|T20 Blast Finals Day|
|Venue: Edgbaston Date: Saturday 22 September|
|First semi-final: Worcestershire Rapids v Notts Outlaws (11:00 BST)|
|Second semi-final: Essex Eagles v Derbyshire Falcons (14:30 BST)|
|Final: 18:45 BST|
|Coverage: BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra & local radio commentary; live text coverage and in-play highlights on the BBC Sport website and app|
Worcestershire have a chance to make history when they return to Edgbaston looking to become the first team to win back-to-back trophies in 17 seasons of T20 county cricket.
Before being replaced by The Hundred as the domestic game’s newest format, T20 Blast Finals Day will be played in front of a near capacity 25,000 crowd.
And the four teams will probably be sharing the limelight again with Where’s Wallies, Scooby Doos, Smurfs, Robin Hoods, nuns, Popes and Mr Blobby on what is always a great social occasion.
But along with all the beer snakes, and the endless serenading of Sweet Caroline, Worcestershire will be up against three other sides – Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Essex – with considerable motivation of their own.
Unsung Derbyshire are the 18th and last county to reach a Finals Day and are looking to repeat Worcestershire’s feat 12 months ago by winning on their first appearance.
Notts were winners at Edgbaston in 2017, and are hoping to emulate Worcestershire last year by following relegation in the County Championship with a trophy in the game’s shortest form.
And what about Essex? Four times semi-finalists, but never finalists, they have a Championship decider against Somerset at Taunton coming up, and could make it a memorable few days by lifting silverware twice inside a week.
The England factor
Teamwork is always the highest priority at Finals Day over the course of a possible 11 hours of cricket in which almost anything can happen.
But this year there is the added factor of England not yet having named their T20 squad for the first of this winter’s tours to New Zealand.
And just as a special performance in a Lord’s one-day final often used to seal a place in a tour squad, that adds an extra perspective for Saturday’s star performers.
Two immediate names come to mind; Alex Hales and Moeen Ali.
Hales has long since served his 21-day ban for an “off-field incident” – it was reported by the Guardian that he failed a recreational drugs test.
One minute he was in England’s World Cup squad. Then he wasn’t.
The Notts opener is yet to be recalled to the England team, although director of cricket Ashley Giles has said “the door isn’t closed” on Hales’ international career.
Worcestershire all-rounder Moeen, by contrast, did make the squad but was not in the team towards the latter stages of the tournament, when it most counted.
Both may have watched the World Cup final with envious eyes in July as England beat New Zealand after the drama of a super-over.
New Zealander Hamish Rutherford will be the only official overseas player on duty for Worcestershire, but they only had one last year too, South African Wayne Parnell, and still went home with the trophy.
The Rapids are likely to have the vast majority of their winning team from 12 months ago in action after Parnell, now a Kolpak signing, and Brett D’Oliveira both reported fit and were included in their squad.
And they will again look to captain Moeen, so often their match-winner when it really matters, as he showed with his 115 at Edgbaston in the group decider against Birmingham Bears a year ago before topping that with 11 sixes in a brilliant 121 not out in this year’s quarter-final against Sussex.
But all-rounder Ed Barnard says being on the big stage is something which fires up the rest of the team too.
“We’ve got a really good record at the big grounds,” Barnard told BBC Hereford & Worcester. “At Trent Bridge, at Edgbaston last year, and at Old Trafford.
“When there are more people watching, it’s more of a showcase to show off our skills. Playing against the bigger sides, knowing we can beat them when we are at our best is massive for our confidence.
“Mo is very big about just going out and enjoying the day and not putting on too much pressure.
“We know nobody has ever won it back to back. That’s a real motivation for us. If we can be the first team to do that, it would be a massive statement.”
Notts look for another Hales storm
Notts Outlaws arrive at Finals Day following a 10th Championship defeat in 13 matches.
But it is a different story in T20 cricket and of the XI that played in their quarter-final thrashing of Middlesex, only Chris Nash and Ben Duckett were involved in this week’s Championship game, in which Joe Clarke responded to his recent dropping from the team in both formats by scoring two centuries against Warwickshire.
Hales warmed up for Finals Day by flying off to the Caribbean Premier League to play three games for Barbados Tridents.
