Freddie Wilde analyses the progress of the 18 counties in the T20 Blast.
Lancashire’s superb start to the season continued this week as their spinners choked Leicestershire away before they prevailed in a breathless Roses match at Old Trafford, edging Yorkshire in a 14-overs-a-side match by one run. However, the fractured finger sustained by captain and star player Liam Livingstone in the county championship on Sunday threatens to derail their progress. Livingstone has been in scintillating form this year, his 79 off 37 balls in the Roses match took his season tally to 288 runs at 151 runs per over. He has also made valuable contributions with the ball, taking six wickets at an economy rate of 7.07 runs per over and has captained bravely, going all-in on their spin-heavy strategy. The length of his lay-off is not yet known but a player of his quality will be sorely missed.
Durham are on a roll. They followed massive wins away to Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire last week with a thumping win against then-table-toppers Worcestershire. While last week’s victories were led by the batsmen this week’s win was led by the bowlers, restricting Worcestershire to 121. Durham’s bowling strategy has been defined by pressure. In the Powerplay they have the second lowest economy rate: 7.63. Then, in the middle overs with the opposition behind the game they have squeezed batsmen into mistakes – boasting the second lowest strike rate of all teams, thanks largely to Imran Tahir and Paul Collingwood who have taken 13 wickets between them at a strike rate of 16.15 and an economy rate of 6.48.
After an excellent start to the season Worcestershire have lost momentum losing against Yorkshire and now Durham. Their defeat against Durham was their first match of the season without their tearaway opener Joe Clarke – ruled out with a leg injury – and his absence was keenly felt despite him being replaced by Moeen Ali. With Clarke and Martin Guptill opening the batting Worcester’s plan in the Powerplay has been clear – Clarke has attacked from the start, allowing Guptill to play himself in. On the two occasions Guptill has made it out of the Powerplay he has scored fifties. Against Durham Moeen attempted to fulfil Clarke’s role but was dismissed in the first over. Without an aggressive opening partner there was less scope for Guptill to play himself in and when he was dismissed for 7 off 10 balls Worcester were in trouble at 26 for 2 after four overs. Durham are a strong middle overs bowling team and they choked Worcester once the field dropped back and bowled them out for 121.
Nottinghamshire have now lost two matches in a row, twice failing to chase totals of 184 and 193 and they’ve also now lost three out of three at home this season. This is far from a crisis but by their recent high standards it is a concerning start and next up they have tough matches against Lancashire and Durham. There are two clear areas that are letting Nottinghamshire down this season: middle overs batting and spin bowling. With the bat are getting off to good starts in the Powerplay before losing a lot of wickets in the middle overs – their dismissal rate of 14.1 balls per dismissal is the lowest of all teams in the phase and has destabilised both their failed run chases. With the ball their spinners – Ish Sodhi and Samit Patel – have a higher economy rate and strike rate than their pacers.
Matches against powerhouses Lancashire and Nottinghamshire provided Leicestershire with a good test. After being spun out by Lancashire’s spinners they responded well against Nottinghamshire, maintaining their top ranked attacking shot percentage of 76% on their way to posting 192. The star of the defence was 21 year-old left-arm spinner Callum Parkinson, who is having an excellent season – his 11 wickets make him the second highest wicket-taker this year. Leicestershire’s spin average of 18.55 is the lowest in the league. The combination of Mohammad Nabi’s off spin and Parkinson’s left arm spin is proving to be a deadly combination. Nabi is the pressure-builder, boasting an economy rate of 7.34 and Parkinson the wicket-taker, boasting an economy rate of 10.3.
Yorkshire’s only match of the week was the a thrilling one run defeat in a rain-reduced match against Lancashire. It would be wrong to read too much into such a short contest but Yorkshire’s aggressive approach against Lancashire’s spinners was noteworthy. Of course the length of the match and the size of the run chase forced them to attack but Yorkshire’s 92% attacking shots was the most played against Lancashire’s spinners this season and their economy rate of 12.00 was comfortably their highest, suggesting it is possible to get after them. It was encouraging to see Yorkshire bat with considerable flexibility in the middle order – promoting Liam Plunkett and Tim Bresnan ahead of Kane Williamson in a very steep chase.
For the third time in as many matches Warwickshire conceded more than 200 at Edgbaston as Northants took their profligate attack for 231 runs. This week their attack was at least strengthened by the return of Boyd Rankin, who returned figures of 1 for 24 from four overs, begging the question what he’d been doing playing in the second XI. Rankin and Jeetan Patel conceded just 48 runs from their eight overs but the rest of Warwickshire’s attack was pummelled for 178 in 12 overs. Bowling attacks in T20 are only as strong as their weakest link and this season Warwickshire have a number of them.
Derbyshire finally recorded their first win of the season this week as they pummelled the other winless team in the North Group – Northamptonshire, after racking up 211. Attacking batting was Derbyshire’s downfall in their first four matches but a change of opening partnership brought rewards with Ben Slater and Matt Critchley replaced by Calum MacLeod and Billy Godleman, the latter playing his first match of the season. Career shot-type analysis shows MacLeod and Godleman are typically less attacking than Slater and Critchley but the new pair cashed in on some poor Northants bowling. MacLeod’s 104 not out off 61 balls elevated Derbyshire beyond 200 – a total that proved 31 too many for Northants.
Northants got their first point of the season this week in a stunning tie against Warwickshire who nearly chased down 231. Although Northants will be relieved not to have lost, after scoring such a huge total they really should have won, but yet again their bowling let them down. Northants have now conceded at least 200 in six of their last eight bowling innings – the two in which they didn’t Worcester scored 130-3 in a nine over innings and Lancashire chased 123. This week Northants opted against selecting their attack leader Richard Gleeson who has been returning from injury, but struggling for form, in the Second XI. Needing to win almost all their remaining fixtures and with their bowling conceding runs at 10.75 runs per over, selecting Gleeson might be their last chance to salvage their season.
