Want to know who to look out for in this year's Vitality Blast? The ECB Reporters' Network has put together this handy county-by-county guide.
T20 record: Winners 2014, Runners-up 2003 and 2017. Semi-finalists 2015.
Last season: Third (North Group)
Captain: Grant Elliott
Overseas Players: Jeetan Patel and Colin de Grandhomme. Kolpak: Grant Elliott
Big hitter: Colin de Grandhomme - the Black Caps star arrived in Birmingham with the best T20 batting strike-rate in the world and soon became a cult hero in the Second City. He hits the ball very hard and very far and has left more than one bowler, having bowled a perfectly decent ball, pondering: "How on earth did he get that for six?"
Key bowler: Off-spinner Jeetan Patel is the bowler who binds it all together for the Bears. Now approaching a decade at Edgbaston, "Jeets" intelligent bowling is a familiar weapon to opposing batsmen - but not many have fathomed how to whack it.
Wild card: Ed Pollock. Was an unknown quantity when pitched in for his Blast debut last season but is extremely well-known now after making a brilliant impact with his aggressive batting. Pollock's blazing strokes from ball one laid the foundation for victory in several huge games for Birmingham on their way to the final.
T20 record: Derbyshire have never appeared at Finals Day. Last season's quarter-final was only the second time they have reached the last eight.
Last season: Second in the North Group with eight wins and 17 points from 14 games.
Captain: It is expected Gary Wilson will continue to lead the Falcons.
Overseas Players: Wahab Riaz (Pakistan) and Lockie Ferguson (NZ)
Big hitter: Luis Reece hit 14 sixes in last season’s Blast but he will miss most of this summer’s tournament with a broken foot. So the Falcons will hope Calum Macleod can repeat the form he showed in his brilliant century for Scotland against England - while Wayne Madsen could again deliver batting pyrotechnics after his record-breaking run in 2017. He scored four half centuries in making 522 runs, the most for Derbyshire in the competition, and his background as a former hockey international helps him improvise strokes.
Key bowler: Wahab Riaz has an impressive pedigree and he may also have a point to prove after Pakistan omitted him from their recent tour of England. The 32-year-old left-arm paceman was the leading wicket-taker in the Pakistan Super League with 18 victims at an economy rate of 6.9 and in 167 T20 matches, he has claimed 197 wickets at an average of 21. He is available for the first 10 Blast games before leaving at the beginning of August to play in the Caribbean Premier League.
Wild card: Matt Critchley announced himself to a wider audience with a blistering 64 from 37 balls for the North against the South in Barbados earlier this year and the 21-year-old all-rounder from Wigan could be an ace in the Falcons pack. A clean striker of the ball, Critchley also has the X factor a wrist spinner brings to one-day cricket and Derbyshire will be hoping he will have benefited from playing alongside Imran Tahir in last season's tournament.
Derbyshire's Matt Critchley
T20 record: Finalists 2016, loss by four wickets to Northamptonshire.
Last season: 9th
Captain: Tom Latham
Overseas Players: Tom Latham and Imran Tahir
Big hitter: Paul Collingwood - In the absence of a power player at the top of the order the onus will fall on Collingwood once again to be Durham’s big hitter in the middle order. The club experimented with moving him up the order to open during the Royal London One-Day Cup, although it did not go to plan. Last season in the Blast, Collingwood scored his maiden T20 century. He averaged 38.44 in the competition with a strike rate in the 140s, leading all categories for the north-east outfit. Durham will need him to match his boundary rate from the last term when he notched 25 fours and 13 sixes in 11 matches.
Key bowler: Chris Rushworth – Rushworth continues to be his side’s key man at the top of the innings in all formats of the game. He was extremely valuable in the RL50 matches taking nine wickets at an average of 22.44. The 31-year-old has not quite been as potent in T20s, but considering the lack of depth in the squad, his side will need both wickets and control in the opening overs. The pressure will be on Rushworth to lead an inexperienced attack against the power hitters of the North Group.
