Vitality Blast T20 – South Group Preview


Essex’s T20 opener against Gloucestershire at Chelmsford is now under a week away, and with action in the South Group getting underway tonight here’s a look at how the nine teams are shaping up ahead of the tournament.

Tickets are still available for Essex’s first match on Tuesday 30 May against Gloucestershire, so if you’re looking for a great way to spend a summer half-term evening look no further than The Cloud County Ground.



Captain: Simon Harmer
Overseas players: Simon Harmer (South Africa), Daniel Sams (Australia)
Finals Day appearances: 5 (2006, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2019)
Titles: 1 (2019)
2022 finish: Quarter-finals
2022 leading run-scorer: Michael Pepper (439)
2022 leading wicket-taker: Simon Harmer (17)

Key winter moves: It is 2022 all over again as far as Essex are concerned. They were so impressed with the Australian T20 specialist Daniel Sams (a strike-rate of 171.87 with the bat last season alongside 15 wickets) that they have asked him to return.

The big question: Michael Pepper has emerged in the past two seasons as an in-demand T20 gunslinging number three with a 360-degree game. He was Essex’s leading run-scorer in both the 2021 and 2022 campaigns, ramping, scooping and reverse-sweeping from ball one. Can he do it again?

Wildcard watch: Feroze Khushi – With six Essex players already signed up by The Hundred teams, any additions are going to have to take what chances come their way in the Blast. Khushi hit a career-best 67 from 40 balls last season; something similar could pique interest.

Final thought: Because they are the warm-up act for Ireland’s Test against England, Essex will begin the Blast two or three games behind everyone else. Whether that proves an advantage or disadvange remains to be seen. However, they do have a tendency to finish the competition strongly, so may have their rivals looking over their shoulders.


Captain: David Lloyd
Overseas players: Michael Neser (Australia), Colin Ingram (South Africa
Finals Day appearances: 2 (2004, 2017)
Titles: 0
2022 finish: Sixth
2022 leading run-scorer: Sam Northeast (510)
2022 leading wicket-taker: Michael Hogan (20)
Head to head: Essex 10 wins, Glamorgan 6 wins

Key winter moves: Glamorgan have secured the services of Colin Ingram for the next two years and he will be available throughout the campaign, but will be without Michael Hogan, their leading wicket taker in 2022, who has left for Kent.

The big question: The availability of Michael Neser remains unclear as Glamorgan head into the Blast with the Australian very much in the mix for a call up into the Ashes squad in the event of injury. With Michael Hogan gone Neser’s wickets become even more important for the Welsh side.

Wildcard watch: Dan Douthwaite – This is a big year for Douthwaite who is more than capable of a match-winning performance with the bat and the ball. As a big hitting all-rounder he is the kind of player The Hundred teams could be looking for if he has a good year in the Blast.

Final thought: With just two Finals Day appearances and no titles, the Blast is a big gap in the club’s record that they will be looking to fill in 2023. In order to claim that first Blast title much will depend on the performance of the white-ball players who have not been part of the County Championship games so far when they come into the team.


Captain: Jack Taylor
Overseas players: Grant Roelofsen (South Africa), Zafar Gohar (Pakistan)
Finals Day appearances: 3 (2003, 2007, 2020)
Titles: 0
2022 finish: Fifth
2022 leading run-scorer: Glenn Phillips (340)
2022 leading wicket-taker: David Payne (18)
Head to head: Essex 7 wins, Gloucestershire 4 wins

Key winter moves: Gloucestershire are a team in transition following the departure of established stars Benny Howell, Ian Cockbain and Ryan Higgins. Financial pressures have precluded the return of overseas batsman Glenn Phillips and South African wicketkeeper-batter Grant Roelofsen has been recruited to help plug the gap in the top order. Pakistani spinner Zafar Gohar has been contracted for the entirety of the competition.

The big question: Can Roelofsen reproduce the white-ball form that made him a big hit with Essex in the One Day Cup last year? A proven top-order batsman, the 26-year-old South African scored 355 runs at an average of 59.16 across seven matches and achieved a highest score of 90 against Yorkshire at Chelmsford in the 50-over competition. His most impressive figures have come in T20 cricket, in which he has scored 1,349 runs in 44 innings at 34.58 and at a strike-rate of 125.37.

Wildcard watch: Graeme van Buuren – Released by Birmingham Phoenix, he possesses the skill-set required to be an effective operator in The Hundred. A serious shoulder injury wrecked his T20 campaign in 2022, but the experienced South African all-rounder is back and firing on all cylinders. His canny slow left-arm bowling and ability to bat anywhere in the top and middle order render him a versatile type, suitable to cope with all manner of situations.

Final thought: Gloucestershire’s chances of success will, in large degree, be dependent upon the ability of up-and-coming Academy products to learn on the job. Gone are the days when they could afford to splash the cash and the county has instead opted to go with youth in place of expensive specialists. Benn Wells made the transition to first-team T20 cricket last year and will be joined by talented young brothers Tom and Ollie Price in attempting to establish themselves as effective performers in the Blast.

