Hampshire will make history at Edgbaston tomorrow when they make a fifth successive appearance at T20 Finals Day.
James Vince and his team take on Lancashire in the second semi-final (2.30pm), the winners of which will play Warwickshire or Surrey in tomorrow night's final.
Here is the lowdown on the respective counties from four of the regional journalists who cover them: our own Simon Walter, Chris Ostick (Manchester Evening News), Brian Halford (Birmingham Evening Mail) and Richard Spiller (Surrey Advertiser).
Three key players
James Vince: At 23, he is Hampshire’s youngest post-war captain. Returned to form at the perfect time, hitting an unbeaten 93 against Notts in the quarter-final, his most important innings since his 66 not out against Warwickshire at Edgbaston at the same stage of the 2010 competition. Elegant right-hander and an England-batsman-in-waiting.
Matt Coles: One of two excellent winter signings by Hampshire (the other is former Durham captain Will Smith), the ex-Kent all-rounder has been a very able replacement for Dimitri Mascarenhas. Has been the pick of Hampshire’s seamers thanks to his effective slower balls and he blitzed the county’s fastest-ever fifty (18 balls) in a crucial win against Essex last month.
Owais Shah: Only five players (Chris Gayle, Brad Hodge, David Hussey, Brendon McCullum and David Warner) have scored more T20 runs in the history of the shortest format. Signed on a match-by-match basis at the start of the season and has so far contributed 149 runs at 74.5. The man of the match when Middlesex won the 2008 final, he helped fill the void left by Neil McKenzie for five games before heading off to the Caribbean Premier League. He will return from a family holiday tomorrow morning to replace Glenn Maxwell.
Their T20 season so far: Three defeats in four games denied them a home quarter-final but Hampshire regained momentum by winning their last two group matches before chasing down 198 with an over to spare to beat Notts at Trent Bridge, ensuring their place at Finals Day for a record fifth successive season.
Odds: 5/2 (Sky Bet)
How they fared last year: Topped the south division and beat Lancashire in the quarter-finals before losing the second semi-final to Surrey, by four wickets.
Analysis: Hampshire have more Finals Day experience than any of the quartet and have proved a lot of people wrong by getting there without Dimitri Mascarenhas and Neil McKenzie. This will be their first Finals Day without an overseas player, but they will be confident despite the absence of Glenn Maxwell and Kyle Abbott. For all his IPL success, Maxwell never fired for Hampshire this year (his best innings were in the other formats). Kyle Abbott’s yorkers may be missed at the death, but Owais Shah and Liam Dawson are very handy replacements. The latter will complete a three-man spin attack, alongside Will Smith and Danny Briggs, that helped Hampshire win their last two group games when Abbott was unavailable. They will be glad to have second use of the T20 track.
Will Smith: “During the quarter-final you could sense people lifting themselves because they knew this was an occasion they’ve been in so many times before, done well in and excelled at. I’m sure everyone will be even more wired in on Finals Day and hopefully the teams we come up against will go the other way and we’ll be able to express ourselves and come out on top. We’ve got the right draw playing second, we’ve just got to win that and take it into the final.”
Three key players
Tom Smith: Is having the best season of his career in all forms of the game and has been key in getting Lancashire off to a flying start at the top of the order during the march to finals day. He equalled the fastest half-century by a Lightning player in T20 cricket in the group match against Yorkshire at Emirates Old Trafford, reaching 50 off just 22 balls. Very useful with the ball too, with teammate Usman Khawaja nicknaming him Golden Arm for his knack of taking wickets in the first over of a spell. His impressive form earned him a call-up to the England Lions squad earlier this month.
Jos Buttler: The crowd need to be on alert when the big-hitting wicketkeeper is at the crease because it is very likely the ball will be heading in their direction! Has burst onto the Test scene this summer, helping England turn around their series against India. Brilliant finisher of an innings and can easily take the game away from any opponent in an over or two.
Kabir Ali: Former England Test bowler is Lancashire’s joint leading wicket-taker in the competition this season with 19 at an average of just 14. But it is at the end of an innings when the 33-year-old comes into his own with his ability to bowl the perfect yorker. Can give the ball a whack too if needed.
Their T20 season so far
After losing their opening match at Nottinghamshire, Lancashire marched into the quarter-finals by topping the North Division, playing some stunning cricket and winning several tight games on the way.In all they won 10 matches, with the last-over reverse against rivals Yorkshire at Emirates Old Trafford their only other defeat. Looked up against it in their last-eight home clash with Glamorgan until Jordan Clark produced a triple-wicket maiden to turn the game as they won by just one run.
Odds: 11/4 How they fared last year: Lancashire finished second in the North Division last season with five wins to set up a quarter-final trip to Hampshire – who they face in this year’s semi-final. After the home side posted 202-3 with a century from Michael Carberry, Lancashire fell two runs short of victory as they were held to 201-4.
