T20 Blast Preview

England’s longstanding t20 competition gets underway later this week, a staple of the English cricket summer and one that is typically well-attended by spectators. However, will that remain the case now it’s competing with the Hundred?

The 18 counties are split into two groups; North and South. The North group comprises of nine teams; Birmingham Bears, Derbyshire, Durham, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Northants, Notts, Worcestershire and Yorkshire. While the South Group includes; Essex, Glamorgan, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Kent, Middlesex, Somerset, Surrey and Sussex.

Historically, the North group has typically been stronger, with seven of the last 10 tournament winners coming from up North, however, in the last few seasons, South Group teams have gradually started to be tougher competition. Essex’ win in 2019 was the first by a South Group team since 2012 (Hampshire) and that was followed by Kent’s victory last season, after beating Somerset in the final. The first final since 2010 that hasn’t featured a current North Group side.

As things stand all 18 teams in the competition have at least two overseas players registered to play in the the tournament, though complications with international schedules may and the final stages of IPL, could mean some teams might not always have their ideal overseas duo’s available for the entire season. Some teams will sign short-term replacements, others will look to trust their domestic players.

The first matches of this season’s tournament will take place on May 25th, with the group stage phase concluding on July 3rd. The quarter finals will take place between July 6–9th and after that we’ll have finals day on Saturday 16th July, one of the standout days in the cricketing calendar.

In terms of general availability issues, England’s red ball players will once again miss the majority of the tournament, if not all of it, with the first test against New Zealand starting on June 2nd and the third test scheduled to finish on June 27th. England named the following squad for this series:

Ben Stokes © (Durham), Zak Crawley (Kent), Alex Lees (Durham), Ollie Pope (Surrey), Joe Root (Yorkshire), Jonny Bairstow (Yorkshire), Ben Foakes (Surrey), Craig Overton (Somerset), Jack Leach (Somerset), Stuart Broad (Notts), Jimmy Anderson (Lancashire), Harry Brook (Yorkshire) & Matty Potts (Durham).

Some of these will obviously be bigger losses to their respective counties than others. The likes of Crawley, Bairstow and Brook are among the better white ball batters in the country and will be hard to replace, while others like Broad and Anderson don’t play white ball cricket anyway.

The test squad isn’t the only availability problem counties will have to contend with, as there is also a white ball series taking place while the test series is going on. England play a three game series against the Netherlands between June 17th-22nd, meaning anyone involved in that squad will miss those dates and likely a couple of days either side of that. The following screenshot is a list of players that could potentially be involved:

As you can see some of the ‘bigger’ counties like Lancashire, Yorkshire and Surrey could be among the teams that are most impacted by the white ball series. There could be a few surprise selections but that isn’t the route England have tended to go down over the last few years, could a new coaching set up change that?

Team performance

If we first look at bowling & batting economy rates from last season:

There were five teams in the ideal bottom-right corner, which indicates an above average batting & bowling economy rate, including, eventual winners - Kent. Notts were perhaps the most dominant side against last year and could consider themselves unlucky not to reach finals day. Kent were the most economical bowling side, while Glamorgan were the least economical, unsurprisingly Glamorgan had the lowest win percentage in the tournament last year. Leicestershire, Gloucestershire and Yorkshire were above average batting sides but also leaked runs with the ball, I expect these three teams to be entertaining watch again this season. Lancashire were an above average bowling side, perhaps not surprising given their home venue is Old Trafford, a spin friendly with surface with sizeable boundaries. Birmingham will be disappointed with their batting performance last season and their top order in white ball cricket is something they’ve looked to address between seasons.

Batting economy rate & boundary percentages:

Notts were comfortably the best boundary hitting side in the tournament, a big reason for this is because of their opening pair of Alex Hales & Joe Clarke. These two hit 143 boundaries from the 496 deliveries they faced between them last season (BP 28.8%), in comparison to the rest of their teammates, who hit 180 in almost 1100 deliveries, with a boundary percentage of 16.8%. It’s stating the obvious but those two are massive wickets when playing Notts. Worcestershire were the worst boundary hitting side last season, which could be surprising to those that watched the Blast regularly in 2018 & 19, where they reached back to back finals. Once again, the batting side of things looks to be an area that Worcestershire have tried to re-enforce between seasons with the signings of Ed Pollock & Colin Munro and they’ll also be boosted by better availability for Moeen Ali & Jack Haynes this season.

Boundary percentage & non-boundary strike rate:

Only two teams were above average boundary hitters and strike rotators; Leicestershire and Surrey, while Glamorgan, Birmingham and Northants were below average in both regards. Kent, Durham, Derbyshire and Lancashire were the best strike rotators, again, most of these aren’t surprising given the size of venues like Old Trafford & Chester-le-Street.

Bowling economy rate & balls per dismissal:

Kent were definitely unexpectedly good with the ball, given the availability issues they had to contend with at various points last season. Fred Klaassen and Matt Milnes combining for 41 wickets was a key part of their success, overall, I do think their bowling unit overperformed and it will be difficult for them to replicate the success they had last season. Notts, Sussex, Birmingham and Somerset were the other teams in the ideal bottom-left corner, this would certainly be seen as a positive, given the importance of bowling in t20’s, especially for a team like Somerset who have typically struggled from a bowling point of view. Gloucestershire were surprisingly poor with the ball last season, I expect them to fair better this season, with the addition of Naseem Shah as an overseas but the form/fitness of David Payne is certainly a concern, among other injury issues they have to contend with currently.

Boundary percentage conceded & dot ball percentage:

Given they’re two teams that generally bowl a high percentage of spin, it isn’t a shock that Lancashire and Notts are the two teams with the lowest dot ball percentage bowled, both will look to bowl at least 50% of their deliveries through spinners. Crucially though, these two teams were also the best when it came to restricting boundaries, again, further highlighting that Notts were probably a bit unlucky not to reach finals day last season, given their dominance with bat and ball. Most other teams are fairly clumped together on this graph, though Kent were another team that were very good when it came to restricting boundaries, while Glamorgan were comfortably the worst in the competition in this regard.

Here is the data that was shown in the graphs above, in table format:

As we can see from the far right columns, most of the teams fall between 40 & 60% when it comes to win percentage, which is fairly common. However, there have been two outliers, Glamorgan & Notts. Glamorgan have been well below par with a win percentage of 31.5%, while Notts have comfortably been the most consistent side over the last three seasons with a win percentage of 68%. This suggests the coaching set up is doing something right, though I do think there is element of them just having a team that is much stronger than most at this level. We also need to consider that during the 2020 season that was heavily impacted by Covid, Notts had two overseas players and mainly full availability for their domestic players, in a season where most counties struggled to sign even one overseas player and were losing players to enlarged test squads/player bubbles. Unsurprisingly they went on to win the tournament in 2020.

Additional stats:

Venues

The Blast seems to have a reputation for almost all of the venues being a batting paradise, though that isn’t the case with quite a few venues:

Grounds like the Ageas Bowl, Old Trafford, Riverside (Chester-le-Street) and the County Ground (Derbyshire) have consistently been difficult places to bat, some due to ground size, others due to the spin friendly conditions. On the other hand, Taunton is the fast scoring ground in the country, while Trent Bridge and Headingley are also some of the better grounds for batting, though Trent Bridge has become more spin friendly over the last couple of seasons. New Road, with the short straight boundaries is also quite a batting friendly venue and it has also been the ground where wickets have been taken least regularly.

Boundary percentage & Non-boundary strike rate:

Unsurprisingly, the aforementioned grounds that were said to be difficult for batting feature in the top-left corner (low boundary percentages & high non-boundary strike rates). Taunton and Trent Bridge also have the highest boundary percentages, while Wantage Road & Chelmsford also rank highly in this regard. Bristol is a ground that’s possibly a more tricky venue than most realise and some Gloucestershire players have done very well to produce the numbers they have done in recent seasons. Canterbury has been another venue that has been good for strike rotation, though I’d suggest that’s more to do with the players that play there regularly, rather than ground characteristics.

Economy rates against ‘pace’ & spin:

As expected, a lot of the bigger grounds feature in the bottom-left corner. Hove is perhaps an anomaly with an above average economy rate for pacers but comfortably below average for spinners, this is likely as a result of the quality of spinners that Sussex have had, mainly Rashid Khan but also others like Danny Briggs and Will Beer. Taunton has been a bit of a graveyard for all bowlers, while Chelmsford has been tough for spinners but easier for pace bowlers. Bristol is once again shown to be quite a difficult venue for batting, while the Oval is possibly slightly tougher than some might expect.

Balls per six:

The data shown in graphs above in table format:

North Group

Birmingham Bears

Last season: 4th in the group (Quarter finals)

Overseas players: Carlos Brathwaite & Paul Stirling.

Carlos Brathwaite will captain the side and will be available for the entire tournament, while Stirling should be available for most of it but Ireland do have some scheduled white ball cricket late June/early July. Brathwaite takes over as captain from Will Rhodes and that will likely see the end of Will Rhodes as a t20 regular, at least in the immediate future.