Hampshire Hawks

Captain: James Vince
Overseas players: Nathan Ellis (Australia), Ben McDermott (Australia)
Finals Day appearances: 9 (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2021, 2022)
Titles: 3 (2010, 2012, 2022)
2022 finish: Winners
2022 leading run-scorer: James Vince (678)
2022 leading wicket-taker: James Fuller (23)
Head to head: Essex 14 wins, Hampshire Hawks 16 wins

Key winter moves: How do you improve a flawless bowling unit – which dominated in the powerplay, squeezed in the middle and defended at the death? Bring in the most innovative bowler in the world, who has taken more Blast wickets than 11 others, ie Benny Howell. Everything else that made the Hawks great in 2022 stays the same.

The big question: Can they defend their crown? No team has managed to do it before, you wouldn’t bet against them if they can get on a run like last year. Having one man score almost 700 runs and four bowlers claiming 20 or more wickets – with five regular bowlers averaging under 23 – will be hard to replicate.

Wildcard watch: Tom Prest – Other than McDermott, almost all of Hampshire’s likely starters already have a Hundred gig locked down. Prest is the legible man out, although he spurned the big lights to guarantee playing time in the One Day Cup last year. Aneurin Donald and Scott Currie are outside bets if they break into the Hawks line-up.

Final thought: Barring maybe James Vince, Hampshire are a team of excellent cricketers rather than superstars. It is head coach Adi Birrell’s way. The South African guru added the SA20 to his Blast medal with a similarly steady-on-paper team over the winter. The bowling attack is perhaps the closest thing cricket comes to Total Football.

Kent Spitfires

Captain: Sam Billings
Overseas players: Kane Richardson (Australia), George Linde (South Africa)
Finals Day appearances: 4 (2007, 2008, 2009, 2021)
Titles: 2 (2007, 2021)
2022 finish: Ninth
2022 leading run-scorer: Joe Denly (423)
2022 leading wicket-taker: Qais Ahmed, Grant Stewart (14)
Head to head: Essex 17 wins, Kent Spitfires 20 wins

Key winter moves: Darren Stevens has gone, but the nucleus of the side that won the title in 2021 before tanking a year later is basically intact. Mystery spinner Qais Ahmad was less of a mystery second time out so the Spitfires have gone for Richardson’s proven T20 pedigree. Billings is available from the start, having spurned the IPL.

The big question: Which Kent will turn up? The all-conquering champions of 2021 or the anaemic imitation of last season? The squad is full of proven match-winners, but they had too many collective off days and the fielding deteriorated drastically: no side can seriously hope to reach Finals Day if it’s dropping three catches per game.

Wildcard watch: Daniel Bell-Drummond or Joey Evison – Both would both be attractive, especially if they shine in the Blast, while Jack Leaning is a prolific top-order batter and an economical spinner. It wouldn’t be his first time: in 2021 he was about to captain Kent at Beckenham when the call came in and he was diverted to the Kia Oval.

Final thought: The death overs were a little too literal for Kent last season. The 2021 success owed a lot to the way they pushed on in overs 18 to 20 when batting first. In 2022 they repeatedly had their opponents by the throat, only to falter at the pointy end of the innings. Richardson should go some way to addressing this.


Captain: Stephen Eskinazi
Overseas players: Pieter Malan (South Africa)
Finals Day appearances: 1 (2008)
Titles: 1 (2008)
2022 finish: Ninth
2022 leading run-scorer: Stephen Eskinazi (431)
2022 leading wicket-taker: Martin Andersson (17)
Head to head: Essex 18 wins, Middlesex 15 wins

Key winter moves: Middlesex’s winter plans were torn up when left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj suffered serious injury days after signing for this competition and he’s yet to be replaced. However, both South African Pieter Malan and all-rounder Ryan Higgins have been added since the Seaxes underwhelming showing last season, so giving their line-up a more robust feel.

The big question: There are a number. How much difference will a genuine ‘finisher’ like Higgins make to Middlesex’s batting prowess? Will Blake Cullen recover from last season’s injuries to bolster an attack too often put to the sword in this format? And did Eskinazi learn anything from his stint in the Big Bash League with which to inspire his troops?

Wildcard watch: With only two players, snapped up so far, several Middlesex players have cases to make. However, in a game where fans want to see big hits, franchises might want to take a look at Cracknell, an exciting young batter who strikes a long ball and who’s impressed in the Blast in recent seasons.

Final thought: Having a ‘finisher’ like Higgins back in harness gives Middlesex a better balance with the bat. Others like Cracknell and young quicks Toby Greatwood and Max Harris are now a year older, but they may need Blake Cullen fit and Tom Helm at his best to improve on just two quarter-final appearances since lifting the trophy in 2008.


