Vitality Blast: The Pundits Predictions


Over the years the Vitality Blast has thrown up many surprises and unforgettable moments. It has also made careers and thrust young cricketers into the limelight. But what can we expect to see in 2023? And who is going to catch the eye? We asked six pundits for their thoughts on Essex’s chances, the South Group and who might lift the trophy in July.

Dishing out the verdicts will be Phil Walker, Editer-in-chief of Wisden Cricket Monthly, Dail Mail Cricket Correspondent Paul Newman, BBC Essex Radio Presenter and host of the Around the Wicket podcast Victoria Polley, Martin Smith of the ECB Reporters Network and the Presenter of Essex Cricket TV’s live stream and stadium host, Simon Ward.

Also adding their unique insights cricket content creators, Cricket District, run by Toby Marriott and Jack Meacher, as well as founder of The Cricket Draft, John Welch.


So firstly, how do you rate Essex’s chances ahead of the 2023 campaign?
PW: Last year we saw more evidence of the expansive style that Simon Harmer wants to see from his team. There were four batters in Michael Pepper, Dan Lawrence, Paul Walter and Harmer himself that had a strike-rate of above 150. Consistency is still the issue for Essex, if they can start well, they stand a great chance. Bowling-wise, the left-arm pace of experience Aussie Daniel Sams will be key. Quarter-finals should be within reach. After that, it’s anyone’s guess.

PN: I believe Essex have a terrific chance of emulating their 2019 success and bringing the Vitality Blast title back to Chelmsford. They have all the bases covered and have a dynamic squad full of youth and experience.

VP: I’m excited to see how Essex get on in this year’s competition. The quarter-final defeat last season was disappointing because they’d been playing so well up until that point. With pretty much the same side as that campaign, I think if all the players are firing on all cylinders there’s no reason why the Eagles can’t be at Finals Day in July.

MS: Essex may be picking from the same squad as last year, but they will be older, wiser and a bit more experienced, especially those who have played T20 around the globe this winter. So, despite no fresh blood, a top-four finish in the group is confidently predicted, though a sixth Finals Day appearance may be hope over realism.

SW: The Eagles learnt lots of lessons in their last campaign by playing a more dynamic, maybe at times risky game. They will need to build on that to get to finals day.

TM & JM: We’re really looking forward to keeping our eye on Essex’s Blast campaign. We think it’ll be a successful one and predict that The Eagles will definitely make it out of the group stages. There’s no reason why they can’t get to finals day with their strong core squad.

JW: The Essex Squad will be very similar to last year and their consistency in selection, seems to serve them so well across all formats, with all players seemingly knowing their roles inside out. The starting XI is likely to feature lots of bowling options, which is very important at a high scoring ground like Chelmsford. We think the Essex team will have all bases covered, and are likely to be featuring towards the end of the competition once more.

Who is Essex’s one to watch?
PW: Adam Rossington. He’s a destructive opener and in great form in white-ball cricket after a winter belting it in South Africa. Unstoppable on his day.

PN: Look no further than the man who led Essex to that 2019 title in Simon Harmer as the one to watch again. He had one of the leading bowling economy rates in any side in last year’s tournament and can do it again this time.

VP: Paul Walter. He’s always been a valuable white ball player to Essex but seeing him flourish last summer was a real highlight. There are also a couple of youngsters in Robin Das and Jamal Richards who I’m excited to see more of.

MS: Paul Walter – Already been smashing the ball around in warm-up games. Second top run-scorer last season, top of the averages and, besides, T20 is his natural playground.

SW: Paul Walter. He had the best average with the bat last campaign, showing his great range and power. He also adds some variety as a tall left-arm bowler if called upon.

TM & JM: Feroze Khushi is our player to watch for the Eagles. He’s an explosive batter who’s incredibly passionate about his cricket on and off the field. He’s going to be available for the full 2023 Blast campaign making him an even more valuable asset for Essex. He also featured in one of our recent videos in which he showed his immense power!