Wild card: Gareth Harte – The South African made an impression during his brief stint in the side in the RL50s. He made vital runs in the lower order in victories over Worcestershire and Northants, displaying the ability to manoeuvre the field and find the boundary when necessary. The 25-year-old continued his form in the County Championship, scoring his maiden first-class century in Durham’s incredible fightback against Derbyshire. Harte has the talent and the character for the big occasion, while he can also provide useful overs with his medium pace. He could be a vital man for Jon Lewis’ men in the competition.
T20 record: Winners in 2015, beating Northamptonshire in the final at Edgbaston. That was one of three final appearances (2005 and 2014 the others), while the Lightning have reached Finals Day six times in all.
Last season: Lancashire finished seventh in the North Group, winning five matches and losing six. They also played out a Roses tie at Emirates Old Trafford and had two No Results.
Captain: Liam Livingstone.
Overseas players: All-rounder James Faulkner, a Blast winner in 2015, returns to join fellow Australian Joe Mennie, the seamer who was signed for all formats by the Red Rose this summer.
Big hitter: Two-time England T20 international Liam Livingstone takes charge of the Lightning for the first time in T20 cricket. The 24-year-old, who has a 21-ball fifty to his name, opened the batting last year and has power and innovation similar to that of Jos Buttler, whose availability will by stymied by international cricket. But Livingstone has plenty to prove in T20s having only scored two fifties in 42 career appearances. His ever-improving off-spinners will be a valuable weapon for the Lightning, especially at Old Trafford where the pitches turn and the boundary rope is pushed right out.
Key Bowler: Lions leg-spinner Matthew Parkinson is fast becoming a rising star of English cricket. Described by Livingstone as his ‘go to man’ with the white ball at present, the 21-year-old debuted in T20 midway through last season’s Blast and took 14 wickets from nine matches with a superb economy rate 6.06 - one of the best in the competition. Parkinson took 18 wickets in the most recent Royal London One-Day Cup, and even bowled at the death. The Boltonian, whose twin brother Callum bowls left-arm spin for Leicestershire, can’t be a million miles away from full England honours in all forms of the game.
Wild card: Cumbrian all-rounder Jordan Clark has been around for some time at Emirates Old Trafford, taking a triple wicket maiden in the 2014 quarter-final against Glamorgan to turn that game on its head. The hard-hitting middle to lower order batsman and seamer, who debuted in the Blast back in 2011, hasn’t really hit top form consistently in a campaign yet. But improved form in the Championship and one-day cricket over the last couple of years leads you to believe this summer could be the one for the 27-year-old. Like Parkinson, Clark will come up against his brother in the Blast, with Graham a top order batsman at Durham.
Lancashire's Matthew Parkinson
T20 record: Reached finals day 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2011: won comp 2004, 2006 and 2011.
Last season's group placing: fourth. Lost in quarter-final, against Glamorgan in Cardiff.
Captain: Colin Ackermann.
Overseas players: Mohammad Abbas (Pakistan) Mohammad Nabi (Afghanistan)
Big hitter: Cameron Delport. One of the new breed of T20 specialists, the hard-hitting South African left-hander has played in the Caribbean Premier League, Pakistan Super League, South African Pro 20, Big Bash and earlier this year, in the Indian Premier League. An uncomplicated clean-hitter with a career strike rate of 138, he smashed 109 from 59 balls against Nottinghamshire to help the Foxes qualify for the Blast quarter-finals last season.
Key bowler: Mohammad Nabi. One of three Afghan players who will be breaking new ground in this summer’s Blast, this canny and vastly experienced off-spinning all-rounder has 98 one-day and 63 T20 caps for his country, picking up 168 white ball wickets. The 33-year-old features regularly in T20 leagues around the world, has represented Melbourne Renegades in the Big Bash and Sunrisers Hyderabad in this year's IPL, and has a career T20 economy rate of less than 7.
