After a long delay of over an year, England and Wales Board's (ECB) flagship event 'The Hundred' has reached the final of its inaugural edition. The 100-balls per side format has managed to bring something fresh to the audiences while maintaining the thrill of a close finish between the bat and the ball. The double-header format of the tournament has also offered a much-needed spotlight for the women's game with all their games being enjoyed by capacity crowds.
Southern Brave's men's and women's teams have made the finals in both the categories and will hope to celebrate with both the trophies, but in their way are Birmingham Phoenix (men) and Oval Invincibles (women) who have finished in the top two in their respective group stages. Here's how both the matches could play out.
Invincibles look to carry on the thrill ride against Brave
After finishing second behind the Brave in the league stage, Oval Invincibles looked to have run their course in the tournament in the eliminator against Birmingham Phoenix. Despite losing their openers early, Phoenix captain Amy Jones (35 off 25 balls) and Erin Burns (23 off 22 balls) looked set to make a chase of 114 an easy one, but Tash Farrant began with a stunning counterattack to send back Burns and then triggered a sensational collapse with 4-`10 in 19 balls. Phoenix went from 65/2 to 94 all out with six balls to spare. The all-round performance from Marizanne Kapp in the eliminator would keep the Invincibles in a good state of mind for the final. The star of the Invincibles line-up is teenager Alice Capsey, who has been superb with the ball claiming eight wickets and is the third-highest scorer with 132 runs from seven innings. They will also hope for a good innings from experienced Fran Wilson at No. 3 who hasn't been at her best, barring the 17-ball 21 in the eliminator.
Southern Brave have certainly lived up to their favorites tag by reaching the final with one game to spare. With Danielle Wyatt, Sarah Taylor, Smriti Mandhana, and Sophia Dunkley firing in the batting department, Amanda-Jade Welington and Anya Shrubsole have anchored the bowling for the Charlotte Edwards-coached side. Despite the loss of Mandhana, who left for India to prepare for their tour of Australia, Brave are still a formidable side to bowl to. Dunkley, who is the tournament's second-best batter with 244 runs from eight matches and a strike rate of 143.52, will once again be the key against the Invincibles against whom she scored a match-winning 58 not out in the final league match.
Phoenix aiming for the big prize against mercurial Brave
Birmingham Phoenix under the captaincy of Moeen Ali didn't have the best of starts to their Hundred campaign. They narrowly beat London Spirit in their opener and lost Manchester Originals and Southern Brave before pulling things back with three massive wins a row before edging out Trent Rockets and trouncing Northern Superchargers by 8 wickets in their final group game. Despite the absence of Ali, who was recalled by England for the second Test against India, Phoenix looked assured in the final two games under England's new utility man Liam Livingstone. They will also look up to youngsters Will Smeed and Chris Benjamin, who have been top performers in the high-scoring games against Manchester Originals and Oval Invincible.
In the bowling department, Adam Milne has set the charts on fire with his sensational death-bowling spells while spinners Imran Tahir and Gloucestershire's Benny Howell have done their bit in helping the team secure a place in the final.
A star-studded Southern Brave side will come into the final having played the eliminator less than 24 hours ago but will look at their assured performance against Trent Rockets in the eliminator. Tymal Mills, who is most likely to get his England call-up sooner or later, alongside George Garton has made sure Brave's opponents are down the docks in the powerplay. Chris Jordan, the most experienced of the lot, has supported his teammates with some clever death bowling. Captain James Vince has been the top score for Brave with 225 runs from nine matches, but they will rely on the firepower of Quinton de Kock who scored two blistering fifties against Superchargers and Welsh Fire to lift his side out of an early rut in the tournament. Despite having less time to plan for the final, Phoenix will look back to their four-wicket win over Phoenix on the league stage.