Will Invincibles' batting click against late-rising Phoenix?
Winner of Friday's eliminator at The Oval will face Southern Brave in the final
A month after it staged the Hundred's opening night, The Oval plays host again for Friday's eliminator between the teams that finished second and third in the group stages and are playing off for the right to face Southern Brave in Saturday's final.
While debate has rumbled throughout the Hundred about its benefits or otherwise on the English game, there has been widespread agreement that the women's competition has been an unequivocal success: attendances have surpassed expectations, the quality has generally been high, players have welcomed the chance to play at bigger grounds and home crowds have been vocal in support of their new teams.
It is a happy coincidence, therefore, that Oval Invincibles are involved in the eliminator. They have had an up-and-down season, battling injuries to two of their three South African overseas players in Marizanne Kapp and Shabnim Ismail, but their top-quality bowling attack has led the way for them and their domestic players have stood up at important moments.
Captain Dane van Niekerk has the luxury of being able to share all 100 balls of an innings between international players - 60 between Kapp, Ismail and herself, and 40 between England's Tash Farrant and Mady Villiers - but has also used Alice Capsey's offbreaks to good effect, and occasionally turned to Grace Gibbs' medium pace.
Their batting lineup has not quite clicked, with Fran Wilson desperately short of runs at No. 3, but van Nierkerk has found some fluency since shuffling up to open. They are coming into the finals off the back of a chastening defeat against Southern Brave in which they were bowled out for 85 chasing 116; they cannot afford a hangover.
Birmingham Phoenix, their opponents, looked dead and buried at the halfway stage of the season after four defeats in their first five games, but have snuck up the blindside to squeeze into the knockouts thanks to three wins on the spin - including a tigerish defence of 147 in their effective quarter-final against Northern Superchargers on Tuesday, when they squeezed the middle order to spark a collapse.
They will have to cope without Shafali Verma on Friday, who has returned to India ahead of their tour to Australia. It is a major loss, but Verma did not have the impact on the Hundred that many expected; Eve Jones, her opening partner, is in better form heading into the knockout stages. Phoenix have been involved in several high-scoring games but The Oval's large square boundaries could suit them well on Friday, with their two Scottish spinners, Kirstie Gordon and Abtaha Maqsood, set for major roles.
In the spotlight
Seventeen-year-old Alice Capsey has been one of the Hundred's breakout stars and has impressed with both bat and ball for Invincibles. She is their third-highest run-scorer and second-highest wicket-taker, striking the ball powerfully over the covers and firing in flat offbreaks to good effect. There has already been talk as to whether it is too soon to throw her into England squads and while that can surely wait, she has another opportunity to prove herself on the big stage, having struck 59 off 40 balls in the London derby at Lord's earlier in the competition.
Amy Jones has not kicked onto a match-winning score in the Hundred - her highest is 42 not out - but her positivity in the middle order has been a key part of their success with the bat. She has the second-highest strike rate in the competition (160.22) out of batters with 100+ runs and has improved significantly against spin in the last 18 months since moving down the order in England's T20I side.
Invincibles have had to cope without Kapp and Ismail at various stages due to injuries but are expected to be at full strength on Friday and are likely to keep faith with the side that helped them finished second.
Invincibles (probable): 1 Georgia Adams, 2 Dane van Niekerk (capt), 3 Fran Wilson, 4 Marizanne Kapp, 5 Alice Capsey, 6 Mady Villiers, 7 Jo Gardner, 8 Grace Gibbs, 9 Sarah Bryce (wk), 10 Tash Farrant, 11 Shabnim Ismail
Phoenix have the undesirable task of replacing Verma, but Jones has backed their squad depth to help cover for her absence. One of their two Australians is likely to move up to open, with Marie Kelly coming into the middle order. Georgia Elwiss missed their last game with a left thumb injury and Phoenix said on Thursday that they "remain hopeful" she will be fit to play.
Phoenix (possible): 1 Eve Jones, 2 Katie Mack, 3 Amy Jones (capt/wk), 4 Marie Kelly, 5 Erin Burns, 6 Gwenan Davies, 7 Georgia Elwiss/Phoebe Franklin, 8 Emily Arlott, 9 Issy Wong, 10 Kirstie Gordon, 11 Abtaha Maqsood
Stats and trivia
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98