Worcestershire v Nottinghamshire Match abandoned
No team has successfully defended the T20 Blast, but Worcestershire Rapids took a significant step towards becoming the first when they secured their quarter-final spot courtesy of a third abandoned game at New Road this season. Given that they adopted the "Rapids" moniker in a knowing nod towards the long and sad association between heavy rainfall and the ground it might seem a fitting way to progress.
The point was all they needed to guarantee progress and they can now earn a home tie with victory against Northamptonshire Steelbacks on Friday as long as Nottinghamshire Outlaws lose at home to Durham Jets. As well as any cricketing advantage, the additional home fixture would be worth around £100,000 to the club, some compensation for the loss of the group matches to the weather.
Alex Gidman, the first team coach, praised his side for overcoming a number of setbacks in recent weeks. Not least, given the importance of taking pace off the ball, has been the loss to injury of three spinners in Brett D'Oliveira, Ben Twohig and George Rhodes. Moeen Ali's omission by England has provided strong recompense: 140 runs and six wickets at a strike rate of one every 11 balls in his three matches.
In all, as many as 12 of the 18 counties have lifted the cup in its 16 seasons. Gidman knows a thing or two about the pressures of trying to retain trophies having been a young allrounder at Gloucestershire over the turn of the century, when they won seven one-day competitions in six years. Success, he thinks, brings its own complications.
"Defending it has been harder this season," he admitted. "We have found that teams are slightly better prepared either individually or collectively with certain plans. They have a better idea of how our guys perform and that sort-of happened too in the good old days at Gloucester. Teams know what to expect and pay you a bit more respect."
One example might be Pat Brown, a sensation last season with his quiver-full of variations which helped to bring 31 wickets. This time he has taken 13, not helped by the abandonments of course, and far from a disgrace for a lad who turned 21 only last week. He has just not been quite as prolific, even though he is, again, the county's leading wicket-taker in the format.
If you are going to learn then it may as well be from the best, and Gidman revealed that he has encouraged the squad to take heed of England's white-ball example under Eoin Morgan. "I told someone the other day that I genuinely think we've improved this season," he said, "and one thing we have taken from England is to embrace the fact we are champions, not fear it.
"Why wouldn't we try to draw from them given what they have done? They are literally the world champions, so it makes complete sense to copy the language and behaviours associated with them. And I'm very proud of our side. To make it to the quarters with a game to spare is a great effort. When teams have tried the different tactics I talk about, we've overcome them."
Which does beg a topical question: who is Worcestershire's Ben Stokes? Gidman seems to sense a headline as he pauses and smiles, but he whispers his answer anyway. "Moeen."
As well as both reaching the last eight in T20, Worcester and Nottinghamshire, the would-have-been opponents here, share a less illustrious feature. Both are enduring dreadful first-class campaigns, with Nottinghamshire 42 points adrift at the bottom of the Championship first division and Worcester next to bottom of the second. If they are still there in a month's time it will represent their lowest finish since 1992.
One theory is that the white balls offer little movement so batsmen are able to hit through the line without fear of repercussion. In truth, the nature of the format would probably demand they do so anyway. But when the red ball seams and jags, the same approach can all too easily lead to a clatter of wickets. Interestingly, Worcestershire have qualified for quarter-finals in five of the last six white-ball competitions, but were relegated in the Championship in 2018.
If this suggests they have concentrated on the shorter formats, it is a charge they would deny. They won their first two four-day games this season, but the top five has subsequently chopped, changed and struggled to perform. And so T20 is their one chance of success.
Gidman said: "It was a huge day for the club last year and to win the first trophy for donkeys' years [actually, since 2007] was a very proud moment for everyone. I think in the back of everyone's minds here the desire to do it again this year is very strong."