Proud skipper Mubeen Rashid is backing C&R Hawks to sparkle in the spotlight as they aim to make more history at National Club T20 Finals Day.
Hawks head to Derbyshire County Cricket Ground on Monday looking to complete a remarkable journey in which they have already grasped the honour of becoming the first Birmingham League club to ever reach the tournament’s last four.
Rashid and his men will play South Northumberland in the first semi-final, the winner going through to face either Wimbledon or Manchester-based Clifden in the showpiece final.
The action will be played out in front of the Sky Sports cameras, with the best of it appearing in a two-hour highlights show at a later date.
“We’ve got a meeting pencilled in for 9am Monday with Sky Sports, which is a bit unusual to say the least,” says Rashid.
“This is a huge day for the club. We will go in as underdogs but to be honest that has been the case all the way through the competition. It doesn’t faze us in the slightest.”
The achievement of Hawks, based in Rawnsley, near Cannock, in reaching finals day is all the more incredible considering the club has only existed in its current guise for three years and plays in the Birmingham League’s Second Division.
Their fellow finalists, by contrast, are all established big-hitters in their respective leagues and are no strangers to the big stage.
Semi-final opponents South Northumberland won the competition during its inaugural year in 2008 and have former Australian Test batsman Marcus North at the top of the order.
Wimbledon, meanwhile, became the first club to ever retain the title when they triumphed in both 2012 and 2013.
Hawks have, however, made a habit of beating more-fancied opponents from the moment they entered the tournament back in June.
Rashid’s men have already won seven games to reach this stage – including a dramatic quarter-final against Wanstead and Snaresbrook.
Charged by Omar Ali and former England and Worcestershire paceman Kabir Ali – respectively the brother and cousin of current England star Moeen – and including in their ranks numerous canny club players, Hawks are a team built for the big occasion and particularly T20.
“I think it is a format which really suits our game,” said Rashid. “I think it is fair to say we back ourselves against anyone.
“We’ve got players who seem to come into their own in T20 and if they fire then we definitely have a chance.
“It feels a bit like we are the upstarts of the competition.“
If you look at the other teams who have qualified for finals day, they all play in the Premier Division of their leagues. They are clubs with huge stature. Wimbledon have been champions twice before.
“It’s going to be tough but we are used to that.”
While the action gets underway in earnest on Monday morning, the occasion begins on Sunday evening when the ECB host a meal for players and officials from all four finalists.
The governing body are also paying for teams to stay in a hotel that night, while each club will wear a specially-designed, branded kit on the day.
Finals day, meanwhile, continues a hectic few weeks for Rashid, who on Tuesday will fly out to Dubai with Hawks team-mates Lee Evans, Nadeem Akram and Michael Gallear for the Indoor World Cup.
Rashid, Evans and Akram have all been named in the England senior squad, while Gallear is set to play for the under-21s.
“It is proving quite the end to the season,” admitted Rashid. “We are also still in with a chance of promotion from the Second Division and have a big league game away at Harborne on Saturday.
He continued: “It is some statement, when you think about some of the clubs and players who have been in the Birmingham League and yet we are the first club to reach finals day.
“We are aware of being flag bearers for the league. So many people have wished us well, from opposing team captains to players and supporters. It feels like everyone is behind us and it means a lot.”