Wild card: Callum Parkinson. Young left-arm spinner (twin of Lancashire's leg-spinning Matt) played every Foxes' game in last year's Blast, often bowling in the Powerplay, picking up 15 wickets with a best return of 3-20, and an economy rate of 8. Uses flight with a guile that belies his youth and lack of experience, and holds the ball back with sufficient disguise to draw the batsman into hitting too soon.
T20 record: Four Finals Day appearances, winning in 2013 and 2016.
Last season: 6th.
Captain: Alex Wakely
Overseas Players: Rory Kleinveldt (SA), Seekkuge Prasanna (SL)
Big hitter: Richard Levi. The second-highest runscorer for Northants in T20s, Levi remains one of the most destructive hitters in the world. Blessed with a great eye for a ball and natural timing to match, he can find the boundary at will and his runs from the top of the order are crucial to Northants. He was the county’s leading runscorer in last season’s competition, with 375 runs coming in only eight innings and at a strike-rate of 167.
Key bowler: Richard Gleeson. One of the breakthrough bowlers in county cricket of the past few seasons. Gleeson’s elevation from Minor Counties to England Lions has been a fairytale story. Genuinely quick, his spearing yorkers played a huge part of Northants’ 2016 title triumph and his spell against Jos Buttler was one of the highlights of last season. Gleeson was badly missed during the Royal London Cup but having recovered from an elbow problem, is now set to play a big role in another bid for a quarter-final place.
Wild card: Nathan Buck. His career economy rate may be a little high at 8.48 but his 45 wickets have come at 23 and Buck appears to have the attributes to be successful in the shortest format. Tall with decent pace, he hits the pitch and can bowl a hard length that is effective in T20s. If he can hone a yorker as effective as Gleeson’s, Buck could be the surprise in the Northants attack this summer.
Northants' Richard Levi
T20 record: Defending champions after winning the tournament in 2017, runners-up in 2005 and beaten semi-finalists in 2010 and 2016. On nine occasions they have advanced to the knockout stages of the competition.
Last season: Won the North Group, then defeated Somerset in the quarters, Hampshire in the semis and Birmingham Bears in the final.
Captain: Dan Christian returns to Trent Bridge for the fourth consecutive season and resumes as captain after lifting the trophy last year – a simple act that went wrong and resulted in the sharp edges of the silverware cutting his eyebrow.
Overseas Players: Christian and New Zealand leg-spinner Ish Sodhi reunite at Trent Bridge to try and emulate last year’s outstanding success.
Big hitter: Riki Wessels. Now aged 32, Wessels was the Outlaws’ leading run-scorer in their 2017 success. He blasted 559 runs at an average of 43.00 and had the honour of becoming the first from his county to score a T20 century, making 110 against Derbyshire. One of the cleanest hitters in the game, he usually goes blow-for-blow with his regular opening partner, Alex Hales, to get the side away to a rip-roaring start during the powerplay overs.
Key bowler: Harry Gurney. A much better bowler now than when he represented his country in T20 Internationals back in 2014, the 31-year old played a key role in the Outlaws’ success last season. He took a total of 21 wickets during the competition and was a worthy contender for the man of the match award in the final, taking four for 17 to down the Birmingham Bears. Has all the variations required of a modern death-bowler, all now delivered from a significantly reduced run-up.
Wild card: Tom Moores. The 21-year old wicketkeeper–batsman already has a winner’s medal in his pocket after coming into the side for last season’s successful campaign. His athletic ability with the gloves on has already brought high praise from unusual sources (Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea is a fan) but his destructive batting may take him to the very top of the tree. Following in the footsteps of Chris Read was never going to be easy but his young successor has already made a huge impression.
T20 record: no Finals Day appearances, best performance is quarter-finals in 2004, 2007, 2012, 2014 and 2015.
