With the Friends Life t20 finals day set to commence in Cardiff on Saturday, I take a look at the four teams looking to emulate the achievements of Leicestershire a year ago.
By winning six and losing just one of their ten matches, to top a strong Southern group, no one would begrudge the Hove-based side their first semi-finals spot since they won the tournament three years ago.
After winning their group the Sharks were majorly indebted to the former New Zealand all-rounder Scott Styris in their quarter-final against Gloucestershire. The 37-year-old was in brutal form hitting five fours and nine sixes to finish on 100 not out in just 37 balls, as his side amassed a huge 230 for 3 whilst beating the Gladiators by 39-runs.
Alongside Styris, the batting will again be dependent on the old guard of Chris Nash, Murray Goodwin and Michael Yardy as well as the England duo Matt Prior and Luke Wright, who will be expected to reproduce their international form.
In the bowling department a lot will depend on the tournaments third leading wicket-taker Chris Liddle, who has 15 wickets in 9 matches at an average of just 11.80. Liddle will expect to be backed up by the experienced one time England Test-cap Amjad Khan, as well as spinners Monty Panesar and Will Beer.
Verdict: Sussex certainly has an experienced line up with six starters of the 2009 final success still around, if the batsmen can provide enough runs for the bowlers to play with then there is no reason why they can’t beat an inexperienced Yorkshire side in their semi-final clash, the final could provide to be a step too far for this ageing line-up.
Finally the white roses have reached a t20 finals day after ten years of asking, beating their previous best finish of a quarter-final place in both 2006 and 2007.
They topped the North group ahead of a strong Nottinghamshire side packed with big hitters, winning seven of their ten matches to finish the group stages with the best record of the 18 counties.
Yorkshire fans finally had a finals day place to add to their calendar after their side won a high scoring quarter-final encounter against Worcestershire Royals at Leeds.
Batting first they made 212-5 with half centuries from England Lions opening batsman Joe Root and overseas South African David Miller, before restricting the Royals to 183-6.
The batting will be reliant on Miller alongside the evergreen Aussie Phil Jaques and captain Andrew Gale, whilst Jonny Bairstow will be released by England despite his current involvement in their ODI series with South Africa.
The rest of the batting will be filled with the likes of Gary Ballance, Adam Lyth and Root which on current form looks strong.
The bowling is set to miss the expertise of Australian left-armer Mitchell Starc who is the tournaments leading wicket taker with 21 wickets at just 10.38, he is back in Australia and Yorkshire will hope the availability of England bowler and crowd favourite Tim Bresnan can make up for his loss.
Carnegie are also likely to play two spinners in the form of vice-captain Azeem Rafiq and Adil Rashid, while Rich Pyrah and Moin Ashraf make up the other bowling options.
Verdict: On paper their side is packed with talent, on form they have been the best side in the tournament but with all that they still lack experience on the big stage of a finals day. A lot will depend on the senior players in the side such as Jaques, Gale and Bresnan, as Sussex look daunting opposition in their semi-final clash.
The Royals return to the finals day for the third year running after winning the competition two years ago and reaching the semi-final stage last August.
One of the most successful t20 sides in the country over recent years, they are again the bookmaker’s favourites with Paddy Power having them at 5/4 to defeat rivals Somerset in their semi-final meeting.
They reached the finals day by defeating one of the pre-tournament favourites, Nottinghamshire in the quarter-finals by four-wickets. Their star performer on that occasion was former South African opener Neil McKenzie who blasted 79 not out from just 49 deliveries – to end a previous poor run in the tournament.
Like Yorkshire, the Royals are set to miss one of their key players in the form of big hitting Australian all-rounder Glenn Maxwell. Maxwell, who had scored 179 runs at 44.75 and taken 7 wickets at 26.00 during the tournament, has been called into the Australian team for an ODI series against Pakistan.
With Maxwell missing the batting will reside on the fortunes of James Vince and the 37-year-old Simon Katich at the top of the order. The middle order will include all-rounder’s Dimitri Mascarenhas, Liam Dawson and Sean Ervine.
A lot of the bowling will be done by the all-rounder’s in the side that will be joined by the impressive left-arm spin of Danny Briggs, who has represented the England Lions in the past year.
Verdict: The Royals always seem to be there or thereabouts when it comes to t20 cricket, and their line-up includes a string of impressive all-rounder’s, led by the veteran Mascarenhas, who’s 11 wickets lead the counties charts this season, much will depend on his all round skills to make up for the loss of Maxwell. Despite the loss of Maxwell I still expect them to have the better of their semi-final with Somerset, as they have more depth and variety in their bowling line-up.
The 2005 champions and nearly men of recent years, they have been losing finalists for the past three seasons, the critics have been out and the ‘chokers tag’ branded around.
How can Somerset overcome their demons and finally lift the piece of silverware they surely deserve?
Again they go into the finals day as one of the favourites, could this be their year? There are so many questions heading over this Somerset side going into finals day.
They won their Mid/Wales/West group by winning half of their ten matches but showed inconsistent cricket at times and reached their fourth finals day in a row by defeating Essex by 27-runs.
Helped by their top scorer James Hildreth with 58, their 175-6 was too strong for the Eagles who could only manage 148 in reply.
Somerset’s selection for finals day remains a slight unknown, missing will be Albie Morkel (South Africa) and George Dockrell (Ireland U19) who are both away on international duty with their respected sides, but the good news is that Craig Kieswetter will be released by the ECB to play despite his involvement in their ODI squad and explosive opener Richard Levi will return for the game after representing a South African A side on a brief tour of Ireland.
Batsman Nick Compton will also miss out due to injury but captain Marcus Trescothick has returned to full fitness and smashed a confidence-boosting hundred in their LV Championship match with Sussex.
Alongside Tresco the batting will involve around Hildreth, Jos Buttler as well as all-rounder’s Peter Trego and Kevin O’Brien.
The bowling looks thin, especially with Dockrell still away with the Irish u19 set-up. Veteran South African Alfonso Thomas remains one of the formats best bowlers and will hold the key, alongside contributions from Trego, O’Brien and Steve Kirby. It remains to be seen if Max Waller will keep his place as the spin option or if Pakistani international Abdur Rehman will play instead.
Verdict: Despite being a precedent figure at finals day in the recent past, too many question marks hang over Somerset this side round, if their big hitters click they have the chance to put on big totals but at the same time their bowling looks extremely weak and Hampshire should have enough in this semi-final encounter. More disappointment awaits.