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Vitality Blast quarter-finals preview

A team-by-team breakdown of the Vitality Blast 2021 quarter-finals. Which counties will make it to Finals Day?

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Vitality Blast quarter-finals preview

Harry Brook, Daniel Bell-Drummond and Calvin Harrison lit up the Group Stage of the Vitality Blast

Yorkshire Vikings v Sussex Sharks

Yorkshire Vikings

2021: Second in North Group

Previous quarter-finals appearances: four

Best Blast result: Runner-up 2012

For all Yorkshire’s success over the years, it seems incredible that this is just the county’s fifth appearance in the T20 Blast quarter-finals (only Derbyshire and Middlesex have fewer) and their first since 2016.

The Vikings are blessed with an array of white-ball talent and possess the ability to dominate T20 games – they have scored the two highest scores in Blast history since their last appearance in a knockout game. But the side seem to struggle to consistently perform in order to regularly challenge in the later stages.

This year, however, the Headingley side notched seven wins, with several eye-catching performances en route. Jonny Bairstow lit up the competition early on, scoring 295 runs in just four innings but it was youngster Harry Brook who shone the brightest.

The former England U19 captain smashed 485 runs in 12 innings – third highest in the competition – and continued that incredible form for the Northern Superchargers in the inaugural season of The Hundred. He’s sat the last few games of The Hundred out due to COVID, but the Vikings will hope he’s fit and firing in the quarter-final.

New signing Dom Bess has been solid with the ball, taking 11 wickets and conceding just 6.70 runs per over, while New Zealand quick Lockie Ferguson picked up 14 wickets in his 11 matches.

Will the Vikings reach their third Finals Day? They’ve got all the tools to do it.

Sussex Sharks

2021: Third in South Group

Previous quarter-finals appearances: nine

Best Blast result: Winner 2009

As seasoned Blast quarter-finalists, the Sussex Sharks know what it takes to win T20 matches. They’ve built a solid base of experienced players but aren’t afraid to throw in some youngsters.

And when we say youngsters, some of them are barely out of school yet. When Archie Lenham made his debut 43 days shy of his 17th birthday, he became the first person to play in the Blast who was born after the competition started in 2003.

Alongside him, Sussex are still finding incredible life in 36-year-old Luke Wright, who has played for the Sharks in every edition of the Blast since 2004. This year he’s scored 306 runs from eight innings and forms part of a formidable top-four that also includes Phil Salt, Ravi Bopara and Delray Rawlins.

Throw in the world’s best T20 bowler, Rashid Khan, and the Sharks pose a threat to any team in the tournament.

Notts Outlaws v Hampshire Hawks

Notts Outlaws

2021: First in North Group

Previous quarter-finals appearances: 12

Best Blast result: Winner 2017 & 2020

You don’t need us to tell you how good Notts Outlaws are at T20 cricket. Year after year the Trent Bridge side light up the competition and even without their talismanic captain Dan Christian in 2021 they’ve still dominated the Group Stage.

The Outlaws have reached the quarter-finals every year since 2010, except 2015 when they missed out on net run rate, and have progressed to Finals Day in four of the last five years.

The success is largely down to excellent recruitment and youth development, but also thanks to the performances of some of their long-standing players.

Calvin Harrison was pretty much unknown before this season, but signed an old-school summer contract and helped himself to 18 Blast wickets. Fellow spinner Matt Carter continued his rise to prominence with another 16 victims in the group stages.

And then you’ve got the evergreen Samit Patel, who was around when the competition started in 2003; the dangerous Alex Hales, who’s scored 463 runs in 14 games this year, and the shrewd captaincy of another county stalwart Steven Mullaney.

Throw in the likes of Ben Duckett, Joe Clarke, Luke Fletcher and Tom Moores and there are very few weak links in the Outlaws side.

Surely they’re favourites to win the whole thing again in 2021?

Hampshire Hawks

2021: Fourth in South Group

Previous quarter-finals appearances: nine

Best Blast result: Winner 2010 & 2012

The nickname has returned and so has Blast knockout cricket. The Hampshire Hawks have long been a force in white-ball cricket, but haven’t reached the Blast quarter-finals since 2017.

Previous to that, the Ageas Bowl side had reached seven of the eight Finals Days between 2010-2017. They may be facing a tough Notts Outlaws side at Trent Bridge, but the Hawks have a 78% record of progressing from Blast quarter-finals.

James Vince, Joe Weatherley and D’Arcy Short were solid with the bat in the Group Stage, while seamers Scott Currie and Brad Wheal, along with spinner Mason Crane, impressed with the ball.

The Hawks started the tournament poorly, but won five in a row at the end of the Group Stage to sneak into the quarter-finals on run-rate.

Will the momentum they built continue through to the quarter-finals? If it can, we’re in for quite a game at Trent Bridge!

