Freddie Wilde analyses the progress of the 18 counties in the T20 Blast.
Although Worcestershire lost their first match of the season – against Yorkshire on Sunday – they continue to impress, particularly because their young bowling attack – considered their weaker suit – keeps firing. In a reduced 9 overs-a-side contest against Northamptonshire 19 year-old Dillon Pennington took two wickets in the first over to derail a huge chase of 131 – Pennington finished with four for nine from his two overs while 19 year-old Pat Brown finished with 2 for 14. Brown was again a central figure with 3 for 34 to restrict Yorkshire to 179 – exactly par at New Road since the start of last season. If Worcester can restrict their opponents to a par score then – given their batting strength – they should win most matches.
Lancashire’s spin-heavy strategy continued to earn dividends this week as they defended a below par 158 with Derbyshire 81 for 2 after ten overs. Leg-spinner Matt Parkinson, who took 2 for 21, and left-arm spinner Stephen Parry who bowled four economical overs, choked the chase expertly. Lancashire – whose 46% of spin overs is the highest in the league – will also have been encouraged by the good form of 25 year-old left arm pacer Toby Lester who followed a promising start in his first two matches with 4 for 25.
In recent years Trent Bridge has been one of the best batting venues in the world but this season the early signs suggest that it might be becoming a little less batsman-friendly. In the opening match of the season Notts could only muster 155 batting first and this week – after they disposed of Derbyshire away – they were bowled out for 150 by Durham, choked by Paul Collingwood and Imran Tahir. Notts have now lost twice at home this season – the same number of matches they lost at home in the entire 2017 campaign. Their team is packed with high quality players and they should be able to adapt but it will pose the champions an interesting challenge if a slightly more restrained approach is required at Trent Bridge this year.
Yorkshire are missing Liam Plunkett, David Willey and Adil Rashid – all with England – but impressively their bowling won them two matches this week – defending a below-par 157 against Durham and a par 176 against Worcestershire’s strong batting order. On both occasions Tim Bresnan – an underrated T20 player – was the deserving Man of the Match. Against Durham Bresnan’s 28 off 15 balls lifted Yorkshire from a poor score to one they could defend before his 2 for 19 and a crucial run out ensured they did just that. Against Worcestershire Bresnan took the crucial wickets of Martin Guptill and Joe Clarke to break open the run-chase and finished with three for 38.
This was a superb week for Durham who followed up an indifferent start – one win and two losses – with two giant killings: thrashing Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire away. On both occasions their opening pair of Tom Latham and Graham Clark were the stars getting Durham’s innings off to rapid starts and set them well on their way to large totals when batting first. Shot-type analysis shows a notable shift in intent in the Powerplay from Durham compared to their previous two matches. Durham may be unfancied, but this week they’ve shown they can go toe-to-toe with the heavyweights of the competition. This season Durham have won three out of three when batting first and none out of two when chasing.
After just one win and consecutive defeats in the opening week Leicestershire bounced back emphatically with a thumping 100 run-win away to Warwickshire – plundering 229, their highest ever score and the highest by any team against Warwickshire. The total is not a surprise considering Leicestershire have been, by a considerable distance, the most attacking team so far this season – boasting an attacking shot percentage of 76%. The innings was led by a 41-ball century from Ben Raine – the second fastest century by an Englishman in T20 cricket.
This was a chastening week for Warwickshire who followed two wins in their first three matches by conceding 200 twice – falling 100 short against Leicestershire and 18 short against Durham. Across the two matches none of Warwickshire’s five man attack (Henry Brookes, Oliver Hannon-Dalby, Colin de Grandhomme, Grant Elliott and Jeetan Patel) recorded an economy rate of less than 9 and two of them (Hannon-Dalby and de Grandhomme) conceded more than 11. While their punishment was particularly severe their attack does look notably weak – of those to bowl this season only Jeetan Patel has a career economy rate of less than eight, although Brookes, only 18 years old and a terrific prospect, is right at the start of his career.
Derbyshire have lost all four matches so far this season and their major problem has been their batting with them posting scores of 161 and 135 when batting first and being restricted to scores of 139 and 145 when batting second. Their run rate of 7.34 – comfortably the lowest in the league, is not specifically the product of intent – four teams have a lower attacking shot percentage than their 63%, but it is instead a product of their attacking shot execution – so far Derbyshire have scored at just 8.84 runs per over when attacking, comfortably the worst in the league. This is problematic – execution is typically harder to improve than intent.
Bottom of the table Northants’ only fixture this week was against table-toppers Worcester and although their task was arguably made easier by the match being reduced to nine overs-a-side, especially after they won the toss and elected to chase – they were still thoroughly out-played, conceding 130 for 3 in just nine overs. Northants’ economy rate – now 10.58, is the highest in the competition; their pace bowlers are conceding an eye-watering 11.81 RPO. For the last two seasons Northants’ pace bowling has been carried by Richard Gleeson and Rory Kleinveldt. This season Gleeson has been out injured, while Kleinveldt who although 35 had an excellent season last year, has struggled for form. Shorn of their leaders the pace attack has suffered heavily and the spinners haven’t done much better.