Possible XI:

Birmingham look likely to benefit from great availability for most of their key players throughout the tournament. Currently, of the players that would regularly make their t20 squad, Chris Woakes and Olly Stone look to be the only absentees, both missing through injury. They wouldn’t have expected Chris Woakes to be involved anyway, had he been fit, he would’ve surely been with the test squad and Olly Stone should only miss a couple of games, in his absence, Craig Miles looks to be the most likely replacement.

As for the XI itself, it seems that Stirling and Bethell will be the opening partnership, based on recent 2nd XI’s. Although, it’s a batting order that can easily be flexible, with Alex Davies and Adam Hose also having experience at the top order. I think Bethell will definitely get the nod initially and he has been in great form for the 2nd XI, scoring 264 runs in four matches at a strike rate of 200. Sam Hain had one of his most successful blast seasons batting at 4 last time out and I expect him to continue in that role this season, meaning Adam Hose will likely drop down to 5, a role which he hasn’t played much.

Most of the XI looks fairly settled, many would’ve anticipated more of a debate between Bethell & Mousley for the final playing XI spot but Bethell’ recent performances make him undroppable.

Team strengths:

Spin attack - Danny Briggs and Jake Lintott are two very reliable performers at Blast level. Briggs is one of the better SLA bowlers in the competition and Lintott has been a revelation in the last two seasons with his left arm wrist spin. In addition to these two, they’ve also got a couple of a matchup options with Bethell (SLA) and Stirling (OS), as well as Mousley (OS) whenever he plays.

Powerplay batting - If the 2nd XI games are anything to go by, Bethell will bat with some serious intent in the powerplays and Stirling always does anyway. Both are also good players of spin, so it’ll be risky to bowl spin at them, especially with the LH/RH combination.

Batting order - The batting order does look very strong for blast level, with a nice balance of extremely attacking players and more ‘reliable’ performers like Sam Hain & Alex Davies. The only potential issue I could see with the batting line up is if Hain & Davies end up batting together for too long, as two of the below-par boundary hitters in the side. As such, I’d look to separate them, where possible.

Team weaknesses:

Pace attack - Particularly with injuries and the fitness issues Olly Stone/Henry Brookes have continually been plagued with throughout their careers, the pace attack looks to be the overwhelming weakness for Birmingham this year. I’d certainly want at least one more established t20 pace bowler in the squad to feel comfortable. There looks to be a lot of pressure on Henry Brookes, especially in the initial games, to lead the bowling attack. Powerplay bowling in particular looks to be an issue and they may need to bowl 2–3 overs of spin in this phase.

Back up strength - Only a few teams at Blast level are blessed with high quality back up players and Birmingham aren’t one of those in my opinion. There is quite a big gap between their ‘first XI’ and the others in their squad.

Player stats sheet:

Prediction: Anything less than playoffs would be a big failure for Birmingham this season. I definitely have reservations about their bowling but I still think they’re a top three side in the group.

Derbyshire Falcons

Last season: 8th in group

Since reaching the semi-finals in 2019, Derbyshire have had two fairly dreadful seasons of t20 cricket, finishing second bottom last season and bottom in their group in 2020. The big news between seasons for Derbyshire was the announcement of Mickey Arthur as head coach, a big coup for the county. A move which will surely bring about a positive trend in white ball performances.

Overseas players: Shan Masood, Suranga Lakmal and Dustin Melton.

All three overseas players will have full availability for the t20 blast season. Shan Masood has recently been announced as captain and is a certain starter, he’ll look to build on a ridiculous start to the season in red ball cricket in the t20 format and a further opportunity to showcase his improvement as a white ball player, following an impressive PSL campaign this year. Suranga Lakmal is an interesting one, having signed a two year deal with Derbyshire to play in all formats. He hasn’t played a lot of t20 cricket but I assume he’ll be the second overseas player in the XI and will probably do the majority of his work in powerplays. Dustin Melton isn’t someone I know a lot about but having read the article linked below, hopefully he gets a chance at some point this season:

Derbyshire have lost a couple of important players from their side in recent seasons, with Matt Critchley and Fynn Hudson-Prentice both moving on. Two players that they’ll have to look to replace internally, with no major signings announced from a domestic point of view.

Possible XI:

At full strength, I expect Luis Reece to partner Shan Masood, though I believe Reece is recovering from an injury so it’ll be touch and go whether or not he’s available for their initial games. Harry Came is a good back up and has done well at 2nd XI level, Reece would be my first choice as he’s best-placed to exploit the powerplay. The middle order of Madsen, Du Plooy and Guest is technically sound and should be fairly reliable against both pace and spin, chasing middling totals shouldn’t be an issue for Derbyshire. Alex Hughes looks to be the designated finisher, though it’s something they’re probably lacking, which is covered slightly with batting ability at 7 & 8 through Mckiernan and Thomson.

The signing of Scottish international Mark Watt looks to be a shrewd one, he impressed at the t20 WC, with his SLA darts and his style of bowling looks to be the way orthodox spinners are heading in shorter format cricket.

Team strengths:

Bowling options - Almost every player in the team can offer some sort of bowling option, they have the two main pace bowling options of Scrimshaw and Lakmal and then two ‘medium’ pace options from Reece (LAM) and Hughes (RAM). As for the spinners, I expect Mark Watt (SLA), Mckiernan (LS) and Thomson (OS) to be the main options but Madsen & Du Plooy can also both bowl, if needed.

Top order batting - Masood, Reece, Madsen & Du Plooy is a really nice top four. The only drawback is that three of them are LHB’s, I don’t think this’ll be too much of an issue though as Masood & Madsen are two good players of spin.

Team weaknesses:

Death overs hitting - They don’t really have a go to player that they can rely on to perform well in this phase. As I said earlier, some of this might be covered by having decent batting depth but if they want to be one of the top sides in the Blast, I think they’ll need better options in this phase. I’m not sure the likes of Madsen & Du Plooy are capable of being consistently destructive at the death either.

Lacking a high pace option - Lakmal & Scrimshaw are good bowlers but neither can consistently hit speeds of 140+ and I don’t believe anyone in this Derbyshire squad can (maybe Melton?), it’s something they look to be lacking. It can be a real bonus to have a ‘enforcer style’ bowler in the Blast, given quite a few teams have relatively weaker middle/lower orders in comparison to their top three/four.

2nd overseas signing - Nothing against Lakmal or Melton but I feel like they could’ve made a better t20 specific signing here, maybe they were prioritising all-format availability when they signed these players, which is fine but it isn’t ideal for their t20 side.

Update* since writing this Derbyshire have announced the signing of Hayden Kerr, as a replacement for Suranga Lakmal, who has been ruled out for the entire tournament through injury. This could leave their XI looking something like this:

Brigning in Kerr and Conners for Lakmal & Thomson, giving them an extra bowling option or it could be a straight swap between Kerr & Lakmal.

Player stats sheet:

Prediction: Derbyshire certainly look to be on the right track, with Micky Arthur at the helm, however, I think they’ll come up just short when it comes to making the play offs. Widespread availability issues for a couple of bigger counties could play into their hands though, so don’t completely rule them out.

Durham

Last season’s finish: 7th in group

Durham are another North Group side that have struggled in recent seasons, having failed to make the knockout rounds in each of the last three seasons. A lack of t20 specific signings has perhaps been a major part of this, with Cameron Bancroft often filling one of their t20 slots, who isn’t exactly a t20 superstar and that’s something they’ve looked to address this season.

Overseas players: Ashton Turner & David Bedingham

Ashton Turner will continue the theme of overseas players being named as captains, and seems like a good signing, having struck at above 150 in each of the last two BBL campaigns and recently led Perth Scorchers to another BBL title earlier this year. David Bedingham also returns as an overseas player and will look to build on the campaign he had last season, where he struck at 145 but he’ll want to improve that average of 21. Looking at the squad Durham have and limited availability for the likes of Ben Stokes and Alex Lees, I expect that Bedingham will open the batting again this season.

Durham have a host of availability issues heading into this campaign. England test captain Ben Stokes is obviously unavailable but there were also call ups for Alex Lees & Matty Potts, which would’ve been less expected. To add insult to injury, Mark Wood is also recovering from elbow surgery and isn’t likely to play any part in the domestic season. This leaves Durham looking thread bare in terms of resources and it’s a challenge to predict an XI they may end up going with.

Possible XI:

I’ve only included Matty Potts in a possible XI because I have no idea who will take that spot in his absence. There really isn’t many options, unless they plan to go in with Chris Rushworth as their lead seam bowler, doesn’t exactly seem like a great fit in t20 cricket? It wouldn’t surprise me if Durham dipped into the loan market again, like they have done to secure the services of Ollie Robinson from Kent.

