Freddie Wilde previews the four T20 Blast Quarter Finals.
KENT v LANCASHIRE, CANTERBURY
This is a fascinating match-up between Kent’s powerful batting order—they have the second highest average and third highest run rate this season—and Lancashire’s strong, spin-heavy, bowling attack—they have bowled 52% of spin overs, have the third lowest strike rate and fifth lowest economy rate. Kent have played spin well this season—they have the second highest batting average against spin, and will benefit from playing in Canterbury where spinners have historically struggled—the venue has the third highest spin average in English domestic T20 history. Kent have a powerful top order but they are short on depth – taking early wickets will be significant for Lancashire.
In the absence of Lancashire’s captain and star batsman Liam Livingstone – who has missed much of the campaign with a broken finger – the availability of Jos Buttler and Keaton Jennings could be key. Kent’s bowling is heavily dependent on Adam Milne and, remarkably, Joe Denly. Buttler and Jennings would give Lancashire an edge and help lengthen a batting order that has struggled for death over runs this season—they have the second lowest run rate in overs 16 to 20.
Lancashire have elected to bat first on five of the eight occasions when they’ve won the toss this season – the second highest proportion of all teams. However, four of those matches were at home on a dry pitch designed to benefit their spinners. It will be intriguing to see what they do in Canterbury – a venue with the third highest run rate this season and a pitch that is unlikely to become more difficult for batting in the second innings. Kent have won 71% of their matches batting first and although Lancashire have been marginally more successful when chasing Kent may opt to bat in order to avoid a run chase against Lancashire’s spinners and put pressure on their weaker batting.
DURHAM v SUSSEX, CHESTER-LE-STREET
Durham against Sussex is a clash of the two bowling attacks with the lowest bowling averages in the league by a considerable distance and it will be played at the venue with the lowest run rate this season. Expect a hard-fought, low-scoring affair.
Although both teams have had success with the ball their bowlers and strategies have been notably different. Sussex’s attack is packed with star names while Durham have less heralded players. Durham’s success has been built on their superb Powerplay—they have the lowest economy rate and fourth lowest strike rate in the phase before Paul Collingwood and Imran Tahir—who has now left for the CPL—have squeezed their opponents in the middle overs. Sussex have struggled in the Powerplay with the highest strike rate but they have pulled things back brilliantly in the middle overs with the lowest economy rate and strike rate thanks largely to the brilliance of Rashid Khan. Durham have already proven they can cope well without Tahir – who missed their last six matches; it will be fascinating to see how Sussex manage the loss of Rashid to international duty.
Durham’s batting lacks power but has stability, particularly in the Powerplay where they have the highest dismissal rate in the league. Their slow and steady approach is perhaps better suited to the sluggish Chester-le-Street pitch than Sussex’s more aggressive strategy. If available Ben Stokes will lend some firepower. Sussex’s batting order is packed with positive players but this season that has produced inconsistent returns. Both Durham and Sussex have had been more successful this season when they’ve batted first and defended totals with their strong bowling attacks.
WORCESTERSHIRE v GLOUCESTERSHIRE, NEW ROAD
Worcestershire and Gloucestershire are two of the most interesting teams in the competition who have out-performed far richer counties this season by promoting young talent. Worcestershire’s powerful batting and Gloucestershire’s varied bowling are regarded as their stronger suits but this season Worcestershire’s young bowling and Gloucestershire’s dynamic batting have been superb as well. This promises to be an intriguing match on what is typically an excellent pitch for batting.
Worcester’s top order is one of the strongest in the country and that is reflected in their run rate which is the third highest in the competition; however, they may meet their match in Gloucestershire’s eclectic attack who this season have the sixth lowest bowling average and stifled Surrey and Kent, the most powerful batting teams in the South Group.
Despite losing key players to injury and retirement Worcestershire’s pace-heavy bowling attack—only four teams have bowled a lower percentage of spin overs than them—has been a revelation this season—only three teams have a lower average. 19 year-old Pat Brown, who has taken 27 wickets has been the attack leader, but more recently he has been well supported by overseas signing Wayne Parnell. Worcester have been particularly strong in the Powerplay where they have comfortably the lowest strike rate of all teams and that phase of the match is likely to be a key battle ground.
Gloucestershire’s batting is built around their anchor Michael Klinger with young Miles Hammond looking to exploit the field restrictions before their powerful middle order kick in. Early wickets to expose Gloucestershire’s middle order will be key for Worcestershire; if they don’t take any then their inexperienced attack will be severely tested by Gloucestershire who have the second highest death overs run rate this season.The presence of Moeen Ali – who provides Worcester with a spin option – could be significant: Gloucestershire have the fifth lowest run rate against spin this season.
SOMERSET v NOTTINGHAMSHIRE, TAUNTON
This is the pick of the quarter finals as the defending champions Nottinghamshire travel to fortress Taunton – home to the pretenders Somerset who have lost just once at home all season.
Although Somerset lost their last league match they had won nine of their previous ten and appear to be one of the most well-balanced teams in the competition. Their pace bowlers can be expensive—they have the fourth highest pace economy rate in the league—and their top order can be a little flimsy—they have the second lowest dismissal rate in the Powerplay – but they have enviable batting depth and numerous bowling options.
Nottinghamshire were one of the pre-season favourites but their batting order misfired for much of the campaign before three consecutive wins snuck them through on the final day. Although far from their best for much of this season they possess a number of match-winners and remain very dangerous; their most recent win against Yorkshire was impressively clinical and they look to be finding form at the right time.
Somerset’s strength this season has been their post-Powerplay batting. Despite poor starts their powerful middle and lower order have bailed them out of trouble. No team have scored faster against spin this season than Somerset and their match-up with the Notts spinners is likely to be key. Evidence suggests Notts need to continue to attack and take wickets through the middle overs to derail Somerset’s hitters.
Nottinghamshire have struggled against pace bowling this year—they have fifth lowest average against pace—but this match offers them an opportunity to turn that around. Somerset’s clearest weakness is their pace attack and unless Notts get after them they are likely to struggle against the spinners.
Somerset are the only team who haven’t elected to bat first once this season and understandably so given they have an exceptional record when chasing, winning 86% of their matches. Notts have also shown a preference for chasing but have a better record when defending.
Freddie Wilde is a CricViz analyst.