The second part of the double header in The Hundred on Saturday sees the action returning to Cardiff as the Welsh Fire look to get off the mark for the season when they play host to a Birmingham Phoenix side who laid a marker down last time out.
The Phoenix thrashed the champions Southern Brave in their last game and will be looking to build on that success. Welsh Fire have lost their opening two matches and if a third loss follows here their season will be as good as over before it has started.
It is hard to find a reason to be optimistic for the Welsh Fire. After winning just one of their last six matches last term, they have lost their opening two games this season and in truth they haven’t been competitive in either of them. Sometimes a team can be struggling in one discipline which costs them but the Welsh Fire have shown nothing with the bat, ball or in the field so they will have needed to find something very special to compete here.
In truth, their bowling attack doesn’t look up to it. They went big on a couple of overseas spinners and that tactic hasn’t worked and there isn’t a huge amount in their domestic bowlers that is going to scare an opposition. Their best hope looks to be getting on one of the dodgier Cardiff wickets and hoping that someone like David Miller or Ben Duckett have a day out, assuming the latter is selected after only finishing the England Lions match on Friday.
After not really getting going with the bat until it was too late in their opening match against the Trent Rockets, the Birmingham Phoenix made up for that and some in beating the Southern Brave last time out when Will Smeed smoked the first century in the history of The Hundred. The fact that he, Moeen Ali and Liam Livingstone have all got some big hits out of the middle of the bat is certainly no bad thing and gives them a batting platform to build from.
The Phoenix didn’t really put up enough runs for us to judge their bowlers at Trent Bridge last week but they did on Wednesday evening and we saw that they are a tough force to get away. Henry Brookes shone with the ball but that is no bad thing because you would imagine the likes of Moeen Ali, Kane Richardson and Imran Tahir will be bankers with the ball the longer the season goes on. Birmingham suddenly look like a side who can emulate their exploits of last season.
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Ben Duckett has been in excellent form in recent times and you sense if the Welsh Fire are going to put any sort of score on the board here he will need to go very big. His wicket could well be key to the outcome of this one.
All eyes will be on Will Smeed to see how he backs up his brilliant innings of the other day. He can be hit and miss at times but the one thing which should help him here is he has played here a number of times for Somerset.
This isn’t an easy match to bet on because the Welsh Fire look way below the level needed in this competition, especially with the ball, but then they are a side who have the likes of Tom Banton, Joe Clarke, Ben Duckett, Ollie Pope, David Miller and Josh Cobb in their top six so there is a nagging feeling they can’t keep playing as badly as they have done. There is also the up and down nature of the pitches in Cardiff which don’t help betting with confidence here.
I can’t ignore the form of Ben Duckett though. His last 11 innings in all formats have yielded scores of 37, 53*, 62*, 85, 44, 241, 7, 0, 40, 25 and 145. Three of those innings have been against South Africa so he is clearly hitting the ball extremely well and if there are places in the England squad up for grabs for the trip to Pakistan and maybe even the T20 World Cup then he is certainly stepping up and putting his name in the hat. Duckett made two 50s in the competition last season and averaged 29 in a Fire side that were as bad as they’ve been in this campaign. He has a run line of 17.5 runs here and that looks coverable given the form he’s in.
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