T20 Blast

The Cricket Paper - - FIRST TEST - By Char­lie Tal­bot-Smith

All the build up as we near the end of the group stages

BIRMINGHAM Bears must beat Lan­cashire tonight if they are to have any chance of mak­ing the knock­out stages of the T20 Blast – and his­tory-maker Jee­tan Pa­tel will be the key to their cause.

The Kiwi spin­ner be­came the first player to play 100 T20s for the county last Sun­day as they kept their qual­i­fi­ca­tion hopes alive with an eight-wicket win over Durham.

Not only has Pa­tel now played 100 games in the short­est for­mat, but the last 89 of them have come in a row, and with 112 wick­ets at 20.87 he has been piv­otal to their fine record.

The Bears, cham­pi­ons in 2014 and run­ners-up in 2015, missed the last eight a year ago but can make amends in a tight North Group on Fri­day.

And Ash­ley Giles is con­fi­dent that the 37-year-old Pa­tel – the joint-top wicket-taker in this year’s com­pe­ti­tion with 19 scalps and count­ing – will con­tinue to prove the dif­fer­ence.

“His skills are there for all to see,” said Giles, sport di­rec­tor at Edg­bas­ton. “For any bowler to av­er­age six-point-any­thing per over in T20 over a long pe­riod is a phe­nom­e­nal ef­fort.

“He’s al­ways up for bowl­ing when the heat is on, whether the first over or the last. In all for­mats he is a real war­rior. We are very lucky to have him and it’s great that he’ll be with us next year too.

“When we first signed him, it was a bit of a punt.We didn’t know too much about him and his first spell with us didn’t last long be­fore he got in­jured.

“But he came back the next year for the T20 and we hap­pened to be with­out an over­seas player for a cou­ple of Cham­pi­onship games so he played in them and took about 15 wick­ets. That’s when we thought ‘we might have some­thing here.”

In­deed, so im­pres­sive has Pa­tel been in his time at the club since first join­ing in 2009, that Giles strug­gles to think of a more in­flu­en­tial over­seas sign­ing.

“I would say Jeets rates among the best over­seas play­ers ever seen in county cricket and that’s say­ing some­thing when you think about the likes of Al­lan Don­ald and Mal­colm Mar­shall,” he added. “He’s def­i­nitely right up there. You nor­mally as­so­ciate fast bowlers with be­ing feared but I think Jeets is feared.

“The Player Im­pact Rat­ings show him to be con­sis­tently the best T20 bowler in the coun­try and for Jeets to per­form at that level across all for­mats year-in, year-out is a re­mark­able ef­fort, phys­i­cally and men­tally. But he knows his game and body and pre­pares well and is al­ways keen to help the younger guys too. He’s just a great as­set to the squad.”

Der­byshire could have se­cured their spot in the elite eight by Fri­day night if they can beat Le­ices­ter­shire on Thurs­day, but they will hope to fin­ish on a high against the al­readye­lim­i­nated Worces­ter­shire Rapids.

Wayne Mad­sen has claimed half cen­turies in three suc­ces­sive matches against Worces­ter­shire al­though the Rapids have won on three of their last four vis­its to Der­byshire.

Else­where, al­ready-qual­i­fied Not­ting­hamshire could end lo­cal ri­vals Le­ices­ter­shire’s hopes – if the Fal­cons haven’t al­ready – with vic­tory at Trent Bridge.

Notts Out­laws go into this game know­ing they have reg­is­tered ten wins in their last 11 home games and with the com­pe­ti­tion’s top run-scorer in Riki Wessels.

And Northamp­ton­shire – last year’s cham­pi­ons – face Durham in a re-run of last year’s fi­nal.

But while the Steel­backs are still in con­tention this time around, the Jets have sunk with­out a trace with only three wins and a points de­duc­tion leav­ing them dead last.

The Jets can take hope from the fact that the last four Fri­day matches hosted by the Steel­backs have all been won by the vis­it­ing side but Adam Ross­ing­ton has posted 40-plus runs in three of his last four in­nings in Northamp­ton.

PIC­TURES: Getty Im­ages

His­tory maker: Bears’ spin­ner Jee­tan Pa­tel,

Man in form: Com­pe­ti­tion top run scorer, Notts Out­laws’ Riki Wessels

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