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  1. Cricket

The Hundred - Cricket: Trent Rockets v Birmingham Phoenix preview

Two of last season's top three kick off their The Hundred campaigns in a mouth-watering clash at Trent Bridge on Saturday, with Trent Rockets hosting Birmingham Phoenix.

Birmingham topped the regular-season standings last year, while the Rockets qualified for the post-season by finishing third, although both lost their play-off clashes to Southern Brave to miss out on the title.

What:Trent Rockets v Birmingham Phoenix, The Hundred
Where:Trent Bridge, Nottingham
When:14:30, Saturday 6th August 2022
How to watch:Sky Sports Cricket, Main Event and Mix, BBC2 and BBC iPlayer
Odds:Trent Rockets 10/11, Birmingham Phoenix 10/11

Chance to lay early title marker

With both of these sides having reached the play-offs last season, there will be genuine optimism of being realistic challengers once again, at least in the early stages, with the Phoenix at 19/4 to lift the trophy, while the Rockets are on offer at 13/2.

Birmingham lost two of their first three games last year, but then won the remainder to finish on top of the table, while the Rockets only lost three of their eight matches to finish third and this first match could set the tone for the rest of the competition.

Many of the same faces return for the second instalment of the competition, but it is interesting to note the difference in outright odds for these two, considering there is little to choose in the match betting for this clash.

The Rockets do have home advantage on Saturday of course and boast a pretty good record as hosts from 2021 - having won three of their four matches at Trent Bridge, which included a nine-wicket win over the eventual champions, the Southern Brave.

Trent also eased to a seven-wicket win over Manchester Originals at home, while they beat the Northern Superchargers by two wickets.

However, despite their two group-stage defeats last term coming on the road, Birmingham will not be overawed by their short trip to Nottingham, as they inflicted the solitary home defeat on the hosts last season, thanks to a slender 16-run success.

That victory for the Phoenix was the only one of four for the side batting first, with all three of the home's side's wins secured by chasing.

Trent Bridge does have a reputation as being something of a batters' paradise, so there perhaps is a tendency to think batting first is the way to go, as three captains did last season, but the team that lost the toss on all four occasions at the ground went on to win the match.

Crowd should be set for fireworks

It would be safe to assume that there will plenty of entertainment on show, given the batting strength of the two sides, but one player is sure to garner plenty of attention given his exploits last season, and that is Liam Livingstone - 3/1 to be top team batter on Saturday.

The Lancashire all-rounder had impressed since making his return to the England white-ball sides last summer and he took that form to another level in helping Birmingham reach the final of The Hundred, seemingly almost single-handedly at times.

The now 29-year-old amassed an astonishing 348 runs in nine matches at an average of 58.00 to finish some 116 runs clear of Ben Duckett in the run-scoring charts, while he clubbed 27 sixes, nearly double that of next-best Moeen Ali, his Phoenix captain, who ended up fourth highest runscorer.

If those two can repeat that sort of form then, obviously, they can match anyone on any given day, although there is plenty of power in the Rockets' ranks also.

Dawid Malan top-scored for Trent last year with 214 runs, although there was a feeling that their batting line-up didn't quite deliver in 2021, and there could well be an improvement this time around.

Alex Hales, 5/2 to be top team batter, is one of the most dangerous white-ball batters around and, after scoring 185 runs last season, he might be coming into this competition with something to prove.

Throw in Colin Munro, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Joe Root and Samit Patel and the Rockets look to be one of the deepest batting line-ups in the competition and will be looking to prove that on Saturday.

Bowling edge with the Rockets

Moeen has decent options to call on in terms of bowling, but his side have been hit by injuries coming into this tournament, notably Chris Woakes and Olly Stone, which does weaken their strength in depth.

Still, if Adam Milne can replicate his 2021 form then they will not be without hope, particularly having re-signed wily veteran Imran Tahir, who took the first-ever Hundred hat-trick last season.

It is worth remembering that while Birmingham were getting flayed for 168 runs in the final against Southern Brave, Milne finished that game with 2-8 off 20 balls, as he ended the tournament with 12 wickets and he is 5/2 to be top team bowler on Saturday.

However, on the bowling front, the Rockets had two players that finished level at the top of the wicket-standings with Milne, with Marchand de Lange taking his 12 wickets in just seven matches, while Rashid Khan needed nine to achieve the same figure.

The latter will not be available for the whole competition, though, which perhaps gives him added incentive to perform this weekend, although the outstanding South African left-arm wrist spinner Tabraiz Shamsi will come in as cover.

Prediction

Based on last year, there is no doubt that Birmingham have the superstar who could make the difference, with Livingstone looking to carry on from where he left off last summer.

However, his recent performances for England - like a number of others - have shown that he is perhaps not at the peak of his powers, and the Rockets look to have more strength in depth, and can gain revenge for the two defeats they suffered at the hands of their nearest rivals last season.

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