The domestic T20 enters its 20th season on Wednesday, starting with a repeat of last year’s final, at Canterbury – where the defending Vitality Blast champions Kent will play host to Somerset.
The fast-moving pace of Twenty20 cricket calls for supreme confidence while, at the same time, keeping a clear head. In no other form of the game is the line between playing without fear and out-and-out recklessness so fine.
Much is made of match-ups – where teams will aim to keep a specific bowler up their sleeve for when a targeted batter enters the fray – not to mention the usual metrics such as strike rates for batters and bowlers’ economy rates.
But, in the heat of the battle, there’s no substitute for taking top order wickets. Nothing causes more panic than early inroads during the powerplay.
Similarly, the sides who look to weigh things up for an over or two with the bat – believe it or not, there’s time – before pushing the button tend to be more successful.
Surrey were the first team to embrace T20 cricket – winning the inaugural domestic T20 in 2003 and reaching each of the first four finals days. Since then, however, their record has been bewildering given the resources at their disposal – failing to get out of their group in 11 of the last 15 summers.
Even more galling for the Oval outfit than narrowly missing out on qualification for the Blast’s knockout phase last year, was seeing all four of their fellow South Group representatives prosper in the quarter-finals.
Kent, the only team to overwhelm the South Londoners home and away, were crowned champions after beating Somerset by 25 runs in the final, though not before disposing of this summer’s 6-1 favourites Sussex in the semis.
Surrey look strong again this year, perhaps stronger than for quite some time. Indeed, their 10-1 odds for the title don’t do them justice.
England’s Chris Jordan has returned from Sussex as T20 captain, plus the white-ball specialists Laurie Evans, Dan Moriarty and Jason Roy are primed and ready to make their first appearances of the season.
If the rumoured move for the former West Indies’ skipper Kieron Pollard, as second overseas player, is true the South Londoners really will have all bases covered. Pollard’s T20 record – more than 11,500 runs at an average of 31 and more than 300 wickets – speaks for itself.
His fellow Trinidadian and off-spinner, Sunil Narine – who has the experience of more than 400 T20 appearances to draw on – is definitely inked in for Surrey.
If there is a concern, it’s the back injuries Sam and Tom Curran suffered last winter which will dictate their involvement with the ball.
Surrey opened their T20 campaign last summer with a hat-trick of victories before England’s T20 and ODI series against Sri Lanka snatched the Currans away.
This year’s Vitality Blast group phase coincides with England’s Test series with New Zealand and the final Test of last summer’s series with India, which has been carried over to the start of July.
Larger on the selectors’ radar at the moment is Jamie Overton, who has built a strong case for an international debut in the opening weeks of the 2022 campaign.
Overton can deliver with bat and ball, as can Surrey’s T20 lynchpin in 2021, Will Jacks, who will be an even cannier spin operator for taking a first-class career best 4-65 against Kent last week.
Jacks hit more sixes than any other Surrey batter in last summer’s Blast en route to 393 runs at an average of 35.72. Jacks’ strike rate of 170.12 runs per 100 balls was only bettered in the South Group by Somerset’s Tom Banton (176.08).
VITALITY BLAST 2022 – SOUTH GROUP PREVIEW
Other than winning the title in 2019, Essex have made little impression on the Blast in recent years. The availability of England’s Dan Lawrence (who averaged 42 with the bat last year) will be key. The bowling – led by Sam Cook and off-spinner Simon Harmer – looks potent, though.
Best finish: Winners (2019).
The Welshmen have not progressed to the knockout phase since reaching the semis in 2017, but Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne (390 runs at 55.71 in 2021) is back for more. The issue is the bowling.
Best finish: Semi-finals (2004 and 2017).
Gloucestershire are overdue, having reached the quarter-finals three times and the semi-finals once (in 2020) in the last six years. Glenn Phillips, who made 500 runs at an average of 50.55 in last year’s Blast, and Ian Cockbain head the batting.
Best finish: Runners-up (2007).
Last season’s semi-finalists have a proud record in the domestic T20, having lifted the trophy twice and only failing to reach finals day four times in the last 12 seasons. Hampshire will be hoping for greater consistency from James Vince, who made just two scores of 40 or more last term.
Best finish: Winners (2010 and 2012).
The defending champions. Only two batters made more runs in last year’s Vitality Blast than the Spitfires’ Daniel Bell-Drummond. Jordan Cox (who averaged 52.42) is also capable of turning a game on its head. But much will hinge on the performances of leg-spinner Qais Ahmad.
Best finish: Winners (2007 and 2021).
Their record of just two quarter-final appearances since winning the T20 in 2008 underlines the north Londoners’ tag as one of the outsiders. But if Stevie Eskinazi (who scored 399 runs at 44.33 in 2021) can carry last season’s form into this, who knows?
Best finish: Winners (2008).
Last summer’s runners-up are expected to pack a punch again, with youngsters Tom Banton and Will Smeed setting the tone at the top of the batting order. All-rounders Josh Davey, Lewis Gregory and van der Merwe will be key.
Best finish: Winners (2005).
Runners-up in 2018, quarter-finalists in 2019 and 2020, plus semi-finalists last summer. Steve Finn has moved down from Middlesex to replace Chris Jordan, but the departure of opener Phil Salt to Lancashire leaves the Sharks looking weaker.
Best finish: Winners (2009).