Sky commentator and former England batsman Rob Key talks about why covering this year’s competition has been so much fun, what to expect from Finals Day, and which players and mascots he expects to light it up.
On Commentating On The Blast: To me it’s the best job you could have ever really, because you’re watching cricket, and Twenty20 cricket, which is the best form of the sport to watch for drama. We’ve seen some great games as well, and the way the game and the coverage has evolved, being right down there you really feel a part of it, being pitchside.
The players have embraced it. I think we had Aaron Finch coming off and speaking to us literally two minutes after he got out at Chelmsford in the first game, and you could ask him, ‘What’s it like on that pitch?’ That sort of stuff never really used to happen. You really feel now as a commentator as though you’re a part of the furniture, a part of the game.
On His Co-Commentators: Freddie just brings so much energy, which is what Twenty20 is about really. The Roses clash was just something I’ll never forget, the atmosphere there and the way that Bumble and Nasser finished off that game was as good as anything I think I’ve ever seen in the sport. A brilliant spectacle with a great atmosphere and probably two of the best commentators in the world calling a game superbly. Nasser and Fred singing was one of my favourite moments of the year, it was so funny. He does it brilliantly Nasser, he’s so good to work with, and he’s just got a lot of timing.
On How The Game Has Changed: The game’s just moved on all summer. I remember when we used to think that if you got above 150 you were in the game; now 220 is being chased. Some of the clean striking of the ball, the stuff where you get to see how fast it came off the bat, watching Freddie and Jos Buttler in a hitting competition at Trent Bridge, and then listening to Jos talk, it’s the first time since I’ve retired I wanted to pick up a bat and try something.
On What To Watch For On Finals Day: There’s a lot of talk about singing going on, some sort of singing competition going on, which I can’t say I’m overly bothered about being involved in! I’m sure Freddie and Bumble are, but I’m going to be terrified if I have to sing. It should be good to watch though.
On The Mascot Race: I think Vinny the Viking [Yorkshire] pretty much seems to do a military fitness style thing as he’s being a mascot at Headingley, so he’s got to be up there. I don’t know about the course, that’s Bumble’s domain. There’s only one man in the world who could present the mascot race and that’s Bumble. As much as you need the mascots, it wouldn’t be the same if Bumble wasn’t doing it.
Strengths: Birmingham are actually a very different side to what they originally were, although the personnel isn’t completely different – they’ve still got Jeetan Patel, the Kiwi connection with Grant Elliott and Colin de Grandhomme. But you had Ian Bell in early on, and he’s been left out; You had Adam Hose playing for Somerset now playing for the Bears; Rikki Clarke left and Dom Sibley came in; and you had Sam Hain opening the batting now in the middle order. They’ve almost transitioned in the middle of their Blast season, changed the way they are going to go about things, and that’s got them through to Finals Day. That chase against Surrey at The Oval under pressure probably gives them the belief to think that they can win anything from anywhere, so they are a very dangerous side. They are like a new fresh team ready to go.
Dangerman: Adam Hose
He looks like a star in the making. I hadn’t heard a lot about him, but I interviewed him down at Northants where the game was washed out about why he’d left. There’s no cup-tie equivalent in county cricket, but it’s still very rare to start the season in the Blast for one team and finish it playing it for another. He looked a very exciting prospect from what we saw at The Oval.
Strengths: One of the two strongest teams on paper, alongside Notts. They’ve got good spinners, in Dawson, Mason Crane and Afridi. Decent seamers too, Abbott obviously is a brilliant bowler, he leads that attack well. And a lot of good batting with James Vince, George Bailey who’s an experienced campaigner, been around a long time, good under pressure, a good leader of men as well – he’s not the captain but he’s a very good person to have about. You want every base covered and I think Hampshire have that, they are a very experienced side.
Dangerman: Shahid Afridi
He is someone who when you play against Hampshire and you know Afridi is playing, as a captain he’ll give you a sleepless night. There’s nothing really you can do. There’s every chance he’ll slog one up in the air very early and get out, it’s the general way, but if he has his day, it doesn’t matter what bowler you’ve got, he will just try and hit every ball for four and six, and if he comes off the game’s over. Whenever these out-and-out pinch-hitters come in, you almost want them out more than the Ingrams of this world who’ll get loads and loads of runs, because one 10-over bash from Afridi and you’re behind the game in a big, big way and it’s hard to recover.
Strengths: They’ve already won the 50-over competition, and they are a good side. They have a power-packed batting line-up, and they have a very good bowling attack. They have good seamers, Samit Patel, who’s always in the game and offers them so much, Dan Christian, who’s a brilliant overseas player, but not only that he’s a very good captain as well. He gets the best out of the side, he’s good under pressure, he’s in good form as well. You’ve got Samit coming in at No.5, Christian at 6, Mullaney at 7, Billy Root came in at 8 in the quarter-final. That’s a lot of batting along with a lot of bowling. They are the team the bookies should have down as favourites.
Dangerman: Alex Hales
Wessels and Hales are probably the most destructive opening partnership on Finals Day. Alex Hales in particular is in the form of his life. He’s got form in big finals already this year in domestic cricket – he basically won the 50-over final all by himself. It was not an easy surface, it was extraordinary, it’s like he was playing on a different pitch to everyone else. I don’t think anyone will dominate a final as much as he did that one.
Of all the sides Glamorgan are probably the most balanced. They have a quick bowler in de Lange, and they have an experienced seamer in Hogan. Then the batting, with Rudolph and Ingram. They are a very good team, not to be underestimated and incredibly experienced as well. There’s the young Aneurin Donald at the top, who’s got the fastest double-hundred in first-class cricket, and David Miller. But good teams have good bowlers, and that’s what you look at. You’ve got Salter the off-spinner, Meschede, Wagg, and Ingram himself is a good bowler, by no stretch a mug and goes pretty well in white-ball cricket. They are the out-and-out Team of the Tournament so far. Ok, there are a couple of diamonds in Ingram and Rudolph, but they’ve got a formidable all-round bowling attack, which is generally what makes good teams. That Glamorgan team is a class act.
Dangerman: Colin Ingram
He’s arguably the best out-and-out batsman in the competition and has been for a while, he’s such a good performer. It’s so good in the pod because you can get right down by the action. When you’re in a commentary box you can’t really get the atmosphere as much as what you can do when you’re down in the pod, and Ingram of everyone, his bat sounds the sweetest. It just flies off that bat.
Semi-Final 1 – Birmingham Bears v Glamorgan: I’d go Glamorgan in that.
Semi-Final 2 – Hampshire v Nottinghamshire: That’s the game isn’t it? Those are the two strongest sides on paper, I’m with Notts in that one.
The Final – Glamorgan v Nottinghamshire: Notts, big favourites for me I reckon, but the thing is with T20, anyone’s chance is as good as anyone’s, that’s the beauty of the game.
Sky Sports Cricket will exclusively show the NatWest T20 Blast Finals, live on Saturday from 10:30am