Yorkshire are in the midst of a battle royal for a place in the Vitality Blast quarter-finals, and the signs are promising after four wins in their last five games, including two in a row late last week.
With at most two games remaining, six teams are vying for a place in the North Group’s top four, while no team is yet mathematically certain of qualification, including leaders Birmingham Bears, who travel to Headingley on Friday (6.30pm).
The picture is as follows. The top three teams in the group all have 16 points. Birmingham lead the way from Lancashire and Derbyshire courtesy of a superior net run-rate. Them and Lancashire have played 12, Derbyshire 13. In fourth are Yorkshire with 15 points from 12.
Behind the Vikings are Northamptonshire in fifth with 14 points from 13 games and Leicestershire in sixth on 12 from 12.
Yorkshire’s situation best highlights the competitive nature of the race for a last eight berth.
After Friday’s clash with Birmingham, they could be top of the table with a victory or out of the top four with a defeat.
The Vikings’ net run-rate is incredibly strong, which will be key. Only Birmingham’s is better, though only marginally so. Net run-rate is the first separator when teams finish level on points.
In the last two rounds of group matches on Friday and Sunday, there are plenty of fixtures between vying teams. Birmingham face both Yorkshire and Lancashire away from home, with Northants travel to Leicestershire on Friday before Leicestershire host Yorkshire on Sunday.
The simplest way of putting it is that qualification is in Yorkshire hands.
A point would likely be enough for qualification for the second year running given the strength of Yorkshire’s net run-rate, but a win will take any doubt out of the situation.
Two wins will seal a top two finish and a home tie at Headingley in the first knockout round between July 6-9.
“To have a home quarter-final at Headingley would be fantastic for us,” said coach Ottis Gibson.
“We have a good record there, and the crowd would be the 12th man. But Birmingham are in the same situation as us, and it will be a very tough game.”
Yorkshire have won seven of 12 games so far, added to a tie and four defeats. Two of those wins came away against Worcestershire at New Road last Thursday and then Northamptonshire at Wantage Road on Friday.
Both were by comfortable margins, five wickets and then 62 runs.
“It’s always nice and exciting when the lads do the things we talk about in preparation,” reflected Gibson. “Thursday and Friday were good examples of that. It was a really good road trip.
“We know we’re playing some good cricket, and we’re happy with where we are.
“We set out on a path at the beginning of the season to try and get to the quarter-finals and hopefully move on to Finals Day. And we have given ourselves a great chance.
“We have been consistent and solid in this competition.
“We have lost four games, and they have been pretty close. Two were rained affected against Derbyshire and one went down to the last ball against Lancashire.
“You look at the chopping changing we’ve had to do – the injuries, guys missing with England – it’s been impressive what the guys have done so far.
“The most pleasing thing for me as a coach is that guys like Matthew Waite, for example, have come in and taken their opportunity.”
Injury and unavailability have been issues which Gibson has had to deal with constantly this season, especially in the bowling department. The latest blow came with the news that Dom Leech could be out for the season following surgery on a broken metatarsal in his left foot.
Matthew Fisher (back) is also out for the season, while Ben Coad hasn’t been seen yet this summer after numerous setbacks dating back to a groin injury suffered in the early stages of the pre-season tour to Dubai in mid-March.
“It’s been very difficult,” said Gibson.
“I’ve had a lot of people say, ‘Are you going to go into the loan market or whatever?’ But what I’ve committed myself to do is give the guys I have here the first opportunity.
“I have never felt like I’ve needed to go into the loan market because we have some really good cricketers here who just need opportunity and exposure.”
Waite is the prime example of that, the all-rounder who was exceptional in Friday’s win over Northamptonshire with 35 not out down the order and then 3-18. Both were career best hauls.
The 26-year-old started the season in the second team before impressing on a short-term loan spell with Worcestershire. He then returned to Headingley and has played the last Championship and three T20 fixtures.
Yorkshire are set to welcome back England limited overs batter Dawid Malan for two tough group-concluding fixtures.
Birmingham have won three of their last four fixtures to elevate themselves to the North Group’s summit, posting 200 plus in each victory, including a Blast record 261-2 in beating Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge a couple of Fridays ago.
The Vikings can, however, take significant heart from beating them by 10 wickets at Edgbaston on June 10.
Birmingham batter Adam Hose is the fourth leading run-scorer in the competition with 471 runs, including an unbeaten 110 against Worcestershire at Edgbaston last Friday. Left-arm wrist spinner Jake Lintott is their leading wicket-taker with 18.