Twenty20 Finals Day is upon us on Saturday, with Birmingham, Hampshire, Lancashire and Surrey battling it out to win the NatWest Blast competition.
The Bears will be bidding for victory on home turf at Edgbaston, while Hampshire and Surrey have both been crowned domestic champions before. Lancashire, meanwhile, will be looking to get their hands on the trophy having fallen just short in previous years, most notably when they lost to Somerset back in 2005.
As we prepare for the latest edition of county cricket's big day out, which can be seen live on Sky Sports, we take a look back at some of the highlights from previous years...
2003 - Surrey win first final
The first domestic Twenty20 final in the competition turned out to be a cakewalk. In truth, the competition very nearly never happened – the counties took some convincing the idea would ever work. Thankfully they gave it the thumbs up, and the inaugural Finals Day showed that the format had caught the imagination of the sporting public, not just those who already had a love of cricket. Surrey were one of the powerhouses of the domestic game at the time, though no one expected them to win the tournament in such an emphatic fashion.
James Ormond claimed 4-11 as Warwickshire were bowled out for 115, a total they did well to reach in the end having at one stage lost half their side with only 33 on the scoreboard. Surrey soon put that total into perspective, the opening duo of Ali Brown – for whom T20 cricket was surely made – and Sky Sports’ very own Ian Ward putting on a century stand in a hurry. In the end Adam Hollioake’s team coasted to a nine-wicket victory with an astonishing 55 balls to spare. It got so bad for poor Warwickshire that even Nick Knight turned his arm over…
2004 – Leicestershire stun the champions
The second year of the competition saw it continue to blossom. A quarter-final stage was added as counties realised the desire for the product – new (and old) stars were being made as players realised the need to adapt their game and find ways to cope with the hurly burly nature of T20 action. If it had been a bit of a gimmick to start with, it was now being taken very, very seriously. Surrey were still the team to beat, and they were yet to taste defeat in the format by the time they came up against the rather unfancied Leicestershire.
The writing was perhaps on the wall in the semi-finals for the reigning champions, as they just squeezed past a Lancashire line-up boasting Andrew Flintoff, Carl Hooper and Dominic Cork. In the final they were finally beaten (and in captain Hollioake’s final Twenty20 outing, too) as the Foxes foiled their bid to retain the trophy they had won at Trent Bridge the previous year. Brad Hodge was the hero for Leicestershire, making an unbeaten 77 to steer them to a seven-wicket win. Wily old pros Darren Maddy and Jeremy Snape – inventor of the ‘moon ball’ - also played key roles as the underdogs caused an upset.
2006 – Foxes reign again in the rain
Leicestershire celebrated a second title in 2006, becoming the first county to lift the trophy for a second time in the process, albeit in slightly controversial circumstances at an extremely wet Trent Bridge. Nottinghamshire had home advantage but were not given any help by the conditions. The Outlaws had sent Surrey packing in the last four, putting an end to the possibility of a repeat of the 2004 final. The Foxes fired their way to 177-2 – the highest score posted in a final to date – as Maddy made an unbeaten 86.
In the process, the experienced all-rounder became the first player to pass 1,000 Twenty20 runs. Jim Allenby weighed in with 64, though his most crucial moment in the match would came later on with the ball. Notts’ chase was led by overseas duo Stephen Fleming and David Hussey, though when the pair fell in the space of a run they looked out of it. It came down to 17 needed off the final over, bowled by Allenby. His final delivery,a full toss, was smashed for six by Will Smith, with the ‘home’ team adamant it should be called a no ball for being too high. The umpires decided it was legal, and Leicestershire won by four runs.
2010 – Hampshire right at home
The Rose Bowl, as it was known then, hosted Finals Day for the first time and yet despite playing in their own backyard, Hampshire were the outsiders. They saw off an Essex side that had flown in Dwayne Bravo especially for the occasion, at great expense but for little reward, before rain threatened to ruin the occasion. The Duckworth/Lewis system saw Somerset squeeze past Nottinghamshire in the second game, and thankfully the heavens cleared in time so the final was only slightly delayed.
Craig Kieswetter’s 73 inspired Somerset to 173-6, though their innings ended with a whimper after an eventful Dominic Cork over that conceded just three runs and saw Kieron Pollard cop a nasty blow through his helmet that left him sporting a seriously bruised eye. That, though, wasn’t even close to the end of the drama. With 11 needed off 12 balls Hampshire were coasting, only to then lose two wickets to Ben Phillips. Left requiring eight off the last over, there were scampered byes before Dan Christian pulled a hamstring coming back for a second off the penultimate delivery. A leg bye tied the scores, with Hampshire able to celebrate victory once they realised they had lost fewer wickets than their opponents. It couldn’t have been closer.
2011 – Nixon’s fine farewell
A win and a stunning one-handed catch; it was the perfect finish for Paul Nixon, who rounded out his first-class career in England by helping Leicestershire lift the title for a third time. Somerset once again wound up as bridesmaid, and just like the previous year Pollard was at the centre of one of the flashpoints in the final. The big West Indian swung hard at a delivery during Wayne White’s one and only over of the contest.
All he did, though, was provide Nixon with the chance to fling himself to the right and hold on to a stunning grab with just the one glove. Having been 84-2 at one stage chasing 145, Somerset slumped to 127 all out. While Nixon grabbed the headlines (he had made just four with the bat), Josh Cobb was the hero with the ball for the Foxes, Jos Buttler one of his victims as he picked up 4-22 from his four overs. It was a timely boost for financially-troubled Leicestershire – they had come through a second semi-final to be settled by a super over, with rain once again threatening to ruin county cricket’s big day out at Edgbaston. They needed 14 from six balls to beat Lancashire and Will Jefferson carried them home.
2013 - David Willey’s hat-trick
Essex, Hampshire, Surrey were familiar names at Finals Day. Then there was Northamptonshire. The Steelbacks upset the odds, and in some style too. Having clipped the Eagles’ wings in the semis, chasing down 168-5 with 11 balls to spare, they demolished Surrey in a one-sided finale in Birmingham. David Willey made sure there wasn’t even a conversation needed about the man of the match award, making 60 off just 27 balls in his role as a T20 opener before then claiming 4-9 with the ball.
Just to rub salt in Surrey’s wounds, the left-arm seamer finished off proceedings by taking a hat-trick. Zafar Ansari, Chris Tremlett and Jade Dernbach were his victims, the last of which Willey seemed particularly pleased about. His innings earlier had seemingly been sparked into life by a rain break, as he returned to the middle to crack four sixes and six fours. Cameron White and skipper Alex Wakely also made half-centuries, helping Northants to 194-2 from a reduced 18 overs. It was plenty, more than plenty in fact. Surrey went from 39-1 to 92 all out.