As we move into the final phase of the Vitality Blast season the two respective groups are beginning to take shape. In the South group three teams are already out of contention. Middlesex, Essex and Hampshire have, so far, been pretty woeful. Perhaps most surprisingly Hampshire, Somerset’s next opponents, who five weeks ago lifted the 50-over cup have been well below par in the shortest format for such an accomplished white ball outfit. Let’s hope that continues on Wednesday evening.
But, if we look up, the competition for the top four places is heating up with four or five games left. It is not beyond the realms of possibilities that the current top two in the Championship could top the south group. Surrey are currently in fourth but have a game in hand over Somerset and Kent and have still to play Gloucestershire. And they have the best net run-rate in the group.
By the time we get to Friday evening’s clash at The County Ground things may have changed again in what has been a topsy-turvy group so far, but it is entirely possible that the winners will virtually cement a crucial home tie in the quarter-finals while the losers could be scrambling to qualify.
That in itself is enough to whet the appetite for a fixture given more spice from a Ciderman’s point of view by the need to avenge the thrashing dished out by Surrey the last time the two teams met a couple of weeks ago at the Oval. If I was Andy Hurry I’d pin the scorecard of that game up on the dressing room door on Friday afternoon and let that do the team talk!
There is a very strong argument that a T20 game has no bearing on the championship and to be honest, it is one that I’d have subscribed to myself up to now, but something tells me this is a little different. Surrey have had it pretty much their own way in the last 2 months. Momentum can be a difficult thing to quantify but Surrey have certainly had it over the last few weeks. But momentum in sport can be a fickle thing and shift quickly. Somerset’s run of four wins on the spin indicates that the force is with them at present and the right result on Friday could see a real change in the two counties prospects.
Both counties have lost three games in this season’s blast. Of Somerset’s three defeats two have been in rain-shortened games, including that dreadful performance at The Oval recently. The other unsurprisingly came against Kent!
Surrey have built their success so far in the T20 on the Finch/Roy combo at the top of the order but without Ollie Pope, wrongly preferred to James Hildreth by the England selectors, their batting looks a little fragile beyond the evergreen Rikki Clarke.
Somerset, on the other hand, have built their recent success on contributions from the whole side. Logic would dictate that this and home advantage give Somerset the edge, let’s hope that is the case.
Of course, both teams play before Friday and the context of the game might have shifted dependent on those results but whatever happens in those games I still believe that the winners will have made themselves favourites to clinch a home quarter-final while the losers will have to accept a journey “up north” as their fate.
The championship resumes on the 19th August with Somerset hosting Essex and Surrey meeting Lancashire at The Oval before the Blast quarter finals the following week. It goes without saying that both games are vitally important at the top of Division One so the team that has carried a better end to the T20 season may go into those fixtures with the psychological edge.
But even if this is all poppycock there is one other, very important reason to beat Surrey and that is to put one over on Gareth Batty. That always feels good.