Last season: finished eighth in North Group
Captain: Moeen Ali
Overseas players: At various stages Martin Guptill, Travis Head, Callum Ferguson
Big hitter: Ross Whiteley – the left hander last summer became the first ever Englishman to score six sixes in an over in ANY format of the game in a Blast match against Yorkshire’s left arm spinner Karl Carver at Headingley. That kind of power-hitting helped earn Whiteley a lucrative winter playing in the Bangladesh Premier League, the inaugural T10 tournament in Sharjah and the Pakistan Super League. Whiteley feels he has learnt from those experiences and on his day is one of the most destructive batsmen in Blast and all white ball cricket.
Key Bowler: Brett D’Oliveira – his impact in Championship cricket has been limited but in white ball cricket D’Oliveira is a key component of the Worcestershire attack. He has developed into one of the most economical bowlers in Blast cricket in recent seasons and gone toe to toe with fellow spinners Saeed Ajmal and Mitchell Santner during their spells at Blackfinch New Road. Harnessed to his own destructive hitting, D’Oliveira will have a key role in all facets of the game if the Rapids are to make a first finals day appearance.
Wild card: Martin Guptill – the New Zealand batsman is with the Rapids for the first eight games of the Blast and, if on song, will add even more fire-power to an impressive looking line-up. Guptill can take any attack apart on his day and, with the likes of Travis Head, Callum Ferguson, Joe Clarke and Ross Whiteley for company, the Rapids batting line-up represents their best chance of qualifying from the North Group. Head, who captained the Adelaide Strikers to the Big Bash title this year, and his fellow Aussie Ferguson, who hit the County’s highest List A score of 192 in the One-Day Cup, could also entertain Rapids fans if they fire on all cylinders.
Worcestershire's Ross Whiteley
T20 record: Yorkshire have only reached Finals Day twice since the start of T20 cricket in 2003. They were beaten in the 2012 final by Hampshire at Cardiff and beaten semi-finalists by Durham at Edgbaston in 2016.
Last season: The Vikings finished fifth in the North Group with six wins and five defeats. They also played out a Roses tie away at Lancashire and had two No Results. That they didn’t qualify was pretty amazing given they topped 200 four times with the bat. They just lost a couple of key games on the road.
Captain: Steve Patterson.
Overseas players: Yorkshire are set to go into the Blast with just one overseas, the New Zealand captain Kane Williamson, who has returned to Emerald Headingley for a fourth spell. He will play nine group games from July 20 and a potential quarter-final. The White Rose had signed towering fast bowler Billy Stanlake, but he was pulled out by Cricket Australia in May. They have opted not to replace him.
Big hitter: Tom Kohler-Cadmore blazed a trail in the recent Royal London One-Day Cup, scoring 472 runs with one century - a career best 164 against Durham. The 23-year-old gained England Lions recognition as a result. A powerful striker who hits particularly well down the ground, Kohler-Cadmore played the majority of last season’s Blast for Yorkshire having moved from Worcestershire. He encouraged without dominating. Nicknamed Pepsi, he scored the fastest hundred in English cricket in 2016 when he reached 100 off 43 balls in Worcester’s opening night Blast win over Durham at New Road.
Key Bowler: The obvious choice would come from one of Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid or David Willey, but given they are going to miss the first half of the competition due to England limited overs commitments, let’s delve a bit deeper into the Vikings squad. Seamer Matthew Fisher, 20-years-old, took five wickets on his T20 debut against Derbyshire in 2015 and was described by then coach Jason Gillespie as their best bowler in that campaign. Fisher’s development has been stunted by injury since, and he missed the first six weeks of this season with a torn side. But he encouraged in the Royal London One-Day Cup and earned a Lions call-up. Has good pace with plenty of variation.
Wild card: Jonny Tattersall is in his second spell with Yorkshire having been released in 2015 following one first-team appearance. A batsman by trade, Tattersall was invited back to Headingley to play second-team cricket in 2016 and signed a one-year deal ahead of this summer. However, he did so with the Yorkshire coaching staff urging him to work on his little known wicketkeeping skills, something he had done as a kid before giving up. He played the second half of the recent One-Day Cup campaign and scored a crucial 52 not out in a final North Group win over Northants to secure a knockout berth and a career best 89 in a losing semi-final cause at Hampshire. The 23-year-old is set to keep his spot for this summer’s Blast.