Tall left arm seamer George Furrer looked fairly impressive in their 2nd XI matches earlier this season and could be a potential solution to their seamer crisis, however, he hasn't featured in the last few, despite taking seven wickets in four games, suggesting he might be injured. The availability situation could get worse if Brydon Carse is called up to the England ODI squad for the games against Netherlands, which is a probable scenario, Durham are scheduled to play three games between June 17th & 23rd and a Carse call up really would leave them looking extremely weak.

If there was ever a ground you could away with having a weak bowling line up it would probably be the Riverside (Durham’s home ground), it’s one of the biggest in the world. Pace bowlers go for less runs there than any other ground in the country and only a few are more favourable for spinners. Durham’s strategy will likely be to stack the team with batting and make up overs through more ‘part-time’ bowling options.

Team strengths:

Powerplay batting intent - With Graham Clark & Bedingham they have an extremely aggressive opening pair and one which will look to take on the opposition. This could be very beneficial at a ground like Durham, where teams can squeeze through the middle and boundaries are much more difficult to hit. They won’t be the most reliable opening pair but they’ll certainly try to get their team ahead of the game in the first six overs.

Batting depth - I wouldn't say they are blessed with natural hitters throughout the order but they have players capable of batting all the way down until number 10. Carse at number 8 is certainly decent enough and after that they still have Borthwick and Trevaskis, as a LHB, Borthwick could be floated up the order at times as a pinch hitter. This batting depth should allow the Durham top order to play the fearless cricket they’re probably suited to.

Team weaknesses:

Pace bowling - It’s an issue for plenty of counties in the t20 blast but it looks even more extreme for Durham than most. Like I said earlier, if there’s one venue where you could possibly get away with that, it’s probably Durham. Having said that, with Potts unavailable, the only semi-established t20 seamer in the squad is Brydon Carse, who’s returning from a long injury and will likely be involved in the England squad at some point. Ben Raine has bowled quite a few overs in previous seasons but goes at almost 10 rpo and Paul Coughlin is even more expensive. They really need to get at least one pace bowler in on loan.

Batting against spin - Durham look to be pinning their hopes in Ashton Turner to counter spin in the middle overs, who has an indifferent record against spin but has typically struggled against SLA/Leg spin, particularly in spin friendly conditions. Their top order in particular looks liable to getting bogged down by spin, which isn’t something they can really afford, as they’ll need to reach above par totals on most occasions this season.

Availability issues - An obvious one, with the likelihood of missing 4/5 key players for the majority of the season. Something not many counties could deal with. A couple of these were probably unexpected, however, I do feel they could’ve planned better in this regard.

General lack of quality - They don’t look particularly strong with either bat or ball, which obviously isn’t ideal. I’d be amazed if Durham reached the play offs, if they don’t make any other signings.

Player stats sheet:

Prediction: Won’t make the playoffs

The lack of wicket taking threat from the bowling line up will be a real issue and the batting order would have to bat out of their skin, in order for Durham to reach top four this season.

Lancashire Lightning

Last season’s finish: 3rd in group (Quarter Finals)

Lancashire have been respectable performers over the last few seasons, with a win percentage just shy of 60% and they’ve reached the knockout rounds in each of the last four seasons. They’ve only won the tournament once (back in 2015), which could be seen as slightly underwhelming for a club of their size. They exited in the quarter finals last season, after being beaten by eventual finalists Somerset, a defeat that would’ve left a bitter taste in the mouth as they were seemingly in control for large parts of the game.

Can they go a couple of steps further this year?

Overseas players: Tim David & Dane Vilas.

Tim David has to be one of the bigger overseas signings made in the competition and should be available throughout, owing to his bizarre lack of involvement in Australia white ball squads for the series against Sri Lanka. David heads to the UK, after finishing his stint with Mumbai Indians in the IPL, where he impressed, after eventually being re-introduced to the XI. In total, he managed 186 runs in eight innings, at a strike rate of 216. He was bizarrely dropped after two matches and MI paid the price, going winless in the games he missed. All the signs point towards David being one of the signings of the summer, after all, he has effectively dominated every competition he has taken part in thus far.

Lancashire’s loyalty to their other overseas player - Dane Vilas, has paid dividends in red ball cricket but not so much in the t20 format. They could do with a better player here, ideally a bowler and it would leave their playing XI looking a lot more solid. Vilas has only struck at above 135 in one of his five seasons with Lancashire in the Blast and in three of them he has struck at below 125, including the last two. Lancashire could certainly have used their second overseas slot in a better way.

Possible XI:

There’s no denying that at full strength it still looks like a very strong XI. Four of the top five are top-tier t20 players and you could make a strong case that Buttler, Livingstone and David are all world class. The bowling isn’t mouth watering but with Parkinson, Hartley, Livingstone and a further spin option from Croft, they have a bowling line up that is suited to conditions at Old Trafford.

The big blow for Lancashire ahead of the Blast season is that Saqib Mahmood has been ruled out of the entire summer with a stress fracture, meaning Tom Bailey or Richard Gleeson will likely replace him, a notable drop off in quality.

It might not be the only availability issues that Lancashire have to contend with either, as they’re likely to be missing a few players for the England white ball series against Netherlands. You’d think Buttler, Salt and Livingstone are all certainties to be involved and there’s a chance Parkinson could be as well, this will leave Lancashire looking very weak for the 7–10 day period when these guys aren’t around. As things stand, they’re scheduled to have t20 matches on June 17th, 19th, 23rd & 24th, so the aforementioned players missing four matches is a real possibility.

For those matches, I’d expect a line up to look something like this:

Jennings can do a job as an opener and will likely play in the first few matches as well but there’s no doubting the team gets considerably worse, to the point, with the exception of a few players, it looks more like a 2nd XI team. It’ll be damage limitation for Lancashire in this week-long period.

Team strengths:

Batting - As mentioned earlier they have four genuinely brilliant t20 batters, which is extremely rare at Blast level. Buttler is currently having one of the best IPL seasons of all time (statistically), while Livingstone & David are both striking at north of 150 since the start of 2021. Phil Salt also has a powerplay strike rate of above 150 in three of his last four t20 blast seasons, making him one of the most reliable players in his role, though you could argue it’ll be more difficult for him to do this at Lancashire, after his move from Sussex between seasons.

Pace hitting/Six hitting - Livingstone & David have been two of the most destructive in the world in this regard over the last 12–18 months:

Only Will Jacks (very underrated) strikes at higher rate against non-spin than David since the start of 2021 and he’s even scoring at a slightly faster rate than Dre Russ. The power he is able to generate, particularly against back of a length deliveries is perhaps unrivalled. Livingstone is also one of the best around and has proven that in the most recent IPL. Buttler’ numbers are perhaps surprisingly low but he is still way above average and his strike rate against non-spin in t20I’s is 155 in recent years. While Salt appears to be the weakest of the four in this graph, it’s worth noting that his struggles have come in other competitions and he has also dominated non-spin in the blast, striking at almost 170 and averaging in the mid 30’s. You could argue that Old Trafford is one of the venues where having pace hitters is least beneficial but Buttler, Livingstone and David are all good players of spin anyway.

Spin attack - With Parkinson, Hartley and Livingstone it gives them three good spin options, with variety, allowing them to bowl over 50% of their overs through spin again this year. That tally was almost 55% last season and it wouldn’t surprise me if it was slightly higher this season.

Team weaknesses:

Availability/squad depth - Like Birmingham, the drop off in quality from starting XI quality to squad players looks to be huge, particularly for the batting. It’s perhaps noticeable when we look at their 2nd XI results this season, with a top score of 140 and they’ve also been bowled out under 100 twice. Luckily, they’ve got their England internationals available for the majority of the season but any disturbances to the availability of those guys and they could be in trouble.

Batting depth - They shouldn’t be needed too often when at full strength but a 6, 7 & 8 of Croft, Lamb and Luke Wood is far from ideal and none of them are exactly proven hitters.

Pace bowling - A recurring theme for a lot of blast teams, given the injury issues most of the leading England ‘pace’ bowlers currently have. Lancashire look desperately short in this regard and it’ll be a problem, especially in games away from home.

Second overseas pick - As stated earlier, Vilas has done incredibly well for Lancashire in red ball cricket. In t20 terms, it’s a bit of a meh pick and there would be quite a few better options out there.

Player stats sheet:

Prediction: I’m not all that optimistic about Lancashire this season, I think player quality will see them just scrape through to the knockout rounds but it won’t be easy for them. They’ll need to make sure they win their home matches because I think they’ll struggle away from home.

Leicestershire Foxes

Last season’s finish: 6th in group

Leicestershire had quite a bit of hype heading into the group stage last season, particularly on twitter, due to the involvement of Dan Weston in their recruiting/strategy. To finish sixth would’ve probably disappointed everyone involved with Leicestershire. In a way, they delivered on the hype, playing an entertaining style of cricket (only three teams scored at a faster rate), however, the bowling was really poor (only Glamorgan conceded runs at a faster rate). If you want to qualify while performing that badly with the ball, the batting would have to be exceptional and it was only really Josh Inglis and Arron Lilley that delivered for Leicestershire last season.

