Birmingham Bears will be grateful guests when they begin their NatWest T20 Blast defence at North Group rivals Notts Outlaws tomorrow evening.
The Bears’ late-season run to their first-ever Twenty20 title last summer was only cleared when the Outlaws beat Yorkshire Vikings in their final group game.
That allowed Birmingham to sneak into the knockout stages and ultimately claim a thrilling final win over Lancashire Lightning in front of their home fans.
“We have already thanked Notts!” Birmingham director of cricket Dougie Brown said ahead of the trip to Trent Bridge.
“We kind of burgled our way through the group stage last year and that’s something we need to address this time round. We need to be better in the group phase.
“We played some really good cricket at the back-end of the tournament but they are tough groups to get out of and we have to make sure we don’t make such heavy weather of it this season.
“It will be a tough start for us. Notts are a well-drilled Twenty20 outfit but we went there last year and managed to win a game.
“We went there in both 20-over and 50-over cricket and had two great matches.”
The Outlaws have, however, lost four successive home quarter-finals and have turned to a left-field solution to change their fortunes in the shortest format.
The Outlaws have ditched the gold shirts of those campaigns and hope a change to green brings them some luck.
“We’ve tried everything else and after four consecutive quarter-final defeats in gold shirts I can’t think of what else to change,” Notts director of cricket Mick Newell said.
“We won the one-day final in 2013 in green, so we’ll see if it brings us luck in this competition.”
Hales will be available for the opener, despite starting talks over a possible short-term stint with Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League, although Michael Lumb misses as he recovers from arm surgery.
“I think we’re a very good T20 side,” Newell added.
“We prove it year after year in the groups but need to find a way to get back to finals day and prove to everyone else that we’re as good as we think we are.”
— NatWest T20 Blast (@NatWestT20Blast) May 14, 2015
The Steelbacks endured a let-down last summer and begin with a trip to last season’s Royal London One-Day Cup winners Durham. The Jets’ 20-over record is, however, a point of frustration in the north-east with just one trip to finals day.
“Our history in the event is poor, so we are hoping for better performances,” Durham limited-overs skipper Mark Stoneman said.
Durham include John Hastings, the leading wicket-taker in Australia’s recent Big Bash League, who opted out of the IPL auction to spend the whole season in the north-east.
Leicestershire Foxes will bid to put their LV= County Championship malaise to one side when they travel to Emirates Old Trafford to take on Lancashire Lightning.
The three-time winners will be boosted by the addition of New Zealand’s World Cup hero Grant Elliott, who memorably hit the six to clinch their semi-final success over South Africa in March.
“The World Cup was a great experience and a great memory, but you have to move on, and it’s time to do what I need to do for Leicestershire,” Elliott said.
Just arrived in London after 27 hours of flight time. So happy to see land and looking forward to meeting the @leicsccc lads.
— Grant Elliott (@grantelliottnz) May 11, 2015
“I’ve seen Leicestershire being quoted at 40-1 to win the T20, but I think we have a great balance of guys, a nice mix of youth and experience, and given the history of the club in the competition, I don’t think the opposition would be wise to take us lightly.”
Lancashire head coach and cricket director Ashley Giles is concerned by his death-bowling options following the retirement of Kabir Ali and the loss of Junaid Khan – while their Australian signing James Faulkner is still at the IPL.
“They played massive roles, particularly bowling at the death,” Giles aid.
“A couple of youngsters are going to have to step up and do those jobs in the short term because games can be won and lost there.”
Captain Tom Smith misses out with a back injury, so Steven Croft will lead the side. Liam Livingstone, who hit a world-record 350 in a recent club match for Nantwich, is a candidate to open the batting in place of Smith and make his senior debut.
Yorkshire Vikings captain Andrew Gale has targeted an improvement in short-format results this summer following the White Rose’s Championship success last term.
“It’s definitely a format in which we are looking to make improvements and I thought we did make some strides last year,” said Gale, as his side prepare to host Derbyshire Falcons under the new Headingley lights.
“A club like Yorkshire should be looking to get to finals day more regularly than we have done.”
Derbyshire arrive in Leeds with Hashim Amla as their star recruit and, while the South Africa Test captain admits he has slowly warmed to Twenty20 cricket, he will almost certainly ensure the Falcons improve on their solitary win last summer.
“I’ve enjoyed it (Twenty20) a lot more in the last three years,” he said.
“When I first started playing I didn’t really understand it, coming from a bit more of a classical cricketing upbringing, but I’ve been fortunate enough to get some runs in the last few years so the average has gone up a bit.”
NatWest T20 Blast facts
Notts Outlaws v Birmingham Bears
Rikki Clarke needs two catches to become the second fielder after Steven Croft to take 50 catches in English T20s.
The last five T20s between these teams have been won by the team that batted first.
Alex Hales needs 84 runs to become the second player after Samit Patel to score 2,000 T20 runs for Notts Outlaws (David Hussey – (1,922).
Jonathan Trott needs 89 runs to become the first player to score 2,000 T20 runs for Birmingham Bears.
Durham Jets v Northants Steelbacks
Durham have won three of their last four completed T20 games against Northants.
Phil Mustard’s 1,388 at Durham Emirates ICG is the fourth-highest run aggregate on a single ground in all T20s.
The lowest total in English T20s was recorded in this fixture – Durham bowled Northants out for 47 in 2011.
All five of David Willey’s wickets last season were opening batsmen.
Lancashire Lightning v Leicestershire Foxes
Lancashire (74) have won the most matches in English domestic T20s.
Four of the last eight ties in English domestic T20s have involved Lancashire.
Lancashire were responsible for two of the three one-run margin victories in NatWest T20 Blast 2014.
Steven Croft has played in Lancashire’s last 102 T20s – he is the only English player to play in 100+ consecutive matches for a team.
The last two occasions Leicestershire have progressed from the group stage they have gone on to win the tournament (2006 and 2011).
Yorkshire Vikings v Derbyshire Falcons
Yorkshire have won six of their last seven T20s against Derbyshire.
Derbyshire have won the toss in 14 of the 18 completed games between these teams.
Wayne Madsen will bat for Derbyshire for the 50th time in T20s if he reaches the crease in this game.
Aaron Finch took the most catches by non-wicket keepers last season (14); that is the most by a fielder in any English domestic T20 campaign.
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