Freddie Wilde analyses the progress of the 18 counties in the T20 Blast.
This was a significant week for Worcester with the arrival of two new overseas signings forcing a tactical rejig. The shift worked excellently with wins Durham and Nottinghamshire taking them to the top of the North Group. Replacing Martin Guptill and Travis Head with Callum Ferguson and Wayne Parnell has strengthened Worcestershire’s inexperienced bowling, certainly their weaker suit. The value of doing so was underlined against Durham as the vulnerability of their attack laid bare with six overs from Luke Wood, Ed Barnard and Moeen Ali being taken for 84 runs. Parnell’s 2 for 22 was the pick of the bowling figures and kept Durham beneath 200 – a total Worcester chased with two balls to spare thanks to a timely return for form for Ross Whiteley, bolstering the middle order following Head’s departure. Against Notts a century from Ferguson propelled Notts to 206 and allayed fears that the step down in quality from Guptill would be problematic.
After losing a thriller against Worcestershire on Friday, Durham were staring at consecutive defeats on Tuesday evening with Lancashire requiring six off the last over. However, a stunning performance from off spinner Liam Trevaskis, taking three wickets for one run in the twentieth over, ensured that Durham held on to their spot at second in the table. Although Durham were arguably fortunate to win against Lancashire, that win and their win against Northants earlier in the week reemphasised the strength of their strategy predicated on tight and disciplined bowling – bowling Northants out for 95 and restricting Lancashire to 150 for 9. Durham’s Powerplay economy rate of 7.13 is the best in the league and squeezes teams into middle over mistakes. It was also encouraging to see them post large totals of 170 against Northants and 194 against Worcestershire – this season Durham’s batting strategy has been founded on solidity – their dismissal rate is above the average in every phase, but in those two innings they demonstrated they have power as well.
A clinical win against bottom of the table Northants was Yorkshire’s only result of the week. Back to back wins has left Yorkshire well placed for a top four finish and their performance against Northants will have given them plenty of confidence. Batting has been Yorkshire’s stronger suit this season so to restrict Northants to just 129 for 7 will have been particularly pleasing. Four of Yorkshire’s five bowlers had economy rates of 6.50 or less and all of them took at least one wicket.
This was a galling week for Lancashire who lost twice from positions of strength – conceding 102 in 47 balls to lose against Leicestershire and failing to score six off the last over against Durham. Lancashire have now lost their last three completed matches after a superb start to the season and risk losing form and their top four spot. Lancashire’s inability to score six runs in the last over against Durham highlighted their death over batting weakness which has been a problem all season – only Sussex score more slowly than Lancashire in the last five overs. Earlier in the season their powerful top order power made up for a weak lower order but now with Liam Livingstone injured and Jos Buttler and Keaton Jennings away with England, it is harder for them to get ahead of the game early on. Lancashire’s spin-heavy bowling is fairly strong but their shortage of pace options was exposed in Leicestershire’s heist.
Defeat against Nottinghamshire on Thursday ended Derbyshire’s run of four consecutive wins but they bounced back comprehensively on Friday with a convincing win against Warwickshire. Although the results were different both matches served to underline Derbyshire’s bowling strength and batting weakness. At the high scoring Trent Bridge they restricted Notts to a below par 166 but failed to chase it and against Warwickshire they batted first and only scored 143 but defended it with relative ease. Up until now Derbyshire have arguably had the strongest bowling attack in the competition but their batting has been a concern, having only once posted a total of more than 175. For their last two matches Wahab Riaz, playing in the CPL, will be replaced by New Zealand batsman Henry Nicholls. It’ll be fascinating to see how they adapt their strategy.
This was a week that summed up Nottinghamshire’s struggle to get going this season: on Thursday their bowlers led a brilliant win against Derbyshire before a poor all-round display with bat and ball on Saturday saw them thrashed by Worcestershire. It has already been made apparent this season that Nottinghamshire’s batting – missing key players and struggling for form – is not what it was last year but now their bowling is showing signs of strain with Worcestershire plundering 206 for 2 in their 20 overs. This season only Harry Gurney and Ish Sodhi have economy rates of less than eight and no other bowler has an economy rate of less than nine. Despite only winning two of their last six matches Notts are still in contention for a top four finish but with difficult remaining fixtures it’s going to be a tough ask and the evidence suggests they are going to be relying on individual rather than collective performances.