T20 record: Finals day appearances 2006, 2008, 2010 & 2013 (beaten semi-finalists on each occasion)
Last season: South Group – 8th, DNQ
Captain: Ryan ten Doeschate
Overseas Players: Adam Zampa (Australia); Neil Wagner (New Zealand, available for first six group games); Peter Siddle (Australia, available for last eight group games and quarter-final, if applicable)
Big hitter: Varun Chopra - Only Colin Ingram and Riki Wessels hit more Blast sixes than Varun Chopra’s 26 last year – and they had at least one more innings in which to do so. Chopra’s cleanly-struck, towering maximums mean captains visiting Chelmsford would be advised to position fielders wearing waders in the River Can – patrolling the ‘v’ between long-off and long-on – or else standing at the Pavilion bar at deep, deep midwicket. Indeed, pint in hand on a balmy Friday night is probably the best way to admire a Chopra knock, packed with beautifully-timed, orthodox cricket shots rather than brutish strength.
Key bowler: Adam Zampa - The addition of Adam Zampa for the Blast provides Essex with the ‘mystery spinner’ they have craved. The Australian leggie arrives with the brief to reduce the runs leaked in the middle overs, not least by snapping up wickets. Zampa brings T20 experience from the IPL, Big Bash, Caribbean Premier League and from representing his country 13 times to date, and has the variations in flight and movement to merit his reputation. So keen was the 26-year-old for his first taste of English conditions that he flew in a month early to play weekend club cricket for Brentwood.
Wild card: Paul Walter - an awkward customer; awkward to opposition batsmen and bowlers alike. It’s down to his height: at 6ft 7in, he comes out of the floodlights on T20 nights like a fast-paced spectre. Last year the beanpole was Essex’s top Blast wicket-taker – with one more than Mohammad Amir – and ended Kevin Pietersen’s assault at the Oval when taking career-best bowling figures. The full force of his batting has yet to be felt. But the left-hander has been warming up in the 2nd XI: he smashed 103 from 50 balls in a T20 game against Glamorgan last month.
Essex's overseas spinner Adam Zampa
T20 Record: Reached Finals Day twice. Beaten by Leicestershire in Semi Final in 2004, and by Birmingham Bears in 2017.
Last Season: Top of the Southern Group- and qualified for Finals Day.
Captain: Colin Ingram
Overseas Players: Shaun Marsh and Usman Khawaja(Australia)
Big Hitter: Colin Ingram. Described by Hugh Morris, the club’s Chief Executive, as “the best limited overs batsman in Glamorgan’s history”, Ingram was the PCA Player of the Year in the 2017, T20 Blast Competition, when he struck 59 sixes. A destructive batsman, Ingram struck two centuries last season, the first against Sussex, with his century coming from only 50 balls, before repeating the feat two weeks later against Essex, where he reached a career best 114, as Glamorgan chased 220 to win. He played in the Australian Big Bash, and also in Pakistan last winter, and it came as no surprise that Ingram decided to play only white ball cricket for the remainder of his career He was appointed Glamorgan’s white ball captain this season.
Key Bowler: Michael Hogan. The Glamorgan four- day captain has been the club’s most consistent and successful T20 bowler in recent years, and although he is now 37, he has not lost any of his skills. His career average for Glamorgan of 80 wickets at 19.23 is testimony to his accuracy, especially at the end of the innings where his variations limit the batsmen’s progress.
Wild Card: Kiran Carlson. The 20yr old middle order batsman is only in his second full season with the club but has already shown that he is a destructive player in one day cricket. He even outscored Colin Ingram in a recent game, when they shared a partnership of 98 in 10 overs, with Carlson scoring an unbeaten 59 from only 40 balls. He is also one of the best outfielders in the game, as befits a former rugby and hockey player.
