Two can play at that
A couple of FP t20 Finals Day spots remain up for grabs. Ian Ward assesses the teams in the hunt.
Last Updated: 27/07/10 8:11am
Knockout cricket keeps coming thick and fast on Sky Sports - this time in the shape of the two remaining Friends Provident t20 quarter-finals.
Hampshire and Nottinghamshire have booked their place for August's Finals Day, with victories over Warwickshire and Sussex respectively, so two spots are up for grabs.
The league section of this competition is but a distant memory now, so the players of Essex, Lancashire, Somerset and Northamptonshire know they cannot afford any slip-ups.
Here are my thoughts on the two remaining matches... and don't forget, you can let me know your thoughts by filling out the feedback form at the bottom of this page.
Somerset v Northants: 4pm, Tue, Sky Sports HD1
For SOMERSET, last year's beaten finalists, home advantage is huge. The players know the ground very well - they know the angles, the pitch, what's realistic and what isn't as a run-chase and a target.
They also have key players who are in form, primarily Marcus Trescothick and James Hildreth who are run-heavy in this competition to date.
The bowling has its star turns too: Murali Kartik is a wonderfully clever left-arm spinner, while Alfonso Thomas is arguably one of the best t20 seamers around.
Northants' batsmen have something of a dilemma to solve. If they simply try to negate Kartik by knocking him around, the run-rate will begin to rise very quickly and suddenly they'll find they need nine-an-over off the last four overs - two of which will be bowled by Thomas.
So they have to try to show some intent against him in the middle-overs, without throwing their wickets away, and try to force Trescothick to bring Thomas back early.
Thomas is such a dangerous 'death' bowler because of his accuracy - his yorker is as good as it gets - and ability to predict what batsmen are going to do. He goes in with a very strong plan; his field is pretty much set - I could probably predict now what it is going to be!
Sometimes it is easier to get a 90mph yorker away these days with one of those heavy bats with a low middle than someone, such as Thomas or Sussex's James Kirtley, who gives you less pace to work with. Their yorkers are still very potent at the end of an innings.
The other X-factor Somerset have is Craig Kieswetter, who does need runs but what better place is there to score them than in a high-profile game?
DANGERMAN: Marcus Trescothick
Kieron Pollard, a match-winner with bat and ball, would be up there if he wasn't away playing for Trinidad & Tobago in the Caribbean T20 but I'm going for Trescothick. His 13-ball fifty against Hampshire earlier in the competition was frightening to watch. FP t20 2010: 484 runs at 32.26
NORTHAMPTONSHIRE are indebted to Chaminda Vaas for much of their progress this season. The Sri Lankan has got 23 wickets to his name but amazingly over 400 runs too! I'd read a few reports that said he'd improved as a batsman but, even with that in mind, I wasn't prepared for what I saw when I watched him open the batting against Lancashire. His technique is unrecognisable from the guy I remember playing Test cricket for Sri Lanka.
He is definitely around if Northants make it through to Finals Day, so that's a big bonus in terms of continuity. I can't help feeling that Vaas is going to have to have a very good game if Northants are going to topple Somerset in this one.
The one thing I will say about Northants is they know how to fight. They've had three ties so far this year, which suggests they don't mind a scrap.
I doubt Nicky Boje is going to be around because of his broken finger, which is a shame because it would have made for a fascinating match-up with Karthik. But I like the look of Jack Brooks. If ever a man was made for Twenty20, he is. He bowls briskly and it sounds like he's a character too - I think he's become one of Bumble's favourite players!
Elton Chigumbura is another one to keep half an eye on - by all accounts he is a very intelligent cricketer who should benefit massively from playing county cricket for a while - and we shouldn't forget about Andrew Hall either!
He's another player who will aim to bowl the majority of his overs in the latter stages - and has a hefty average of 47.60 in t20 this season.
DANGERMAN: Chaminda Vaas
Whoever made the decision to give him a shot at opening has pulled off a blinder. He looks like a batsman transformed and that improvement has not come at the expense of his wicket-taking ability. FP t20 2010: 412 runs at 27.46; 23 wickets at 14.86
Essex v Lancashire: 7pm, Tue, Sky Sports HD1
ESSEX haven't played particularly good cricket at home this year. We always used to call it 'Fortress Chelmsford' but that hasn't always been the case in 2010. However, I think they do have a distinct home advantage when it comes to playing Lancashire because of the size of the straight boundaries.
Much of Lancashire's success so far has come through the spin of Stephen Parry, Simon Kerrigan and Nathan McCullum - plus Gary Keedy is back playing now too. That's fine if you're playing with decent-sized boundaries at Old Trafford but not so great at a small county ground like Chelmsford.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, this match has come at entirely the wrong time for them.
All-rounder Scott Styris - who played an absolutely brilliant innings to dismantle Surrey earlier in the season - is now away on duty with New Zealand.
Ryan ten Doeschate is still on the injured list, as is Graham Napier, while Alastair Cook and Danish Kaneria are both on international duty with England and Pakistan respectively.
Ravi Bopara is around after missing out on Test selection but given all of the absentees mentioned above there will be plenty of pressure on the likes of Mark Pettini, James Foster, Matt Walker and Grant Flower.
DANGERMAN: Ravi Bopara
Bang in-form and with a point to prove, he's more than able to put in a match-winning display with either bat or ball. I can't help feeling that the crowd are going to have to back their weakened team to the hilt if Essex are to have a chance, though. FP t20 2010: 467 runs at 38.91; 15 wickets at 24.66
LANCASHIRE have the batsmen to cash in at Chelmsford. Tom Smith has really kicked on this term, with over 500 runs to his name, and Stephen Moore has rediscovered some form and is capable of getting the team off to a flyer at the start of the innings.
It's a double-edged sword for the spinners I've already mentioned because they'll be encouraged by some turn but won't be looking forward to those shorter boundaries, particularly straight.
They are not very big square, either, which will go some way to negating Sajid Mahmood's slower-ball bumper as well.
Last week Hampshire brought the boundaries in at the Rose Bowl to tiny proportions to negate Sussex's spin and it worked, but Worcestershire tried to do it to Lancashire and it didn't - so it will be interesting to see the way the bowlers go about their business depending on the boundary sizes.
I've been a fan of Parry's in one-day cricket for a while now. He's not a big turner of the ball but he does vary his pace very well and is not afraid to throw it up in an effort to beat the batsman in the flight. We saw him deceive Herschelle Gibbs when the South African was just about to pull the trigger at Old Trafford, so he isn't afraid to do it against the best.
DANGERMAN: Sajid Mahmood
He was around when I was still playing and he's still always quick and at you. Now, though, he's also added some subtleties to his game such as the big in-swinging yorker and a very good slower ball. He's a good all-round bowler who will always give his all. FP t20 2010: 22 wickets at 18.22