T20 Blast Finals Day: Who will be victorious in all-southern affair?

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Hampshire, Sussex, Somerset and Kent complete an all-southern T20 Finals Day line-up at Edgbaston
Venue: Edgbaston Date: Saturday, 18 September (reserve day Sunday, 19 September)
Coverage: Live radio commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, BBC local radio, BBC Sounds plus live text commentary with video highlights on the BBC Sport website and app.

After a summer of new and modified competitions in domestic cricket, it’s time for a modern-day staple of the game to make its return as four counties head to Edgbaston for T20 Blast Finals Day.

Hampshire Hawks, Sussex Sharks, Somerset and Kent Spitfires comprise a line-up of contenders all from south of the second city in a competition first.

All four counties have lifted the trophy at least once before, but for some their last trip to Finals Day came more than a decade ago.

Hampshire are the most recent winners of the four, but even their last triumph came back in 2012.

James Vince’s side face 2005 winners Somerset in the first semi-final – a repeat of the nail-biting 2010 final that finished with the scores tied and Hampshire winning by virtue of losing fewer wickets (super overs did not exist at the time) – before south coast neighbours Kent and Sussex line-up in the second.

Form horses go head-to-head

Hampshire Hawks v Somerset (11:00 BST)

Hampshire arrive at Finals Day having initially made a late run to qualify from the South Group by winning their last five matches and then holding their nerve to scrape through in the quarter-finals against holders Notts Outlaws by just two runs.

It’s a potentially huge week ahead for Hampshire, who also sit top of Division One in the County Championship going into their final match against Lancashire, starting on Tuesday.

Liam Dawson takes a wicket for Hampshire
Hampshire will be at Finals Day for the first time since 2017

Vince also arrives at Edgbaston in hot form with the bat this season, scoring 371 runs at a strike rate of 138.43 and having already lifted one white-ball domestic trophy this campaign as captain of Southern Brave in the men’s Hundred.

Their unit of canny bowlers edged them to victory over Notts. Seamers Chris Wood and Brad Wheal, along with the twin-spin threat of Liam Dawson and Mason Crane, could well play key roles once again.

“We’ve got on a bit of a roll from where we were midway through the group stage,” slow left-armer Dawson told BBC Radio Solent.

“We’ll go to Finals Day as underdogs. Somerset are a very good side, but we’ve shown already several times this season that we can win matches from any position.

“We can go back to those experiences and hopefully they’ll stand us in good stead.”

Somerset also hit form in the Blast to reach the last four. They have won their last three in a row, including sweeping Lancashire Lightning aside in the quarter-finals by seven wickets thanks to an unbeaten 78 from their red-ball captain Tom Abell.

As well as Abell, their top order also features one of the summer’s breakout stars in Will Smeed, talented left-hander Tom Lammonby and the mercurial Tom Banton.

Somerset's Roelof van der Merwe
Roelof van der Merwe took 4-27 in Somerset’s quarter-final win against Lancashire Lightning

Marchant de Lange possesses potentially game-changing pace with the ball while veteran spinner Roelof van der Merwe has the knack of producing match-winning spells at will.

White-ball captain Lewis Gregory is still unable to bowl but will lead the side, which will also welcome back Craig Overton from England Test duty.

Despite seeing their County Championship hopes dashed in recent weeks by three heavy defeats, director of cricket Andy Hurry has no fear his players will be mentally ready for Saturday.

“Representing Somerset at Finals Day, people won’t need much motivation,” he told BBC Radio Somerset.

“Everybody will be really up for it and we’ve played some exceptional cricket to get there. The fact there will be some new faces returning into the changing room will really help lift the atmosphere.”

Will Sharks’ attack have the bigger bite?

Sussex Sharks v Kent Spitfires (14:30 BST)

The second semi-final is a repeat of a tense and nervy affair on the same ground back in 2007.

Kent got the better of a see-saw contest on that occasion before going on to beat Gloucestershire Gladiators in the final, but you would be hard-pressed to pick a pre-match favourite this time around.

Sussex arguably have the most exciting and dangerous bowling unit of the four finalists, even without Afghanistan leg-spinner and quarter-final match-winner with the bat, Rashid Khan.

George Garton, Tymal Mills, Chris Jordan and, if made available, Ollie Robinson will all be big threats.

“We aim for Finals Day every year,” IPL-bound left-armer Garton said. “With the squad we have, we feel we should be there each season, but after a few years away, we’re all raring to go.”

Sussex fast bowler George Garton
George Garton will fly out to the UAE on Sunday to join up with Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League

Garton, 24, was another star performer for Southern Brave in the men’s Hundred this summer and would probably have made his England limited-overs debut had Covid-19 cases not forced the entire original squad to be ruled out for the Pakistan series in July.

“There’s been a lot of ups and a couple of downs this year,” he said. “But I’m in a great place mentally and physically and really looking forward to the next couple of weeks.

“I’ve learnt a lot from the likes of Chris Jordan and Tymal Mills. How to bowl in the powerplays, field settings, knowing when and where your wicket-taking opportunities might be.

“James Kirtley has also been great as head coach this season, bringing in more data and analysis about match-ups and when to be flexible with batting line-ups.”

Kent also arrive at Edgbaston with a bowling line-up of formidable pedigree.

New Zealand seamer Adam Milne and Afghanistan leg-spinner Qais Ahmad were two of their standout performers in the group stage and quarter-final, along with seamers Matt Milnes and Freddie Klaassen.

Throw in the canny part-time spin options of Joe Denly and Jack Leaning and the Spitfires arguably have a team for all surfaces and weathers.

But their batting has also got some potency.

Matt Milnes celebrates a wicket for Kent against Birmingham Bears
Kent Spitfires are making their first Finals Day appearance since 2009

England pair Zak Crawley and Sam Billings, the aforementioned Denly and opener Daniel Bell-Drummond are also complemented by the likes of Jordan Cox.

“It’s hugely exciting, the chance to play in front of a crowd of 20,000 on Saturday night, it’s something you don’t get a lot of opportunities to experience in the domestic game,” Cox told BBC Radio Kent.

“We’ve been working really hard for this in the last couple of years, so hopefully we get it right on the day.

“We won’t be shying away on the big stage, so we intend to go out there and give it our all.”

One player who will sadly miss out for Kent is big-hitting Alex Blake who has picked up a forearm injury. But will his absence allow Darren Stevens the chance to win the trophy for a third time in his glittering county career?

Saturday’s fixtures

Semi-finals:

Hampshire Hawks v Somerset (11:00 BST)

Sussex Sharks v Kent Spitfires (14:30 BST)

Final:

TBC v TBC (18:45 BST)

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