T20 finals day is something of a treat containing, as it does, three super tense T20 matches almost certainly ruined by the weather plus ten minutes of blokes in giant mascot outfits falling over. Last year we liveblogged it, an exercise that ranks as the most excruciatingly painful thing we’ve ever done. This year we will not be liveblogging the games; we can’t stress that enough.
But who will actually win? We asked the 51allout collective to each talk about one side and their prospects. Today we look at Essex and Northamptonshire, while tomorrow will see Surrey and Hampshire under the microscope, if we can find someone to actually write the article that is.
On paper, Essex are a fantastic T20 side. They have a powerful top order (Hamish Rutherford and Owais Shah in particular), three genuine all-rounders and the best wicketkeeper in the country. Plus they have Saj Mahmood, which has to count for something.
And yet, like the never-ending drama of Deal Or No Deal, they’re impossible to predict. They managed to be bowled out for just 74 by Middlesex (losing with more than ten overs to spare) and 104 by Surrey; they’ve twice been punished for slow over rate offences and yet they destroyed Nottinghamshire in the quarter finals to get themselves to finals day. On that occasion it was Ryan ten Doeschate who fired, smashing 82 from 44 balls; it could easily have been Graham Napier or Ravi Bopara, such is the power of their middle order.
With the ball David Masters is a wily old fox, with the emphasis very much on the word old, while Shaun Tait is more of a naive young badger, hurling the ball at great speed in all directions. Reece Topley seems to excel in the T20 format (with 19 wickets so far this year and 17 last season), while Napier (with 12 wickets) is always involved in the game. Indeed, we seem to spend a lot of time at the 51allout watercooler (contents: gin, topped up with a dash of gin) talking about Graham Napier, for reasons that no-one can quite put their finger on.
There are generally always fireworks of some sort from Essex. If everything clicks into place they could absolutely destroy Northants in their semi final. Of course, just as likely is some sort of comedy implosion involving a massive collapse and Shaun Tait hurling the ball for wides over the keeper’s head. Basically, never ever bet on Essex; just sit back, watch and enjoy.
Written off by all and sundry pre-season, Northants have definitely been the surprise team this year, in all three formats of the game. And yet they’re still being written off – currently the bookmakers give them best value of 4/1 to win on Saturday evening.
They won the geographically-weird group, winning seven of the ten games. Admittedly this group contains joke counties like Glamorgan and Worcestershire, but in Somerset and Warwickshire there were two very capable opponents. They then smashed Durham by 36 runs in the quarter-final.
Batting-wise, Kyle Coetzer and Cameron Shite have both scored more than 300 runs in the tournament. Azharullah has been the competition’s stand-out bowler with 24 wickets (and David Willey has taken 17). They are tragically uncool. They’ve been drawn against Essex, who are comically bad and are due one of their monthly batting collapses. Surrey and Hampshire are both so arrogant that they’ll assume the final is won before their openers have even faced one of Willey’s wonder balls. Even when their opponents (i.e. Hampshire) need sixteen runs from two balls to win, there will still be people writing off the Steelbacks.
Never under-estimate a quiet man, said Iain Duncan-Smith. Well, take a look at the braying, honking goons that are Essex, the angry and bitter boors of Surrey and the cocky rear admirals of Hampshire and then compare them with the charming introverts that characterize Northamptonshire. This Saturday, the quiet men will rise.