T20 Blast preview — North Group

The nine teams that make up the North Group are the Birmingham Bears, Derbyshire, Durham, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Worcestershire and Yorkshire.

Image from the vitality blast twitter account.

Nottinghamshire were last seasons winners, beating Surrey in the final, in a 16 over game. The shortened games of finals day last season weren’t really a surprise, after all it took place in early October. The provisional date for finals day this year is Saturday 18th September.

Here is a summary of each teams stats from the 2020 season and the last three seasons combined. The colour coding is fairly self-explanatory: Green = top 6 side for that stat, orange = middle 6 side for that stat & red = bottom 6 side for that stat.

Of course it isn’t perfect due to the different playing conditions you have across different venues in cricket. However if you’re racking up lots of red/orange for batting & bowling it’s likely that the team is poor, or they don’t know what stats make the difference in t20 cricket.

Stats from the 2020 blast season
Stats from the last three seasons of the t20 blast

Birmingham Bears

The t20 blast has been relatively unsuccessful for the Bears in recent seasons, as they’ve failed to qualify to the knockout rounds in any of the past three seasons. A poor showing for a club of their size.

Naturally, a good place to start feels like looking at the significant changes they’ve made to their squad between seasons. A number of stalwarts have left the club; Tim Ambrose, Ian Bell and Jeetan Patel all retired at the end of last season, Bell and Patel in particular were huge parts of their t20 side over the past few seasons. In terms of replacements, bringing in Danny Briggs was pretty good business, a steady left arm orthodox bowler with bags of experience in the t20 game. When it comes to replacing Bell, no specific signings have been made and the club will be pinning their hopes on youngsters Rob Yates and Dan Mousley to help smooth the transition.

Overseas player(s): Carlos Brathwaite (all 14 group games)

Likely to be their only overseas signing for the Blast, the Bears will need Brathwaite to be a success with bat and ball if they’re to make it out of the group stages. Something which he hasn’t always done, his strike rate of 112 and dismissal rate of every 10.27 balls (in the top 5 t20 leagues and t20i’s) since the start of 2018 isn’t exactly representative of a high quality lower order batsmen. However, he has come back well with the ball in t20's after a dreadful 2019 where he went at almost 9.5 rpo, since the start of 2020 he has gone at a much more respectable 8.08 rpo. If omens are something you believe in, then it’s surely looking good for Carlos after he struck a century and took four wickets in a 2nd XI/warm up t20 match on his debut for the club.

In terms of fixtures, Leicestershire and Lancashire are the two sides that Birmingham don’t play twice. A fairly good result for Birmingham as neither of those sides are amongst the weaker sides in the group in my opinion.

Strengths:

Scoring rate through the middle overs - this has been a strength for Birmingham over the last few seasons. A big part of this has been Adam Hose, who strikes at just under 160 in this phase.

Spin Bowling - Statistically they were just above average in terms of economy rate last season but I expect they’ll be one of the better sides in this regard, this season. Danny Briggs is a solid performer and Jake Lintott gives them something no other teams have.

Weaknesses:

Batting line up in general - They just look like they’re lacking t20 batters. Pollock, Hose and Brathwaite are the only players they have that look like they’re capable of scoring at high strike rates. With the inconsistency of Pollock and Brathwaite, I feel like they needed a top order overseas player.

Powerplay batting - Has been once specific area of batting where they’ve failed in recent seasons. There is some hope for Birmingham as Ed Pollock has been in good form for the 2nd XI, hitting 241 runs in five innings at a strike rate of over 170.

Possible XI:

Initially, depending on the availability of Chris Woakes this is what their side could look like. If Woakes is unavailable a potential replacement for him could be either Dan Mousley or Will Rhodes. Dom Sibley and Olly Stone will be unavailable for the first few games, due to test duty, the latter a much bigger loss, while Woakes will probably be involved in the 50 over squad for England later in the summer. A few minor issues with availability but relatively low key in comparison to some of the other counties.

In regards to the team selection, the majority of the players pick themselves. Pollock will be charged with getting the team off to a quick start and Birmingham will be desperate for him to find the form he showed in the first two seasons of the blast. Across the 2017 & 18 seasons, he managed 506 runs in 22 innings at a strike rate of just over 175, whereas in the 2019 & 20 seasons his numbers dropped significantly, scoring 190 runs in 11 innings at a strike rate of 140.

Adam Hose is a key player for the Bears, he is one of the only players in their squad that can boast a strong record against spin. As such, I’m not sure I’m a huge fan of shouts to move him to the top of the order. His role in the team looks to have far more upside batting in the middle order.

On the bowling side of things they look to have some nice variety in their attack. With two spin options at completely different ends of the spectrum, with the slow left arm option of Briggs and a mystery chinaman in Lintott, who had a breakthrough season in last season’s competition. Henry Brookes is an exciting fast bowler, capable of reaching high speeds and has an above average strike rate. If they can always have one of Chris Woakes or Olly Stone in the side it would be a big boost for their chances this season, Woakes would offer powerplay overs which they need, while Stone offers raw pace and huge wicket taking threat.

Overall, they look like a stronger side than last season but the same could be said for almost every side in the competition. I understand it’s a difficult market to make overseas signings in but I feel like not having a second overseas could come back to bite them, as the batting looks a little short to me.

Prediction: 5/6th in the group stage, will be close to making the knockout rounds but will fall just short.

After reaching finals day for the first time in 2019, Derbyshire failed to kick on in 2020, finishing bottom of the Northern Group, winning just one of their 10 matches. The absence of any overseas players was obviously a huge factor here but even still, managing just one win was a poor return.

Overseas players: Ben McDermott (all games), Logan Van Beek (all games)

Ben McDermott looks like a solid pick up, having performed reasonably well in the big bash and coming off one of his more successful seasons in the tournament. Where he hit 402 runs in 12 innings at a strike rate of just under 140 and as someone that can bat in multiple positions in the middle order, he looks like an astute signing. Also likely to keep wicket for Derbyshire this season.

Logan Van Beek was a late replacement for Billy Stanlake who was ruled out for the season through injury. Having previously played for Derbyshire in their 2019 campaign, he’ll be in a familiar environment. Though he’ll want to improve on his stats from his first stint where he took nine wickets in 31 overs, at an economy rate of 8.52, bowling the majority of his overs in the powerplay. He can also add a bit of lower order hitting.

In terms of fixtures, the two teams Derbyshire don’t play twice are Worcestershire and Durham.

Likely playing XI:

*McDermott now unavailable

With McDermott unavailable, Brooke Guest will likely to take his place as wicket keeper and probably bat down the order at 6/7, with Leus Du Plooy coming in at 3.

Derbyshire are unlikely to be impacted by too many availability issues and should have their first choice squad available for the entire tournament. Despite some underwhelming stats for some of the players in their XI, the majority of the players are almost certain to play. Perhaps the two main decisions will be the second spinner, with Mattie Mckiernan and recently signed Alex Thomson competing for that spot and the final pace bowler in the XI. Michael Cohen and his left arm option could give him the edge but George Scrimshaw and Sam Conners are other options for this position.

Strengths:

Batting through the middle overs - Derbyshire have typically been decent in this area, however a major part of that has been Wayne Madsen, at 37, how much longer can they pin their hopes on him for?

Weaknesses:

Bowling - They were pretty dreadful in all aspects of bowling last season and they haven’t really done too much to address that. Logan Van Beek may offer something extra but not the significant improvement they needed.

Batting powerplays - Went at 5.98 runs per over in this phase last season and in the last three seasons they’ve been one of the worst sides. It’s easy to see why when their most common openers have strike rates of 116 and 120 respectively.

*Ben McDermott has been called up to the Australia squad so will miss the entire group stage phase

Prediction: Will fail to qualify for the knockout rounds, look like one of the weaker sides in the group.

Durham

Since making the quarter finals in 2018, Durham have failed to make the group stages in the last two seasons. Finishing sixth (out of 9) in 2019 and fourth (out of 6) in 2020. Their chances will be boosted this season by the possible availability of Ben Stokes for a few of the opening games, potentially more, if England decide against rushing him back for the series against Sri Lanka.

One other major signing in the off season saw the return of Scott Borthwick to the club, though I’m unsure on how regularly he’ll play in the Blast.

Ben Stokes might not be ready to play in the opening games so both Alex Lees and Scott Borthwick are likely to play.

