T20 Blast: Hampshire, Lancashire, Bears and Northants eye glory

Birmingham Bears win 2014 final
Birmingham Bears beat Lancashire to lift the trophy 12 months ago
NatWest T20 Blast Finals Day
Venue: Edgbaston Date: Saturday, 29 August Start: 11:00 BST
Coverage: BBC Radio 5 live sports extra and BBC local radio, plus live text commentary throughout the day on on the BBC Sport website

Birmingham Bears will attempt to become the first team to win back-to-back domestic Twenty20 titles on Saturday.

They will again have home advantage at Edgbaston for a Finals Day which has a familiar look to it.

The Bears face 2013 winners Northants in the first semi-final as David Willey seeks a last hurrah for the Steelbacks before he joins Yorkshire next summer.

Last year's runners-up Lancashire include England's Jos Buttler as they meet 2010 and 2012 winners Hampshire.

BBC Sport assesses the chances of all four teams.

Semi-final 1: Birmingham Bears v Northants Steelbacks (11:00 BST)

Rikki Clarke
Rikki Clarke has played two Tests and 20 one-day internationals for England
Birmingham Bears
Most runs: Varun Chopra - 326Most wickets: Recordo Gordon - 21
Highest total: 242-2 v DerbyshireHighest score: Brendon McCullum - 158 not out

Analysis - BBC WM 95.6's Richard Wilford:

"Birmingham Bears' defence of their title could hardly have gone much better. Unlike last year, they got off to a flying start and developed the uncanny habit of squeezing over the line in the final few balls.

"Early on, William Porterfield played a series of match-winning innings, while the bowling attack showed how to take the pace off the ball in defending a desperately low target at Lancashire.

"Brendon McCullum's seven-game spell was effectively a world-class sideshow. His all-time domestic record innings of 158 not out against Derbyshire at Edgbaston was an astonishing display of hand-eye co-ordination, but largely the Kiwi missed out.

"There is no McCullum this weekend, but Ian Bell has been a key part of this T20 Blast campaign, including a match-winning 90 against Durham at Chester-le-Street."

Key player - Rikki Clarke, by BBC Coventry & Warwickshire's Clive Eakin:

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Relive Bears' T20 triumph in 2014

"Rikki Clarke has had an outstanding season with the ball in this year's competition. The stats show he has the best economy rate in the country and has bowled more dot balls than anyone else. He also managed to record the Bears' first T20 maiden for three years.

"Captain Varun Chopra has been surprisingly reluctant to bring Clarke back into the attack after his opening spell, but his three overs at the top of the innings usually put pressure on the batting side.

"The all-rounder has also contributed with the bat, including a match-winning unbeaten half-century in the win at Worcestershire. His 18 off 13 balls was important in the quarter-final win over Essex, and if all that wasn't enough, he is one of the safest pairs of hands around."

T20 history: Birmingham won the trophy last year, the Bears' first appearance at Finals Day since Warwickshire lost to Surrey in the inaugural final in 2003.

Squad: Chopra (capt), Ambrose (wk), Bell, Clarke, Coleman, Evans, Gordon, Hannon-Dalby, Javid, Patel, Porterfield, Poysden, Rankin, Woakes.

David Willey
David Willey is to leave Northants at the end of the season to join Yorkshire
Northants Steelbacks
Most runs: Richard Levi - 406Most wickets: Azharullah - 15
Highest total: 197-7 v WorcestershireHighest score: David Willey - 100

Analysis - BBC Radio Northampton's Alex Winter:

"After losing their opening three games, Northants became one of the form sides in the competition with just one defeat in eight completed matches. To get that run going, they came out on top in tight matches at Worcestershire and Derbyshire, before cruising to wins over Leicestershire and Yorkshire as confidence grew.

"They have a powerful batting line-up, complemented by some touch players and a variety of options in the bowling attack. Crucially, Alex Wakely has been back to captain the side this season, having missed the whole of 2014 through injury. He is a cool customer, who led Northants to glory two years ago.

"That 2013 victory, and the global experience of Rory Kleinveldt and Richard Levi, means Northants are no strangers to big occasions. They shouldn't be a surprise any more - this is their third Finals Day in seven years - but they will still arrive at Edgbaston as underdogs and will embrace that tag."

Key player - David Willey

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Relive Willey's T20 final hat-trick

"It is the addition of David Willey in the Northants XI that turns them into an outfit to be feared.

"Progress through the group stage was largely made without him, but having a batsman capable of such destruction, as was shown in the quarter-final at Sussex, adds a match-winning element.

