Friends Life Twenty20: A Preview of Sunday's Twenty20 Matches
It is still early doors in the Friends Life Twenty20 competition and teams are jockeying for position in their respective divisions. Today sees 14 teams in action across both the North and South divisions, including several big match-ups.
Amongst the favourites this term are Somerset, Warwickshire, Sussex and Hampshire, despite the side from the Rose Bowl starting on minus after receiving a deduction for a poor pitch last season.
All four are in action today, with last year's winners Hampshire travelling to play Kent at Tunbridge Wells.
Gloucestershire vs. Sussex
Sussex look strong in all formats of the game this year, with players like Chris Nash and Ed Joyce leading the way with the bat. Nash is a very useful Twenty20 cricketer as he has the ability to score big runs, and can turn his arm over and take wickets.
The Sharks have played one and won one, having defeated the much fancied Essex Eagles last time out. The game's top performers were all-rounder Rana Naved with the ball and Murray Goodwin with the bat. Naved took five Essex wickets for just 17 runs.
Gloucestershire have spin master Mutiah Muralitharan in their ranks for this tournament, and it won't be long before he is amongst the wickets. However, Gloucestershire have lost their opening two games, and face a very strong Sussex side today.
I expect this one to go to form, and for Sussex to have too much for Gloucestershire. Muralitharan is a game-changer, though, should he find his form.
Somerset vs. Middlesex
Last year's beaten finalists will be there or thereabouts again this season. Marcus Trescothick can be devastating at the the top of the order, and they have one of the best death bowlers in the game in Alfonso Thomas. Add to the mix spinner Murali Kartik, and not many teams will get the better of them this term.
That said, Somerset were beaten in their first outing this season by Hampshire, another big favourite. However, the Sabres did record an impressive win over Kent in their second game, losing only one wicket in a chase down of 166 runs.
Middlesex lost their opening game to Glamorgan in a rain-affected match, so it will be interesting to see how they perform today, weather permitting. The names that are capable of performing well in this format for Middlesex trip off the tongue, including Rogers, Newman, Dalrymple, Malan and McLaren. The latter two have been big performers in the competition in recent years. McLaren a hat-trick in Twenty20 cricket to his name.
I think Middlesex could spring an surprise here and upset Somerset.
Warwickshire vs. Northamptonshire
Will Porterfield has been on fire with the bat for Warwickshire in the T20 so far, and will be looking to continue in that form Sunday. His performances have helped his side to its 2-0 record. They currently top the North Division.
Darren Maddy is a consistent T20 performer for the Bears, as is fellow all-rounder Neil Carter. And with Troughton and the in-form Varun Chopra in the batting lineup, they will be tough to beat.
Northamptonshire have a similarly strong squad for the format. Sri Lankan Chaminda Vaas has been taking wickets in all competitions, and has been opening the batting in the competition. Niall O'Brien is injured but he is a player who was born for this format of the game if they can get him back soon.
It feels as though Northamptonshire's loss of O'Brien could considerably affect their ability to qualify out of the group. Nonetheless, with Brooks, Hall, Botha and Peters, the team is capable if all do perform.
This format of the game is very hard to predict, but I expect Warwickshire to still have their 100 per cent record at the end of this game.
Kent vs. Hampshire
Hampshire started the competition well, by beating rivals for the title Somerset to get their points total back to zero. Michael Lumb has shown himself to be one of the best T20 opening bats in the world, and his contribution has been massive for the Hawks.
The experience of captain Dominic Cork is also a big reason for their success. They are again the ones to watch this season.
On the back of the win against Somerset, they made it two out of two by defeating Surrey on Friday. Imran Tahir did the damage with the ball, and then Hampshire's top order finished them off. Vince, Adams and McKenzie backup Lumb form a very strong top order for T20. Young, slow bowler Briggs is also a major threat, as he proved in last year's competition. And it doesn't stop there for Hampshire, who also possess the dangerous Dimtri Mascarenhas.
Kent have been in the mix for the latter stages of this tournament on many occasions, and Joe Denly has in the past been a big part of their success. Denly keeps things steady as opener and allows some of Kent's flair players to play their shots. With Key, Van Jaarsveld and the destructive Darren Stevens, they will be a good match for Hampshire.
But it is with the ball that Kent may struggle. Stevens' medium pace can be troublesome, and Tredwell's slow bowling is more than useful. However, I don't think they have the quality to back that up in their attack.
I expect Hampshire to win through, as their top order could fill their boots against Kent's bowling.
In the three other games being played, Leicester host Lancashire, Notts play Yorkshire and Worcestershire face Durham at New Road. The pick of the games is Yorkshire's trip to play Notts.
Adil Rashid is a potent threat in T20 for Yorkshire, and in Lyth and Gale they have quick-scoring attacking batsmen. Lyth has been struggling for form this season, but this competition could see him explode back in to life.
Notts won last time out whilst Yorkshire were beaten by a strong Warwickshire side. I fancy Notts for this one, and for a good run in the competition with David Hussey back in the country and Alex Hales fit again. Plus, Samit Patel has proven ability in the limited overs game.
Worcestershire won't have enough to trouble Durham, although they have lost the influential Ben Stokes for 6-8 weeks through injury. Lancashire should see off Leicestershire at Grace Road, but Leicestershire do have a bowling attack capable of troubling anyone.