NatWest Club T20 Finals Day returns to The 3aaa County Ground on Monday 11 September and the event has surely never had a cast list like it.
One former England international, Kabir Ali, playing alongside his cousin Moeen’s younger brother Oman for the Hawks of Cannock and Rugeley – the fairytale Finals Day debutants, in existence for only five seasons and plying their trade in the third tier of the Birmingham and District Premier Cricket League.
Facing the C&R Hawks in Monday’s first semi-final will be a South Northumberland team including the former Australia international and Derbyshire batsman Marcus North, aiming to take the Club T20 title to the North East for the first time since the inaugural tournament in 2008.
In the second semi Gareth Cross, a County Championship winner with Lancashire as recently as 2011 and another former Derbyshire man, will lead the Clifton Kingfishers, a club from traditional rugby league territory in the city of Salford.
They will face Wimbledon, who have been regulars at Finals Day – winning the competition in both 2012 and 2013 – and who include the former Surrey all-rounder Matt Spriegel, a Lord’s final winner with the county, as well as the former Warwickshire batsman Jonathon Webb.
All four clubs are aiming to follow in the footsteps of Swardeston, who took the trophy to Norfolk for a second time in 2016 after beating Sandiacre Town in the final.
“I’m really excited about it,” said Kabir, now 36, who played one Test and 14 ODIs between 2003 and 2006 but was forced to retire because of injury in 2015.
“It’s going to be such a big day for our boys, and the fact that people like Marcus North and Gareth Cross are involved definitely gives it a boost.”
Kabir is a very different cricketer these days, however. “I’m a spinner now and just play to enjoy myself – it’s all I can manage after all the injuries,” he says with a chuckle. “I bowl off-spin – I’m going to be cheeky and teach Moeen my arm ball.”
It was Moeen’s brother Oman who persuaded Kabir to get involved with the Hawks, who are based a few junctions up the M6 from the Ali family base in Birmingham – and were formed in 2013 by a merger between the struggling Cannock and Rugeley club, and Hawkins CC where cricket had continued in Cannock long after the closure of the old coppice colliery.
“I played at Dartmouth down in Devon last year, also as a spinner but my main role was experience I suppose, and sharing that with the younger guys on the field,” Kabir explained.
“I thought I’d never play again but come February I started twitching – it’s a game we love so much in the Ali family. Oman told me about the Hawks, where basically it’s a bunch of friends playing together and loving their cricket. We’re park cricketers, really.
“It’s a very small club, Division Two, but we got into the NatWest Club T20 and kept winning – and the more we’ve played together, the better we’ve played as a team.”
Kabir describes Oman as “a very similar type of player to Moeen – a left-hander who likes to play his shots”.
He is looking forward to renewing acquaintances with Cross, the feisty wicketkeeper-batsman who was a Lancashire teammate when Kabir moved to Old Trafford late in his playing career.
Clifton also include Steven Cheetham, a 30-year-old seamer who played for Lancashire and Surrey, as well as Sam Dorsey, an exciting 16-year-old who has already played second-team cricket for Lancashire.
Wimbledon, who have beaten Havant, Tunbridge Wells and finally Penzance to return to Finals Day, are resigned to being without Ryan Patel, a gifted all-rounder who made an impressive England Under-19s debut against India earlier this year – but is unlikely to be available on Monday as he has broken into the Surrey first team in recent weeks.
First semi-final (11.15am) – South Northumberland v C&R Hawks
Second semi-final (2.45pm) – Clifton Kingfishers v Wimbledon
Entry is free for all spectators. For more information, please call 01332 388 101 or email [email protected].