Overseas players: Cameron Bancroft & David Bedingham

Durham haven’t announced any overseas signings specifically for the t20 blast, so I’m going to assume that they’ll be using Bedingham and Bancroft. The latter likely to keep wicket for them. Neither player jumps out as big upgrades over domestic options, both have a career t20 strike rate in the low 120’s, though Durham will be hoping Bedingham will gain confidence from his red ball form already this summer. Bancroft will likely open or bat at 3, while I expect Bedingham to bat at 4 or 5.

Strengths:

Top order batting - Graham Clark has been very reliable for Durham, a fast scorer in the powerplay and he could form a strong partnership in the games he plays with Ben Stokes.

Weaknesses:

Middle order batting - The middle order doesn’t look great for Durham. Bancroft is best opening but because of the team dynamic will most likely bat at 3 or 4 and Bedingham was unconvincing the middle order last season.

Death Overs bowling - Considering they play at one of the biggest grounds in the country, it should be a big concern that they were below average in this regard. Matty Potts looks like the only reasonable death bowler they have in the squad when Mark Wood is unavailable.

Lancashire

Lancashire have been one of the more consistent domestic sides in the t20 blast in recent seasons, having made it out of the group stages in the past three seasons. They’ve also made finals day in two of the last three seasons, exiting at the semi-final stage on both occasions.

Expectations will be high for Lancashire as always and they’ll be expected to win it. Their quest to do so, will be helped initially by Jos Buttler, after it was announced he’d be playing in their first six games of the Blast. In what will be his first appearances in the competition since 2018.

As expected, Lancashire look very strong when they are at their strongest, this is what the team could look like pre-England games:

A strong side, with an explosive batting unit and plenty of bowling options and variety. The problem for Lancashire, as is often the case for bigger counties is availability of players. As many as four players could be missing for the second half of the group stages. Buttler is certain to be missing and you could make a strong case for any of Livingstone, Mahmood and Parkinson getting a call up and they’ve all been in and around the squads recently. I think it’s highly likely they’ll be missing at least three of the four, as Livingstone has featured for England in the most recent white ball series and Parkinson has often been the back up wrist spinner for England. Whether or not Saqib Mahmood gets called up it remains to be seen but it would be brutal for Lancashire if they lost all four players.

Keaton Jennings, Tom Hartley, Richard Gleeson, George Lavelle and Tom Bailey would be the most likely players to come in for the departing England players after the first six games. They still have some good players waiting in the wings but there is no denying the considerable drop off in quality.

Overseas players: Finn Allen & Dane Vilas

Finn Allen is one of the most exciting pick ups as an overseas player for the blast this season. Allen has burst onto the scene in the domestic t20 competition in New Zealand in the last two seasons, which led to him being capped in the same format for NZ this year. In the three games he played, he scored 88 runs in 3 innings at a strike rate of 220. Batting with similar intent to what he showed in the domestic competition. He adds some firepower to the top of the Lancashire order and will look to be particularly aggressive in the powerplay. Has been relatively untested against wrist spin in his career thus far but a brief stint in the RCB camp won’t have done him any harm in that regard.

Vilas has been a solid player for in the t20 blast in recent seasons. Lancashire will be hoping the extra batting they have this year will give Vilas more freedom than he has had in past years.

Strengths:

Top order batting - A top four of Buttler, Allen, Davies and Livingstone (order is unsure) is one of the best top fours you’re likely to see in the Blast, so for the games they have all four available this will be a massive strength for Lancashire.

Spin bowling - It’s no secret how good Matt Parkinson has been for them but Steven Croft and Tom Hartley have also made very handy contributions. Both going at under 7 runs per over in the blast since 2018.

Weaknesses:

Lower order/death overs hitting - Have fallen well below the tournament average consistently in this regard. They don’t have the deepest batting line up, with Danny Lamb likely to be batting at number 7. Their best chance of doing well in this phase is if top order players are still batting at the end of an innings.

Prediction: Should qualify for the knockout rounds, most likely with a top two finish.

Leicestershire

Dominant in the early days of the competition, the three time winners have been a far cry from that level in recent seasons. Having reached the knockout rounds just twice in the last six seasons. Though last season was a lot more successful, as they reached the quarter final stage and were only knocked out by eventual winners Notts by virtue of scoring less runs in the powerplay, after the match ended in a tie. A very unlucky outcome for Leicestershire but clear progress had been shown from the previous two seasons, where they finished 8th and 9th in the group stage.

