Surrey's third final could be the toughest of all
Saturday, July 1, 2017, Lord's
Start time 11.00 local (10.00 GMT)
Surrey have dominated 50-over cricket in England in the past two seasons and have reached the final of the Royal London Cup for the third successive season. So far, however, silverware has eluded them with successive defeats against Gloucestershire and Warwickshire. Now they face Nottinghamshire, a one-day side of greater reputation than the two teams against whom they have already been vanquished.
Surrey looked favourites in 2015 when they dismissed Michael Klinger first ball and a hat-trick from Jade Dernbach, bringing him 6 for 35, cleaned up Gloucestershire's tail only for their chase to collapse with the dismissal of Kumar Sangakkara and result in a six-run defeat.
A year later they were back again, only to collapse to 136 all out against Warwickshire, losing by eight wickets with nearly 20 overs to spare before one of the biggest crowds for a Lord's final for years.
The upshot of that is that Surrey have only won one major trophy since 2003, which does not befit a club of such stature, and potentially Nottinghamshire could provide them with the toughest challenge of all.
They have been in dazzling batting form, hitting 429 at Somerset in the play-off and then chasing down 372 in a semi-final defeat of Essex at Chelmsford, a record successful run chase at Chelmsford that represented one of the great limited-over matches in the history of English domestic cricket; the sort of game, in fact, that insists county cricket has a future whatever the challenges that lie ahead.
But Notts do have cruelly-timed injury issues in their bowling attack and that plus the unpredictability of their top-order, often exceptional but somewhat inconsistent, might prove to be Surrey's escape route.
A potential duel between Kumar Sangakkara and the Australian quick, James Pattinson, might also be decisive. Sangakkara made 166 when Surrey edged Notts by four runs in a semi-final two years ago and his run-strewn summer has acted as a protective cover over a Surrey batting line-up that lacks depth.
Mark Stoneman will be eager to prove his worth, however. An opportunity with England Lions suggested he might be a breaker in the England Test squad, but expectations were that he would not make the final squad, leaving a Lord's final as a perfect place to work off his tensions.
(Last five matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Chris Read is in his farewell season for Nottinghamshire and few stalwarts of the county scene have been more highly prized in recent years. In the decade since he last played for England, he has taken on the captaincy for the bulk of the time, kept wicket with grace and produced innumerable zestful rescue acts with the bat, especially on tough Trent Bridge surfaces. Greatly admired, he deserves a happy send-off in only his second domestic final in 20 years, whether it is here or later in the season in the NatWest Blast where Notts must also be strong contenders.
Another wicketkeeper has also been gaining rave reviews. Ben Foakes, is one of the smoothest operators around, good enough for Alec Stewart, Surrey's director of cricket and not a man given to hyperbole, to rank him as the best glove man in the world. He tops this season's overall averages in the Royal London Cup with 481 runs at 120.25 (Kumar Sangakkara's average of 85.5 puts him fourth). England's coach, Trevor Bayliss, has spoken of the need to show loyalty to Jonny Bairstow, but there are those who would use Bairstow as a specialist batsman and get Foakes into the Test XI.
Jake Ball is an absentee for Nottinghamshire after suffering a knee strain in a Championship match against Kent which is also expected to rule him out of contention for the first Test against South Africa at Lord's next week.
It is tough luck for Ball, who was also injured on the eve of the final when he suffered back trouble shortly before Nottinghamshire's win against Glamorgan in 2013. Luke Fletcher, a burly seamer and one of the characters of the circuit, will be a crowd-pleasing deputy.
There may be more difficult discussions about the involvement of Stuart Broad. Broad is confident that he has fully recovered from a heel injury and would normally play, but if England get a whiff of risk there may yet be resistance. Cup final or not, it would play second fiddle to the opening Test of the summer. For the success of days like this, it is to be fervently hoped that he plays.
Nottinghamshire (probable) 1 Michael Lumb, 2 Alex Hales, 3 Riki Wessels, 4 Samit Patel, 5 Brendan Taylor, 6 Steven Mullaney, 7 Chris Read (wk), 8 Stuart Broad (or Luke Wood), 9 James Pattinson, 10 Luke Fletcher 11 Harry Gurney.
Surrey should have a full squad to choose from which seems to leave them perming two from three from Scott Borthwick, a close-season signing from Durham, Rory Burns and an effervescent newbie, Ollie Pope.
The Curran brothers return with reputations enhanced. Tom has just made an assured England debut in the T20I series against South Africa and Sam, playing his third successive final at the tender age of 19, will be anxious to deliver an influential performance to underline himself as a talented and streetwise cricketer.
Surrey (probable): 1 Jason Roy, 2 Mark Stoneman, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Scott Borthwick / Rory Burns, 5 Ben Foakes (wk), 6 Ollie Pope, 7 Sam Curran, 8 Tom Curran, 9 Gareth Batty (capt), 10 Ravi Rampaul, 11 Jade Dernbach.
Pitch and conditions
The final of the 50-over competition has traditionally taken place at the end of the season, but as the season has expanded it has become later and later and often overly influenced by the toss. It has also been increasingly overshadowed by Finals Day in the NatWest Trophy as T20 cricket has gained prominence. A switch to midsummer therefore seems a positive move, especially as it connects the final to the group stages, so maintaining the narrative of the event.
The weather in London is forecast to be settled, with sunny intervals in the afternoon and highs of 22C. All it needs is a decent surface and Read, for one, expects just that, envisaging decent pace and remarking: "There's runs in it.".
"It's just a mental thing. It is a case of everybody understanding that it's a big occasion but not getting overawed by it."
Jade Dernbach comes to terms with Surrey's psychological task after losing two Lord's finals.
"There's pressure on them perhaps. They've choked at the last maybe."
James Pattinson, Nottinghamshire's Australian quick, plays the old choking card.
David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps