Amidst the controversial decision to introduce a new city-based T20 tournament in coming seasons, the Natwest T20 Blast has gone under the radar somewhat. A competition now in a block of games to ensure the best names are available will be providing nightly fireworks through July and August.
Flames will be blasted into the air as players enter the pitch, music played when boundaries are hit and grounds will be sold out. T20 cricket has greatly benefitted the sport as a whole, and the Blast is a showcase of some of the best in the world.
The tournament has already got off to an enthralling start, which has included a Shahid Afridi masterclass with the ball. Afridi is the name that will sell tickets and raise the profile of the competition, but the victors in the Blast are often the team with the best balance rather than star names.
Nottinghamshire are 10/1 for the tournament and are fresh from Royal London Cup success. Though they have suffered defeat in their first two matches, the Outlaws possess one of the most fearsome squads in the tournament even without Stuart Broad. The horrific head injury suffered by Luke Fletcher is admittedly a blow to their chances as the popular bowler has been ruled out for the season, however.
Their bowling unit still has the threat of wickets with a bit of control. Harry Gurney continues to deliver consistently and Ish Sodhi will doubtlessly have Blast batsman in a spin once or twice this summer. Then, the top six of Alex Hales, Michael Lumb, Riki Wessels, Samit Patel, Daniel Christian and Steven Mullaney is perhaps the best in the competition. Hales and Lumb can take a game away from the opposition in the opening powerplay. Limiting their opponents will be the challenge and their fielding could leave a little to be desired, but 10/1 still looks a cracking price considering the experience in that unit.
The current favourites to win the trophy are Surrey at 13/2. Having won their first two matches and made it to the Royal London final themselves, Alec Stewart’s side are – on paper – a certainty for finals day. Jason Roy, Mark Stoneman and Kumar Sangakarra form a formidable top six, while the Curran brothers, Jade Dernbach and Ravi Rampaul provide a blend of youth and experience in the seam attack.
Warwickshire are another expected contender. Edbgbaston nights are the best in the T20 business, and with their garish yellow kits and 20-over renaming to the Birmingham Bears, the second city will be expectant of seeing it’s side at Finals Day later this summer. The ever-elegant Ian Bell leads a batting line-up full of power and the England great has got off to a flier this season. With the ball, there is a lot of pressure on Jeetan Patel to take middle-over wickets.
Reigning champions Northants should not be discounted even at 12/1, but Nottinghamshire and Surrey are the two sides likely to be on the glitzy Finals Day stage. A 21/1 double for them to meet in a second white ball final this season has to turn a few heads.