Expectations will be raised for this season to build on some impressive performances from last season. A couple of domestic players that could feature in their blast campaign are Scott Steel and Rishi Patel. Steel had a strong season in 2019 for Durham, hitting 369 runs in 11 innings at a strike rate of 136.7, which is very respectable considering that Durham is one of the slower scoring venues. Last season wasn’t so successful for him but at just 22, there is still plenty of time to bounce back. Rishi Patel is yet to play a professional t20 match, though he has played a few list A games, as well as some 2nd XI t20 games. He has opened in a few matches for Leicestershire’s 2nd XI so far this season, having said that a middle order role might be his best chance at breaking into the side currently.

Overseas players: Naveen-Ul-Haq & Josh Inglis

Two exciting cricketers that will be available for the entire campaign.

Naveen is a right arm medium fast bowler, who has shown wicket taking potential in three phases. A rare skill for any bowler. He had a strong campaign in his debut outing in a major t20 comp, in the CPL last year. Finishing with 11 wickets, going at an economy rate of 6.43, though the pitches were favourable for the bowlers. He has strong records in all phases so it’s going to be really interesting to see how Leicestershire use him.

Inglis has been a reliable performer for Perth Scorchers in the big bash for multiple seasons now. Reliable is probably underestimating his performances a bit, he has been produced strong numbers in multiple positions. As such, it makes it difficult to figure out where he is going to bet. His strong record against spin, averaging just under 39 and striking at 147 since the start of 2018, would suggest a middle order slot would be best. However he also has a brilliant record opening the batting and that familiar debate re-appears, do you want your best players to bat in the toughest position (commonly thought to be number 4) or where they’ll get the opportunity to face the most balls in t20 cricket? You could make a strong case for either but I think he’ll open for Leicestershire in the Blast.

Strengths:

Spin bowling - Slightly surprising how well Leicestershire spin bowlers have done, given they’ve rarely utilised any wrist spin. Just goes to show how well Callum Parkinson and Colin Ackermann have done for them.

Death overs bowling - Part of this might be down to venue but Gavin Griffiths and Will Davis both have strong numbers in this phase, although it’s a small sample size. Naveen-Ul-Haq should also help in this regard and I expect it’ll be a strength for Leicestershire again this season.

Weaknesses:

Middle/lower order batting - Looks like a big weak point for Leicestershire on paper. After Ackermann at 4, there isn’t much proven t20 quality to come. Ben Mike at 7 is fine but number 5 & 6 could be a problem.

Powerplay batting - In the past this has been a big issue for Leicestershire, however Inglis and Steel should help resolve this.

Prediction: Will be close to making the play offs, think they’ll finish 4th/5th. Other counties having England players available in different periods may count against them.

Northamptonshire

Since winning the trophy in 2016, Northants have made it out of the group stage just once in four attempts. However that was last season, so it should offer some confidence after some poor displays in the previous three seasons. They were well beaten in the quarter finals by a strong Gloucestershire side as they were bowled out for 113 and the hosts chased it down inside 12 overs, with seven wickets in hand.

As they look to build on last season, they announced the permanent signing of Tom Taylor from Leicestershire, a right arm pace bowler who provides valuable lower order hitting. In fact, his 50 from 27 balls in a partnership with Graeme White, in the final game of the group stages last season was crucial in allowing Northants to progress to the quarter finals.

Overseas players: Wayne Parnell & Mohammad Nabi

Both players have plenty of experience in the t20 blast and while both may be past their best, I still expect good performances from Nabi in particular.

For the other opening slot they may give a chance to Vasconcelos, who has been in good form this summer in other formats but has yet to crack t20’s in the chances he has been given.

Strengths:

Lower order hitting - Northants have a deep batting line up, as demonstrated in the game that got them through to the quarter finals last season. Tom Taylor and Graeme White won them the game batting at 8 & 9, showcasing how deep they can bat.

Weaknesses:

Batting against spin - The three players that are certain to be in the top four (Levi, Cobb and Rossington) are all slow scorers against spin. Their hopes against spin look to be placed on Nabi but he can very hit or miss against high quality spin.