Kent were fortunate that in their only match of the week rain intervened after Surrey had scored 250 for 6. That was the second time in as many matches that Kent’s bowling – certainly their weaker suit – had conceded more than 200. Kent’s bowling strength was perhaps exaggerated by their early matches that were led by strong performances from Joe Denly and Carlos Brathwaite, neither of whom should be relied upon. Their domestic pace bowlers Callum Haggett and Mitchell Claydon have conceded 9.36 runs per over so far this season and their domestic spinner Imran Qayuum has conceded 10.07 runs per over.
Gloucestershire pulled Essex back from 108 for 1 to 172 for 7 when rain intervened in their only fixture of the week. The continued good form of left-arm spinner Tom Smith should offer them cause for encouragement. Smith picked up 3 for 39 in his four overs and with seven wickets in 14.5 overs has a superb strike rate of 12.7. Gloucestershire are among the teams who have bowled the fewest spin overs this season but Smith’s form is making the few overs they do bowl count.
This was an excellent week for Somerset who won away to Middlesex and Glamorgan. In both matches Somerset’s post-Powerplay batting was impressive with Peter Trego against Middlesex, James Hildreth against Glamorgan and Corey Anderson against both teams accelerating the innings forward in the middle overs. In both matches their surge came after they ended the Powerplay three wickets down and with the pressure on. Somerset’s post-Powerplay run rate of 10.24 is the highest of all teams this season. Another feature of Somerset’s twin victories was the success of leg spinner Max Waller in the Powerplay. Bowling a leg spinner in the first six is a very attacking move but it is one that has worked brilliantly so far. In the phase Waller has taken two wickets in five overs at an economy rate of just 6.60.
Sussex did not play this week.
Surrey will have been confident of making it three wins in three matches after posting 250 against Kent before rain prematurely ended the match. Like in their previous two wins Aaron Finch, who scored 83 off 38 balls, led the charge but this time he was supported by contributions throughout the innings with all of the top seven making it to double figures. Most notably Nic Maddinson made a quick 29 and Ollie Pope a rapid 34. Pope’s death over batting has been impressive this year – what he lacks in raw power he is making up for with 360° scoring. Pope has increased his death over run rate from 9.31 last season to 12.31.
Glamorgan have had alternate results across their first four matches and haven’t managed to build any momentum. Against Somerset they were let down by their clearest weakness – their weak middle overs bowling. After reducing Somerset to 45 for 3 at the end of the Powerplay they were unable to continue taking wickets in the middle overs and allowed Somerset back into the game. Glamorgan have one of the best Powerplay strike rates of 16.0 and death over economy rates of 8.70, but their lack of an elite spin bowler is being exposed in the middle phase where they have a high strike rate of 27.0 and an economy rate of 8.94. Bowling spin in Cardiff – with the short straight boundaries – is difficult, and so far Colin Ingram and Andrew Salter are struggling to fulfil the role.
Essex’s problem so far this season has been post-Powerplay batting collapses ruining bright starts. They were lucky that against Gloucestershire another collapse didn’t cost them after rain ended the match 18.2 overs into their first innings. After 11 overs they were 106 for 1 but lost six for 66 in the next 6.2 overs before rain intervened. In their second match against Hampshire their middle order finally made a meaningful contribution, rescuing their run chase of 171 from 37 for 3 to tie the match. It’s worth noting that Essex, with Simon Harmer at seven and Neil Wagner at eight, have a shallow batting order. It’s been a surprise that Ashar Zaidi – a hard-hitting, spin bowling all rounder – hasn’t been playing. Although Harmer bowled well against Hampshire Zaidi is a multi-dimensional player and has been in good form for the Second XI.
Hampshire got their first points of the season this week but neither result was particularly convincing as they continued to struggle to put a complete performance together. Against Middlesex they failed to capitalise on a good start, sliding from 128 for 2 to 184 all out, the latest in a litany of collapses – it was at least a total that proved too many for Middlesex. Against Essex they had to fight back from 70 for 4 to post 171 for 5 and then let Essex off the hook from 37 for 3 to tie the game. Some things are beginning to click – Mujeeb Ur Rahman’s returns are improving, Chris Wood is bowling excellently and Colin Munro’s form is picking up, but Rilee Rossouw, Liam McManus and Tom Alsop are struggling in the middle order – Hampshire’s dismissal rate against spin of 15.2 is the second worst in the league, and the identity of Hampshire’s best attack – Gareth Berg, Kyle Abbot, Fidel Edwards and Ryan Stevenson are competing for two spots – remains unclear.
Middlesex’s misery continued this week with defeats against Somerset and Hampshire sending them to the bottom of the table. Their middle overs batting is a major problem: they’ve been given bright starts by Paul Stirling and Max Holden but after the Powerplay only Glamorgan score more slowly than Middlesex’s 7.26 runs per over – and this week in both matches middle overs collapses derailed solid starts and left them playing catch-up in the death overs. Eoin Morgan’s return adds international quality to the middle order but he’s a notoriously scratchy starter and a middle order of Stevie Eskinazi, Nick Gubbins and John Simpson hasn’t shown the power or innovation that Middlesex require. On paper at least, their bowling attack of Steve Finn, Tom Helm, Dwayne Bravo, Ashton Agar, Tom Sowter and Stirling is excellent but they are yet to perform as a unit with one or two poor players costing them.
Freddie Wilde is an analyst at CricViz @fwildecricket