Overseas players: Rahmanullah Gurbaz (Hamish Rutherford) & Naveen-Ul-Haq

Rahmanullah Gurbaz was initially planned as the overseas replacement for Inglis, who scored over 500 runs for Leicestershire last season. However, due to ongoing IPL commitments and national duty his availability could be limited. Leicestershire have done well to get a replacement in time for their first matches, having announced Hamish Rutherford as a signing a couple of days ago, a player with previous t20 blast experience and he’ll slot in at the top of the order. Naveen-Ul-Haq returns for a second season, after a successful stint last time out. He was expensive at times (season ER of 8.7), though it’s probably a worthwhile trade off when he takes 26 wickets, including 13 in the powerplay.

Possible XI:

As a ‘smaller’ county, Leicestershire won’t have too many availability issues. Other than the Gurbaz problem, the only other potential issue could be surrounding Colin Ackermann, who is a Netherlands player and therefore might be involved in the 50 over series against England.

Just by looking at the XI there doesn’t seem to be much change from last year and there isn’t, apart from the overseas swap but we do have the introduction of Rehan Ahmed. A highly-rated prospect and much needed wrist spin option in the team, he can also bat and I expect he’ll be used up and down the order. If we go on these changes alone (Rutherford/Gurbaz slightly worse than Inglis) it would be difficult to see how Leicestershire will drastically improve on their sixth place finish from last season. However, it’s worth noting that seven of the players in the XI are aged 25 or under, so, there’s scope for big improvement and I expect quite a few have already raised their level from last year.

The batting is certainly a strong point, with added depth this year, with the addition of Rehan Ahmed. Leicestershire will want more from Scott Steel this season, after he could only manage 304 runs at a strike rate of 109 last season, he’s definitely capable of more than that, which he showed in his debut season for Durham. Arron Lilley will be one of their most important batters, his transformation from pinch hitter, to genuine t20 batter is impressive. Easily highlighted by an increase balls per dismissal rate of 19.8 in 2020 & 21, from 12.5 in 2018 & 19.

Team strengths:

Batting depth - Leicestershire have a lot of batting options, even Callum Parkinson (carded at 10), is improving with the bat in all formats. The batting depth will be needed at time, given the way Leicestershire will look to play with the bat this season.

Spin attack - The addition of Rehan Ahmed adds another dimension to this spin attack, giving them a wrist spin option and a genuine wicket taking threat. They’ve also got Callum Parkinson, who is a reliable SLA bowler and then they have three OS options in Steel, Ackermann and Lilley.

High upside XI - With the way they’ll look to play and lack of experience with some players, they’ll lack the consistency of some teams but on their day, they’ll be capable of beating anyone. They look far less reliant on conditions being in their favour than some other teams in the group and it wouldn’t surprise me if multiple players have career best seasons in the Blast.

Team weaknesses:

Domestic pace options - This was a huge issue for Leicestershire last season. With their domestic pace bowlers going at over 11rpo in the last campaign, this was mainly through Gavin Griffiths and Ben Mike but they also briefly tried Ed Barnes and Will Davis. They’ve re-enforced this area with the signing of Roman Walker but it’s still far from perfect and looks like a weak point.

Limited LH batting options - Initially they did look to have a team of RHB’s, until they signed Hamish Rutherford, which at least gives them one LHB at the top of the order. Having a combination of LHB & RHB’s isn’t paramount but I’d prefer if they had at least one more LH batting option. In a season where a lot of pace attacks are limited, teams may look to get through cheap match up overs through spinners and it looks to be easier to do so against this Leicestershire side than most.

Player stats sheet:

Prediction: 5th place but they’ll be ready to pounce if any of the bigger clubs slip up.

Northamptonshire Steelbacks

Last season’s finish: 9th in the group

Northants got the wooden spoon award in the North Group last season. A while ago, they were one of the most successful t20 sides in the country, reaching three finals in four seasons between the years of 2013 & 2016. Since then, they’ve only reached the knockout rounds once, during the heavily-impacted Covid season in 2020. Whatever was key to their success stretching back over half a decade ago, seems to have been lost somewhere along the line. Although, losing several key players like Ben Duckett, Olly Stone, Richard Gleeson and now Adam Rossington to ‘bigger counties’ definitely hasn’t helped matters.

Overseas players: Jimmy Neesham (Matt Kelly) & Chris Lynn.

Jimmy Neesham is still on duty with Rajasthan Royals in the IPL, as a result, Northants have announced Matt Kelly as cover, who was with them for red ball matches earlier in the season anyway. Neesham has had three previous stints in the Blast, with Derbyshire, Kent and most recently - Essex, scoring 591 runs and taking 32 wickets. It’s not exactly an exciting signing but he should be able to do a decent enough job at Blast level. While Chris Lynn will be looking to bounce back from one his worst BBL tournaments and the Blast should be the perfect opportunity to do that.

Possible XI:

Vasconcelos has been ruled out for a couple of weeks with an injury, this should give either Emilio Gay or Ben Curran a run of games, both are left handed so they’d be a better option to pair with Lynn than Thurston or Hankins. In the absence of Vasconcelos, Lewis McManus will likely take the gloves, though he is a slight injury doubt, due to a dislocated finger.

Jimmy Neesham missing a couple of games might not be the end of the world, as Matt Kelly will boost what looks to be a fairly weak pace attack. Kelly took 14 wickets in only six matches in his last BBL campaign and is capable of reaching decent speeds, it would probably be worth keeping him around, even when Neesham arrives.

Left arm wrist spinner - Freddie Heldreich should start the tournament, after impressing in the few games he played last season. This gives them more of a wicket taking threat through the middle overs.

Team strengths:

Pace hitters - They lack variety in their batting but they’ve definitely got quite a few players that can hit pace. Northants would be best off producing extremely flat pitches at home and let the likes of Lynn, Cobb & Neesham do their best to bully some below-par pace attacks.

Middle order - Northants do potentially have quite a nice middle order if Saif Zaib can translate his 2nd XI performances to first team level. A possible 3–6 of Cobb, Zaib, Keogh & Neesham isn’t too bad but I’m hesitant of its success against quality spin.

Team weaknesses:

Batting against spin - The role of left handers in this team looks to be crucial, as most of the RHB’s have really average numbers against spin. This was an area where Northants really struggled last season (only Glamorgan scored at a slower rate against spin) and based on the signings they’ve made, I don’t see them fairing much better this season.

Fourth/fifth bowling option - It’s an XI that only really has three frontline bowling options. Potentially needing 8 overs from White, Cobb, Neesham/Taylor and other part-time bowlers could be problematic against well-constructed batting line ups.

Pace attack - Once Neesham arrives and assuming Matt Kelly is no longer part of the XI, it’ll leave Northants with a ‘pace’ attack of Sanderson, Glover/Buck, Neesham and Taylor. Not only is there a lack of pace but also a lack of variety, there won’t be much for opposition batters to fear against this bowling line up.

Player stats sheet:

Prediction: Won’t make the play offs

Nottinghamshire

Last season’s finish: 1st place in group (Quarter finals)

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, statistically, Notts were the best team in the group stages last season. Such is the nature of the Blast, you don’t gain any extra opportunities for finishing in the top two, apart from a home quarter final. As a result, any slip ups in the knockout rounds will be costly and that’s exactly what happened with Notts. They somehow failed to chase 126 against Hampshire, despite being 64–1 after 7 overs and seemingly in cruise control. It’s happened on a few occasions with Notts in recent seasons, where they’ve struggled to finish ‘easy’ chases, which could be something to keep an eye on. Even though they’ve had a few slip ups along the way, they’ve definitely been the most consistent side in the past few seasons of the Blast, with a win percentage of 68%.

Overseas players: Dan Christian, James Pattinson & Dane Paterson.

Veteran Dan Christian returns to Notts for a seventh season, having missed last year, due to surprising international commitments. He’ll also skipper the side, all in all, he’s had a very successful time with Notts, striking at almost 155, with an average of 35 and also taking 44 wickets. As for the other two overseas players, I’m not sure either are guaranteed to play and it’s likely Notts could opt to go in with only one overseas players. It goes without saying, that they could’ve made better use of the second overseas player slot.

Notts are another one of the ‘bigger’ clubs that typically have great availability, owing to quite a few of their players being on white ball only contracts.

Possible XI:

To be honest, it’s a familiar XI for Notts, there is very little change and all 11 players have featured in campaigns for them before. It’s a squad that’s on the older side, with six players over the age of 30, giving them plenty of experience but they also have a few younger guys, that should, in theory be approaching their peaks as cricketers.

The top order, in particular, is ridiculously strong for Blast level, Hales & Joe Clarke is one of, if not the best opening partnership in the country and with Ben Duckett at 3, they also have one of the most impressive players of spin in the white ball game. There’s also plenty of bowling options, with three spin options, two pace bowlers and Mullaney/Christian as medium/off pace bowlers.

Like I said earlier, I think it’s likely that we’ll only see one overseas from Notts but Pattinson/Paterson could be an option for Luke Fletcher at some point.