"He played a 'Hollywood role' in the 2013 victory, which he sealed with a hat-trick, and is back at Edgbaston in excellent form after his hundred at Hove and runs in the One-Day Cup."

T20 history: Northants lifted the trophy in 2013 and also reached Finals Day in 2009, when they lost to Sussex in the last four.

Squad: Wakely (capt), Levi, Willey, Coetzer, Duckett, Keogh, Murphy, Rossington, Cobb, Afridi, Kleinveldt, Crook, Stone, Azharullah, White.

Semi-final 2: Hampshire v Lancashire Lightning (14:30 BST)

James Vince
James Vince scored 107 not out in Hampshire's quarter-final win at Worcestershire
Hampshire
Most runs: James Vince - 641Most wickets: Chris Wood - 18
Highest total: 204-3 v SussexHighest score: James Vince - 107 not out

Analysis - BBC Radio Solent's Kevan James:

"Some say this format of the game can be a bit of a fluke. The fact Hampshire are in their sixth Finals Day in a row and have contested seven consecutive quarter-finals would suggest differently.

"The other constant is that of the three Finals Days when they failed to lift the trophy - they were beaten semi-finalists in 2011, 2013 and 2014 - all were at Edgbaston. There is just something about that ground that is determined to break up Hampshire's recent dominance in this format.

"Surely this year they will reach the final at the very least. In the group stages, Hampshire did what they do well. When the pressure is on, they just find another gear. This time they won three of their last four matches to finish third in the South Group."

Key player - James Vince

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Relive Hampshire's 2010 T20 Final last-ball victory

"Vince has the third-highest number of runs this season - 641 at an average of 58 - and is a real match-winner in this format.

"Not surprisingly, he kept his place in the England T20 squad to play Australia. He has carried his bat in four matches and the highlights included an unbeaten 99 off 57 balls when chasing down Kent's 183-5, which was an awesome knock considering the opposition probably got 20 too many.

"His 90 not out off 62 balls against Sussex at Hove ensured a Hampshire total of 204-3, which on the night was just enough."

T20 history: Hampshire won the trophy in 2010 and 2012, beating Somerset and Yorkshire. They also reached Finals Day in 2011, 2013 and 2014.

Squad: Vince (capt), Carberry, Adams, Wheater, Ervine, Dawson, Gatting, Smith, Wood, Berg, Arafat, Briggs, Edwards, Crane.

Steven Croft
Steven Croft (r) is Lancashire's leading run-scorer in this season's T20 Blast
Lancashire Lightning
Most runs: Steven Croft - 460Most wickets: Stephen Parry - 21
Highest total: 231-4 v YorkshireHighest score: Steven Croft - 94 not out

Analysis - former Lancashire batsman Stephen Moore:

"Much has been said over the last few years of Lancashire being the most consistent T20 side in county cricket, but they have yet to turn that into silverware. Last year, their campaign fell short on the very last ball of the competition as Andrew Flintoff almost produced a heroic cameo of an innings to win it for them.

"Having been part of the changing room for a number of years and playing in a Finals Day with the squad a few years ago, I know first hand the frustrations that float just beneath the surface. As a player, you are aware there is an expectation of success that permeates everything you do in preparation and on the pitch.

"When it comes to the knockout stages of a competition, it is all about pressure, and the side that manage to stay calm and handle it the best usually come out on top - and that doesn't always mean the side that play the most attractive cricket."

Key player - Steven Croft

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Lancs have 'unfinished business'

"If Steven Croft has a good day, that will give the side a huge advantage as he is a truly dynamic one-day player with the bat, in the field and even with the ball.

"If things don't go to plan, then his challenge as captain will be to marshal the team. But in Ashwell Prince and James Faulkner, he has two international players who have been there and done it, something that can bring an air of calm to the side in tense moments.

"Croft also has Jos Buttler, a player who will send chills through the opposition bowlers. He has the ability to win a match on his own and will be full of confidence after the recent Ashes success."

T20 history: Lancashire lost to Somerset and Birmingham Bears in the 2005 and 2014 finals, and also reached Finals Day in 2004, 2007 and 2011.

Squad: Croft (capt), Prince, Brown, Livingstone, Buttler, Davies, Faulkner, Clark, Lilley, Proctor, Bailey, Parry, Edwards, Griffiths, Kerrigan.

Domestic T20 - previous winners
2003: Surrey2007: Kent2011: Leicestershire
2004: Leicestershire2008: Middlesex2012: Hampshire
2005: Somerset2009: Sussex2013: Northants
2006: Leicestershire2010: Hampshire2014: Birmingham Bears

Compiled by BBC Sport's Paul Grunill.

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