T20 record: Finalists 2007
Last season: Bottom of South Group
Captain: Michael Klinger
Overseas Players: Michael Klinger (Aus), Andrew Tye (Aus)
Big hitter: Residents of the flats at the Ashley Down Road End of the Brightside Ground have become used to ducking on their balconies when Michael Klinger is facing bowling from that end. The hugely popular Aussie has proved himself one of the most outstanding overseas signings in county cricket during his years of service with Gloucestershire and arrived for his latest stint this week. Klinger loves targeting the flats because of the relatively short boundary when hitting straight and can be counted upon to test the strength of the glass windows again.
Key bowler: Andrew Tye misses the opening two South Group fixtures against Somerset and Middlesex because of commitments with Australia, but the 31-year-old seamer can still be a major figure in Gloucestershire’s attempt to win the competition for the first time. A member of Australia’s T20 squad since 2016, having not made his debut in State cricket until the age of 26, Tye is renowned for his death bowling and the ability to produce devastating yorkers under pressure. His bag of tricks includes many variations and his career has hit new heights since he last played T20 cricket for Gloucestershire two seasons ago.
Wild card: Ryan Higgins drew himself to Gloucestershire’s attention by smashing 68 not out off 28 balls to earn Middlesex a tie against them at Cheltenham in last season’s competition. While the College Ground is relatively small, the now 23-year-old all-rounder’s 6 sixes and 4 fours turned a game the hosts appeared to have under control when reducing their opponents to 119 for eight in reply to 182. Since switching clubs, Higgins has been a success with bat and ball. Now comes the opportunity to produce the fireworks Gloucestershire supporters who watched him at Cheltenham have been anticipating.
Gloucestershire's Michael Klinger
T20 record: Seven Finals Day appearances, more than any other county. Winners in 2010 and 2012. Semi-finals on the other five occasions.
Last season: Third in group, lost in semi-final to Notts Outlaws.
Captain: James Vince
Overseas Players: Colin Munro (NZ, until end of July), Dale Steyn (SA, second half, if not selected for South Africa one-day series in Sri Lanka) and Mujeeb Ur Rahman (Afghanistan)
Big hitter: Hampshire proved in the Royal London One-Day Cup how important an aggressive top order is, as they eased to the final. Rilee Rossouw and James Vince will open up and provide the power-play chaos, with Vince’s clever guile backed by the South African’s brute six hitting force. Vince is the real danger man though, with his incredible ability to form long one-day innings with high strike-rates – typified with two centuries and a strike-rate of over 110 in the One-Day Cup. The skipper has been a man on a mission since being left out of England’s Test squad earlier this summer.
Key bowler: There are doubts over the fitness of Mason Crane, so watch out for seamer Gareth Berg - he has worked hard on his one-day skills over the winter and could cause a few surprises.
Wild card: Taking over in the mystery overseas spinner category from Shahid Afridi this season is Afghan teenager Mujeeb Ur Rahman. No spinner, who took more than 10 wickets, had a better average at the IPL this year than the 17-year-old – with his 14 scalps taken at 20.64 for the Kings XI Punjab. His ability to bowl off and leg spin is making him one of the most justifiably hyped players in world cricket – with Virat Kohli, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler already all accounted for.
T20 record: 2007 (Edgbaston) winners; beat Gloucestershire by four wickets. 2008 (Ageas Bowl) runners-up; lost to Middlesex by three runs.
Last season: 6th in south group. P14 W6 T1 L7 13pts
Captain: Sam Billings
Overseas Players: Marcus Stoinis (Australia), Carlos Brathwaite (West Indies, opening four matches only), Adam Milne (New Zealand)
Big hitter: The 2018 Vitality Blast may finally represent the T20 swansong of Kent’s veteran all-rounded Darren Stevens. The 42-year-old – dubbed cricket’s answer to Benjamin Button – hit the winning runs in the county’s 2007 final win over Gloucestershire in Birmingham. Stevens has made over 200 Twenty20 appearances around the world winning the Bangladesh Premier League for three successive years with Dhaka Gladiators. In his 158 short-form starts for Spitfires, Stevens has amassed 3,128 runs at an astonishing strike rate of 141.92, clearing the ropes on 144 occasions. He is one short of taking his 100th T20 wicket for Kent having already bagged four wickets in an innings on five occasions.