Team strengths:

Powerplay bowling threat - Jake Ball has consistently been one of the better wicket taking threats in powerplays and I don’t expect that to be any different this year. The added bonus for Notts, is that they’ve also got two spinners (Carter & Patel), that have done a lot of bowling in this phase and have had success doing so. Patel and Carter bowl 37 & 44% of their deliveries in powerplays and both have economy rates of under 8rpo and strike rates of better than 20. Given one is a SLA bowler and the other an off spinner, Notts should be able to get away with bowling spin in the powerplay in any situation.

Opening partnership - The Hales/Clarke opening partnership is probably only rivalled by the newly-formed Buttler/Salt pairing at Lancashire. Of the 77 players that have faced at least 100 powerplay deliveries in the last three seasons of t20 Blast, Hales and Clarke rank 1st & 8th respectively. While some may assume you can tie Hales down with spin in powerplays, that just isn’t the case, as he strikes at almost 160 and averages over 40 against spin in powerplays since the start of 2019. If you don’t have a genuine high pace bowler to bowl at these two, you’ll struggle.

Spin options - Notts have three good spin options, with Samit Patel, Matt Carter and Calvin Harrison and all three bowl a different variety. Patel has been one of the best SLA bowlers on the t20 circuit for a long time and has vast experience, while Carter, despite being on off spinner, seems to be a more viable option against RHB’s than most, perhaps due to his height and subsequent bounce he gets. Calvin Harrison is their wrist spin option and had a breakthrough summer last year, in both the Blast and the Hundred.

Team weaknesses:

Middle order against spin - Given Trent Bridge seems to be trending towards a more spin friendly venue and Notts have a bowling line up that’s suited to this, you’d probably want a batting line up that’s better-equipped to deal with spin. I wouldn’t consider a middle order of Patel, Moores and Christian to be ideal in spin friendly conditions, with Patel and Christian in particular, both having very average numbers against spin (SR 112, AV low 20's).

Second overseas pick - They could really improve their team by picking a better overseas, whether they went for a genuine pace option or a middle order batter, it just seems very inefficient to potentially only go in with one overseas, especially for a bigger club like Notts.

Player stats sheet:

Predicition: Notts have been the most consistent t20 Blast side over the last few seasons and I’m expecting another top four finish for them this season.

Worcestershire

Last season’s finish: 5th in Group

It’s not been the easiest of times for Worcestershire in t20 cricket since reaching back to back finals in 2018 & 19, having failed to reach the knockout rounds in either of the last two seasons.

Overseas players: Colin Munro & Dwayne Bravo

Colin Munro was an interesting signing for Worcestershire, given they also signed Ed Pollock over the winter and since Moeen Ali has retired from red ball cricket, he should be available for the majority of the tournament. So you wouldn’t have thought another top order player would’ve been a priority…

Dwayne Bravo is a good signing, Worcestershire are in need of an above average non-spin bowler and Bravo is certainly that. It also makes them less reliant on Pat Brown at the death, who has had issues with injury & form since his breakthrough season a few years back.

Possible XI:

Unfortunately for Worcestershire, neither of their overseas players or Moeen Ali will be available for their initial games. This is obviously a big blow and none of them will be easily replaced. In their absence I’d expect D’Oliveira to open, which he did last season and Libby to come in at 4, Charlie Morris will likely play instead of Bravo. These players don’t come close to matching the quality of the three players that Worcestershire will be missing and their initial matches could be a struggle.

At full strength, it’s certainly a decent XI, though it’s probably lacking at least one, possibly two quality spin options. Looking at their XI, it looks like they’ll be bowling 14–15 overs of non-spin per game, which I’m not sure is the way to go in the t20 Blast, this could mean Josh Baker plays ahead of Matthew Waite. I’m unsure of how long the loan of Matthew Waite is anyway (Yorkshire player) but there’s a chance he could be re-called, given the lack of pace bowling options Yorkshire are likely to be left with at points throughout this competition.

Team strengths:

Top order batting - Pollock, Moeen, Munro and Haynes is a good top four. Possibly one left hander too many but Moeen & Munro both have good numbers against the ball turning away so it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Moeen and Munro are obviously established t20 players while Jack Haynes is a player I rate highly and has shown promise in his brief t20 career so far, hopefully he can get a full season under his belt, which he hasn’t managed to do so in previous seasons due to injury.

Death overs bowling - When Bravo arrives, this will take pressure off Pat Brown, who is the sole player Worcestershire rely on this phase currently. Even if Pat Brown doesn’t fire, you’d back Dwayne Bravo to do a good job at t20 blast level and that’s a better resource than most blast teams will have at the death.

Team weaknesses:

Powerplay bowling - Dillon Pennington did very well in this phase last summer, taking 14 wickets at a strike rate of 12 in powerplays. Although, this was the first time he showed signs of being a genuine threat in the powerplay and if he can’t replicate that, Worcestershire will struggle to take early wickets, with Pat Brown and Dwayne Bravo both being more death overs orientated bowlers.

Lower order hitting - Worcestershire have decent batting depth with Barnard/Bravo likely to be 7 & 8. However, they’re definitely lacking a frontline finisher in my opinion. Ross Whiteley has moved to Hampshire and they haven’t really replaced him. Ben Cox is a good player but struggles to go from ball one, while Barnard is capable of cameo’s, though he isn’t a genuine power hitter and would perhaps be better utilised as a pinch hitter.

Spin volume/quality - As already mentioned, Worcestershire don’t really have a frontline spinner and I think this is a big mistake in the t20 Blast. D’Oliveira can do a job as a wrist spin option but in a competition where a few teams might have a double leg spin attack, I wouldn’t want to be going in without a frontline wrist spinner.

Player stats sheet:

Predicition: Worcestershire are a hard team to predict this season. At full strength, they’ve got a high upside XI but how often will they field their strongest team? Beyond that, they have limited squad depth and it could cost them. If pushed for a prediction, I think Worcestershire will finish 5/6th in the group.

Yorkshire

Last season’s finish: 2nd in group (Quarter finals)

For a club the size of Yorkshire it’s perhaps surprising that they’ve never won the t20 Blast, only every reaching the final once, back in 2012. Their quarter final exit last season has to be seen as progress, given it was the first time they made the knockout rounds since 2016.

Availability has always been a massive issue for Yorkshire and a big reason for their lack of success in recent seasons, with the amount of players they’ve typically had in and around the England squads, they’ve often been missing 5–6 players by the time the t20 Blast comes around.

Things look a little better for them this year, though it still isn’t great. Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Harry Brook made the England test squad for the series against New Zealand. The first two would’ve been expected, the latter is a big blow, Yorkshire would’ve been hoping to maybe sneak another full season out of him, before he becomes an all-format player for England but with the way he has started the red ball season in domestic cricket, a test call-up was almost inevitable.

Overseas players: Haris Rauf (4 matches), Shadab Khan & Finn Allen.

Three high quality overseas players and all excellent signings in my opinion. Haris Rauf will play four matches, before heading off for Pakistan duty, when he’ll be replaced by Finn Allen. The same applies to Shadab Khan, though I believe he’ll be returning to Yorkshire after the three game ODI series against West Indies. It remains to be seen if they’ll sign a replacement for him in the games he’ll miss.

Possible XI:

Yorkshire are definitely one of the more difficult teams to predict, due to the constant incomings and outgoings in the squad. In terms of batting, they’ve certainly got the ability to cover for missing players but there looks to be far less depth in the bowling department.

Initial XI:

Yorkshire have a fairly front-loaded blast schedule, which means they might be able to sneak three games out of their test players, this would be an added bonus, particularly to have Harry Brook available, who is in the form of his life. Jonny Bairstow wasn’t named in their squad for the season opener, so it’s plausible he has been given extra time to rest.

The XI is obviously strong, possibly one too many ‘anchor-type’ batters but I don’t think there’s any chance they’ll leave out Joe Root, if he’s available. The batting still looks strong, even without Bairstow, highlighting the depth Yorkshire have in this regard.

The bowling looks more balanced in this intial XI but the departure of Haris Rauf after four games will change that and if Matt Fisher still isn’t fit, the bowling attack is very spin-heavy. Something that Yorkshire head coach - Otis Gibson, has admitted targetting, this does look a bit extreme though.

‘Secondary’ XI:

Finn Allen will come into open, with Kohler-Cadmore likely dropping down to four, either of the two could keep. Will Fraine will play as a designated finisher, instead of Harry Brook and they’ll also have the added bonus of David Willey returning from IPL duty, to replace Haris Rauf.

The issues for Yorkshire will come when England have their white ball series with Netherlands, with Dawid Malan, David Willey and Adil Rashid all likely to be involved in that. Potential players that could come in as replacements for those games include; George Hill, Jonny Tattersall, Will Luxton, James Wharton, Jack Schutt, Matthew Waite (?) & Ben Cliff.