Somerset v Lancashire Lightning

Somerset

2021: Second in South Group

Previous quarter-finals appearances: eight

Best Blast result: Winner 2005

I imagine there hasn’t often been a bad time to be a Somerset supporter, but it feels as though it’s currently a very good time to be following the Taunton side.

Competitive in all formats of the game and an excellent crop of young local players coming through; the future’s bright at the Cooper Associates County Ground, and the present is pretty good as well.

What’s particularly notable about this Somerset team is that their best performers tend to deliver the goods in both red and white-ball cricket.

Craig Overton, Lewis Gregory and Marchant de Lange were their standout bowlers in the Blast Group Stage, much the same as they’ve been in the County Championship. Young Lewis Goldsworthy has made a fine start to his one-day career, averaging just 22 for his 12 T20 wickets and a healthy 25.50 with the bat.

Somerset will have to do without star overseas signing Devon Conway, though, who had to pull out of The Hundred with a hand injury. The in-form Kiwi scored 309 runs at an average of 61 and was key to their success.

They will have Will Smeed, though, who has been incredible for the Birmingham Phoenix in The Hundred, and while Tom Lammonby’s success with the bat has faded somewhat in the new competition, the 21-year-old is always a potential game-winner.

Due to the regional nature of the Group Stage, Somerset have only ever played against Lancashire once before in the T20 Blast – in the 2005 final, which they won. A good omen?

Lancashire Lightning

2021: Third in North Group

Previous quarter-finals appearances: 12

Best Blast result: Winner 2015

It’s the 13th time the Lightning have reached the quarter-finals of the Blast and the fourth year in a row. They’ve got a good success rate of converting those opportunities into Finals Days, making eight appearances in the showpiece event.

But they’ve only gone all the way once, winning back in 2015, so they’ll be hoping to add another to the trophy cabinet this season.

Kiwi powerhouse Finn Allen won't be helping the Lightning with their quest, having been included in New Zealand's squad for their tour of Bangladesh and Pakistan, which leaves a hole at the top of the order alongside Keaton Jennings. The pair were Lancashire's top scorers in the group stage, with Allen one run shy of 400 and Jennings two short of 300 despite only playing eight games.

Alex Davies and Liam Livingstone add firepower to the lineup, with the likes of Dane Vilas, Rob Jones and Steven Croft all likely to feature in the hard-hitting batting order.

On the bowling front, spinners Matt Parkinson and Tom Hartley could be the difference-makers, while bustling seamer Luke Wood also impressed in the opening stage. They look set to miss Saqib Mahmood, however, who was named in the England squad for the third LV= Insurance Test against India.

It promises to be a tasty encounter, with both sides able to hit big runs but also possessing the talent to apply pressure with the ball.

Kent Spitfires v Birmingham Bears

Kent Spitfires

2021: First in South Group

Previous quarter-finals appearances: eight

Best Blast result: Winner 2007

It’s been a rollercoaster of a year for Kent Cricket. A pretty dismal County Championship campaign saw them not win a game. They then finished top of the South Group in the Blast, despite having to name an entirely new squad for the final games due to COVID isolations. And, without many of their key white-ball players, the Spitfires then finished bottom of their group in the Royal London Cup.

They should get most of those stars back for this Blast quarter-final, with the likes of Daniel Bell-Drummond, Jordan Cox and Joe Denly returning from The Hundred, and there’s a good possibility that Zak Crawley will be available having been with the England Men’s team recently.

Pace bowling is one of the keys to Kent’s success, with Matt Milnes, Freddie Klaassen and Adam Milne all excelling in the Group Stage.

Bell-Drummond, Crawley and Cox all reached the 300-run mark in the Group Stage, with Jack Leaning just 13-runs short of joining them.

At stake against the Bears is a chance for Kent to make their first Finals Day since 2009, and what better way to salvage their season than an opportunity to win some silverware?

Birmingham Bears

2021: Fourth in North Group

Previous quarter-finals appearances: nine

Best Blast result: Winner 2014

Since Edgbaston became the home of Vitality Blast Finals Day, the Birmingham Bears have reached the semi-finals three times, the final itself twice and lifted the trophy in 2014.

But this is their first knockout game in the tournament since 2017 and they’ll face a battle to reach Finals Day again.

The Bears’ batting was a bit hit-and-miss during the Group Stage. The ever-dependable Sam Hain top scored with 393 runs while their next highest scorer, Will Rhodes, was some 138-runs behind him. They can score quickly though, with the likes of Ed Pollock and Carlos Brathwaite looking to pepper the boundaries.

Their bowling was more dependable, though, with Brathwaite (18 wickets), Jake Lintott (15), Danny Briggs (15), Rhodes (14), Craig Miles (14) and Tim Bresnan (12) all taking double-figure wickets, though all of them except spinners Lintott and Briggs gave away over eight runs an over on average.

If they offer Kent those sort of runs then the Spitfire batsmen could make hay, but if the Bears get it right on the day they’ll be difficult to overcome.

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