• Matthew Whiley

T20 Blast Quarter Finals Preview

Updated: Aug 25, 2021

Who would win in a fight between a shark and a Viking?

It sounds like an entirely hypothetical question, and one more suited to be asked in a primary school playground, but this week, we'll actually find out.

Okay, admittedly there won’t be any actual great whites sinking their teeth into any actual marauding Scandinavians, but what we will have are two teams, that call themselves the Sharks and the Vikings, battling it out for supremacy.

We’ll also have, amongst others, the Bears, the Hawks, and the Lightning. Sounds like a dystopian fairy tale, doesn’t it?

No, it’s entirely real. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the madcap world of T20 Blast Quarter-Final Week!

Yorkshire Vikings v Sussex Sharks

Tuesday 24 August, Emirates Riverside

First up, we’ll finally get the answer to that age-old question. Yorkshire and Sussex will get quarter-final week underway with a tie that, despite being a home game for the Vikings, will take place in Chester-le-Street thanks to their usual home of Emerald Headingley being used for the third England v India Test.

These two sides have met in the shortest format twice before, both of which have been in knockout games, and are level at one win apiece. Sussex drew first blood with a 38-run win in Hove in a 2007 quarter-final, before Yorkshire struck back with a 36-run victory in a 2012 semi-final, played at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff.

Sussex’s fourth-placed finish perhaps belied their true ability after five of their games were washed out. They were only beaten three times, the fewest of anyone in the South Group, with much of that down to the 266 runs scored by opener Phil Salt. Leg-spinning teenage sensation Archie Lenham will be keenly watched after his ten wickets in the group stages, as will global superstar Rashid Khan, but it is speedster Tymal Mills and all-rounder David Wiese who lead their wicket-taking charts, with 11 apiece.

Yorkshire, meanwhile, have an embarrassment of riches when at full strength. However, with Dawid Malan, Joe Root, and Jonny Bairstow all with England, they will find themselves once again looking to youngster Harry Brook, who hit 485 runs in the group stages at an astonishing average of 80.83 as the Vikings finished second in the North Group with seven wins. Their top wicket-taker was New Zealand quick Lockie Ferguson, who claimed 14.

Chester-le-Street is hardly known for being kind to batters, which leans me towards favouring Sussex. Even shorn of Jofra Archer, the Sharks’ bowling battery of Mills, Wiese, George Garton, and Chris Jordan spells trouble, especially at the death. Brook should lead Yorkshire’s firepower, alongside Adam Lyth and all-rounder Jordan Thompson, but I can see the Sharks swimming away with this one.

Notts Outlaws v Hampshire Hawks

Wednesday 24 August, Trent Bridge

Defending champions Notts Outlaws host the second quarter-final after topping the North Group with nine wins. Their opponents are Hampshire, who are carrying the Hawks name for the first time since 2009 and enjoyed a stunning run of form to win their last five games in a row and sneak into fourth.

these two sides have enjoyed their fair share of success in the shortest format, with two titles each, they have still only directly met three times before. Hampshire have the historical upper hand, with two wins in 2012 and 2014 to the Outlaws’ one in 2017. More interestingly, however, on two of the three occasions these sides have met, in '12 and '17, the victor that day went on to win the competition. All eyes on Wednesday’s winner.

Notts are aiming to reach their third Finals Day in a row, and fifth in six years, and will look to their fearsome top order of Joe Clarke, Alex Hales, and Ben Duckett, alongside all-rounder Samit Patel, all of whom hit over 300 runs in the group stages. Patel also snared 15 wickets, but the real story was his fellow spinner Calvin Harrison, who signed a short-term deal after impressing for Oxford UCCE in a pre-season friendly in April and proceeded to pick up 18 wickets in the group stages at an average of 13.94.

Hampshire will need to become just the second team to beat Notts at Trent Bridge in a T20 this season, and much will depend upon England’s James Vince, who was their leading run-scorer in the group stage with 365, and youngster Joe Weatherley, who amassed 333. It was another youngster, 20-year-old Scott Currie, who led the way in wickets for the Hawks with 15, while spinner Mason Crane and seamer Brad Wheal picked up 14 each.

In all honesty, the visitors would probably have rather played this quarter-final immediately after the group stage, with their red-hot run now possibly having had a chance to dissipate somewhat. They clearly found their formula for success in the back end of the group stage and there's no reason they can't implement it again successfully, but Notts are an altogether different proposition. I’m not ruling the Hawks out, but it’s tough to see past the defending champions.

