Freddie Wilde analyses the progress of the 18 counties in the T20 Blast.
Convincing wins against strugglers Leicestershire at home and Northamptonshire away confirmed Durham’s quarter final qualification – a remarkable achievement for a struggling club with an inexperienced squad. However, a thumping defeat against Lancashire on Sunday – in which they were bowled out for a club record low 78 – has put their home quarter final in jeopardy. The defeat is a timely reminder of the fragile nature of Durham’s batting strategy – one that has been heavily dependent on Tom Latham and Graham Clark providing solid starts at the top of the order. This season Durham’s Powerplay dismissal rate of 31.4 is the second highest in the competition with Latham and Clark making double figures in 11 of their 13 innings. Against Lancashire they made 0 and 2.
After their disastrous defeat against Durham last week Lancashire bounced back with three impressive wins that confirmed their progress to the quarter finals. Explosive batting from the in-form Alex Davies and Karl Brown at the top of the order set the platform for large totals against Yorkshire and Warwickshire before Dane Vilas, Jordan Clark and James Faulkner added lower order power that has been absent this season to lift them to 185 on both occasions. Without Liam Livingstone, Jos Buttler and Keaton Jennings Lancashire’s batting is considerably weaker and if they are to make headway in the knock outs they are going to need to perform well with the ball. This week they did just that with Faulkner taking eight wickets and the wrist spin duo of Matt Parkinson and Zakir Khan taking 12 between them.
This was the week Worcestershire confirmed their place in the quarter finals but it was a concerning week for them. A Derbyshire batting implosion helped them defend a disappointing total of 137 and guarantee a top four finish but defeats against struggling Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire are a wake up call for a team who have been one of the frontrunners all season. What will particularly worry Worcester is that on two occasions this week their batting – considered their stronger suit, let them down on the slowest scoring venues in the league in Derby and Leicester. That Joe Clarke scored 76 of the 137 against Derbyshire further underlines his brilliance as one of the best batsmen in the competition. Their young bowling attack continues to impress and deserve enormous credit for defending 137. 19 year old Pat Brown has now taken 25 wickets – the most by any bowler in the competition.
Despite not playing anywhere near their best this season Nottinghamshire head into the final round knowing victory over Yorkshire in their last match will earn them qualification for the quarter finals. Nottinghamshire began the week with a disappointing defeat against Warwickshire but over the weekend they won a crucial match against Yorkshire and beat Worcestershire while Yorkshire and Derbyshire dropped points. Both Nottinghamshire’s wins this week were off the back of performances from less heralded players: against Yorkshire runs for Jake Libby and Billy Root helped post an unassailable 212 and against Worcestershire Rikki Wessels, Steven Mullaney and Libby and Moores again all contributed in a chase of 192. Nottinghamshire‘s dismissal rate of 16.0 is the fourth lowest in the league but they’ve maintained their aggressive strategy, attacking 69% of deliveries – the sixth highest in the league. This positivity has engendered inconsistency but has won them enough matches to keep their title defence alive.
Yorkshire’s bowling – particularly their shortage of strike bowlers – let them down twice this week. Defeats against Lancashire and Nottinghamshire leave their quarter final hopes hanging by a thread. In both matches Yorkshire struggled to take wickets in the middle overs and in both matches they were punished by well-set middle order batsmen. Wicket taking has been an issue that has bubbled away all season for Yorkshire—their overall strike rate of 23.8 is the third highest in the league—but until this week they’ve generally got away with it thanks to low economy rates. David Willey has been excellent with the bat this season – scoring 256 runs, but he has struggled with the ball taking just five wickets in eight matches. Yorkshire’s middle and lower order batting is also a sight concern: the likes of Gary Ballance, Jonathan Tattersall and Harry Brook are not renowned for power hitting. Yorkshire’s death over run rate of 9.75 is 11th highest in the league.
