Vitality Blast South Group Preview


The Vitality Blast is set to explode back onto the scene this week, signalling the start of a seven-week group stage that promises big hitting, spectacular catches, and nerve-shredding finishes.

The 18 counties are, as ever, split by geography into two groups, and with Essex set to begin their 22nd season of competing in the South Group, this is a team-by-team preview of those nine contenders.


Captain: Simon Harmer
Overseas players: Simon Harmer (South Africa), Daniel Sams (Australia)
2023 finish: Runners-up (4th in South Group)
2023 leading run-scorer: Daniel Sams (419)
2023 leading wicket-taker: Daniel Sams (25)
Blast titles: 1 (2019)

The big question: Could Essex go one better in 2024? Having qualified for the knockout stages in the most dramatic circumstances thanks to a last-ball win at the Oval, the Eagles made a run all the way to the final. There, they fell in heartbreaking circumstances to Somerset, but with a key man returning and a major signing made, there are high hopes that a second Blast title could be on the horizon.

Key players: Australian all-rounder Daniel Sams won last year’s MVP award, and having signed to return for 2024, will be a cornerstone of both Essex’s middle order and bowling attack. New arrival Jordan Cox is also an electrifying addition both with the bat and in the field.

Wildcard watch: Charlie Allison is highly regarded as a star of the future at Chelmsford. The 19-year-old younger brother of established first-teamer Ben, Allison had a breakout campaign with the bat in last season’s One Day Cup. He will be keen to grab his chance in the shortest format if it comes.

Final thought: If Sams fires once again, and he is backed up by a core of other stars that includes Big Bash, PSL, and SA20 winners, the Eagles should be right in the mix. Defending a total of any sort at Chelmsford is difficult, so Anthony McGrath’s men will have to hope they find themselves chasing at home more often than not, but they have enough star power to deservedly be among the favourites.


Captain: Kiran Carlson
Overseas players: Colin Ingram (South Africa), Marnus Labuschagne (Australia)
2023 finish: 8th in South Group
2023 leading run-scorer: Chris Cooke (419)
2023 leading wicket-taker: Jamie McIlroy (19)
Blast titles: 0

The big question: Will Glamorgan be able to improve their bowling? The Welsh outfit conceded an average economy rate in last season’s competition of 10.09 per over, the worst of any of the 18 teams, and found themselves chasing more than 200 on four separate occasions. Any hopes of progress will hinge on a significant uptick in that department.

Key players: Australian international Marnus Labuschagne is returning to Cardiff for the first time in two years, and will provide a strong boost to Glamorgan’s top order. His fellow overseas, Colin Ingram, has also been a consistent rapid scorer on the banks of the River Taff for a number of years, while the bulk of the wicket-taking responsibility will fall on seamers Dan Douthwaite and Jamie McIlroy.

Wildcard watch: Someone who could improve Glamorgan’s bowling is on-loan Hampshire leg-spinner Mason Crane. Signed for the duration of 2024, Crane heads into the Blast having bowled just 22 overs in last season’s competition for the Hawks. He needs a big season to rejuvenate his career, but in a team that will look to him for inspiration, he could be in line for that.

Final thought: In Labuschagne, Glamorgan possess the sort of star quality that has for the most part been pulled away from this year’s Blast owing to the concurrence of the T20 World Cup. While he is handier with a bat than with a ball and may not answer all their problems, he should lift the overall level of a squad that struggled in 2023.


Captain: Jack Taylor
Overseas players: Cameron Bancroft, Beau Webster (both Australia), Zafar Gohar (Pakistan)
2023 finish: 7th in South Group
2023 leading run-scorer: Ben Charlesworth (299)
2023 leading wicket-taker: Tom Smith (17)
Blast titles: 0

The big question: Can someone put their hand up with the bat for Gloucestershire? The tale on the other side of the Severn Estuary was the opposite one, with the Bristol outfit struggling to score runs, a fact borne out by the statistic of no Gloucestershire man being in the 2023 Blast’s top-50 run-scorers. There is a crying need to make themselves a more dangerous outfit if they are to succeed in 2024.

Key players: Although he fell short of matching his returns of previous seasons, opener Chris Dent is still a grizzled campaigner and will be motivated to improve in 2024. In addition, Australian batter Cameron Bancroft has rejoined the Bristol outfit and brings with him much experience, while the Price brothers, Tom and Ollie, are a pair of extremely talented young cricketers.

Wildcard watch: Express pace is always a useful part of any T20 bowling armoury, and in Marchant de Lange, Gloucestershire possess one of the most full-throated quicks around. While he is hardly a youngster, he did only play two Blast matches last year owing to injury. If de Lange stays fit, Mark Alleyne’s side have a strong additional weapon to make use of that they could not call upon last year.

Final thought: Gloucestershire feel like a real conundrum. Under the new guidance of a man who adores the club in Alleyne – a love that is very much reciprocated – the Bristol outfit really could kick on. There is much to work on, not least that lack of cutting edge with the bat, but the signing of Bancroft shows their intention to try and resolve that particular problem. They could surprise a few.

Hampshire Hawks

Captain: James Vince
Overseas players: Michael Neser, Ben McDermott (both Australia), Ottniel Baartman (South Africa)
2023 finish: Semi-finalists (2nd in South Group)
2023 leading run-scorer: James Vince (670)
2023 leading wicket-taker: Nathan Ellis (23)
Blast titles: 3 (2010, 2012, 2022)

The big question: How much will Hampshire miss Nathan Ellis? Having nervelessly re-delivered the final ball that won the Hawks the 2022 title, the bustling Australian seamer returned 23 scalps last time out. However, this time, he is away at the World Cup, recreated in the aggregate by Michael Neser and Ottniel Baartman, and the question of how the Utilita Bowl outfit do in his absence is a big one.

Key players: Hawks captain James Vince is one of the classiest operators on the domestic circuit, and his talent has been borne out by the fact he has finished as the Blast’s overall leading run-scorer in both of the past two seasons. Combined with Australian blaster Ben McDermott, Hampshire possess one of the best opening pairs around, while John Turner looks set for a big season with the ball.

Wildcard watch: Young batter Toby Albert played in the bulk of Hampshire’s matches in their run to the last four in 2023, showing flashes of talent. He could be set to kick on, with the added motivation of hunting a first senior T20 fifty, having only just struck his maiden Championship hundred in the last round of matches.

Final thought: While the T20 title in England has never been won by one side in consecutive years, Hampshire have been exceptionally consistent in competing at the right end for years. Their three titles mark them out as the joint-most successful county in the competition’s history, and if they do overcome the loss of Ellis, they will expect to be right at the forefront once more.

Kent Spitfires

Captain: Sam Billings
Overseas players: Wes Agar, Xavier Bartlett, Charlie Stobo (all Australia), Beyers Swanepoel (South Africa)
2023 finish: 5th in South Group
2023 leading run-scorer: Daniel Bell-Drummond (600)
2023 leading wicket-taker: Grant Stewart (24)
Blast titles: 2 (2007, 2021)

The big question: Can Kent make a better start than last year? After missing out on the knockout stages by two points, the Spitfires were left to rue a run of five consecutive defeats in their opening six matches that put them firmly on the back foot. Despite then reeling off six back-to-back victories, the mountain that the Canterbury outfit had given themselves to climb ended up being just too tough.

Key players: After Kent finally managed to secure his signature following some to and fro-ing with Cricket Australia, BBL-winning quick Xavier Bartlett will be a big bonus for an attack that got hit for the fourth-highest number of runs of any side, north or south, in last year’s Blast. With the bat, Daniel Bell-Drummond remains a class act and is in good red-ball form heading into the first block of T20s.

