Notts equipped to blast their short-format rivals
Outlaws on the trophy trail again
Starts 2.30pm Friday
Northamptonshire, 9-2 outsiders of four on Finals Day, beat Durham in last summer’s T20 Blast final but county cricket’s big hitters are queuing up to dethrone the shrewd Steelbacks.
Northants have worked wonders on a shoestring budget, also lifting the trophy in 2013 and finishing as runners-up in 2015, and bookmakers are giving them more respect this year at 16-1.
Surrey’s recruitment policy is far more expansive (and expensive) and they head the betting at 8-1 with Kevin Pietersen and Australia’s Aaron Finch and Moises Henriques returning to The Oval.
However, they failed to qualify for last year’s quarter-finals and the four teams to reach Finals Day all came from the North Group.
Nottinghamshire’s relegation from County Championship Division One was a kick up the backside for an underperforming squad and they have responded in style.
A week into July, Notts are top of Division Two and have already claimed the One-Day Cup after astonishing batting performances in knockout wins over Somerset, Essex and Surrey.
Those 50-over victories featured centuries from Brendan Taylor, Samit Patel, Steven Mullaney and Alex Hales, whose unbeaten 187 in the final against Surrey means he should start the Blast campaign in great spirits.
Michael Lumb, Riki Wessels and Australia’s Dan Christian, who scored 327 runs in 11 innings at a strike-rate of 160 last summer, complete a devastating batting line-up and Ish Sodhi joins the bowling attack.
The New Zealander took 6-11 for Adelaide Strikers in a Big Bash game in January while fellow spinner Patel claimed 16 wickets with an economy rate of only 6.5 runs per over in the 2016 Blast.
The Outlaws won eight of their ten completed matches in the North Group last season before crushing Essex in the quarter-finals and losing to Northants by eight runs in the semis.
Their performances in four-day and 50-over cricket have been superb and more success looks likely when they return to the minimum trip.
Notts travel to Yorkshire in their opening fixture and the Vikings, who lost to Durham in the 2016 semi-finals, also look primed for a fine campaign.
With the Champions Trophy over, Yorkshire have England’s Liam Plunkett, David Willey and Adil Rashid available for the bulk of the Blast and their batting has been bolstered to cover for the absence of Test players Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance.
Australia’s Peter Handscomb and Shaun Marsh are fine 20-over players while Tom Kohler-Cadmore arrives from Worcestershire after scoring last season’s fastest century: 127 off just 54 balls against Durham.
Rashid has had great success with England and in the Big Bash but he was outbowled by fellow spinner Azeem Rafiq last summer. Both spinners took 15 wickets in 11 games but Rafiq’s economy rate of 7.07 was more than a run per over better than Rashid’s.
All-rounder Tim Bresnan and batsmen Adam Lyth and Alex Lees are top quality players at this level and there are few weaknesses in the Vikings’ squad.
Middlesex’s batting line-up looks tasty, with Brendon McCullum joining England’s Eoin Morgan and Dawid Malan, but their bowling attack has struggled in Twenty20 cricket.
Star-studded Surrey are respected in the South Group, along with resurgent Hampshire and Essex, although Gloucestershire, who topped the section last summer, are missing ace Aussie bowler Andrew Tye through injury.
Lancashire, the 2015 winners, were hoping to field James Faulkner and Mahela Jayawardene this season but neither is available. Leicestershire, 40-1 shots, have excellent overseas players in Clint McKay and Luke Ronchi.
2pts 9-1 BetBright
1pt 10-1 Betway, Sky Bet