Here’s a preview of Birmingham Phoenix and London spirit side their strengths, weaknesses and areas of concern.
BIRMINGHAM PHOENIX (M)
Best XI: Daniel Bell-Drummond, Finn Allen, Moeen Ali(c), Liam Livingstone, Tom Abell, Chris Cooke, Chris Woakes, Benny Howell, Tom Helm, Adam Milne, Imran Tahir
Coach: Daniel Vettori
Batting Depth: Phoenix have Benny Howell - who recently even started opening for his county T20 side as a pinch hitter - batting at eight. A recognized boundary hitter like Chris Woakes will potentially bat at seven. They for sure have one of the deepest and a high intent batting line-ups in the competition.
Spin bowling: Their squad features two International quality spinners. First is Imran Tahir whose fast wrist spin and googlies are hard to deal with. And, Moeen Ali who is a pretty useful spinner and can be used to exploit match-ups or when there’s some turn on offer.
High quality and high intent middle overs batting: Their captain Moeen, in addition to being a utility cricketer, is one of the fastest scoring players in the middle overs in T20 cricket against all types of spin bowling. Earlier this year in the IPL he averaged 34 batting at three and scored at a high strike rate of 154. Supporting Moeen is Liam Livingstone who recently scored a 40 ball hundred vs Pakistan coming in the middle overs and is amongst the most brutal hitters in limited-overs cricket going on.
All-round bowling unit: Adam Milne can bowl at an express pace and be impactful in both middle overs as an enforcer and death overs. Imran Tahir is highly impactful in all three phases. In addition, one or two of Woakes/Helm/Pennington will take up the new ball role. Thus, Phoenix have an all-round bowling unit.
Batting variety: In a format that is going to make match-up exploitation more common, having a good mix of LHB-RHBs in the playing eleven is highly beneficial. In Phoenix’s case though they have only one LHB in the top-7 and unlike many other teams do not have someone who can be promoted up the order for pinch-hitting or break the cluster of right-handers.
Injury concerns: Pat Brown is yet to return from an injury and will remain one of the concerns for the Phoenix side. Though Milne made a comeback in T20I and played for Kent, careful management will be required given his injury history as well.
Death bowling: Death bowling even with the addition of the Kiwi International could be an area of concern as he does not have the sorts of variations you’d expect from an elite player. With his peers in the team not having inspiring numbers and enough experience at the death, this could be one area in which Phoenix might find themselves in trouble.
Availability issues: Woakes is selected for the Tests vs India and will be unavailable for selection in the first few games as well because of fitness reasons. Replacing him in the XI could be tough for Phoenix considering his batting in addition to his new ball bowling prowess.
LONDON SPIRIT (M)
Best XI: Zak Crawley, Josh Inglis*, Joe Denly, Eoin Morgan(c), Dan Lawrence, Ravi Bopara, Mohammed Nabi*, Chris Wood, Mark Wood, Mohammad Amir*, Mason Crane
Coach: Shane Warne
Aggressive Opening: To get an innings off to a flying start each hundred team is going to need a couple of openers who are capable of scoring quickly. In Zak Crawley and Josh Inglis, London Spirit have two of the most exciting prospects in white-ball cricket to emerge recently.
New ball and death bowling: Mohammad Amir can swing the ball back into the right-handers quite sharply and can execute his variations and yorkers quite effectively at the death. With him and Mark Wood who is incisive with the new ball and makes smart use of hard lengths to restrict death hitters, Spirit have an all-round pace attack. Not to forget they also have the ever miserly Mohammad Nabi as one of their powerplay bowling options.
Mix of experience and youth: The London Spirit squad in Eoin Morgan, Amir and Nabi have some of the most experienced and quality white-ball players in the world. In addition, they have some really good upcoming white-ball players in Zak Crawley, Josh Inglis and Dan Lawrence.
Pace bowling variety: Left-arm seamers are an asset as we have seen with Australia in the 2019 WC. Mumbai and Rajasthan field XIs with a couple of left-arm fast bowling options in the IPL because of the unfamiliarity they offer. The London Spirit squad with Amir and Chris Wood’s presence is amongst the best in the competition in terms of having this variety of left-arm pace bowling together.
Ageing squad and dwindling returns: Although experience is a big advantage to have, the London spirit have a lot of players like Joe Denly, Morgan and Bopara whose returns in white-ball formats have been uninspiring off late. Morgan, in particular, has been averaging just 10 in T20Is this year and 20 in T20s (excluding T20Is), which has also being very uninspiring.
Lack of batting depth: While other teams in the competition have batting depth with recognized boundary hitters till number #8, London Spirit have such players only till #7 which could potentially affect the team’s death overs hitting and general intent as well.
Spin bowling: Mason Crane has been going at eight runs per over in the latest T20 blast bowling mostly in the middle overs. Without much experience of top-level cricket, the London Spirit squad isn’t high quality and threatening in this particular area.
Squad depth: The London Spirit squad have a lot of exciting local and overseas players but they could be hit pretty hard if Crawley, Lawrence and Mark Wood are called up into the Test side.