Bears look under-rated

  • By: Andy Schooler
  • Last Updated: August 22 2014, 14:43 BST

Our Andy Schooler feels the Birmingham Bears have been under-rated by the bookies for T20 Blast finals day.

Jeetan Patel: Has been in fine form for Birmingham Bears
Jeetan Patel: Has been in fine form for Birmingham Bears

2pts Birmingham to beat Surrey at 5/4

Edgbaston hosts the marquee event of the domestic cricket season on Saturday - NatWest T20 Blast finals day - and it's the 'hosts' to whom I am turning in search of a profit.

Warwickshire - or rather the Birmingham Bears as they are officially known in this competition - take on Surrey in the first of the semi-finals at 1100 BST and they make plenty of appeal as the 5/4 outsiders.

While I don't want to overplay the factor of home advantage, the fact is they have lost just one of their seven Edgbaston matches in this season's competition.

They also come into finals day with greater momentum than their London-based opponents.

The Bears won their last three group games to reach the knockout stage and toppled Essex with a highly-impressive performance at Chelmsford in the last eight which was a fine example of the team with momentum emerging victorious.

Holes can be picked in this theory - after all it's three weeks since those quarter-finals took place and 50-over cricket has dominated the schedule since then.

However, Varun Chopra's men have also performed the better of these two sides in that competition, reaching the last eight as Surrey bowed out in the group stage with a miserable campaign which included just one victory. The Bears are also still going strong in the County Championship so a Treble is still a possibility for them.

Chopra has contributed plenty with the bat in the T20 format and the Bears will also have England star Ian Bell available, but it is the bowling side of things where Warwickshire are the strongest.

Look at the season stats and you will find Rikki Clarke, Jeetan Patel and Ateeq Javid all among the top five bowlers in terms of economy rate.

Patel has been the real standout performer taking 23 wickets in the process and he is on course to finish the tournament as leading wicket-taker. His abiliy to tie players down in the middle overs has been second to none and the New Zealander looks sure to play a key part - he's 7/2 to be his side's top bowler.

In contrast, Surrey have a key overseas star in Tillakaratne Dilshan missing - he's back on Sri Lanka duty. Instead many eyes will inevitably be on Kevin Pietersen.

While KP will doubtless want to shine on the big stage again - simply to annoy the ECB as much as anything - form suggests it's not going to happen.

He's averaged just 23.55 in his 11 innings thus far with a top score of just 39. A recent spell in the Caribbean Premier League also failed to revive his fortunes.

Instead Surrey will look to opener Jason Roy to combat the Bears' attack. He's been in superb form and leads the competition run charts with more than 600 - a handful ahead of my colleague Dave Tickner's ante-post pick in the market, Luke Wright. However, a lot looks to be on his shoulders.

With the ball, Azhar Mahmood is often under-rated but another key man, Jade Dernbach, has been struggling with injury and with Surrey having been awful in the 50-over game in recent weeks, I feel they may just struggle to flick the switch back to 'on' here.

For me, the 5/4 about a 'home' win has to be worth taking.

The second semi-final, off at 1430 BST, sees Hampshire take on Lancashire, the side who lost the fewest group games (two).

However, it's the men from the southern section who have the pedigree - they arrive at finals day seeking their third T20 title in five seasons.

It is their fifth successive appearance at finals day (they lost in the last-four stage in 2011 and 2013) and so they know what to expect, including the back-to-back matches aspect which they face if they are going to win the trophy again.

Their batting is probably the deepest of the four teams taking part with the likes of Michael Carberry, James Vince and Owais Shah capable of causing some serious damage to any team.

Lancashire clearly warrant respect but I'm expecting Hants' class to prevail.

However, the bookies seem to agree and have them as the slight favourites - their price is not enough to tempt me in.

When it comes to the hard cash, I'll stick with Warwickshire in a single but for those looking for a bigger price, you can get more than 3/1 about a Bears-Hants final which looks more than fair.

  • The action is being televised live in the UK on Sky Sports.