And as ever, it is Hales who could hold the key, as he did when he and opening partner Nash pulverised Middlesex’s attack to win their quarter-final at Trent Bridge by 10 wickets, reaching their target with more than three overs to spare.
“The biggest thing for me is to be instinctive,” said Hales, who hit 85 off 47 balls. “Whatever decision you make, do it 100%, because more often than not you’re going to get the right result.
“Sometimes it backfires and you’re going to look like a clown, but as long as you know in your gut that you went with the right choice, I can live with that.”
For Nash, who made 74 off 53 balls, his quarter-final success was remarkable, as it was only his second T20 innings in two years.
“I played one game last year, got nought, dropped a catch and dislocated my shoulder,” Nash told BBC Radio Nottingham.
“I didn’t know where that would leave me and to not play in the group games this year was hard work. But you want to make an impact coming in for a big game.
“So it was a case of sticking my chest out, give it a real go and whatever happens, happens.”
Second a first for Essex
Other than losing all of their semi-finals, there has been one common denominator in Essex’s four previous visits to Finals Day; they have always been drawn to play the first match.
This time they will face Derbyshire in the second semi-final, so could this finally be their year? After all, the Eagles truly sneaked into the knockout stages by the back door, after starting the final evening of group games as rank outsiders, in seventh place, only for all other results to go their way.
They were then paired in the quarter-finals with North Group winners Lancashire, who were forced to concede home advantage because England were about to begin a Test match at Old Trafford, and lost at an almost empty Riverside, 150 miles away at Chester-le-Street.
“To turn things around and have a stab at being at Finals Day is a chance we are all relishing,” said Championship skipper Ryan ten Doeschate, who hands over the captaincy to Simon Harmer for T20 games.
Saturday’s end-of-season showpiece comes just two days before their Championship decider against One-Day Cup winners Somerset at Taunton.
Ten Doeschate told BBC Radio Essex: “It’s a very exciting week. But it’s been a great season so far no matter what happens in the next week. “
That quarter-final triumph over Lancashire was a classic case of how T20 games can swing in an instant, namely the decision of Red Rose captain Dane Vilas to choose Liam Livingstone to bowl the penultimate over, rather than in-form fellow leg-spinner Matt Parkinson.
‘Parky’s been my go-to guy,” said Vilas. “Maybe I should have given the ball to him. But, in this sort of game, as a captain you can be made to look like a hero, an absolute genius or an idiot. And unfortunately I was the latter.”
Derbyshire happy as underdogs
Derbyshire’s appearance at Edgbaston will rid them of the tag of being the only one of the 18 counties not to reach Finals Day, but they are still very much coming in under the radar, a situation relished by assistant coach Steve Kirby.
“We’ve got no expectations,” said Kirby. “We’re the underdogs and that’s what I love about this side. But people are going to underestimate us at their peril.”
Former fast bowler Kirby – assistant to Dave Houghton – will have his side well drilled on the perils and pitfalls of Finals Day following his experience as a beaten finalist with Somerset against Leicestershire in 2011.
“It’s an amazing day which goes in a flash,” he told BBC Radio Derby. “You sign all the autographs and treasure every moment. But there’s a lot to take on board.
“There’s a mascot race between the first and second semi and you don’t get much chance to prepare on the outfield like you would normally. You only get about 20 minutes. It’s all a bit rushed and you have to get your head round that.
“Then there’s only an hour and a quarter between winning the semi and going though to the final. And you’ve got to change dressing rooms.
“But, as long as you’re ready for what’s coming, it’s adrenalin that gets you through.”
Derbyshire will check on the fitness of paceman Ravi Rampaul, who missed this week’s Championship win over Sussex – but they could have man-of-the-moment Darren Stevens on board.
When the 43-year-old was allowed out on loan by Kent for the T20 Blast, his parent club were not even thinking about offering him a contract for 2020, nor that the club they were loaning him to might actually go further than them in the T20.
Stevens only played four times in Derbyshire’s march to the last four. But he does know Finals Day, having been there five times and won it twice; with Leicestershire against Surrey in 2004 and Kent against Gloucestershire in 2007.
Earlier this week against Yorkshire, he became the oldest man to hit a Championship double century since 1949, having taken 10 wickets in Kent’s previous fixture, a win over Notts. On that form, it will be a tough call for Derbyshire to leave him out.