Death overs bowling - Two of the main options they have here are Nathan Buck and Ben Sanderson both go at over 10.5 runs per over at the death. They’ll need good performances from Wayne Parnell who goes at a more respectable 8.72 runs per over.

Overall the squad just seems to have too many gaps. The top order has been very inconsistent in recent seasons and I’m not sure the pace bowling is good enough to defend under par scores. They also have an ageing squad, which could add further inconsistency to performances.

Prediction: Won’t make the knockout rounds

Nottinghamshire

Last season’s winners, were one of the strongest sides the competition has seen. One major reason for this is because they still managed to sign two overseas players, in a season where most counties couldn’t even get one, this was obviously a huge advantage.

‘Old guys win stuff’ was a phrase that was branded around when they won the comp, as seven of their most common playing XI last season were over the age of 30. So it seems slightly ironic that their best player with the bat last season was Joe Clarke (24 at the time) and Jake Ball was their leading wicket taker (29 at the time.) Which doesn’t exactly fit in with the ‘Old guys win stuff’ tag, like I’ve already said two overseas players and no availability issues, which allowed them to pick the same XI almost every game is a probably a more appropriate reason as to why they won the competition. Nevertheless they were obviously a very strong side last season and will be the team to beat this season. Having made it to the quarter finals at least in the last five seasons, it’s easy to see why.

Things haven’t been so straight forward for Notts this season, the late call up to the Australian squad for Dan Christian will cause havoc with their planning. Also their t20 skipper, Christian will miss the entire group stage of the t20 blast, meaning they’re currently left with Dane Paterson as their only option for an overseas player, who hasn’t played a t20 match since 2019. Paterson has a reasonable t20 record but lack of game time means I’m not sure they’ll select him, at least initially anyway.

With Christian out and a replacement unlikely to be available straight away, it means they’ll have to make at least three major changes to the XI which won the tournament last time out. As they have also last Imad Wasim and Chris Nash retired from all forms of cricket.

Initially I did think they might push Joe Clarke up to open but with Christian now unavailable I think it’s more likely he stays at 3. Meaning the opener to partner Hales will likely be either Ben Slater or an academy player. Slater hasn’t played a t20 since 2018 so Sol Budinger could be an option, who has scored two fifties in five games for the second XI so far this and as a LHB he could compliment Hales well. Which could leave the XI looking something like this:

Still have plenty of batting depth but having Trego as the sixth bowler, rather than Christian could cause issues. Especially when they already have Mullaney, who is a similar bowler and basically only bowls through the middle overs.

Strengths:

Batting boundary percentage - They have plenty of players that can hit boundaries regularly. This starts with Hales at the top of the order and continues with Clarke, Duckett and Moores through the middle overs. There hitting ability towards the back end of the innings has taken a hit with the departure of Dan Christian but Trego and Mullaney should be able to do a decent enough job.

Scoring rate against spin - Historically they’ve been one of the best in the competition at hitting spin. Duckett, Clarke and Moores all have very strong records against spin.

Weaknesses:

Sixth bowler - It’s entirely possible in plenty of t20 games that a sixth bowler will be required. As such, it’s far from ideal that the sixth bowler for Notts looks to be Peter Trego. The bowling line up they have in general looks like it could be taken down by any match up savvy side.

Prediction: Should still make the knockout rounds as they have plenty of quality players in the squad but will be less convincing than last season.

Worcestershire

Winners in 2018 and runners up in 2019, Worcestershire suffered a reality check 2020, finishing bottom of their group and winning just two out of the 10 games. A massive decline, so where did it all go wrong?

Looking at this spreadsheet it’s easy to see where… the bowling. Worcestershire’s bowling economy rate was 9.13, 1.06 rpo above the tournament average last season as well as having the fourth worst strike rate in the tournament. Not exactly a recipe for success. It wasn’t just the overall numbers that were a problem, it was a lack of variety in the bowling attack. Only 16.83% of their deliveries were bowled by spinners, the lowest in the competition by 10%, added to the fact they didn’t have any left arm pace variation this creates a huge problem and you can’t execute match ups properly.

The good thing for Worcestershire fans is that they have worked to address this in the form of their overseas signings; Ben Dwarshuis and Ish Sodhi.