Key bowler: With James Tredwell, the one-time England Test bowler turned specialist limited overs’ off-spinner sidelined with a long-term shoulder injury, Spitfires’ crucial, mid-innings overs of spin could be sent down by former Middlesex League player Imran Qayyum. The Ealing-born left-arm spinner, 26, made his short-form debut last term in tandem with Tredwell against Gloucestershire in Cheltenham and, after out-performing his more illustrious team-mate, went on to keep his place for 10 matches of the campaign, taking seven wickets at an economy rate of 8.3. The rookie’s best stint of 4-0-19-2 came in the return clash with Gloucestershire in Canterbury last July.
Wild card: Heino Kuhn, Kent’s close-season Kolpak recruit, was signed to improve Spitfires' white-ball batting and replace the runs of former skipper, Sam Northeast. The 34-year-old right-hander won four Test caps and made seven, generally disappointing T20I appearances for the Proteas before turning his back on international cricket to sign a two-year deal at Kent. His domestic short-form record is more impressive, with 1,403 runs at a strike rate of 124.15 to his credit. A hard-hitting and potentially destructive batsman, Kuhn will aim to improve on his format-best of 83 not out, scored for the Titans franchise against the Highveld Lions in November 2016. His Titans side have won South Africa’s last three domestic T20 titles.
Kent's captain Sam Billings
T20 record: Winners 2008
Last season: Seventh
Captain: Dawid Malan
Overseas Players: Ashton Agar (Aus), Dwayne Bravo (WI)
Big hitter: Few batsmen strike the ball with as much raw power as Paul Stirling and the Irishman’s explosive potential at the top of the order will be crucial to Middlesex’s prospects. Stirling proved in the Royal London Cup that he has added greater discipline to his natural ability and now looks capable of batting deeper into an innings. While his main brief is to inflict damage in the powerplay, the longer Stirling can occupy the crease the better his side’s chances of putting a challenging total on the board.
Key bowler: Middlesex’s overseas recruits for the Blast have been a mixed bag over the years, but the signing of Dwayne Bravo for the first half of the tournament looks an inspired move. The former West Indies star brings a wealth of white-ball experience and his ability to mix it up with the ball will sprinkle Middlesex’s attack with a little more variety. Effective bowling at the death is an area where the Lord’s side have frequently been found out in the past – but Bravo should be able to remedy that.
Wild card: Leg-spinners can be worth their weight in gold in this format and, in the shape of Nathan Sowter, Middlesex possess one who might make a real difference. The Australian-born leggie burst onto scene with figures of 2-2 on his T20 debut three years ago and has since established himself as a key wicket-taking bowler. Having also improved with the bat, Sowter is not afraid to attempt unorthodox but effective shots, which could bring Middlesex valuable runs in the closing stages of their innings.
T20 record: Winners 2005
Last season: Fourth in South Group. Lost to Notts Outlaws at Trent Bridge in quarter-finals
Captain: Lewis Gregory
Overseas Players: Corey Anderson (NZ)
Big hitter: Corey Anderson’s contribution to Somerset’s 2017 T20 campaign was restricted to four matches by a back problem. But the opening South Group game against Surrey at The Oval showed the New Zealander’s capabilities as he blasted 81 off 45 balls, despite having been injured bowling the opening over of the match. Anderson later hit 41 off 17 deliveries against Sussex at Taunton and will relish the plum one-day batting tracks at the Cooper Associates County Ground.