Two wins in three matches for Warwickshire this week – against the only two teams below them in the table – has kept their season afloat. A top four finish is unlikely but not impossible. Playing weaker teams clearly helps but Warwickshire did show signs of improvement this week. Their struggling bowlers restricted their opponents to scores of 143 all out, 143 for 9 and 170 for 7. The standout performer was Olly Stone who has missed much of the season with injury but took six wickets this week. The impressive returns of Grant Elliott who appeared to prefer the slower pitches of Leicester, Derby and Northampton begs the question whether Warwickshire’s medium pace-heavy bowling attack was perhaps better suited to lower pitches than the flat track they’ve been faced with at Edgbaston. Four of Warwickshire’s last three matches will be at home and they are likely to be without Chris Woakes who is back with England.
At 92 for 5 in pursuit of Lancashire’s 190, Leicestershire were staring down the barrel of four consecutive defeats – a run of results which would have all but ended their realistic hopes of a top four finish. It was then that a stunning 86 not out off 32 balls from Mohammad Nabi powered a outrageous comeback win with eight balls to spare – a result that keeps Leicester’s quarter final chances alive. If Leicester are to make it finish in the top four they are going to need some consistency and stability from their batsmen – their dismissal rate is the fifth worst in the league. After scores of 149 and 127 last week, on Thursday Leicester slid to 143 all out on their way to defeat against Warwickshire and if it wasn’t for Nabi a similar fate would have befallen them on Friday.
Northants became the first team unable to qualify for the quarter finals in either group this week as a trio of defeats leaves them with just one point from ten matches. Northants’ bowling – with an economy rate of 10.22 – the highest in T20 history, has been their major weakness this season. However, this week it was their batting – sliding to 95 all out against Durham and 129 for 7 against Yorkshire, that really let them down. Northants’ batting – featuring Ben Duckett, Richard Levi, Josh Cobb and Alex Wakley – is powerful, but like Leicester they lack an anchor batsman. No team has a higher attacking shot percentage than Northants’ 75% and this week that aggression, without a stabilising counter-balance, cost them as regular wickets stymied the run flow. Richard Gleeson’s return from injury has at least improved the bowling.
This was a superb week for Somerset whose three wins mean they have now won four in a row and six of their last seven. Most significantly their opening partnership fired for the first time this season – Johan Myburgh’s 103* (44) powering a 10 wicket win against Essex. Somerset look very strong at the moment – Myburgh’s century and a return to form for Jerome Taylor were key developments. Their middle and lower order of Peter Trego, James Hildreth, Tom Abell, Corey Anderson and Lewis Gregory is multifaceted and experienced and their bowling attack with the skiddy pace of Taylor, the bounce of Jamie and Craig Overton, the variation of Gregory, leg spin of Max Waller and off spin of Roleof van der Merwe has every base covered. Their pace bowling has been expensive so far this season but looks to be finding form at the right time.
Kent are well placed for a top four finish after winning two of their three matches this week. In both wins Kent’s bowling – their weaker suit this year – was impressive: bowling Essex out for 163 and Hampshire out for 88. However, their defeat against Gloucestershire – who cruised a chase of 160 for the loss of just two wickets – served as a reminder that against stronger teams Kent’s bowling remains vulnerable unless they post above-par totals. Adam Milne – and increasingly Joe Denly – are the only two bowlers Kent can confidently rely on for control. Key to Kent’s chances will be how the other bowlers – Marcus Stoinis, Callum Haggett, Ivan Thomas, Imran Qayyum and Mitchell Claydon – none of whom have a career economy rate of less than eight, fare.
This was the week Glamorgan moved from a merely dangerous team to genuine quarter final contenders as they strung together three wins against Gloucestershire, Middlesex and Essex led by their hitherto inconsistent batsmen. Indeed this was a week that showed when Glamorgan get their best team on the pitch—they’ve been hit by injuries, illness and withdrawals this season—they have the makings of a strong side. A batting order of youngsters Aneurin Donald and Kieran Calrson, in-form pinch hitter Craig Meschede, a multi-skilled overseas trio Usman Khawaja, Joe Burns and Colin Ingram and the experienced Graham Wagg is very imposing. Meschede’s success – taking pressure off the youngsters and responsibility off the overseas players – has been key. The emergence of Ruaidhri Smith as another member of their pace bowling attack was another positive in a brilliant week for Glamorgan. Their scarcity of spin bowlers is the only obvious hole in their team at the moment.