Ish Sodhi comes in as a late replacement for Sandeep Lamichhane, credit to Worcestershire for securing a decent last minute replacement. Meaning a possible XI could look something like this:

Choosing to go with two overseas bowlers makes the XI look great initially but when Moeen Ali leaves for England duty it does make the batting look a little light. Worcestershire will be hoping to counter this through batting depth, with both Dwarshuis and Sodhi at 9 & 10 respectively capable of clearing the ropes. The bowling line up looks much better this season though and contains plenty of variety and with less burden on Pat Brown to be the sole wicket taker hopefully he can get back to his best.

Strengths:

Powerplay batting - Worcestershire were one of the best sides in the powerplay last season and that will only be further boosted by the return of Moeen Ali for the first few games.

Middle overs batting/batting against spin - Has typically been another decent area for Worcestershire and should once again be helped by Moeen Ali, who is one of the fastest scorers against spin in world cricket.

Weaknesses:

Death overs bowling - They’ve addressed quite a few of their bowling issues through the overseas signings. However, death overs bowling still looks problematic. While Dwarshuis is okay in this phase, his main strength is with the new ball, bowling over 45% of his overs in the powerplay. Death overs bowling still looks reliant on Pat Brown, who is a regular wicket taker but can be expensive and is coming off a poor campaign last season.

Spin bowling - Is just Ish Sodhi enough to fix their spin issues? I’m not so sure…

Death overs batting - Have often been below average in this area, which isn’t really surprising when you look at the boundary percentages of the players that are likely to be batting from 5–8. Ross Whiteley is the only player with a boundary percentage higher than 16%.

Prediction: Should qualify to the knockout rounds, if they can get off to a strong start while Moeen Ali is around.

Yorkshire

For a club the size of Yorkshire, not making it out of the group stages in the last four seasons is beyond a failure. While they’re often missing a large amount of players, missing out in one or two seasons would be excusable but four in a row is a really poor effort.

Availability has been an easy excuse for performances in the past, such reasoning won’t be possible this time around. As they will have Bairstow, Rashid and Malan available for the first five games at least, as well as David Willey likely being available for the entire tournament. There is also the possibility that Joe Root may appear at some point, meaning Yorkshire should have a strong squad throughout.

Overseas players: Lockie Ferguson & Duanne Olivier

In Lockie Ferguson, Yorkshire have one of the fastest bowlers in world cricket. Ferguson bowled 23 of the fastest 100 balls in the 2020 IPL season, despite only playing five of the games. He has an excellent record for New Zealand in t20 and 50 over cricket and I’m sure a few players won’t be looking forward to face him.

Olivier isn’t guaranteed to play, he has a mixed t20 record which is summed up by his numbers for Yorkshire so far. In limited matches, he went at 11.24 runs per over in the 2019 season and 6.64 in the 2020 season. When he gets it right he can be a handful but consistency has been a problem in the past. Yorkshire may opt to play Matt Fisher or Ben Coad in his place.

Strengths:

Top order batting - An initial top four of Lyth, Bairstow, Malan and Kohler-Cadmore is absurd at blast level. Yorkshire should be aiming to win every game with the XI they’ll have for the first few games.

Batting depth - If the team is set up in the way I’m expecting it to be, the likely XI will see Jordan Thompson batting at 8, with Lockie Ferguson and Adil Rashid batting at 9 & 10, who are both capable batters. When you pair that with the top order as well as a possible middle order of Brook, Willey and Fraine, Yorkshire have a formidable batting line up.

Weaknesses:

Death overs bowling - They don’t really have any specialists in this regard and it isn’t Ferguson’ main strength either. He bowls just under 16% of his overs at the death. They could leak a few runs here.

Spin bowling when Rashid departs? - Not sure if it’s a huge concern but Rashid to Poysden is a big drop off in quality. Poysden has respectable numbers at blast level and should be able to do a job. If not, off spinner Jack Shutt has been in great form for the 2nd XI, taking 12 wickets in six games at an economy rate of 5.17.

Prediction: Will make it through to the knockout rounds, I expect them to finish in the top two in the group.

That concludes the North Group preview, if pushed for a final group standings I would go for:

  1. Yorkshire
  2. Lancashire
  3. Notts
  4. Worcestershire
  5. Leicestershire
  6. Birmingham
  7. Durham
  8. Northants
  9. Derbyshire

Majority of data used in this is from cricmetric.

Thanks for reading!