Team strengths:

Pace hitters - Yorkshire have plenty of players with good numbers against pace, not least their likely opening partnership in the second half of the tournament - Lyth & Finn Allen, who both boast ridiculous numbers against non-spin. Harry Brook is also a monster against pace, which he showcased in the PSL and then you’ve got the likes of Kohler-Cadmore, Fraine and Bairstow (if he plays) who are all good against pace bowling.

LH/RH combinations - With Lyth and Malan in the top three and Thompson/Willey, who can be promoted up or down the order as they see fit, Yorkshire have a great balance of LHB’s/RHB’s and should be well-placed to counter orthodox spin options.

Double leg spin attack - This is always an exciting thing in t20 cricket, especially when the two spinners are Shadab Khan and Adil Rashid, arguably two of the top ten leg spinners in t20 cricket. It’s a lovely bonus for Yorkshire to have and it will likely be too good for quite a few teams in the North Group.

Team weaknesses:

Lack of pace bowling options - Matthew Fisher is expected to be out long-term with a stress fracture and Matthew Waite is currently out on loan with Worcestershire. This leaves Yorkshire looking remarkably short in the pace bowling department when Haris Rauf leaves, as I’m not convinced either of Thompson or Revis are genuine four over bowlers in t20’s. Even if these guys do well, Yorkshire will be lacking a genuinely quick pace bowler when Rauf departs.

Chaotic availability - It’s almost a norm with Yorkshire but it can’t be ideal, there won’t be any sort of consistency with the playing XI’s this season, if they can get the same XI out on the pitch for more than two games in a row, they’ve done well.

Player stats sheet:

Prediction: Even with availability issues at times, I’m expecting a top four finish for Yorkshire. They look like one of the stronger teams in the group.

Final North Group predicition:

Notts, Birmingham, Yorkshire and Lancashire to qualify. Lancashire are the team I’d feel least confident in, I wouldn't be surprised if any of Leicestershire, Worcestershire or Derbyshire qualified in place of them.

South Group teams

Essex Eagles

Last season’s finish: 7th in Group

It’s perhaps a bit harsh to say but normal service has resumed for Essex in the t20 Blast, after their surprising and slightly fortuitous victory back in 2019. That does appear to be more of an anomaly, rather than a recipe success, with it being the only time they’ve made the knockout rounds since 2016. I’ve mentioned in previous previews why Essex were fairly lucky in 2019:

Given the strong correlation between NRR & win percentage/points per game, Essex can consider themselves fortunate to reach the knockout rounds, let alone win the entire tournament. I guess that’s the nature of t20 blast, reaching the play offs is the most important thing, whether you finish 1st or 4th, it doesn’t really matter, from there on, every team has to win three out of three games if they want to win the tournament.

Overseas players: Daniel Sams & Simon Harmer

In the end, Daniel Sams had a decent tournament with the ball in the IPL, despite a tough start. He took 13 wickets at an economy of 8.8 rpo, including 8 in the powerplay, which is certainly a valuable trait. He looked a bit out of his depth with the bat at IPL level but for the t20 Blast, I think this is a pretty good signing from Essex and much better than some of the previous ones they’ve made.

On the other hand, Simon Harmer isn’t exactly an exciting t20 signing. His performances in red ball cricket for Essex have been outrageously good but as an overseas t20 player, he has limited utility. An off spin bowler, with a bit of batting ability, isn’t a player role I’d be looking to use an overseas spot on.

Having said that, for the first time in a while, you could say Essex have probably improved their t20 side between seasons. The signings of Adam Rossington and Matt Critchley are both positive moves for their white ball sides and are certainly upgrades on the players they had previously.

Possible XI:

The injury status of Dan Lawrence is unclear, he returned to action in Essex’ first class match last week, however, he hasn’t been named in their squad for the season opener against Kent in the t20 competition. Michael Pepper should play in his absence, having impressed for the 2nd XI at times in recent seasons and he’s also had a couple of good knocks already in the t20 blast.

It’ll largely be a relatively new opening partnership for Essex this season, with Buttleman, another player that has impressed in 2nd XI matches, likely to partner new signing — Adam Rossington. Highlighting a possible end to the road for Adam Wheater in t20 cricket for Essex, who’s scheduled to retire from professional cricket at the end of the season.

Matt Critchley adds a much needed wrist spin option to the side and completes a spin trio, along with Aron Nijjar and Simon Harmer, which can offer three different types of spin. The improvement of Sam Cook as a t20 bowler is an added bonus for Essex but the third seamer to complete the trio, along with Cook & Sams still looks like a big issue. Shane Snater will probably start the tournament, though his t20 record is anything but convincing, the same could be said for other options like Jack Plom, Aaron Beard and Jamie Porter. Essex could do worse than giving Jamal Richards a good run of games, a highly-rated youngster with potential scope to contribute with bat & ball in the t20 format. It’s probably a season too early for him to become a regular, however, if others are still failing, they may as well give the chances to him.

Team strengths:

Spin options — Spin bowling has typically been one of the stronger area’s of Essex’ game anyway and they’ve further strengthened on that this year, by adding Matt Critchley. This gives them three primary spin options, plus Dan Lawrence if needed.

Batting depth — With Harmer carded 8, Essex have pretty good batting depth, the quality throughout the batting order isn’t always top notch but Sams and Harmer at 7 & 8 respectively, is better than quite a few teams.

Powerplay bowling — Sam Cook hasn’t exactly set the world on fire as a powerplay bowler in t20 cricket yet, however, with the control he has and the ability to swing the ball, you’d assume he’d only get better in that role in future seasons. Along with Daniel Sams, this gives Essex a few overs of good powerplay bowling early on and they’ve also got the option to bowl Arron Nijjar, if matchups dictate.

Team weaknesses:

Death overs bowling — Essex don’t really have any certainties in this phase. Cook did well last season but I’m hesitant to trust a sample size of only one season, other than him, the options look very limited and we might see an over or two of spin held back in attempt to compensate for their lack of pace bowling options at the death.

No high pace — Fairly self-explanatory but Essex are lacking a bowler that can push it through at 85+ mph, let alone 90+, which you’d ideally want at least one bowler that can do it in t20's.

One LHB/potential issues against spin — It’s a very RH heavy batting line up, with Paul Walter likely to be the only LHB in the side and he has a very middling t20 record. Essex do have a couple of players that are surprisingly good at attacking spin, like Westley and Sams but they don’t really have anyone that’s secure. Since 2019, the highest averaging player against spin in their squad is Tom Westley, with 25, which is extremely poor.

Second overseas — Harmer as a second overseas just isn’t that impressive, there are better options and you feel that if Essex truly want to compete in t20’s in the future, they’ll have to upgrade in this regard.

Player stats sheet:

Prediction: Won’t make the playoffs

Glamorgan

Last season’s finish: 9th in the group.

Winners of the wooden spoon award last time out, for the second time in three seasons. It’s been a tough time of it for Glamorgan in t20 cricket, failing to reach the knockout rounds since 2017 and they have the lowest win percentage of any team in the last three seasons by nearly 10%. Their win percentage of 31.58% is a poor effort in all honesty and they need to do much better. It’s not exactly a new scenario for Glamorgan to be struggling in t20 cricket, they’re one of only three teams that have never made it to a t20 blast final, along with Yorkshire & Derbyshire. They’ll have the ambition to change that this year but do they have the quality?

Overseas signings: Marnus Labuschagne, Colin Ingram & Michael Neser.

Labuschagne had his first successful tournament as a t20 player for Glamorgan last time out, scoring 390 runs in eight innings at a strike rate of just over 140 and will be looking to build on that this season. Such as the success of his red ball career, he has almost been labelled a ‘red-ball player’, without ever really having the chance to work on his t20 game. Backed up by the fact he has only played 27 t20’s, in comparison to 58 List A and 113 first class matches. You’d have to think there’s certainly a useful t20 player in there for certain teams, a player with that level of technique and the ability to bowl some part-time leg spin, is a valuable asset, he just needs more opportunites. He’ll get these with Glamorgan, though his time this year will likely be cut short due to his involvement with Australia for the ODI & Test series against Sri Lanka, starting in mid June.

Colin Ingram is available for the full season, though I’m not fully convinced by him anymore and he struggled in the Blast last season, scoring 174 runs in 11 matches, at a strike rate of 104. He did do slightly better batting up the order, which is where I expect him to bat this season; somewhere in the top three and he also had a good tournament batting in this position in the BPL (Bangladesh Premier League) earlier this year.

Michael Neser as an overseas isn’t the most exciting, though you can’t really complain, having a third overseas player with full availability is a bit of a luxury and he’ll provide cover when Labuschagne departs, if Glamorgan don’t sign an immediate replacement.

Possible XI:

Glamorgan have quite a few injury issues to contend with, especially in the bowling department, with Timm van der Gugten likely to miss the entire tournament and Ruiadhri Smith is also injured. New signing Eddie Byrom is also missing, which is a shame because he would’ve really strengthened their middle order batting. Sam Northeast will play in his absence and will likely bat in the top three, rather than at 4 or 5.

