No time for slips
With a spot in August's Finals Day at stake, the FPt20 quarter-finals are going to be a blast says Ian Ward.
Last Updated: 26/07/10 11:15am
It's now or never, do-or-die for the eight counties left in the Friends Provident t20 - and there are some cracking quarter-final ties to look forward to.
We've seen some exceptional individual performances and highly-skilled displays so far in this expanded competition as players become more adept at executing Twenty20 skills.
The abundance of games has encouraged the bowlers to develop greater variety, while batsmen are starting to compile centuries in greater numbers.
There have been some terrific catches along the way too - Alex Wakeley's effort on the boundary at Northampton against Lancashire was absolutely awesome.
It's tough for the players to produce such excellence on a consistent basis, particularly when the schedule demands so much travelling, but all those miles will seem worth it to whoever gets their hands on the trophy come Finals Day on August 14.
To book their place at the Rose Bowl, though, each side must first come through this stage of the tournament.
Here are my thoughts on the first two quarter-finals, to be played on Monday... and don't forget, you can let me know your thoughts on each game by filling out the feedback form at the bottom of this page.
Warwickshire v Hampshire: 4pm, Mon, Sky Sports HD1
WARWICKSHIRE have played very well in this competition full-stop, but particularly at home where they have won their last three t20 games. It was all the more important for the club to get a home draw as they have to finance all the redevelopment that is currently going on at Edgbaston.
Losing Ian Bell to injury is a big blow - although there is a good chance he would have been on England duty anyway if he was fit - and more runs have gone missing now that Jonathan Trott has been named in the first Test squad against Pakistan.
The pitches at Edgbaston have generally been flat this season - ideal for scoring big runs. Indeed, Hampshire went there and scored 341 off 40 overs in a CB40 match back in May, thanks to hundreds from Jimmy Adams and Michael Carberry.
There's plenty of limited overs pedigree in the Bears side, with the likes of Darren Maddy, Jim Troughton and Neil Carter still going strong while they've also got two good kids in the shape of Keith Barker and Chris Woakes, who I think is a wonderful young cricketer. All in all, they look a well-balanced, solid unit.
DANGERMAN: Imran Tahir
Wickets can be few and far between on the batsmen-friendly pitches at Edgbaston, so Tahir's leg-breaks will be crucial in terms of making breakthroughs and controlling the run-rate.
FP t20 2010: 20 wickets at 18.45
HAMPSHIRE, contrary to some reports last week, won't have Shahid Afridi in their ranks but can boast a powerful batting line-up nonetheless. Jimmy Adams is in fantastic nick with nearly six hundred runs to his name in this competition alone.
Dominic Cork's side snuck through into the last eight on net run-rate by beating Sussex at the Rose Bowl when really they should have qualified far more easily. In a funny way, they could benefit from having to play that pressure game - in effect, it will feel like they've already started their knockout campaign.
We shouldn't forget that Hampshire have got this far without Dimitri Mascarenhas - firstly because he's captain of the club, and secondly because he's an extremely good t20 player. Mascarenhas, like Nic Pothas, is now out for the season but Michael Lumb does make the trip and could feature.
If they get through, Hampshire should have an edge given that this year's Finals Day is at the Rose Bowl. That said, no county has ever won the trophy on their home ground since the Twenty20 Cup began in 2003.
DANGERMAN: Jimmy Adams
When Abdul Razzaq fires in t20, he is devastating but we've yet to see that so I'm going with the form man - Adams. With two hundreds and another couple of fifties to his name, he'll be looking forward to bedding in at Edgbaston for another big one.
FP t20 2010: 582 runs at 41.57
Nottinghamshire v Sussex: 7pm, Mon, Sky Sports HD1
I spoke to David Hussey and Mick Newell after NOTTINGHAMSHIRE beat Yorkshire by seven wickets last week and they were delighted to secure a home draw.
Sometimes the pitches at Trent Bridge can be difficult to read and that should give the Outlaws an advantage.
There is a really nice feeling around Trent Bridge at present. In David Hussey and Dirk Nannes, Newell has made two astute choices and there are some really good young cricketers coming through too.
Even though they had long-since qualified for the quarter-finals, you could see in their eyes in that match against Yorkshire that they wanted to keep their momentum going and they did just that.
Samit Patel, who top-scored with a breezy 40, remains a genuine talent. He must be looking at what Michael Yardy has achieved with England in Twenty20 cricket and thinking that could be him. You could argue that of the two, Samit has the greater natural ability. I don't mean that with any disrespect to Yardy, who is a very intelligent cricketer, but we all know about Samit's issues and it's up to him to solve them.
His spin in the middle overs, plus the left-arm of Ryan Sidebottom and Nannes and the wicket-taking ability of Darren Pattinson, adds up to a strong attack.
There's one other thing: I asked Alex Hales earlier this month who he'd like to avoid in the quarter-finals and he said Sussex. There's a bit of mutual respect there because Yardy thinks this Notts side is a good unit too. This could be a cracking game.
DANGERMAN: Dirk Nannes
If the Sussex team were allowed to withdraw one of the Notts players, I think it would be Nannes because he's proven time-and-again that he has genuine wicket-taking ability in Twenty20 cricket.
FP t20 2010: 17 wickets at 23.82
SUSSEX won eight out of their first nine FP t20 games but then lost six of their last seven in the run-in so have they run out of steam? Well, they can take confidence from the brilliant performance they put in against Worcestershire in last Monday's CB40 clash at the very least.
It's hard to see why they aren't on their t20 game at present. Perhaps they lost a bit of continuity when Yardy went away with England but now that he and fellow ICC World Twenty20 champion Luke Wright are back in the ranks the could well discover their early-tournament form.
Yardy admitted the other day that there is some doom and gloom around the changing room but stressed that Sussex are still having a great season. They are top of County Championship division two, in the t20 quarter-finals and are right in the hunt in the CB40.
While there hasn't been any one bowler who stands out consistently since the departure of Mushtaq Ahmed, each member of the attack fulfils his role very well - that's pretty much the Sussex way.
They might suffer from not having Robin Martin-Jenkins as an option now he has retired but that could open the door a little wider for Will Beer.
I've been very impressed with him this season. We covered a game when Owais Shah and Dawid Malan - two very good players of spin - were batting well for Middlesex but Beer stood up to the challenge very well so I'm looking forward to seeing how he goes.
The defending champions know what it takes to win this title and they also know what it takes to win at Nottingham - remember that six Murray Goodwin hit off the last ball to win the Pro40 Division One title in 2008?
DANGERMAN: Luke Wright
With the destructive Dwayne Smith on duty for Barbados in the Caribbean T20, I'll go for the equally powerful Wright who looked in great form the other day against Worcestershire. On his day, no ground is too big.
FP t20 2010: 137 runs at 19.57