Birmingham Bears face fellow high-fliers Notts Outlaws at Edgbaston tomorrow (7pm) knowing that victory will book them a place in the NatWest T20 Blast quarter-finals.
With two North Group games left - at home to Notts tomorrow and against Lancashire Lightning at Emirates Old Trafford next Friday - the Bears are just one win away from securing a last-eight spot.
A third successive Finals Day appearance is still in prospect for Dougie Brown's side, though the director of cricket knows they have made heavy weather of getting over the qualification line of late. Dramatic batting collapses have sentenced them to defeat in three of the last four games, most recently at Northampton on Tuesday - although there it was the bowlers who Brown felt were most off the pace.
"Are those batting collapses a concern? Yes," said Brown. "But am I losing sleep over it? No. These things happen in Twenty20.
"The most disappointing thing about the game at Northampton was that, for the first time in the competition this season, we bowled poorly.
"It was a good pitch and Northants are a good team playing well, but we made it too easy for them. You are always going to concede boundaries in T20 but we didn't make them work hard enough for their boundaries.
"Then we started really well with the bat but after we lost a couple of wickets the game got away from us. It is hard when you're up against a big total because of course you don't want to get out but when you're chasing 14 an over there's quite a lot of pressure.
"It was a disappointing night but we have two games left and just need to win one of them to qualify and hopefully we can get it wrapped up in front of our own fans against Notts tomorrow.
"The frustrating thing is we should have had it wrapped up by now because we should certainly have won the games at Yorkshire Vikings and Worcestershire Rapids. A lot of the T20 cricket we have played has been good but we have come out second-best at key stages of recent games and that's something we need to improve on."
With batting bolstered by the return of William Porterfield from international duty tomorrow, Birmingham would certainly settle for a repeat of the outcome from the Outlaws' visit to Edgbaston last season when Porterfield was influential in a seven-wicket (D/L) win.
Olly Hannon-Dalby's competition-best four for 29, supported by Rikki Clarke's two for 24, restricted the Outlaws to 149 for nine which, after a rain break, became a victory target of 98 in 11 overs. Birmingham thundered to that thanks principally to a stand of 67 in 37 balls by Ian Bell (38 from 24) and Porterfield (37 not out from 22).
Birmingham Bears Squad
- Ian Bell (Captain)
- Keith Barker
- Rikki Clarke
- Laurie Evans
- Recordo Gordon
- Sam Hain
- Oliver Hannon-Dalby
- Ateeq Javid
- Matt Lamb
- Jeetan Patel
- William Porterfield
- Josh Poysden
- Aaron Thomason
- Matthew Wade (Wicket-Keeper)
Bears v Outlaws Tickets
Tickets for Birmingham Bears final home NatWest T20 Blast group game against Notts Outlaws this coming Friday are available in advance at £19 for adults (£23 on the day) and FREE for under 16s, when accompanied by an adult.
Simply click here or call the Ticket Hotline on 0844 847 1902 to purchase.