Ultra-positive Birmingham Phoenix go head-to-head against fast-finishing Southern Brave
Both teams have strung together winning runs but only one can lift the trophy at Lord's
In case anyone thinks that players involved in the Hundred are only interested in the gravy train, they need only look at Liam Livingstone's celebration after he swung Matt Fisher away for six to seal Birmingham Phoenix's place in Saturday's final: screaming, punching the air and yelling "come on!" before embracing his team-mate Tom Abell.
There were raised eyebrows when Phoenix used their first pick in the Hundred's inaugural draft on Livingstone, after the seven other teams had gone with high-profile overseas players, but he has made his doubters look silly, leading the competition in both runs and sixes. "It was obviously a big move to pick me up," he said. "It's nice to repay that faith they had in me."
Phoenix started the season slowly, squeezing past London Spirit in their opening game and then losing their next two, but won three high-scoring games on the bounce at Edgbaston and then sealed top spot with back-to-back victories in their last two group games, with Livingstone standing in as captain after Moeen Ali's recall to the England side for the second Test against India.
Moeen is back with the squad in the gap between the second and third Tests, a significant boost given his form with the bat in the six games he played: "We're adding a world-class captain, a world-class batter and a world-class bowler," Livingstone said. The pair are key in the middle phase of the innings, particularly with the bat but also with the ball.
But Phoenix's success has not been down to that pair alone. Will Smeed, the 19-year-old Somerset batter, has been a revelation as an opener, while Chris Benjamin, a 22-year-old keeper-batter who made his T20 debut the week the Hundred started, has been a key late-order hitter. They have been ultra-positive with the bat, to the extent that they are the fastest-scoring team in all three phases of the game (Powerplay, middle, death).
With the ball, Adam Milne has been the standout, hitting speeds of 94mph/151kph and excelling both in the Powerplay and at the death. He is the most miserly bowler in the competition in terms of economy rate, closely followed by the self-titled "fast spinner" Benny Howell, who has backed up his remarkable Blast record for Gloucestershire by squeezing teams through the middle of an innings in tandem with the ebullient Imran Tahir.
They play Southern Brave at Lord's, whose captain James Vince admitted after Friday night's eliminator that he hadn't had the chance to plan for Saturday's game but will doubtless be cramming into the small hours following a celebratory beer. It is hard to believe things can go quite as smoothly for them as they did against Trent Rockets; George Garton and Craig Overton effectively killed the game off inside the Powerplay before Chris Jordan and Tymal Mills got to work at the death, and Vince himself found the ideal tempo in a straightforward chase.
Brave started the season with consecutive defeats - Mahela Jayawardene, their head coach and a notorious slow-starter at Mumbai Indians, joked with the players that they had kept up his 100% losing record in opening games - but have won six on the bounce after squeezing past Phoenix in their first home fixture.
Their pace attack has been the key to their success, but Jake Lintott - the left-arm wristspinner and their wildcard pick after the Blast's group stages - has been a star in the middle of the innings. His match-up against Livingstone and Moeen, both superb hitters of spin, could be where the game is won and lost.
The elephant in the room is a poor weather forecast, which threatens to reduce both men's and women's finals to 25-ball-a-side matches. The ECB clarified on Friday night that they will look to ensure the finals are completed on Saturday rather than extending them into a reserve day, but with rain likely to fall throughout the afternoon in north London, there is every chance of a shortened game.
In the spotlight
Imran Tahir provided the Hundred with arguably its viral moment of the group stages when his hat-trick saw off Welsh Fire at Edgbaston. His passion for the game is undimmed even at 42, but he will have a major role when bowling to James Vince and Quinton de Kock in particular, both of whom have treated legspin with disdain in the tournament to date.
With Jofra Archer missing the tournament through injury, Tymal Mills has been pitching his T20 World Cup case through the Hundred and it looks increasingly likely that he will be on the plane to the UAE after getting through the tournament without an injury, hitting speeds of 91mph/147kph, and being miserly at the death. Every game at this late stage is an opportunity to remind England of his worth, not least with the pressure of a major final at Lord's thrown into the mix.
Phoenix welcome Moeen back into the squad following England Test duty but are without Finn Allen, who has consistently got them off to flying starts in the Powerplay but has flown to Bangladesh for New Zealand's T20I series. He is replaced in the squad by David Bedingham, Durham's South African batter, but they may opt to leave him out with Tom Abell fit again. Moeen's return and Livingstone's success with the ball means they can afford to leave out the third seamer if they wish.
Phoenix: (possible) 1 Will Smeed, 2 Miles Hammond/David Bedingham, 3 Moeen Ali (capt), 4 Liam Livingstone, 5 Tom Abell, 6 Chris Benjamin (wk), 7 Benny Howell, 8 Adam Milne, 9 Dillon Pennington, 10 Tom Helm/Pat Brown, 11 Imran Tahir
Southern Brave left Danny Briggs out in the eliminator after looking at the pitch at The Oval and seeing some extra grass on the surface; Craig Overton was picked in his place and is likely to keep his spot given the forecast and the short square boundaries at Lord's. Tim David, the Singaporean finisher, did not bat or bowl on Friday night after replacing Colin de Grandhomme, who has left to Bangladesh on New Zealand duty.
Brave: (possible) 1 Paul Stirling, 2 Quinton de Kock (wk), 3 James Vince (capt), 4 Alex Davies, 5 Tim David, 6 Ross Whiteley, 7 George Garton, 8 Chris Jordan, 9 Craig Overton/Danny Briggs, 10 Tymal Mills, 11 Jake Lintott
Stats and trivia
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98