Wildcard watch: Whether or not he will get an opportunity remains to be seen, but Kent have had no qualms in blooding Jaydn Denly in the red-ball arena this year, so they may do the same in the shortest format too. The nephew of Spitfires veteran Joe Denly, the 18-year-old represented England at this year’s Under-19 World Cup in South Africa and is highly thought-of in Canterbury.

Final thought: There are areas for Kent to tidy up if they are to be a real force in the Blast this year. Recovering from the loss of Jordan Cox, who hit 315 runs in 2023, is one, while improving Sam Billings’ form is another. However, the ultimate aim is simply to not be playing catch-up from so early on, and if that can at least be achieved, they will consider themselves in with a chance of the last eight.


Captain: Stephen Eskinazi
Overseas players: None
2023 finish: 9th in South Group
2023 leading run-scorer: Stephen Eskinazi (462)
2023 leading wicket-taker: Tom Helm (12)
Blast titles: 1 (2008)

The big question: Will Middlesex be able to improve upon a wretched 2023 season? Just three wins from their 14 group stage games last season pinned the Seaxes to the foot of the South Group table, with their predominant problem being their bowling attack that conceded the most runs of any of the 18 sides. They finished four points adrift at the bottom and a full ten away from a spot in the top four.

Key players: If Middlesex are to have any hope of turning their fortunes around in 2024, the form of Ethan Bamber will play a big part. He was restricted to just two games last season, but showed flashes, claiming four wickets at just 16.25 apiece. All-rounder Ryan Higgins is also the sort of player who can take a game away with bat and ball, while captain Stephen Eskinazi will be relied upon for runs again.

Wildcard watch: With Middlesex opting not to sign an overseas player this season, there might be more of an opportunity for a young player to put their hand up. Tall homegrown seamer Blake Cullen was on the fringes of impressing last season, and if he is allowed to make more than his eight appearances in 2023, he could well develop into a very tough opponent to face.

Final thought: No one at Middlesex will be under any illusions as to the size of the task they face in turning the team around, especially without an overseas player. However, in the likes of Eskinazi, Bamber, Higgins, and Max Holden, there is significant talent. While a knockout stage spot will again be a difficult ask, there is no reason to think the Seaxes won’t at least be a little more competitive in 2024.


Captain: Lewis Gregory
Overseas players: Riley Meredith (Australia)
2023 finish: Winners (1st in South Group)
2023 leading run-scorer: Will Smeed (523)
2023 leading wicket-taker: Matt Henry (31)
Blast titles: 2 (2005, 2023)

The big question: Can Somerset overcome the unavailability of last season’s star overseas duo? They stormed to the trophy last season, winning 15 out of 17 matches. Much of that success was down to a bowling attack featuring New Zealand pair Matt Henry and Ish Sodhi, the former of whom was the competition’s leading wicket-taker, but Somerset will have neither this year thanks to the World Cup.

Key players: In the absence of Henry and Sodhi, who combined for 39 wickets at a sparkling 14.10 apiece last year, the bowler next in line could be Ben Green. He was second in the overall Blast wicket-taking charts last year with 30. Meanwhile, captain Lewis Gregory and combative Craig Overton remain game-changers, as do young batters Tom Banton and the white-ball-only Will Smeed.

Wildcard watch: Such was the strength of Somerset’s title-winning team last season, it was hard for any player to break into, so the absence of Lewis Goldsworthy should not detract from his talent. He is an all-rounder who performed exceptionally well with the ball in last season’s 2nd XI T20 competition and who has appeared in 25 first-class matches already.

Final thought: Barring the enforced absence of Henry in particular, there seems to be very little that will stop Somerset from making a very good run at defending their title. The one thing fans in Taunton may want to forget is that history is against them – no team has ever won back-to-back domestic English T20 titles – but with all the quality they have, don’t bet against Somerset bucking that trend.