Somerset v Lancashire Lightning

Thursday 26 August, Cooper Associates County Ground

The picturesque postage stamp of Taunton plays host to quarter-final number three on Thursday. Second-placed Somerset host Lancashire Lightning, third in the North Group, in a match that will feature several fringe England players vying to throw their hat into the ring for T20 World Cup selection.

The last meeting between these two in the shortest format came a relatively long time ago, in a 2009 quarter-final, when Somerset triumphed 5-1 in a bowl-out after rain had washed out the day of the match and two reserve days. There was a little more joy with the weather in a reduced 16-over 2005 final, when Somerset lifted the Twenty20 Cup after a seven-wicket win at the Oval, with a 20-year-old James Hildreth unbeaten at the end.

Hildreth will once again face Lancashire, this time as a seasoned veteran, with the baton of ‘young up-and-comer’ passed to 19-year-old Will Smeed, who enjoyed a superb group stage, hitting 283 runs. Also in good form with the bat for Somerset have been England’s Tom Banton, who totalled 236, while their overall leader was Devon Conway, with 309. With the ball, it was South African speedster Marchant de Lange who led the way, taking 14 wickets, just ahead of Craig Overton and Lewis Gregory, both of whom picked up 12.

The fine white-ball form of Liam Livingstone, who hit 254 in the group stages, plus 348 in the Hundred and 190 across his six England T20s this summer, will provide an almighty boost to Lancashire. Meanwhile, it's spin twins Matt Parkinson and Tom Hartley who lead the way in the bowling department, with 13 wickets apiece.

I see this one as being the closest of all four ties, and to trot out a much-overused trope, it really could go either way. Simply because they have home advantage, something that can come in very handy when the dimensions are as they are at a ground like Taunton, I will back Somerset. Come back to that and laugh at it when the River Tone is being peppered with giant Livingstone sixes.

Kent Spitfires v Birmingham Bears

Friday 27 August, Spitfire Ground St Lawrence

The Finals Day lineup will be completed when the fourth quarter-final takes place in the Garden of England when fourth-placed Birmingham Bears visit South Group table-toppers Kent Spitfires. The hosts have reached this stage for the second year in succession, but their last visit to Finals Day came in 2009, while Birmingham’s last opportunity to play in the showpiece, which takes place at their home stadium of Edgbaston, was in 2017.

There is only one past meeting between these two, a 2008 quarter-final at Edgbaston which went into its reserve day. A Darren Stevens-inspired Kent (how many times have we written that?!) defeated the then-Warwickshire Bears by 42 runs, with a 19-year-old called Chris Woakes ordered out of the Bears attack for bowling beamers with figures of none for 48 from 3.3 overs. Can’t see him amounting to anything.

With globally-renowned all-rounder Carlos Brathwaite, who took 18 group stage wickets, in Birmingham’s side, they head to Canterbury well stocked. They will also welcome back spin pair Jake Lintott and Danny Briggs from the Hundred, who picked up 15 each. Meanwhile, one of the country’s more underrated talents in Sam Hain will also take his place in the Bears top order on the back of 393 runs in the group stage, while captain Will Rhodes’ 255 runs and 14 wickets underline his importance to the team.

Kent, meanwhile, lost just twice in seven games at home on their way to topping the South Group with 19 points, and they owe rather a lot to captain Daniel Bell-Drummond, who continued last year’s fine form with 339 runs in this year’s group stage. Young batter Jordan Cox also hit exactly 300, ahead of Jack Leaning’s 287 but just behind the 326 amassed by England’s Zak Crawley. Matt Milnes and Fred Klaassen have been the standouts with the ball, meanwhile, with both picking up 14 wickets, ahead of the nine claimed by veteran Stevens.

I did originally back Birmingham for the T20 title all the way back in March, so I’m naturally delighted to see them still in contention in late August. However, I think this task might just prove to be a touch beyond them, with my money on Kent to reach a first Finals Day in 12 years.

*breathes* And there we have it. The T20 is nothing if not action-packed, so we should be in for a rip-roaring ride from tonight until Friday.

About all we can do now, though, is wait in eager anticipation for the action to begin. With four places at Finals Day on the line, that action is sure to be full-blooded and hugely entertaining.

I can’t wait.

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Signing off,