Gloucestershire continue to impress. This week they played three different types of matches very well. Their bowlers were perfectly suited to a sluggish pitch in Hove, restricting Sussex to 127 which was chased maturely against their strong attack. They fell two runs short in a big chase of 202 against Glamorgan but their lower order showcased excellent power. Then in Canterbury they restricted Kent to 160 before calmly chasing it down with four balls to spare. One tactic Gloucestershire could consider to improve, particularly in run chases, is to keep Michael Klinger and Ian Cockbain apart. This season they are the slowest scoring of Gloucestershire’s top order players and against Glamorgan they scored at less than a run a ball together for 4.1 overs. Splitting them with the faster scoring Benny Howell could help them retain the momentum created by opener Miles Hammond.
Surrey’s reputation as the most dangerous batting team in the competition was reinforced this week as they obliterated Middlesex’s target of 222 in just 16 overs. Aaron Finch was once again the star, blitzing his second century of the season. However, that Surrey conceded 221 is a concern. The form of Tom Curran – returning from injury – is a particular worry, so far this season his economy rate is 10.85. However, Surrey can take encouragement from the performance of their bowlers against Essex on Sunday, restricting them to 157 – a target they chased with ease. The identity of Surrey’s fifth bowler, alongside Curran, Jade Dernbach, Rikki Clarke and Gareth Batty is uncertain but against Essex Morne Morkel – who replaced Matthew Pillans – returned his most economical figures of the season after three expensive performances in July.
Sussex played three matches in a week for the first time since the opening round of the season. Just one win from the three matches leaves them at the back of a six team hunt for the top four – but the top of the table is very tight and they still stand a good chance of qualification. What will worry head coach Jason Gillespie more however is that in a campaign interrupted badly by rain Sussex are yet to get going and put together complete performances. Sussex’s strategy is clearly bowling-heavy with a strong six man attack at their disposal. The problem is this compromises their batting depth with Jofra Archer, a useful hitter but not a man for a crisis, batting at seven for much of this season. The success of a shallow batting order is often dependent on steady Powerplays which preserve wickets. This season Sussex have not managed to do this – they have the fourth worst Powerplay dismissal rate in the league and once they lose early wickets it’s hard for them to catch up. This week they rebalanced their team after their defeat by Gloucestershire by picking an extra batsman, moving Archer down to eight, and the change produced one win and one loss.
Being bowled out for 88 at home against Kent is the new nadir of Hampshire’s miserable season. Hampshire’s batting has been abject this year—their average of 18.44 is the lowest in the league—and it’s hard to say why other than a dramatic and large-scale loss of form from key batsmen. Indeed it is unlikely any team would have been able to cope with this extent of under-performance from such high calibre players. Together James Vince, Sam Northeast and Rilee Rossouw have scored 362 runs in 24 innings at an average of just 15.73. These significant top order failures have exposed Hampshire’s weaker lower order which has led to significantly under-par totals which has in-turn placed a huge amount of pressure on a capable, but not flawless, bowling attack.
Middlesex’s hopes of a quarter final were ended this week with three defeats extending their run of consecutive losses to six. Their sequence of results this week, failing to chase 170 – despite 91 from Eoin Morgan, failing to defend 222 and being dismissed for 131 summed up a season of immense frustration when they have performed well across an innings but not across a match. It will have been particularly infuriating that on the one day when Paul Stirling – easily their most powerful player – came off and scored a century, their bowling attack, who bowled Sussex out for 169 the day before, conceded 222 in only 16 overs. Middlesex’s batting is short of power hitters and their bowling is short of experience but they are a talented group of players who should be more successful than they are.
Four matches in six days meant this was a busy week for Essex who knew they’d need to win at least two of them to stand a realistic chance of mounting a comeback from the bottom of the table. They lost all four: thrashed by Kent, Somerset and Surrey and edged out by Glamorgan – all but ending their hopes of a quarter final. Essex have been really poor with both bat and ball this season and this week was no different – on the two occasions they bowled first they conceded 190 and on the two occasions they batted first they scored 135 and 157. Only Varun Chopra—400 runs at 7.66 runs per over—and Adam Zampa—12 wickets at 7.90 runs per over—can be said to have had good seasons this year. No other batsman has scored more than 200 runs and no other bowler has taken more than five wickets. They are a team short on T20 pedigree and it’s all too clear.
- Overall run rate is 8.93 (2017 run rate 8.61)
- Attacking shot percentage is 67% (2017 attacking shot percentage 69%)
- 31% of overs bowled by spin (2017 spin overs 32%)
- 37 of the 85 toss winners (43%) have won the match
- 50 of the 85 toss winners (58%) have elected to chase
- 36 of the 85 chasing teams (42%) have won
- 36 of the 85 matches (42%) have been won by the home team
Freddie Wilde is an analyst at CricViz. @fwildecricket