Matthew Hoggard can’t wait for NatWest T20 Blast Finals Day and remembers what it’s like to win on county cricket’s biggest stage.
T20 Finals Day is absolutely unique in sport. I can’t think of any other sporting event where you get the semi-finals and the finals played on the same day - except for maybe certain kinds of boxing where you get last man standing events.
For the spectators this can make it a great, fun day out but it presents a completely different set of challenges for a cricketer as he tries to prepare. Unless you get a super over (of which more later) you’re only going to be playing for a maximum of 80 overs and, although this is less than you’d play in either a Test match or a one-day game, the format means you’ve got to be up for one massive game and then almost immediately get up for another one.
From my own experience I’d say in terms or preparation the advantage is with whichever team wins the first semi-final.
I was captain of Leicestershire Foxes when we won the trophy in 2011 and I was het up all day. I couldn’t switch off. After we’d won the first semi-final I can’t remember what I did because I was nervous throughout, but it gave other people the opportunity to go back to the hotel and chill out.
We needed to calm down because the game with Lancashire had gone down to a super over. We’d lost Josh Cobb to the first ball of the day from Glenn Chapple and made 132 from 18 overs. Their target was reduced by the Duckworth/Lewis method and they needed 11 off the last over. That looked gettable but we took two wickets from the first three balls and left them needing a six from the last ball to tie, only for Gareth Cross to hit Wayne White over long-on for a maximum.
We bowled first in the super over and sent in Claude Henderson, who went for 13, so after that we needed Will Jefferson to come in and smash their spinner to all parts. Somerset were obviously watching because they learned from us. They were the only team not to use a spinner in the super over and won theirs comfortably. It’s very nervous because you don’t feel like you’re in control, but it is a better way of settling things than run-rate because it is a cricketing test.
The chances of both semi-finals needing a super-over have to be fairly slim but we had the extra time to recover and settle our nerves, and compared to the first match the final was a bit easier. In fact, what I remember most was Abdul Razzaq cramping up and being unable to complete the final over. Andrew McDonald had to come on for him although by then the game was over.
“And relax!” I thought when we’d finally done it, although for the rest of the team it was like an eruption. We had a very big night out and as the Hampshire boys were staying at our hotel they were a big part of it!
My predictions for Finals Day
For Birmingham Bears, home advantage has to count for something and if they win their semi the players could even go home between games to rest if they wanted to. In terms of the atmosphere it’d probably be better if they did go through because if they lose their semi-final the crowd might thin out. Everyone reacts differently but if you’ve lost the semi-final the last thing I’d want to do as a player is hang around and watch another two games of cricket and I imagine a lot of supporters would feel the same way.
Having said that the team playing first has an advantage. I’d tip whoever wins the second semi-final to win the trophy on Saturday, because they are the two best T20 teams. Hampshire have got the history of playing in the big games and Lancashire Lightning are very, very strong.
If Surrey’s big guns fire however, then they’ve got to have a chance with the likes of Davies, Burns, Roy and Kevin Pietersen.
KP has the advantage that he won’t have to readjust to the format because he’s been playing T20 cricket in the West Indies while the players who’ve stayed in England have been playing 50-over and five-day games. His scores weren’t great in the Caribbean, but on the big stage he’s the kind of player who can win a game on his own and if Surrey’s batting clicks they can win it.
Whatever happens, we're in for a cracking day. Saturday can't come soon enough.