If the batting clicks, it does look like quite a nice batting line up. David Lloyd is a reliable opener at Blast level and has impressive powerplay numbers. Then you’ve got Labuschagne, Ingram, Carlson and Byrom to complete the top five, with Chris Cooke and Douthwaite at 6 & 7, who are two good death over hitting options. There are certainly worse batting line ups in the competition.

The problem for Glamorgan is the bowling and this was the case last year as well, where they were the most expensive team in the tournament and I don’t think they’ve actually improved their t20 bowling line up between seasons. It’s difficult to see them competing with the bowling options that they have.

Team strengths:

Batting order at full strength — As mentioned above, if player availability can align with when a couple of players return to full fitness, Glamorgan have a very decent batting order, that looks especially well-equipped to take down pace. There are still question marks against spin but the left handers (Ingram & Byrom) should help with that and Labuschagne can anchor against spin.

Lower order pace hitters — Chris Cooke has typically been one of the more underrated ‘finishers’ in the blast, although he didn’t have a great tournament last year, he had some weird entry points that didn’t really suit his game. His death overs strike rate of just over 200 is impressive and Glamorgan also have Douthwaite to contribute in this phase, who looks to be an improving t20 cricketer, giving them a couple of good options lower down the order.

Team weaknesses:

Pace bowling — Glamorgan look to be relying on Michael Hogan, with the injuries that van der Gugten and Smith have sustained. Michael Neser has played in their season opener, I’m unsure whether that’s due to an injury to Ingram or because of the team’s needs. In any case, he isn’t a standout t20 bowler either and Glamorgan’s pace attack looks mediocre at best.

Batting against spin — Byrom should help with this but if his injury his long-term, I’m concerned that this batting order could be bogged down by SLA/leg spin. Lloyd, Northeast, Cooke and Douthwaite all strike at under 110 against the ball turning away from them and none of them offer any sort of security either.

No primary spin option — They’ve got enough spin options but how many of them are genuine t20 quality? Sisodiya did well in his debut season in 2020, going at 6.5 rpo but found things more difficult last season, as did all of Glamorgan’s spinners. Glamorgan spinners conceded their runs at almost 9rpo last season, which was 1.5 above the tournament average and the most expensive by a distance. Their other spin options include Andrew Salter, who is an off spinner and Labuschagne to give them a part-time leg spin option. They’re lacking quality in this department.

Player stats sheet:

Prediction: Won’t make the play offs

Gloucestershire

Last season’s finish: 6th in the group

Gloucestershire have generally been one of the more consistent sides in the t20 blast, advancing through to the knockout rounds in each of the three seasons prior to last. I’m sure as much as anyone, they would’ve been disappointed with a sixth place finish last season and I was definitely expecting more from them. Dan Worrall as their second overseas didn’t work out at all, with him taking only three wickets in eight matches and general injury issues & availability problems went against them, resulting in an underwhelming season overall.

Overseas players: Glenn Phillips & Naseem Shah

If there was one positive for Gloucestershire, it would’ve been the performances of Glenn Phillips, after he scored 500 runs in 12 matches at a strike rate of over 160. He benefitted from playing a few games at 2nd XI grounds, nevertheless, they’re still extremely impressive numbers and it’ll be a big boost for Gloucestershire to have him back again this season.

Naseem Shah is another high quality overseas signing for Gloucestershire and is perhaps one of the most promising fast bowlers in the world. If you’ve read any of my other previews, you’ll know how highly I rate Naseem, particularly with the new ball but he has also showed promising signs at the death and was one of the best pace bowlers in the PSL earlier this year. A fantastic bit of business in my opinion.

Possible XI:

Unfortunately for Gloucestershire, this season seems to have started in a similar way to last season, with injuries to important players likely to impact their campaign. Namely Chris Dent and Graeme van Buuren, who are two key players for Gloucestershire and would definitely be in their first choice playing XI. I don’t really know the extent of their injuries but I believe both should take part in the competition at some stage.

When at full strength, the Gloucestershire XI looks pretty good, I’d expect Chris Dent would come in for James Bracey, while Van Meekeren would probably make way for Van Buuren and Phillips would keep wicket instead of Bracey:

This team gives them some extra batting depth but they do lose out slightly on bowling quality. However, they’ll still have four main bowling options (Naseem, Payne, Smith and Howell), with Higgins/Van Buuren and Taylor as fifth bowling options, which I think is enough quality and variety in the tank.

The interesting thing with the XI above is how they’d order their top four. Typically they’ve gone with a double LHB opening partnership of Dent & Hammond, with neither of these players excelling against spin, it seems a bit inefficient and makes you wonder whether they’d be temped to open with Phillips (which he has done regularly in CPL) and slide Hammond into the middle order, something he did for the Birmingham Phoenix last summer. I’m not saying it’s something they have to do but I think it’s an option worth exploring.

Team strengths:

New ball pairing — Naseem Shah and David Payne is definitely one of the better new ball partnerships in the competition, this should give Gloucestershire an edge in the powerplay with the ball and Bristol isn’t one of the easier grounds to bat at either. At the time of writing, they’re currently struggling against Middlesex but if we judge it over the course of a season, these two should be fine.

Balanced XI — As a result of having a genuine four over bowler in their top six (Benny Howell), Gloucestershire always seem to have one of the more balanced XI’s in the competition. Perhaps less so with players missing at the start of the tournament but when at full strength, they look to have a nice balance between bat & ball.

Pace hitters — Gloucestershire are one of the strongest pace hitting sides in the competition. They ranked fourth in this regard last season but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did even better this time around, if Dent & van Buuren are available for enough matches. Dent has some of the most impressive numbers against pace in the competition over the last two seasons (SR 179, AV 59) and he’ll destroy any sort of medium pace. In addition to that,Glenn Phillips, Benny Howell and Ian Cockbain all have good numbers against non-spin and Higgins/Van Buuren aren’t bad either.

Team weaknesses:

Openers against spin — As I mentioned earlier, two LHB’s opening isn’t ideal, considering the vast difference between Dent’s numbers against non-spin & spin. It’s not that Hammond is a bad opener by any means but you’d ideally want a RHB that can directly counter the weakness Dent has against spin, to stop opposition attacks front-loading spinners against the two LHB’s in the powerplay.

Injury issues — It’s not only the players currently injured but the likes of Naseem Shah & David Payne have both suffered injuries already this season. In a hectic schedule like we’re seeing with the t20 Blast, Gloucestershire may have to rest these two at times and the drop off in quality between them and other options is fairly significant.

Lacking a quality wrist spinner — A wrist spinner isn’t as crucial for Gloucestershire as it is for some other teams because they have Benny Howell, who can control the middle overs with his off-pace deliveries. However, it would still be nice for Gloucestershire to have a better wrist spin option, of which they don’t really have any in their squad.

Player stats sheet:

Prediction: 3rd

Maybe I’m consistently overrating Gloucestershire but I once again like the look of their team. Naseem Shah should be available for the full tournament and he has the potential to be a difference maker with the ball. As always, I’d prefer if they had a main wrist spin option but Benny Howell makes this less of an issue. Injuries to Dent and Van Buuren don’t seem too serious and I’m backing Gloucestershire for a top four finish.

Hampshire

Last season’s finish: 4th in group (Semi-finals)

Hampshire made it the semi-finals against all odds really, I didn’t really expect much from them after their performances in previous seasons (6th in 2020 & 7th in 2019). A big reason for their success, was the breakthrough campaign for Joe Weatherley, who scored over 400 runs, at a strike rate of just over 140, this made them less reliant on skipper James Vince with the bat and almost freed him up in a way.

Overseas players: Ben McDermott & Nathan Ellis.

Hampshire should benefit from having both of their Australian imports available for the full season. A nice bonus, considering they would’ve been fearing the worst after Australia’s three format tour (as well as ‘A’ team games) was announced. Injuries to players in those squads could yet derail the availability of McDermott and Ellis for Hampshire but as of now, they’re available for the entire tournament.

On the face of it, McDermott looks to be a great signing. He has enjoyed two impressive BBL campaigns in back to back seasons, scoring almost 1000 runs in total, while averaging 45 and striking at almost 150. A move to the top of the order has been key to this success and I expect him to open for Hampshire. His splits against opposition bowling types in those two seasons may surprise a few:

He has certainly held his own against spin, which isn’t something many Australian batters are able to do. It makes you question why he isn’t involved in any of those Australia squads. However, Australia’s loss should be Hampshire’s gain.

Nathan Ellis is another good signing, he seems to be one of those bowlers that delivers and you aren’t quite sure how because he doesn’t have any outstanding physical attributes. What he does have his a variety of slower balls and death overs bowling plans, which has led to him performing very well in the latter overs, especially in the BBL.

Possible XI:

The one major domestic signing Hampshire made between seasons was bringing in Ross Whiteley from Worcestershire. I expect him to slot in at 5/6 and hopefully it signals the end of Hampshire using Dawson as a middle order player but I’ll believe it when I see it.

