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Clarke claims underdog status

Birmingham Bears all-rounder Rikki Clarke has claimed that his side will be “massive underdogs” on NatWest T20 Blast Finals Day.

The Bears will enjoy the rare advantage of playing at home on a Finals Day – with Edgbaston a near sell-out – yet Clarke still believes their rivals hold the aces.

There may be some element of mind games in Clarke’s claims – the Bears have won their past four matches including a stunning quarter-final win over Essex Eagles – but certainly they lack the experience of Finals Day that their rivals boast.

The Bears have not played in domestic Twenty20 cricket’s showpiece event since the inaugural competition in 2003 when, by coincidence, they lost to Surrey - their semi-final opponents on Saturday.

By contrast Surrey and Hampshire are Finals Day regulars while Lancashire Lightning topped the North Group and could be further boosted by the inclusion of England duo Jos Buttler and James Anderson.

Birmingham Bears all-rounder Rikki Clarke is playing down his side's Finals Day chances despite playing in front of a home crowd

“We’re the massive underdogs; we’re not expected to win and we understand that,” Clarke told ecb.co.uk.

“We’re happy to be there. It’s been a long time coming (reaching Finals Day).

“It is one of those days to be enjoyed and hopefully we can enjoy it a bit more if we put in two good performances.

“Surrey have been to Twenty20 Finals Day a lot and have a star-studded line-up as does Hampshire and Lancs. They’re familiar with Finals Day and we’ve not been there in about 10 years.

“We’ve massive underdogs; there’s no pressure on us.”

While Clarke is determined to play down his side’s chances it is hard to ignore a feeling of fate about the Bears' run into the last four.

Birmingham had needed luck just the reach the knockout stages with only a stunning chase by Notts Outlaws at Headingley on the final day of the group stage sending them through in place of Yorkshire Vikings.

The Bears did still have to win their final three group games – including a vital success at Yorkshire – before they proved their appetite for an upset as they stunned Essex in the last eight.

The Eagles had been the form team of the competition, and even harder to beat at their Chelmsford home, but were undone by brilliant Bears batting.

Jeetan Patel has been one of the best bowlers in the NatWest T20 Blast this season, highlighted by a hat-trick away to Yorkshire Vikings

Clarke and skipper Varun Chopra embarked on an unbroken 134-run stand to set up victory and send them through.

Asked if it felt like fate was on the Bears’ side, Clarke said: “Potentially. Looking at the way we’ve gone about the competition so far we’ve snuck in through help from Nottinghamshire.

“Their chase at Headingley – to chase down 200 and basically get us into the quarter-final, we owe them quite a bit. Then to go down to Essex in a quarter-final and put in an unbelievable performance – we’re in a good run of form and we’re playing good cricket in all forms.

“We know we’re underdogs but we’re not going to roll over."

Birmingham will also be boosted with confirmation that their England stars – Chris Woakes and Ian Bell – have been made available for Finals Day.

“We’re going to give it a good go and hopefully we can put in a performance like we did down at Essex," Clarke said.

"If we can do that then who knows what can happen in the final if we get there.”

Ceratinly the Bears have the weapons themselves with spinner Jeetan Patel one of the stand-out bowlers of the competition so far and the New Zealander is likely to enjoy home conditions.

Patel has been able to choke opposition batsmen in tandem with Ateeq Javid while also grabbing key wickets throughout.

And with the Bears' batsmen also starting to find form – Jonathan Trott hit a century as the Midlanders passed 300 in their Royal London One-Day Cup match at Trent Bridge this week – plus the return of Bell and Woakes it appears they might be one of the best equipped underdogs to reach Finals Day.

NatWest T20 Blast facts

*Since the start of last season Birmingham have won seven and lost two of their nine completed Twenty20 matches at Edgbaston.

*Jeetan Patel’s bowling average of 11.5 is the lowest in a English domestic Twenty20 season - minimum 40 overs bowled.

*Since the start of last season the toss-winning team at Edgbaston has elected to field in all 12 Twenty20 fixtures where a toss took place, going on to win eight times.

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