This year’s tournament will certainly not lack for quality. Many counties have done decent business in securing the services of high-class imports. AB de Villiers will play his first stint of county cricket for Middlesex while Rashid Khan, Glenn Maxwell and Aaron Finch are set to take part for Sussex, Lancashire and Surrey respectively. Elsewhere, Mohammad Amir will play for Essex, Darcy Short for Durham and Babar Azam for Somerset. It is the best collection of overseas players in recent years.
Given the talent on show, who will emerge victorious on Finals Day on September 21 is not easy to predict. Worcestershire won last season’s competition after Moeen Ali led them to two superb, if slightly unexpected, victories on Finals Day at Edgbaston and they look well placed to challenge again this year with Riki Wessels, one of the most destructive players in the Blast in recent seasons, Callum Ferguson and Martin Guptill making for a spicy batting line-up.
Somerset, who won the 50-over Royal London Cup earlier this season, will be looking to make it a white-ball double, just as Nottinghamshire did in 2017, while Sussex’s attack of Khan, Tymal Mills and the newly signed Reece Topley will make them a tough side to beat. Lancashire, who Worcestershire beat in the semi-final last year, also look strong with Maxwell and his fellow Australian James Faulkner bringing plenty of experience and leg-spinner Matt Parkinson back to full fitness.
Those victorious England players not involved in the Tests against Ireland and Australia will be on show. Tom Curran, James Vince and Liam Dawson will be straight back into things after playing bit part roles in the World Cup while others, such as captain Eoin Morgan and fast-bowler Liam Plunkett, will be eased back in after some time off. Alex Hales, dropped on the eve of the World Cup and with only a white-ball contract at Notts, will want to use the tournament to state his case for re-inclusion in England’s white-ball squads.
This year’s edition of the Blast will be the last as the focal point of the summer. As with so much of English cricket, the implementation of the Hundred next season is set to push the Blast down the pecking order. Rather than enjoying the benefit of the best weather and being played during the school holidays, as it does now, the Blast will be moved to the beginning of the season.
A clean bill of health. Jason Roy had a light training session. Jofra Archer kicked a football about. People who needed a hit got one. Mark Wood and Liam Plunkett bowled with pace in the middle. There was a healthy spot of range-hitting, too. They’re ready.
Probable XI: Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, Jofra Archer, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid
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