Frantic finish as 15 counties still retain Blast dream

Fifteen of the 18 counties could still qualify for the quarter-finals of the NatWest Blast ahead of Friday’s final round of matches in the most remarkable climax to the group stages that the tournament has ever known.

The last eight games began with only Notts Outlaws, in the North Group, and Glamorgan and Hampshire, in the South, assured of a place in the last eight.

North Group leaders Notts can already anticipate a home quarter final at Trent Bridge – their seventh in eight years – whereas Glamorgan, top in the South, need to take a point from their home game against Middlesex to be certain of staving off a potential Surrey challenge for second place.

In South Group, if Hampshire beat Somerset at the Ageas Bowl, they will guarantee themselves a home quarter-final. Similarly, the winners of the Kent-Surrey game in Canterbury will qualify – and might even steal a top-two finish and a home tie.

But the fact that Kent are playing Surrey opens up the chance for the bottom four sides – Middlesex, Sussex Sharks, Somerset and Essex Eagles – to overtake the losers of that game, and snaffle the fourth qualifying spot.

If teams are level, qualification will be decided by Net Run Rate. Significantly, the bottom four all have better rates than both Surrey and Kent, which partly explains why the losers of that game in Canterbury will be eliminated.

In the North Group, Yorkshire currently lie second, a position secured by Adam Lyth’s record T20 score in English domestic cricket, made against Northants at Headingley on Thursday.

But it was a bitter-sweet victory. Derbyshire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire and Lancashire can all overhaul them tonight – although in Lancashire’s case it would take something extra special to get their Net Run Rate ahead of their Pennines rivals.

To make matters worse for Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Birmingham and Leicestershire only need a point to pass them – which could be relevant, with an uncertain weather forecast for the Midlands.

However, rain would not automatically take Derbyshire, Birmingham and Leicestershire through because the defending champions, Northants, can still hit the top four if they beat Durham at Wantage Road and other results fall in their favour.

Even seventh-placed Lancashire could still sneak in, if they beat Birmingham, and two of Northants, Leicestershire and Derbyshire also lose.

Spare a thought for Durham, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire – the only three counties who have already abandoned hopes of a place in next week’s quarter-finals. Gloucestershire have played their final game but the other two could still influence the final line up of next week’s quarter-finals.

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