Essex only just scraped into the quarter-finals, qualifying as the second-best third-placed team, but the batting heroics of Ryan ten Doeschate and a hat-trick from Aussie paceman Shaun Tait ensured the Eagles swept past Nottinghamshire to book their place at Edgbaston. As well as Tait, Essex can boast a wealth of experienced pros such as Hamish Rutherford, James Foster, and Ravi Bopara, all of whom have international experience, and they will be looking to secure the Eagles’ first T20 title.
Strengths – Essex have a powerful middle order, with ten Doeschate, Bopara, and Graham Napier all more than capable of clearing their ropes. Their pace attack looks strong as well, with Shaun Tait and Reece Topley having taken 35 wickets between them in this competition.
Weaknesses – The loss of Danish Kaneria, handed a lifetime ban by the ECB in June last year for his role in “cajoling and pressurising” his ex-Essex team-mate Mervyn Westfield into spot-fixing, means that Essex lack a frontline spinner, while their batting line-up hasn’t always delivered, being dismissed for 74 and 104 against Middlesex and Surrey respectively in the group stages.
Key Man – Ryan ten Doeschate. Essex’s hero in the quarter-final, ten Doeschate has been vital in sustaining the Eagles’ push towards Finals Day. Since being bowled for a duck against Middlesex in early July, the Netherlands all-rounder has not recorded a failure in five matches, scoring at an average of 43 and ending unbeaten three times. He can also bowl a bit, his intelligent medium pace giving captain James Foster a useful option when the frontline bowlers leak runs.
Reigning champions Hampshire squeezed into Finals Day, with their mammoth score of 202 almost being chased town by a gutsy Lancashire performance. The Royals fully deserve their place at Edgbaston, however, having stormed to the top of a strong South group, with the performances of England hopeful Michael Carberry a highlight. Hampshire are not simply a one-man team though: they have a team bursting with T20 specialists, and with the experience of last year’s victory a strong motivation for the team they go into Finals Days as deserved favourites.
Strengths – Hampshire have without a doubt the strongest batting line-up left in the competition. Carberry’s heroics have hit the headlines, and led to whispers of an England call-up, but even on the odd occasion when the opener has failed to deliver Hampshire have been able to call upon the likes of James Vince, Shaun Irvine, Neil McKenzie, or Jimmy Adams.
Weaknesses – Hampshire’s bowling line-up have, up to now, had the luxury of being able to rely on their side’s batting to win them matches. If Hampshire’s batsmen bat have an off-day, it will be interesting to see how the bowlers respond to the pressure.
Key Man – Michael Carberry. Almost certain to end this competition as the leading run-scorer (only Craig Kieswetter of Somerset has more), Carberry’s tremendous 100 not out against Lancashire in the quarter-finals epitomized his performances this season, and added to his half-centuries against Kent, Essex, Sussex, and Surrey in the group stages. If Carberry fires, Hampshire tend to fire as well.
With an exciting blend of youth and experience, Surrey reached Finals Day by seeing off a strong Somerset side, having lagged behind only all-conquering Hampshire in the group-stages. The Brown Caps are a strong all-round side, with Vikram Solanki, Jade Dernbach, and Chris Tremlett providing plenty of international experience. They will, however, be missing influential captain Gareth Batty, after the spinner received a two-game ban from the ECB after a confrontation with Somerset batsman Peter Trego in the quarter-finals.
Strengths – Surrey boast an explosive top order, with both Stephen Davies and Jason Roy fearsome hitters, while their bowling line-up, including the likes of Jonathan Lewis and Azhaar Mahmood, as well as Tremlett and Dernbach, have a wealth of T20 experience.
Weaknesses – The suspension of Batty is a big loss, with his controlled off-spin just as important as his experience. Surrey will be looking to all-rounder Zafar Ansari to fill the gap left by their captain – it will be interesting to see how the youngster responds.
Key Man – Zander de Bruyn. The Dutchman is a top performer with both bat and ball, adding balance to this Surrey line-up. His performance in the quarter-finals demonstrated his importance to the side superbly, contributing 39 with the bat as well as picking up four wickets with his medium pace.
Northants cruised to only their second-ever Finals Day, easing past Durham in the quarter-finals thanks to an all-round performance in which their top four batsmen all made useful scores, and five different bowlers picked up wickets. That match was typical of a side that perhaps lacks the star names of other sides in the competition, but which finished ahead of a strong Somerset side in their group.
Strengths – Northants’ bowling has excelled this season, with Mohammad Azharullah the leading wicket-taker in the competition so far, while David Willey and Aussie Cameron White have contributed 17 wickets apiece.
Weaknesses – Cameron White notwithstanding, the Steelbacks’ batting hasn’t always been hugely impressive so far (Richard Levi’s unbeaten century against Gloucestershire apart). The likes of Kyle Coetzer and captain Alex Wakely will have to step up to the plate, with Essex’s Shaun Tait a tough opponent in the semi-final.
Key Man – Cameron White. The Australian all-rounder has been a sensation in the competition this season. His total of 327, including three half-centuries, makes hi Northants’ leading scorer, while his 17 wickets have come with an average of just 11.94.
PHOTOS / Barry Zee; rjs99.5nompere; NAPARAZZI