Key bowler: Leg-spinner Max Waller has developed into a T20 specialist over the years, targeting batsmen’s pads with googlies delivered with a flat trajectory and maintaining an increasingly impressive economy rate. There is enough variation in his bowling to make key breakthroughs and he was Somerset’s leading wicket taker in the shortest format last season with 16. A brilliant fielder, Waller comes into his own at this time of year and can be counted upon to keep things relatively tight in the middle overs.
Wild card: After a brilliant start to the summer in the second XI, 19-year-old Tom Banton did not make the most of his opportunities in the Royal London One-Day Cup, with a top score of 40 in six innings. But that is unlikely to deter Somerset from offering the exciting youngster a top-order position in T20 as he has shown an ability to take apart bowling attacks in white ball cricket, along with the intelligence to adapt his game to the match situation.
Somerset's Tom Banton
T20 record: Winners: 2003. Runners-up: 2004 and 2013. Other Finals Day appearances: 2005, 2006 and 2014
Last season: 2nd in South Group; lost to Birmingham in QF at Kia Oval
Captain: Jade Dernbach
Overseas players: Aaron Finch (Aus), Nic Maddinson (Aus)
Big hitter: Left-hander Nic Maddinson can hit a long ball, as he proved while topping the Sydney Sixers’ run charts with 291 from ten innings at a strike rate of 145.50 in last winter’s Big Bash. But Surrey’s master blaster is again likely to be either their other Australian, Aaron Finch, who returns to the Kia Oval after hitting 489 runs at 40.75 and with a remarkable strike rate of 166.89 in last year’s competition, or England’s limited-overs opener Jason Roy, whose 350 runs came at a strike rate of 159.09. Finch bludgeoned 25 sixes in 2017 while Roy, who struck 13, was also the competition’s leading run-scorer with 677 in 2014.
Key bowler: Morne Morkel has been signed by Surrey to play all formats on an initial two-year Kolpak deal, and the giant 33-year-old South African fast bowler can add a real cutting edge to an attack based on the two Curran brothers, Tom and Sam, T20-only skipper Dernbach – one of English cricket’s best and most enduring ‘death’ bowlers – and the veteran off spinner Gareth Batty. Morkel’s vast international experience included 44 T20s for South Africa in addition to his 86 Tests and 117 ODIs.
Wild card: Ollie Pope, who turned 20 earlier this year, first caught the eye at senior level when playing in white-ball cricket for Surrey last summer. He has since gone on to impress further many good judges with mature performances in both championship and 50-over matches but, alongside Finch, Dernbach and Sam Curran, Pope was Surrey’s only ever-present as they reached last year’s T20 Blast quarter-finals, scoring 253 runs from 13 knocks in the frantic late-innings’ overs with a strike rate of 124.63 and a top score of 46. Always inventive, Pope has a 360-degree ability to score quick runs.
T20 record: Winners 2009, finalists 2007, 2012.
Last season: (Group placing): 5th
Captain: Luke Wright
Overseas Players: Rashid Khan (Afghanistan), Tom Bruce (New Zealand)
Big hitter: New Zealand middle order batsman Tom Bruce has arrived at Hove slightly under the radar to replace the injured Stiaan van Zyl but the man from Central Districts is more than capable of making a big impact. The 26-year-old has played 14 T20 internationals with a strike rate of 128.40 and has a reputation for hitting a long ball.
Key bowler: Sussex have an embarrassment of riches in their seam attack with Jofra Archer, Chris Jordan and Tymal Mills as good as anything in the Blast this year, but all eyes will be on Rashid Khan, the world’s top-ranked T20 bowler and second in ODIs. His mesmerising variations of leg spin should win Sussex a couple of games on their own and, as one of 11 children, he will be able to count on plenty of family support back home as he experiences the Blast for the first time.
Wild card: Laurie Evans is likely to take over the top-order role Chris Nash performed so successfully for many years. Evans scored 243 runs in the Royal London One-Day Cup and his ability to dovetail as successfully as Nash did with Luke Wright will be crucial to Sussex’s chances. There are question marks over Sussex’s batting depth but Evans has the ability to answer them.
Sussex's Chris Jordan
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