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Counties gear up for pivotal weekend

Essex CCC

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Nottinghamshire entertain Yorkshire tonight in the Friends Life t20 with both sides knowing a quarter-final place will be their reward for victory.

The two teams are boosted by the return of England players, with Samit Patel released to aid the Outlaws' cause while Jonny Bairstow is in contention for the White Rose.

The North Group pacesetters have suffered a solitary defeat between them in the current campaign. Notts regained top spot on net run-rate by virtue of a rain-affected eight-wicket win over Lancashire earlier this week, and captain Adam Voges conceded the cards dealt by Duckworth/Lewis fell in his side’s favour.

That loss was a third in succession for the Red Rose, who face a must-win encounter against their cross-Pennine rivals at Old Trafford tomorrow.

However, should the unseasonable weather that has dogged this season’s competition cause a no-result at Trent Bridge today, Lancashire will be left battling for third in the group with Durham.

A closing clash between the pair on Sunday could prove vital, with the two best third-placed teams across the three regional groups gaining a place in the knockout stages.

Luke Wright

Luke Wright's Sussex became the first team to qualify from the Friends Life t20 group stage when they won away to Surrey on Tuesday

Durham must first contend with Leicestershire, who have only a pair of victories to show for their efforts in the shortest form so far this term. The Foxes will conclude a disappointing defence of their crown at Nottinghamshire.

Derbyshire retain the slimmest mathematical chance of a third-place finish, but are expected to be playing for pride in a pair of tough assignments against the group leaders.

Sussex have already stormed imperiously to qualification, with Tuesday’s six-wicket win over Surrey at the Kia Oval rubber-stamping their passage from the South Group.

A trip to Hampshire - who can secure second with a victory over Sussex or against Essex in their closing fixture - tomorrow and the return against Surrey completes the round-robin phase for Michael Yardy’s in-form side.

Third place remains up for grabs, with two points separating four sides ahead of this evening’s action, which sees Surrey entertain Kent and Essex travel to Middlesex.

Despite boasting an array of batsmen who appear ideally suited to the format, Middlesex have disappointed with two wins from seven outings so far.

A trip across the Thames to Surrey and a home encounter with Kent, who welcome Essex tomorrow, offer opportunities for Neil Dexter's men to rectify the situation.

The trio of Worcestershire, Somerset and Warwickshire are locked together on 10 points at the top of the Midlands/Wales/West Group, although the former can establish an outright advantage by winning their game in hand at Gloucestershire.

A win for John Bracewell’s charges would move them to within a point of the Bears before the two sides meet tomorrow.

The Welsh Dragons, currently on six points, still retain an outside chance of progression but face tough assignments against Somerset and Warwickshire.

So often the bridesmaids in recent limited-overs history, Somerset close with a potentially pivotal trip to New Road on Sunday, and Northamptonshire will play for pride at the same venue tomorrow before hosting Gloucestershire.

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