Analysis Lancashire have been impressive on their way to Finals Day and they have got there without relying just on the performances of one individual. It has been a real team effort. Their batting has been destructive at times and their bowling attack is one of the best in the competition although they will be without key player Junaid Khan. But in Andrew Flintoff they have a ready-made replacement, following the former England all-rounder's inclusion in the 17-man squad. What a fairytale return it would be, Freddie smashing a six off the last ball to win the final having retired four years ago! Amazingly, considering only Hampshire have won more T20 games since the tournament started in 2003, Lancashire have never won this trophy. But the team is full of confidence in this form of the game and there is a sense that their name just might be on this elusive piece of silverware this season.
Captain Paul Horton: “The campaign has gone really well for us and I have no doubt this side has the ability to win the competition. Previous Lancashire sides have had the ability to win it and, over the years, the way we have played we should have won this tournament before now.”
Three key players
Jeetan Patel: The New Zealand spinner is the backbone of Warwickshire’s limited- overs bowling strategy and has bowled brilliantly in this year’s T20, taking 23 wickets at 11.52 apiece. His concession of less than a run a ball in the quarter-final at Chelmsford was the game’s deciding factor.
Ian Bell: Largely a stranger to his county, as always, this summer, Bell, right, will be available for the showpiece day and though perhaps not ideally suited to T20 cricket, he has the class to play a big innings. He has delivered some spectacular limited-overs knocks on his infrequent returns to his county over the years.
Rikki Clarke: A key man with bat and ball. Has this season delivered the most economic analysis by a Warwickshire player in T20 (4-0-8-1) and unfurled a majestic 37- ball 70 in the quarter- final win over Essex. Last time the Bears featured in Finals Day, Clarke played against them in the final for Surrey.
Their T20 season so far Warwickshire sneaked through from the group on the last day thanks to their win over Leicestershire allied to Yorkshire’s defeat to Nottinghamshire at Headingley. Their form through their group fluctuated, four successive wins early on then four successive defeats before a late rally saw them through to a quarter-final in which they impressively defeated hot favourites Essex at Chelmsford.
How they fared last year: Warwickshire did not qualify from the group in 2013, their tenth successive failure to reach Finals Day.
Analysis: Warwickshire will go into Finals Day as fourth favourites but with the fillip of substantial support from the stands in their own stadium. They are underdogs – but they like it that way. And the force is with them after four successive wins in the group and quarter-final. Much will depend upon whether opposing batsmen can get at Jeetan Patel – no-one has done so yet this season and many have perished trying.
Rikki Clarke: “Realistically, we are underdogs due to the simple fact that we have not been to a finals day for 11 years. We scraped through from the group thanks to Notts doing us a favour at Yorkshire, but we are peaking at the right time.”
Three key players
Jason Roy: Bowlers have been quaking at the thought of having to contain and dismiss Roy, the highest run-scorer in the competition this year with 619, which has included eight half-centuries. His strike-rate of 152 is owed to a mammoth 67 fours and 25 sixes, earning enough man-of-the-match awards to decorate his house. With Tillakaratne Dilshan returning to Sri Lanka for international duty, Surrey will be even more dependent on Roy.
Azhar Mahmood: The former Pakistan all-rounder has belied his age of 39 to be Surrey’s all-round enforcer. Capable of a mid-innings spurt or sudden acceleration in the closing overs, Mahmood has also been the highest wicket-taker for his county with 16 victims. He is likely to be entrusted with the new ball and those crucial overs at the end.
Kevin Pietersen: A top score of only 39 in 12 innings means Pietersen has barely featured in Surrey’s rise to the finals but who would be foolish enough to write him off on the domestic game’s showpiece day? A desire to show that he can still perform when the spotlight is upon him will be irresistible to Pietersen in his long-running battle with the establishment.
Their T20 season so far: Surrey finished second in the South Group with a record of played 14, won nine, lost five. Their best batting performance of the campaign came at the Oval in June when openers Hashim Amla and Jason Roy hit 61 and 81 respectively as Surrey scored 149-0 to beat Sussex by 10 wickets. In the quarter-final, another half-century from Roy helped Surrey beat Worcestershire by three wickets.
How they fared last year: After six years of failing to get out of the group stages, Surrey made it all the way to the final in the 2013 Friends Life t20 thanks to victories over Somerset and Hampshire in the knockout rounds. However, they were soundly beaten in the final at Edgbaston, losing by 102 runs to Northants. Replying to194-2, Surrey were all out for 92 inside 14 overs.
Analysis: Five of Surrey’s nine wins came on slow pitches at The Oval prepared with their spin-dominated attack in mind, so they will have to show they can succeed on other surfaces too. Losing Dilshan to international duty is a major blow, requiring the likes of Roy and Steven Davies to ensure a fast start with the bat and skipper Gary Wilson to be at his unorthodox best towards the end of the innings. Jade Dernbach’s long-running hamstring strain will leave him short of match fitness heading into finals day but he, like the rest of the side, are doubly determined to make up for being smashed in last year’s final.
Director of cricket Alec Stewart: “It would be wrong to say we were expecting to reach the finals again this year but I would have been disappointed if we hadn’t because the side was pretty much handpicked with that in mind. On the absence of Dilshan he added: “We knew that was the situation when we signed him and you’re not allowed to sign someone just for Finals Day now, unlike in the past. So we will just have to get on with it.”