There are couple of tough selections for the Hampshire coaching staff to make; the secondary opening spot and final pace bowling option. Tom Prest and Anuerin Donald, who has recovered from back to back knee ligament injuries, will compete to be McDermott’s opening partner. While Chris Wood, Brad Wheal and Scott Currie are competing for two pace bowling slots. Personally, I’m expecting Donald and Currie to be the ones to miss out but there isn’t really a right or wrong call in this situation.

Other issues Hampshire may have to contend with throughout the season will be the likely involvement of a couple of their players in the England ODI series. You’d assume James Vince and Liam Dawson would both be involved in that, which would be two big losses for Hampshire. Prest/Donald and Felix Organ would probably be the most likely replacements, though they may look to go bowling heavy and introduce whichever one of the domestic trio that isn’t playing, into the XI.

Team strengths:

Top order batting — Having two top order players with calibre of Vince & McDermott, as well as Weatherley and a high potential player like Tom Prest is certainly a strong four. It’s maybe lacking a LHB but Vince & McDermott are generally pretty good players of spin so I don’t think that issue will be terminal to the success of their top order.

Pace attack — A potential pace bowling attack of Ellis, Wood and Wheal/Currie is one of the better pace bowling line ups in the Blast. It has variety with different bowling styles and through the phases. Chris Wood will do most of the work in powerplays along with Wheal, while Ellis gives them extra cover for the later overs, which they’ve probably lacked in recent seasons.

Eight overs of quality spin — With Crane and Dawson, Hampshire probably have a top 5 leg spinner and top 3 SLA bowler in the country. Eight overs from these two at a ground like the Ageas Bowl is extremely beneficial and will be able to bog down RH-heavy batting line ups, of which there are quite a few.

Team weaknesses:

One left hander — Like many teams in the competition, Hampshire are also lacking LH batting options, with Whiteley likely to be the only LHB in their line up. This could cause them a few issues, though it’ll be less of a problem if McDermott can maintain the improvement he has shown against spin.

Unconvincing middle/lower order — Ross Whiteley is certainly a capable hitter but his numbers aren’t all that impressive in recent seasons and if he can’t get back to his best, the batting from 5–7 looks to be a problem again for Hampshire. Fuller is closer to a pinch-hitter type rather than being a genuine t20 batter, while Dawson can give you stability, is boundary hitting ability is certainly questionable. Hampshire will be banking on Whiteley re-gaining the form he showed for Southern Brave last summer because his last two Blast campaigns have been rather underwhelming.

Potential slow starts — Hampshire don’t really have anyone with a proven record of starting their innings quickly in their first 10 balls. Even middle order players like Whitley, Fuller and Dawson have all had first 10 ball strike rates of under 125 in the last three Blast seasons.

Player stats sheet:

Prediction: I’m not usually a massive fan of Hampshire teams in the t20 format but it’s hard to deny that they’ve certainly improved their squad over the last couple of years. I’m definitely not as buoyant about their chances as some but I do think they’ll probably reach the play offs again. To me, it looks relatively close between Kent, Gloucestershire and Hampshire for 3rd–5th, currently I’m thinking Hampshire in 4th.

Kent

Last season’s finish: 1st in the Group (Tournament winners)

It was a seriously impressive campaign from Kent last season, dodging Covid issues during the group stages, to the point where they had to change an entire squad and still managed to top the group. Before beating Birmingham, Sussex and then Somerset in the final, to win the tournament. Batting first in all three games, their spinners played a crucial role, particularly in the final, where Denly & Qais Ahmad took five wickets between them.

Overseas players: George Linde & Qais Ahmad

South African spinner Linde has signed a two year deal with Kent to play in all formats. He’ll likely bat at 7 and be an important bowler for them, overall, a good signing in my opinion and he’s probably very close to being a genuine all-rounder across all formats.

Qais Ahmad returns after a successful stint last season; 10 wickets was slightly lean, however, he only conceded them at 6.65 rpo and offered impressive control through the middle overs and also offers a bit of batting ability lower down the order.

Possible XI:

Is it a team that can win back to back titles? I certainly don’t think it’s the strongest XI in the tournament but it’s a solid one, that should be able to compete, even when they lose Crawley to England duty. Muyeye is placed as the replacement for Crawley, although it’s probably more likely to be Denly shuffled up the order one spot to open and the same for Billings/Cox, with Alex Blake coming into the team to bat at 5/6.

The batting looks strong on paper, with the only issue potentially being the lack of left-handed batting options. Other than that, it has quality and depth throughout early. I don’t think Denly should be as much of a ‘lock’ in the XI as he’s likely to be, his bowling will keep his place secure though. As for the bowling, I’m not fully convinced by it but the spinners should keep them competitive enough.

Team strengths:

Opening partnership — I’m unsure of how many games the trusty pair of Bell-Drummond & Crawley will have together, however, the matches they do play together will be a big boost for Kent. The two have performed an extremely reliable partnership and both average in the mid 40’s in t20 blast powerplays since 2018.

Lower order pace hitters — Kent look to have good options when it comes to pace hitting later in the innings. Billings & Cox can both accelerate when set, while Leaning and Blake (when he plays) are fairly well known for being good pace hitters and George Linde is far better than the numbers suggest.

Spin attack — Two primary spin options with Linde & Qais Ahmad, plus Joe Denly as a secondary spin option, as well as Jack Leaning as a potential match up bowler. All in all, a versatile spin attack, with enough quality to boot.

Team weaknesses:

Lack of LHB’s — At full strength, Kent are even more all-in in the RHB’s than most other teams, with only George Linde at number 7 as the solitary LHB and I doubt they’ll promote him up the order to counter matchups. Alex Blake will likely play when Billings is on England duty, though his numbers against spin are questionable. They do have some relatively secure players against spin but don’t really have that can attack against it.

Uninspiring pace attack — The duo of Milnes and Klaassen did well for Kent last season but I do get the sense they overperformed. This could leave Kent a little light in the pace bowling department, with no overseas option available (they’ve had Adam Milne for a couple of seasons) and their back up domestic pace options (Quinn & Stewart) aren’t high quality options either.

Player stats sheet:

Prediction: 4th/5th

Middlesex

Last season’s finish: 8th in Group

A relatively uneventful campaign for Middlesex last season. They weren’t completely terrible at anything, they were just below average/average in most aspects of the game, which led to their 8th place finish. As it is for a few teams, it isn’t exactly surprising when Middlesex do poorly in a t20 competition, they’ve only qualified for the knockout rounds once since 2016 and generally don’t have a very good t20 team in my opinion.

Overseas players: Mujeeb ur Rahman, Chris Green & Jason Behrendorff.

On the overseas front, things don’t look as promising as they once did for Middlesex. Initially, the plan was Mujeeb and Shaheen Afridi, which would’ve been a seriously good overseas pairing for Blast level. Issues with availability has led to it being Mujeeb (for part of the season), covered by Chris Green and Jason Behrendorff. Decent t20 players but not on the level that they were expecting to have available.

Possible XI:

The batting looks okay while at full strength, when Morgan inevitably misses a few games, who replaces him? It’ll likely be Jack Davies which would make it a relatively inexperienced t20 batting line up, with Holden, Cracknell and Hollman also in the team. It also might not be the worst thing in the world given the failures of more senior players in the last few seasons.

Team strengths:

Spinners — A potential double leg spin attack of Sowter and Hollman plus Mujeeb/Chris Green, who are both good defensive spinners, leaves the Middlesex spin attack in a strong position. Obviously Mujeeb is a better bowler than Green but both are decent enough options.

Batting against spin — Middlesex were the third fastest scoring side against spin last season and do have a few good players of spin bowling. Holden, Cracknell and Simpson all have decent enough numbers, while I’d expect Morgan to do okay against spin at t20 blast level. This is backed up by the numbers (Av 40, SR 147) against spin in the blast since 2018, although most of that was in 2018 & 19, when Morgan was performing at a far higher level than he is now.

Team weaknesses:

Batting depth — Especially in the games Mujeeb will play instead of Chris Green, Middlesex look particularly light on batting depth, with Nathan Sowter likely to bat at 7. They look very reliant on Eskinazi not only giving them fast starts but also showing the consistency of an anchor-type player.

Death overs hitting — I think Simpson has shown improvements in this regard, however, you wouldn’t say he’s a top tier option in this regard. Apart from Morgan, who’s likely to miss at least a few games throughout the tournament, Middlesex don’t really have any good options when it comes to hitting at the death.

Death overs bowling — Helm would be their go to guy in this phase with the ball but he’s currently struggling with an injury and in any case, his record at the death in recent years hasn’t been all that impressive anyway. Overseas signing Jason Behrendorff is typically a powerplay dominant bowler and Blake Cullen is relatively inexperienced. Who will they bowl in the later overs? It wouldn’t surprise me if we saw a few overs of spin held back.

Player stats sheet:

Prediction: Won’t make the play offs.

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