No sooner have one-day cricket fans in Britain and the rest of the world got over the excitement of the World Cup then they have another tournament to get their teeth into in the shape of the T20 Blast. The second edition of the domestic T20 competition, also called the Vitality Blast for sponsorship reasons, will feature all 18 counties in England and Wales, with nine sides in each of the two groups, each organised on a regional basis, with a North and a South Division.
With two points for a win and one point for a draw or in the case of an abandoned match, teams will compete in a series of matches between July and September for a place in the knock-out tournament which will feature the top four teams in each division. In the group phase, each team will play 14 fixtures, meaning that they will face six of the other eight teams twice, home and away, and the other two once. It all culminates in the final which will be played at Edgbaston on September 21st.
Although the fact that this is an Ashes summer means that the participation in the tournament of some of the best England and Australian players will be limited, the competition has still attracted its fair share of headliners. AB de Villiers, for example, will feature for Middlesex, whilst Aaron Finch, his Australian team mate Glenn Maxwell, and Rashid Khan, will play for Surrey, Lancashire, and Sussex respectively. Meanwhile, D’Arcy Short will play for Durham, Mohammad Amir for Essex, and Babar Azam for Surrey.
And at least some of the men who appeared in the World Cup Final are likely to take part in the competition at some point, with England represented by the likes of new national heroes Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer, as well as Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, whilst the Kiwi stars like Colin de Grandhomme and Tom Latham are also taking part.
The competition got underway on 18th July, in a match featuring the defending champions, the Worcestershire Rapids against the Nottinghamshire Outlaws at Trent Bridge, in the North Division. Put into bat, the visitors made 161/6, with man of the match Ed Barnard making 42 not out. In reply, Nottinghamshire could only muster 133/9, despite a typically belligerent 52 from Alex Hayles, returning to action after his drugs ban.
That same evening saw the pre-tournament favourites Somerset also get off to a winning start, chasing down Glamorgan’s 180/5 at Sophia Gardens to win by 8 wickets with two overs to spare, thanks largely to Tom Banton who made 64 off 34 balls. At Lords meanwhile, AB de Villiers made an immediate return on the money that Middlesex have invested in him, scoring 88 not out off just 343 balls, helping his side beat the Essex Eagles by 7 wickets with three overs to spare, despite an unbeaten 74 from Ryan ten Doeschate for the visitors.
Friday 19th July featured a full round of fixtures, although sadly the British weather put paid to a number of them. The Worcestershire Rapids v Birmingham Bears, Leicestershire Foxes v Lancashire Lightening, the Yorkshire Vikings v the Nottinghamshire Outlaws, and the Hampshire v the Sussex Sharks fixtures were all abandoned without a ball being bowled. Meanwhile, the match between Gloucestershire and Glamorgan had to be abandoned midway through the 16th over of the Glamorgan innings.
However, two matches were completed. At the Riverside, Durham successfully defended a total of 148/4 against the Northampton Steelbacks, with major contributions from D’Arcy Short who scored 46, and paceman Matthew Potts, who took 2 for 11. Further South, at Chelmsford, the Essex Eagles handed Surrey a 52 run defeat, with opening batsman Cameron Delport the first centurion of the series, scoring 129 off just 49 balls, including 14 sixes.
Somerset are the favourites to win the competition, as they chase a domestic treble. They won the One-Day Cup earlier in the season, their first trophy in 14 years, and are handily placed in the County Championship, which they have never won before. The Sussex Sharks are also well fancied by the bookmakers, whilst Nottinghamshire, Worcestershire, and Middlesex are all well-backed to do well.
At the other end of the market, Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire and Glamorgan can all be regarded as rank outsiders to lift the trophy in Birmingham in September.
The World Cup and its thrilling finale has reignited interest in cricket in the United Kingdom for a whole next generation of fans and players. Organisers of the T20 Vitality Burst will be hoping they can ride this momentum and serve up another thrilling contest for the public to enjoy.