This was the week that the dream died for Derbyshire. After lighting up the season with a sensational pace bowling attack Derbyshire’s quarter final hopes ended in bitterly disappointing fashion. First they gifted Northamptonshire their first win of the season – failing to defend 178 at Derby, taking just three Northants wickets as they cruised to the target. Then, after restricting table-toppers Worcestershire to 137 they fell 16 runs short after a top order collapse left them 28 for 4. A No Result in their must-win match against Leicestershire on Sunday ruled them out of the race for the quarter finals. After losing their first four matches Derbyshire’s margin for error was tiny and despite an excellent run of form that poor start has come back to haunt them.
Warwickshire can still sneak into the top four but they must win their two remaining fixtures and hope a number of other results go their way. Contrasting performances – a win against Nottingham and a loss against Lancashire – embodied a season a frustration for Warwickshire whose bowling attack is beginning to click but only when it’s almost certainly too late. Over the last few weeks Olly Stone, Jeetan Patel, Aaron Thomason, Alex Thompson and Grant Elliott have returned some impressive figures. With a versatile and powerful batting order behind them things could have been different had they found form earlier.
Leicestershire’s spluttering season finally fizzled out this week. Needing to win all their remaining matches to quality they fell short in a chase of 157 against Durham – a defeat which encapsulated a season when their batting has let them down far too regularly. Only three teams average less than Leicestershire’s 22.23 and among their batsmen only Colin Ackerman has a dismissal rate of more than 20. Leicestershire’s pace bowling has also been problematic this season – only Northants and Essex have a higher strike rate and average. Overseas signing Mohammad Abbas is a more of a red ball bowler and has struggled to lead an inexperienced and low quality pace attack. Instead they have relied on the spin of Mohammad Nabi and Callum Parkinson.
It took 11 matches but this week Northants finally won their first match of the season, chasing 178 with ease against Derbyshire’s strong attack with Ben Duckett and Josh Cobb powering them over the line. It was a win that underlined what could have been for Northants – the likes of Duckett, Cobb, Alex Wakeley and Richard Levi are powerful batsmen but too often this season they were being asked to chase or set huge totals as a result of a bowling attack that was in disarray. Against Derbyshire they managed to retain a semblance of control and restrict their opponents to a manageable total for the first time this season.
Somerset are the strongest team in the competition as the league stage nears completion. Wins this week against Hampshire, Surrey and Glamorgan this week mean they have now won seven in a row and nine of their last ten with their only defeat coming in a ten over match against Surrey. The form of opener Steven Davies, who averages 15.18, is their only concern now that their pace bowlers have found their groove. Corey Anderson has been one of Somerset’s star players this season and he was integral to two of their three wins this week scoring 53 off 31 against Surrey and 72 off 30 against Glamorgan. Across the season, often coming to the crease with Somerset in trouble, Anderson has scored 433 runs at 10.26 runs per over.
This week, either side of a washout against Essex , Gloucestershire destroyed Middlesex – posting the highest total of the season: 242, before impressively defending 175 against Surrey’s strong batting order. Gloucestershire’s 242 was powered by Ian Cockbain’s spectacular 123 not out off 61 balls illustrating that he had the power to match his teammates Kieran Noema-Barnett, Jack Taylor and Ryan Higgins who bailed Gloucestershire out from 55 for 3 to 174 for 6 against Surrey later in the week. Gloucestershire’s defence against Surrey was led by David Payne’s three Powerplay wickets. Payne – a left-arm medium pacer – is perhaps the most uncelebrated of Gloucestershire’s attack but this season he is their leading wicket-taker with 14 wickets, nine coming in the first six overs.
A hard-fought win against Middlesex has left Kent in a strong position to secure a top four finish – four points clear of fifth place. Kent’s position in the table is particularly impressive considering they’ve had four washouts. The most pleasing aspect of their win against Middlesex, chasing a tough target of 190, was the return to form of Alex Blake. Kent’s top order of Joe Denly, Daniel Bell-Drummond, Heino Kuhn and Sam Billings is one of the strongest in the competition. However, this season Blake – a powerful lower order hitter, has struggled for form. Before his match-winning 57 off 27 balls against Middlesex he had scored just 40 runs in six innings. Blake’s innings was particularly timely given Marcus Stoinis’ absence with injury. One win from their last two matches should secure a quarter final.