Captain: Chris Jordan
Overseas players: Sean Abbott, Spencer Johnson (both Australia)
2023 finish: Semi-finalists (3rd in South Group)
2023 leading run-scorer: Laurie Evans (563)
2023 leading wicket-taker: Sunil Narine (20)
Blast titles: 1 (2003)

The big question: Will Surrey finally be able to claim a second T20 title? For all their star power and recent run of three Championship titles in the last six years, the Brown Caps have only ever lifted the shortest-format trophy once, in its very first iteration. A semi-final finish last season was disappointing in context, and they have finished as runners-up three times, the joint-second most in Blast history.

Key players: The quality of Surrey’s squad is really something else, and although they will lose some of their premier players to the World Cup, they can still call upon the likes of Laurie Evans and Jason Roy with the bat and Tom Curran with the ball. Overseas signing Spencer Johnson is also a strong addition, even if he, like Roy, is only available for the first block of games.

Wildcard watch: With all the movement in the Brown Caps’ XI, there could be more opportunities than usual for unexpected players to put their hands up. Cameron Steel has been in fine red-ball form to start the season, and with Jacks at the World Cup and Sunil Narine not returning, Surrey will need a spinner. Steel only played in seven games last season, but still returned a bowling average of 20.25.

Final thought: Surrey will have some patching-up to do with four of their players – Will Jacks, Sam Curran, Chris Jordan, and Reece Topley – part of the England squad at the World Cup, but they should retain hope of another strong season. They have the depth to successfully cover for their missing quartet, and in Johnson, have acquired one of the world’s most eye-catching death bowlers.

Sussex Sharks

Captain: Tymal Mills
Overseas players: Jayden Seales (West Indies), Nathan McAndrew, Daniel Hughes (both Australia)
2023 finish: 6th in South Group
2023 leading run-scorer: Ravi Bopara (408)
2023 leading wicket-taker: Tymal Mills (18)
Blast titles: 1 (2009)

The big question: Will Sussex’s young squad be able to find the consistency required to make a top-four challenge? The Sharks were neither here nor there for much of last season, with their longest winning streak being three, but their longest losing streak being just four as well. With another year of experience under their belt, and under the guidance of a new captain, strides could be made.

Key players: Without Ravi Bopara, who was captain last season as well as leading the team’s run-scoring charts and chipping in with eight wickets, there is an open spot for someone to shine. Tom Clark racked up 294 runs last summer, while new captain Tymal Mills remained as threatening as ever with his fearsome pace.

Wildcard watch: Opener Harrison Ward showed flashes of his ability in the six games he played last summer, hitting two half-centuries and could well be expected to kick on if he is given more opportunities in 2024. Meanwhile, precocious spinner Archie Lenham is still worth a mention as a developing youngster; having only played one Blast match last year, he will have a point to prove.

Final thought: Sussex’s fortunes feel tricky to predict, though one of the more cast-iron certainties around the Sharks is that the loss of Bopara is likely to be keenly felt. His experience will have been invaluable in a dressing room containing many younger players, but perhaps John Simpson can step into that mentor role.

The Eagles Have Landed: The 2024 Vitality Blast at The Cloud County Ground

Fresh from a Finals Day appearance last summer, Essex return to shortest-format action in Chelmsford from Sunday 02 June.

Demand remains exceptionally high, and there are now only 15% of tickets remaining across all seven home fixtures, with two already sold out.

With the Eagles aiming to go one better in 2024, there is no time to waste to snap up your seats.

Sunday 02 June, 4:00pm: Essex v Middlesex – buy here
Friday 07 June, 7:00pm: Essex v Glamorgan – buy here (LAST FEW TICKETS)
Friday 14 June, 7:00pm: Essex v Sussex Sharks – SOLD OUT
Thursday 20 June, 7:00pm: Essex v Hampshire Hawks – buy here
Friday 05 July, 7:00pm: Essex v Somerset – SOLD OUT
Thursday 11 July, 7:00pm: Essex v Kent Spitfires – buy here
Sunday 14 July, 2:30pm: Essex v Surrey – buy here