will win two games on Saturday and lift the short-form trophy in front of the raucous Eric Hollies Stand.
So what are their chances, who should you look out for and who will come out on top?
Essex finished the T20 Blast southern group in fourth but beat top-ranked northern side Birmingham Bears for a spot at finals day. They will face Hampshire Hawks, who finished second in the southern group.
Of the games played against fellow semi-finalists this year, Essex lost to Hampshire and Somerset twice but beat Surrey. So there’s revenge to be had for the Eagles.
Astonishingly, Essex do not have a batter inside the top 20 for most runs scored. Michael Pepper – a wicketkeeper batter – finished 21st in the rankings with 391 runs in 12 matches.
Australian Daniel Sams picked up 23 wickets, the most of anyone in his side and just four off Somerset’s Ben Green, who topped the stats with 27.
T20 champions Hampshire Hawks
Hampshire, defending champions, are looking to win a second consecutive title this weekend and a fourth T20 Blast in total. They take on Essex, who they beat twice in the group stages – one by four wickets and the other by 118 runs.
They go into this semi-final as favourites to reach the final and will undoubtedly be looking to build upon their two wins against the Eagles thus far.
Nathan Ellis and John Turner each have over 20 wickets for Hampshire this year while James Vince tops the batting stats with 657 runs in 15 matches at an average of 65.7. He will be key to any Hampshire victory.
Somerset have been the standout team in this year’s Blast, securing 24 out of 28 points in the group stages. But their two losses have come against other teams in the finals and one of those is their semi-final opponent Surrey.
Ben Green tops the wicket stats this year with 27 while Matt Henry has 24, making Somerset the only team with two bowlers in the top five for wickets taken.
In addition, Tom Banton has scored 422 in 14 matches, Rob Yates got 447 in 12 and Will Smeed achieved 493 in 15 with a high of 94.
They’re favourites against Surrey – and overall – but the Londoners look likely to give them an almighty battle in Birmingham.
Surrey dropped off in the southern group this year and finished third before beating Lancashire in the quarter-finals. Their reward is a tie against top side Somerset.
The London team had no bowlers in the top 10 for wickets taken but Will Jacks knocked 549 runs in 15 matches while Laurie Evans managed 563 in 15, with a high of 118 not out.
Surrey have not won this tournament since its inaugural edition in 2003 so they’ll be targeting a return to T20 silverware 20 years on.
There are six titles between these four sides, but only one will be crowned 2023 Vitality Blast champions this weekend.
It’s the first trophy of the domestic season on the line and a chance for these four sides to beef up their trophy cabinets.
So with that in mind, and the buzz around cricket at the moment given the Ashes, there’s excitement in the air. Game on.