The England management will have been encouraged to see Sam Billings record his highest T20 score of 95 not out off 54 balls in Kent’s win against Hampshire. The challenge for Billings is to use his opportunities at Kent – rather than carrying drinks for England – to score runs consistently. Billings’ 95 helped Kent to a total of 210 that just proved too many for Hampshire despite Kent’s overseas fast bowler Adam Milne missing with an injury. Meanwhile, Joe Denly’s leg spin continues to be a revelation – he has now taken nine wickets in fourteen overs. Kent, with three wins from four matches, are level with Sussex at the top of the South Group.
Sussex have only lost once this season when they ran into Aaron Finch in stunning form; they have won their three other matches against Essex, Glamorgan and Hampshire. As impressive as their results has been the nature of them. They were forced to work hard for their wins against Essex, recovering from 32 for 3 to post 181, and Hampshire, pulling them back from 59-1 at the end of the Powerplay to just 157. With Jofra Archer, Chris Jordan, Rashid Khan, Danny Briggs in their attack and Tymal Mills soon returning from injury Sussex have star quality but their early matches suggest they are team with steel as well.
Gloucestershire are one of the least glamorous teams in the South Group, but with three wins from four matches, including three in a row, they are off to a strong start. Their batting strategy is built around their captain Michael Klinger who looks to anchor the innings – this season he has scored at 6.61 RPO while the rest of their powerful top order have scored at at least 8. With the ball only three teams have bowled a lower percentage of spin overs than Gloucestershire but they make up for their absence of spinners by employing pace bowlers who take pace off the ball with lots of cutters. Chief among them are slower ball experts AJ Tye and Benny Howell, who has missed their two most recent matches with injury. They may not have the star names but Gloucestershire are an interesting team to keep an eye on.
In the first round of the season Surrey lost their opening two matches, posting a sub-par score of 158 against Middlesex at Lord’s before collapsing when chasing 167 against Kent at The Oval. The arrival of their marquee overseas signing Aaron Finch has had an immediate impact. Against Essex Finch scored 55 off 33 and against Sussex Finch scored 131 not out off 79 – in the respective matches Surrey posted 222 and 192 and won on both occasions. The 79 balls faced by Finch in his century against Sussex made it the longest T20 innings of all time in terms of balls faced. It could have been very different – Finch was dropped on one.
This week Glamorgan’s season was dealt a blow when Shaun Marsh – one of their two overseas players – was recalled by Australia following a shoulder injury. Marsh’s absence has left Glamorgan’s batting more reliant on their local players and in their first match after Marsh’s departure wicket-keeper Chris Cooke stepped up brilliantly, scoring a match-winning 60 not out off 29 balls to take Glamorgan from 110 for 8 to 167 for 8 to win off the last ball against Essex.
Middlesex did not play this week.
Somerset’s season has hardly got going yet after they followed a win and a loss in the opening week with a loss in a rain-reduced match against Gloucestershire. Somerset have now won just two of their last nine reduced overs matches while Gloucestershire have won four of their last six. Across the history of T20 cricket in England only three teams have a poorer record than Somerset in reduced overs matches (six wins in 17) and only one team has a better record than Gloucestershire (10 wins in 17).
Essex have lost three of their first four matches and their post-Powerplay batting is largely to blame. After their top order have set solid platforms their middle order have collapsed – twice seeing them post sub-par totals: one of which was this week against Glamorgan when they slid from 117 for 2 after 13.2 overs to 167 all out after 20 overs – a total Glamorgan chased down off the last ball.
One thing that is at least working for Essex is Adam Zampa – he has been their standout bowler across their four matches taking 1 for 30, 1 for 21, 2 for 20 and 3 for 17 – giving him seven wickets at an economy rate of 6.28.
Hampshire have one of the strongest squads in the league this year but they’ve started the season terribly, losing all three of their opening matches: sliding to 105 all out chasing 169 against Glamorgan; restricted to 158 batting first against Sussex and falling three runs short of a huge chase of 210 against Kent. They’ve played well in certain phases but are yet to put a complete performance together. Their primary problems have been inconsistent Powerplay batting: 26-4, 59-1, 74-4 – and their struggling pace attack: teams have seen off the spinners – economy rate 7.75, and taken the pacers down – economy rate 10.28. Hampshire will take comfort that their next three matches – Middlesex home and away and Essex at home – are against teams in the bottom half of the table.
- Overall run rate is 8.93 (2017 run rate 8.61)
- Attacking shot percentage is 67% (2017 attacking shot percentage 69%)
- 32% of overs bowled by spin (2017 spin overs 31%)
- 17 of the 36 toss winners (47%) have won the match
- 25 of the 36 toss winners (69%) have elected to chase
- 16 of the 36 chasing teams (44%) have won
- 13 of the 36 matches (36%) have been won by the home team
Freddie Wilde is an analyst at CricViz. @fwildecricket