Captain: Tom Abell
Overseas players: Matt Henry (New Zealand), Peter Siddle (Australia)
Finals Day appearances: 8 (2005, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2018, 2021, 2022)
Titles: 1 (2005)
2022 finish: Semi-finals
2022 leading run-scorer: Rilee Rossouw (623)
2022 leading wicket-taker: Ben Green (21)
Head to head: Essex 6 wins, Somerset 9 wins

Key winter moves: Big-hitting Tom Kohler-Cadmore is expected to open the batting, joining a top order of fast scorers in the Blast, following his move from Yorkshire, while New Zealand Test player Matt Henry has been recruited as an overseas player to boost the seam attack and could prove an experienced option for bowling at the death.

The big question: Can Somerset maintain form throughout a competition they have only won once, 18 years ago. Last year, having sailed through the group with some devastating displays, the Cidermen failed to do themselves justice in the semi-final against Hampshire, by no means the only time they have underperformed on Finals Day when it mattered most.

Wildcard watch: Ben Green – Somerset’s One-Day Cup captain proved himself with bat and ball in limited overs games last season, smashing 157 in a 50-over game against Durham at Taunton and finishing as the team’s top wicket-taker in the Blast with his seam bowling. Currently, a white ball specialist, Green is well capable of clearing the ropes with the bat and troubling top batsmen with the ball.

Final thought: Spectators at the Cooper Associates County Ground look guaranteed more batting fireworks with power-hitters like Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Tom Banton and Will Smeed at the top of the order and other players in Lewis Gregory, Ben Green and Craig Overton, who relish clearing the ropes. Taking wickets on the true Taunton pitches could hold the key to qualifying for Finals Day.


Captain: Chris Jordan
Overseas players: Sunil Narine (West Indies), Sean Abbott (Australia)
Finals Day appearances: 7 (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2013, 2014, 2020)
Titles: 1 (2003)
2022 finish: Quarter-finals
2022 leading run-scorer: Will Jacks (449)
2022 leading wicket-taker: Chris Jordan (17)
Head to head: Essex 19 wins, Surrey 11 wins

Key winter moves: The only significant change in Surrey’s short-form ranks from last year is the arrival of Sean Abbott, the Australian fast bowler who also hits a long ball, as an overseas player in place of West Indies veteran all-rounder Kieron Pollard. Abbott, 31, has played 11 ODIs and nine T20 internationals.

The big question: Can Surrey finally add to their only previous T20 Cup triumph, which came under Adam Hollioake’s captaincy way back in the inaugural tournament in 2003. Since then there have been six other Finals Day appearances, with runners-up finishes in 2004, 2013 and 2020. A Blast title is certainly high on Surrey’s wish list for this summer as they also try to retain their 2022 LV= Insurance County Championship crown.

Wildcard watch: Jordan Clark and Tom Lawes – Twelve Surrey players were selected in the Hundred Draft, either retained or picked, but of those still without a franchise the likes of all-rounders Clark and Lawes, plus Aussie paceman and UK passport holder Dan Worrall, will be looking to catch the eye.

Final thought: Surrey’s recent championship success has been based, bowling-wise, on an outstanding pace battery but in T20 they look far more to spin, with West Indian wizard Sunil Narine – perhaps the world’s best mystery spinner in short-form cricket – backed up by combative left-armer Dan Moriarty and the off spin of multi-talented all-rounder Will Jacks. The batting, meanwhile, looks strong and deep.

Sussex Sharks

Captain: Ravi Bopara
Overseas players: Nathan McAndrew (Austrlia), Shadab Khan (Pakistan)
Finals Day appearances: 5 (2007, 2009, 2012, 2018, 2021)
Titles: 1 (2009)
2022 finish: Seventh
2022 leading run-scorer: Tom Alsop (318)
2022 leading wicket-taker: Tymal Mills (15)
Head to head: Essex 15 wins, Sussex Sharks 17 wins

Key winter moves: Luke Wright’s retirement will leave a big hole in the top order, but the Sharks have recruited well from overseas. Nathan McAndrew had a good Big Bash with Sydney Thunder and brings new-ball experience and middle-order hitting potential while the experienced Shadab Khan looks an ideal replacement for Rashid Khan.

The big question: Sussex have plenty of bowling options and Pakistan leg-spinner Shadab Khan looks a terrific signing, but can Sussex get enough runs on the board? Tom Alsop, who missed the first four games of 2022 but still finished leading scorer, has the temperament to anchor the innings and let others go for their shots.

Wildcard watch: Ali Orr – In Wright’s absence Orr is likely to get an extended opportunity at the top of the order. He has only played eight T20 games in his career but has all the shots in white-ball cricket, as he proved in 2022 when he scored Sussex’s first List A double hundred against Somerset.

Final thought: Two appearances at Finals Day in four years vindicated Sussex’s decision to prioritise the Blast but 2022 was their worst performance for a decade with only four wins. They will miss Wright and Rashid Khan, who could win matches on their own, and their hopes of making the knockouts may depend on the experienced Ravi Bopara, Tymal Mills and Steven Finn rolling back the years.