Glamorgan’s fate is still in their own hands but consecutive defeats against Somerset and Sussex have ended their streak of four consecutive wins and has endangered their progress which last week looked relatively secure. Losing Usman Khawaja to Australia A’s tour of India and Joe Burns to injury has been a huge blow which has left their batting enormously dependent on Colin Ingram. Their weaker batting was in evidence against Somerset and Sussex. However both matches were arguably lost by their bowlers who conceded 210 and 186. In both matches it was Glamorgan’s death bowling – one of their weaknesses this season with the third highest economy rate – that let them down, conceding 75 and 69 runs respectively off the last five overs.
Two more No Results – taking their season tally to a world record equalling four washouts – left Sussex needing to win all three of their remaining matches and hoping other results go their way to qualify for the quarter finals. On Tuesday evening they secured the first of those three wins, sweeping aside Glamorgan in the manner many expected they would do all season – emphatically defending a big total of 186 by bowling Glamorgan out for 88 with Tymal Mills closing the match out with a hat-trick. The result also gave Sussex a valuable Net Run Rate boost. They will have been particularly pleased by the batting of Laurie Evans – who has had a superb season, and breakout players Delray Rawlins and Michael Burgess who have added some power to one of the weaker batting orders in the competition. Time will tell whether it is too little, too late.
Surrey’s quarter final hopes took a massive hit this week with a No Result against Sussex and consecutive narrow defeats against Somerset and Gloucestershire leaving them relying on results going their way if they are to qualify. Surrey have either been one bowler short of a complete attack or had one bowler out of form all season and this week was no different with Somerset targeting Gareth Batty and Freddie van der Bergh and Gloucestershire targeting Matt Pillans and van der Bergh to great effect. For much of this season Surrey have relied on the power of Aaron Finch to bail their bowlers out of trouble but with Finch absent due to personal reasons this week (and Ollie Pope with England) they struggled to make up ground with the bat.
Two more defeats and a No Result this week mean Essex have now gone seven matches without a win. Earlier in the season batting, particularly outside the Powerplay, was Essex’s major problem but now it is pace bowling. While their spinners Adam Zampa, Simon Harmer and Ashar Zaidi have performed relatively well all season, their pace bowling has been woeful. No pace bowling attack in the league has a higher average, economy rate or strike rate. Peter Siddle – with two wickets at an average of 59.50 – has surprisingly struggled following an excellent Big Bash League. Jamie Porter has a healthy economy rate of 7.65 but has only taken three wickets. Matt Coles, Matt Quinn, and Neil Wagner have been neither frugal or potent. This has been a worryingly poor season for Essex.
Hampshire were provided with a strong start against Glamorgan this week, reaching 68 for 1 at the end of the Powerplay and 94 for 3 after 9.2 overs. That early momentum was choked from the innings by the middle order who scored at less than a run-a-ball as Hampshire slid to a meagre total of 151 for 8. This season the criticism has rightly focussed on the star names at Hampshire—James Vince, Sam Northeast and Rilee Rossouw—but Hampshire’s next generation have also been disappointing. Tom Alsop, Lewis McManus and Joe Weatherley have averaged just 14.00 at a scoring rate of 6.75 runs per over.
The nightmare continues for Middlesex. Less than a week after being plundered for 222 in 16 overs by Surrey at The Oval they conceded the highest total of the season: 242 against Gloucestershire in Bristol. Middlesex’s batting struggles – they have a middle order conspicuously short of power – are easier to explain than their bowling struggles. At times their first choice attack this season has – on paper at least – been very strong: Steven Finn, Tom Helm, Dwayne Bravo, Ashton Agar, Nathan Sowter and Paul Stirling. However they don’t have much depth. James Franklin, James Fuller, James Harris and Tom Barber are very expensive back-up options: none of them have a career economy rate of under 8.47.
- Overall run rate is 8.86 (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%)
- 47 of the 107 toss winners (44%) have won the match
- 66 of the 107 toss winners (62%) have elected to chase
- 44 of the 107 chasing teams (41%) have won
- 49 of the 107 matches (46%) have been won by the home team
Freddie Wilde is an analyst at CricViz. @fwildecricket