The red ball has been put away for a bit on the county circuit and the white ball comes out on Wednesday when the 2021 Vitality Blast, the English domestic T20 competition, begins under what are expected to be blue skies.
Nottinghamshire took advantage of the restrictions and everything else that impacted last season to win the title and they will be hoping to make a successful defence of their crown this term. 17 other counties will once again be out to deny them.
2020 – Nottinghamshire
2019 – Essex
2018 – Worcestershire
2017 – Nottinghamshire
2016 – Northamptonshire
2015 – Lancashire
2014 – Birmingham Bears
2013 – Northamptonshire
2012 – Hampshire
2011 – Leicestershire
We are back to the format that we had prior to the pandemic striking this year. That means we have the two groups – North and South – with each team playing the other eight in their group once and then six of the teams once more giving 14 group matches per county. Crowds are in attendance this season too which is a positive. The top four from each group at the end of the first phase will go into the quarter finals where we have N1 vs S4 N2 vs S3 S2 vs N3 S1 vs N4. The winners of those quarter finals will head to Finals Day which once again is at Edgbaston on September 18.
All eyes will be on the defending champions Nottinghamshire Outlaws in the North Group although they look hard pushed to defend the title. Leicestershire Foxes fans will argue the Outlaws shouldn’t be defending the title as they had their quarter final between the two in the palm of their hands and then a misfield and a botched run out at the wrong times sent Notts to finals day ahead of them. Dan Christian will miss out for Nottinghamshire after his international call up while Harry Gurney has called it a day.
Lancashire Lightning have a good pedigree in this competition and with Jos Buttler around for the opening six games they should get off to a good start while the likes of Worcestershire Rapids, Birmingham Bears and Northamptonshire Steelbacks have all lifted this trophy in recent times. Yorkshire should be looking to do better than they have recently and Jonny Bairstow and Adil Rashid available early doors. Durham Jets will be looking to utilise Ben Stokes at some point this season but the likes of Derbyshire Falcons have a bit to find on paper.
Essex were the 2019 winners of this competition and they will be looking to launch their title campaign from the South Group but their T20 record is very mixed and you have to catch them on the right day these days. Surrey were beaten in the final last season and the addition of the Curran brothers in the early part of the campaign will help them but whether they are available at the business end of it remains to be seen. They look plenty short enough anyway.
Gloucestershire also made it to finals day last season and they will be looking to at least repeat that here while Hampshire are regular attendees to the big day but their party goes flatter than one of the host venues beers quite quickly. Sussex are always a dangerous side in this competition but Rashid Khan isn’t here all summer and Jofra Archer is injured which are both concerns. Kent, Somerset and Glamorgan hold outside chances but Middlesex look a little out of their depth in this company.
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I’ll take a county in each group outright in the hope that we get both into the quarter finals and hopefully to Finals Day. When Warwickshire, or the Birmingham Bears as they are known in this competition, signed Danny Briggs I thought that was a statement of intent for this tournament and then when you add the marquee overseas addition of Carlos Brathwaite to that it would suggest my original hunch is correct. They are two excellent bowlers in this format of the game to go in with the likes of Oliver Hannon-Dalby, Olly Stone when he is around, Chris Woakes when he is there, Henry Brookes and Tim Bresnan. There is no shortage of excitement in the Bears batting either with Ed Pollock coming in to be let loose at the top of the order while Adam Hose and Sam Hain are brilliant one day cricketers. Dom Sibley will join the squad a week into the competition as well. Warwickshire are going great guns in the Championship and look equally as well suited to this format too. I think the 14/1 on them to win this tournament, bearing in mind they are at home should they make the semis and final, is a little too big.
From the South Group I’ll go with Gloucestershire. They have improved so much in this format in recent times. I actually thought they might miss Michael Klinger last season but they didn’t. They still made the semi-finals when they came out on the wrong end of what turned into a bit of a 11 over farce given the conditions. They will be without James Bracey for the first part of the competition as he fills in with England but he only averaged 18 last season and they have Glenn Phillips in position to do everything he does, albeit do it in a way much better suited to this format. Benny Howell only played five matches for Gloucestershire last season due to injury so there is natural improvement to come from this Gloucestershire side. The going has got a little tough for them in four day cricket recently but they still have every chance in the Championship. I think this is a squad better suited to T20 so the fact they have started so well in the Championship bodes well for them here.
I’ll take a couple of bets in the top batsman market as well. I’m always keen to take a Birmingham player in this market because there is so much cricket at Edgbaston that they always play their Blast fixtures on the edge of the square where there is always a short boundary or two. The player I like in their ranks is Adam Hose who they have confirmed will open the batting. He’ll be the glue for the likes of Pollock, Yates, Hain and Brathwaite to go bonkers around so he won’t be taking risks but can still score pretty quickly. He averages over 30 in this format of the game and given the dimensions of the pitch he’ll be playing seven of his matches on, and then factor in that a couple of others are at Headingley and Trent Bridge which aren’t big grounds anymore and he can go well.
Luke Wright is the other player I’ll take a chance on. I don’t know how well Sussex will go but it would be a shock if Wright doesn’t contribute with the bat. He is a regular scorer at this level and usually puts up big runs in a season. Usually I don’t like backing captains in this format but Wright has been leading for so long now that he’ll be used to it. Wright was the third leading scorer in this competition last season and has already walloped 80 odd in a warm up match for this event. He has been one of the better batsmen in the country for a while and the Hove wicket is always good for batting. He’ll also have tiny grounds like Chelmsford and The Oval to fill his boots at as well so the 20/1 on him is a little big too.
I’m not a massive fan of going deep in the bowler market for a couple of reasons. The first reason is we only have the one bookmaker pricing it up so the overround is ridiculous. Another reason is that I usually get drawn towards Matt Parkinson in this market but he’s a little too close to an England white ball bubble for my liking so if he enters that his chances will go with it. The other reason is because there is so little between the end numbers.
Given that I don’t like Parkinson here I’ll have a play on David Payne, the man who finished third last season and would probably have won it had Gloucestershire made the final. Payne is bowling really well and already sits inside the top 20 in the Championship wicket takers even though Gloucestershire have managed his workload. He is always hard to face with that left arm angle and with teams often unable to get after Smith and Howell, they usually have to swing hard at the death where Payne excels. Assuming Gloucestershire have the run I expect them to then Payne should be right in the wicket taking mix, especially with so much coming and going from the internationals or fringe internationals.
Back Birmingham Bears to win Vitality T20 Blast (e/w) for a 1.5/10 stake at 15.00 with Coral (1/2 1-2)
Back Gloucestershire to win Vitality T20 Blast (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 19.00 with Betfair (1/2 1-2)
Back them here:
Back L.Wright Top Batsman (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 21.00 with BetVictor (1/4 1-4)
Back A.Hose Top Batsman (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 29.00 with BetVictor (1/4 1-4)
Back them here:
Back D.Payne Top Bowler (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 17.00 with Bet365 (1/4 1-4)