Moeen Ali anticipates Jos Buttler duel

Moeen Ali has paid tribute to his England colleague, Jos Buttler, as the pair prepare to go head to head in Worcestershire Rapids’ Vitality Blast semi-final against Lancashire Lightning at Edgbaston.

“I’m not sure I want to bowl at him too much, the way he’s been playing this year,” said Moeen, as he looked forward to pitting his off-spin against Buttler’s explosive hitting. “He’s an incredible player but somehow we’ve going to have to get him out early and I hope he makes a mistake. He’s going to be a massive threat tomorrow but it only takes one mistake.

“I’ve bowled at him plenty of times before and he’s hit me for many sixes in the nets but I’ve also got him out a few times. He’s played in quite a few of these days and he knows how to cope with the pressure. I can bowl at him but he can’t bowl at me.”

Moeen also hopes that the experience of playing in their first Finals Day will inspire his Worcestershire team, many of whom have come through the county’s Academy together.

“It’s very exciting obviously, It’s our first appearance and so the lads are pumped and excited and a bit nervous about the game tomorrow. Hopefully everyone will sleep well, turn up tomorrow and we’ll be fine.

“Getting to Finals Day is something we’ve been trying to do for a while now but it never managed to happen, we always stumbled at the quarter-finals. Now we’ve got over that I think we’ll be fine, it almost like a monkey off our back and we are only two games away from lifting the trophy.

“We have nothing to lose. Sometimes when you haven’t had anything for a while you want it more than anyone else and I’m hoping that’s the attitude we’ll come with tomorrow. We’ve finally got here and now it’s a question of moving Lancashire out of the way.”

Moeen also disclosed that Worcestershire had been boosted by the availability of Joe Clarke and Brett D’Oliveira, both of who missed their county’s match against Surrey with back problems.

“Both Brett and Joe have had stiff backs this week but they’re trained today and they are fine. Joe was a little bit sore this morning but hopefully the adrenalin will kick in and he’ll be fine.”

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Wright plays down Rashid absence

Sussex captain Luke Wright has sought to downplay the absence of Rashid Khan at Vitality Blast Finals Day at Edgbaston.

The Afghan leg-spinner has taken 17 wickets for the Sharks in this year’s competition but Wright praised the way in which Will Beer had filled the gap created by Rashid’s absence in recent games.

“Spin’s been a big part of our game and it would have been nice to have Rashid here but Danny Briggs has been unbelievable and Will has stepped in and done a great job, especially in the quarter-final up at Durham. But when you get to this stage you only need a few players to come off and we’ve still got a really good team anyway.”

And Wright’s also believes that his team is not overly dependent on the batting of Laurie Evans, who has scored over 200 runs more than any other Sussex player in this year’s Blast.

“Well, Phil Salt’s had three fifties, two of them very quick ones, and I’ve had four 70 pluses or something. But in any competition you need one batter who can be your glue and Laurie has done that for us. In semi-finals and finals, anyone can have their day out and if it’s Laurie again, then great.”

Only Will Beer and Wright know what it is like to win the Blast but the Sussex skipper is encouraging his players to embrace the occasion, along with the ballyhoo.

“It’s easy to put too much pressure on the day and I’ve told the lads to enjoy it. Jason Gillespie has helped us to do that and I think that why we’ve had so much success. The quarter-final was the most relaxed game I’ve ever played in really, Dizzy was so chilled in the build-up and he’s the same now.

Wright also explained why he had taken back the captaincy having relinquished it last year when Mark Davis was the Sussex coach.

“I’ve always enjoyed the on-field stuff but last year under a different coach it just didn’t work between us. We had different ideas and I stopped enjoying my cricket. It was an easy decision to stop being captain but it was also easy to take on the captaincy when Dizzy asked me to take it on again because we have the same ideas about how we set up a team.

“That chilled fun side of it exactly how I want to play my cricket and I think when people are happy they seem to play better. In T20 you have to risk a lot and you have be brave enough to go out and have a go.”

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I’ve learned lessons – Kerr

Somerset’s head coach Jason Kerr believes the lessons learned by Somerset when they reached Finals Day four times in a row between 2009-12 but failed to win once will hold them in good stead at Edgbaston.

Kerr, who was part of the coaching staff on all those occasions, told the Somerset County Gazette: “I was involved in a different capacity and I’ve learned lessons in terms of how to approach the day. We’ve got some experienced guys in James Hildreth and Peter Trego who can feed from that.

“For the rest it is fresh, they have no emotional baggage and they will be looking forward to making their mark on the day.

“What’s been so pleasing through the group stage is how different people have stepped up – we are not relying on one person continually. It may have been Craig Kieswetter in years gone by – relying on that fantastic start he sometimes gave us – whereas here the guys have absolute trust in each other and know that contributions will come from 1-11. That’s the exciting thing about this team.”

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Three players press for Denly’s crown

Only three players in the PCA MVP Blast Rankings Top Ten take part in the Vitality Blast Finals Day and Somerset all-rounder Lewis Gregory, Sussex’s top order batsman Laurie Evans and Lancashire opener Alex Davies all have a chance to hunt down Joe Denly of Kent.

Either Evans or Gregory will get at least two matches when Sussex and Somerset face each other in the second semi-final of the day. Davies has the first opportunity to press his claims when Lancashire face Worcestershire.

Gregory, the Somerset captain, sits on 154 points, 64 off Denly, but has been instrumental in helping Somerset reach county cricket’s big day out. He smashed 44 off 15 to power his side to Finals Day and has been a consistent performer with bat and ball throughout the tournament, hitting 321 runs at an impressive strike-rate of 217, the highest in the top 50 run-scorers in the competition.

Coupled with his 17 wickets, he is the highest placed Somerset player in the Blast MVP Rankings and is in third position in the Overall Rankings, behind Denly and Surrey’s Rikki Clarke, neither of whom are on show.

Evans has scored 554 runs in the competition and is 35 off Aaron Finch who is the current leading scorer and while it would take a monumental effort for him to pip Denly to the MVP of the Blast, he still has a great chance of overtaking the Australian as the leading run-scorer.

Evans has scored his runs at an average of 79.14 and a phenomenal strike-rate of 138.5, a key factor in the MVP formula as players are attributed more points depending on the scenario of the game.

Davies is likely to be joined in Lancashire’s top order by England’s Most Valuable Player of the summer, Jos Buttler.

As for Worcestershire, their star has been Pat Brown with the 20-year-old going into Finals Day as the top wicket taker. His 27 scalps at an average of 14 only place him 19th however.

It could be surprising to see Brown not firmly inside the top 10, but he has never scored a T20 run and has only faced six balls in his entire career – another reason for fast bowlers to grumble that despite all their hard work the world is stacked against them

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Attendances rise again

Attendances in the Vitality Blast increased by 3% this season – the fifth time in the last six years that the competition has broken its own attendance record.

Advance tickets for this season’s Finals Day also sold out in record time. although in controversial fashion as the four finalists were only allowed an allocation of 500 tickets each, forcing many would-be spectators to complain they would have to seek out ticket resale sites or risk travel on the day and hope for the best.

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