JW: Michael Pepper had a brilliant 2022 and we see his excellent form continuing into this season. He is a modern player who can access all areas of the ground and we particularly love his ability to take on spinners with relative ease.

Last year Michael Pepper topped the run-scoring charts, who will it be this year?
PW: We saw glimpses of Dan Lawrence’s class last year. He’s due a massive T20 campaign.

PN: I would go for Dan Lawrence but think he could well be spending plenty of time with England this year so let’s make it Adam Rossington for leading run-scorer.

VP: Adam Rossington had a great winter in various T20 competitions so if he can find that form for the Eagles then I’d back him to be up there when it comes to run scoring. Also, we saw glimpses last summer of how powerfully and quickly Dan Sams can add to the total so it would be nice to see a tight contest for the title of leading run scorer.

MS: Paul Walter. I’ve already given him the build up.

SW: I think Michael Pepper will again lead the way. His ability to improvise and his 360 degree range really sets him apart.

TM & JM: Although we think Khushi could have a fantastic season, it’s tricky to look past Michael Pepper for total runs. He’s had a successful last two seasons and we think he’ll continue to be consistent this season in the top order.

JW: Adam Rossington has been in brutal touch over the winter. He should be looking to lead the way.

And which Eagle will pick up the most wickets?
PW: Daniel Sams with the new ball is the one for me.

PN: Simon Harmer again, he’s the key man.

VP: Sam Cook with the ball – do I need to say anymore? An integral part of the Essex team across all formats but he continues to go from strength to strength and I’d like to see him continue the white ball form he showed last summer in this year’s Blast.

MS: Matt Critchley. He was brilliant before his injury last year.

SW: I’m backing Matt Critchley. A good leggie is always a key cog in a bowling attack. Matt seems to be maturing into something really good.

TM & JM: Matt Critchley as well. He’s a golden arm.

JW: It’s hard to ignore Sam Cook for this one.

Who are the four favourites to progress from the South Group? (In no particular order)
PW: Surrey, Somerset, Kent Spitfires, Essex.

PN: Essex, Surrey, Somerset, Hampshire Hawks.

VP: Essex, Surrey, Sussex Sharks and I think Hampshire Hawks can recover from the opening defeat.

MS: Surrey, Hampshire Hawks, Somerset, Essex.

SW: Hampshire Hawks, Essex, Sussex Sharks, Kent Spitfires.

TM & JM: Somerset, Essex, Surrey, Kent Spitfires.

JW: Essex, Somerset, Surrey, Sussex Sharks.

And of all of the players in the south, who’s the one to keep an eye on?
PW: Will Jacks at Surrey is a serious talent.

PN: If I’m going outside Essex I’ll go for Hampshire’s James Vince.

VP: Shadab Khan for Sussex. They don’t have Rashid Khan this season but he’ll be more than useful with the bat and ball.

MS: Jamie Smith at Surrey – Seen at Chelmsford at the start of May in a face-saving grind for a Championship draw. But he is more than capable of slapping the ball long and high over the ropes.

SW: Benny Howell. One of the most awkward bowlers to face in T20.

TM & JM: In the south group, we’re really excited to watch Tom Kohler-Cadmore at Somerset. He’s got some serious flair when he bats, loves hitting sixes, and we expect him to make Taunton look very small!

JW: Will Jacks is simply the future of English white ball cricket. An unbelievable striker of the ball who has developed his bowling enormously in the last couple of seasons. What a player!

It’s an impossible question, but if you were to pick a winner now who would it be?
PW: Surrey, Birmingham Bears and Lancashire Lightning are the favourites. Sussex Sharks, Essex and Somerset are dark horses.

PN: Essex!

VP: Lancashire Lightning have a lot of fire power in their squad and that narrow defeat in last year’s final to spur them on. But Essex have been the underdogs before so I’d love to see them lift that trophy again!

MS: Lancashire Lightning.

SW: Lancashire Lightning.

TM & JM: Lancashire Lightning.

JW: Surrey