Monday 19 May 2014 

NatWest T20 Blast - Week One Spotlight

Mark Pettini
Mark Pettini, arguably the star performer of the NatWest T20 Blast's opening weekend
© REUTERS / Action Images
 

Matt Carter runs the rule over the first round of matches in the revamped NatWest T20 Blast which took place over the weekend. Winners, losers and star performers...and the weather. It's all here.

For all the renovating and revamping that had gone into the NatWest T20 Blast, successful take off was always going to be hugely influenced by an all too familiar factor - the Great British weather.
That this new incarnation was beginning in the changeable month of May madei it easy to feel tentative – yet whatever sun dances those at the ECB had been practicing clearly worked wonders with summer seemingly choosing to arrive just in time for blast off.  

The dream hand dealt by the weather meant the tournament had the perfect setting to take off – a stuttering start in the face of such a gift horse would have generated plenty of reason for concern even in these fledgling stages.

Thankfully the early indications appear encouraging, with promising attendances reported at a variety of grounds and a plethora of competitive cricket being served up.

The weather has been generous and the hope will be that the solid success of this weekend will have begun to sow the seed of Friday night becoming cricket night in many a household – it remains a long road but the inception of the T20 Blast has been heartening and here we review the action.

The South Group

16th May

Glamorgan beat Hampshire by 10 runs
Somerset beat Gloucestershire by 18 runs
Sussex beat Surrey by two wickets

17th May

Essex beat Middlesex by eight wickets
Sussex beat Middlesex by 13 runs

18th May

Surrey beat Somerset by 18 runs

Amidst the heatwave of the weekend few sides shone more than Sussex, who after winning just a single Twenty20 game in 2013, surpassed that in the space of two days with victories over both Surrey and Middlesex.

Impressively in both instances Ed Joyce’s men were under the pump only to find a way through, first clinching 15 runs off the final four balls - bowled by Jade Dernbach - to see off Surrey before defending a below par total of 128 against a flagging Middlesex.

Last year’s disaster represented a rare failure for a Sussex side who had previously made the last eight in each of the last four seasons and the early signals appear those struggles were a mere flash in the pan.

If Sussex were the big winners then Middlesex were most definitely the losers, as their ambitious Saturday double-header at Lord’s backfired with that defeat to Sussex following on from Essex impressively chasing down 180 with seven balls to spare - Mark Pettini’s 95 proving the highest score of the weekend.

The Panthers’ ambition to differ from the norm should be commended yet it was always a high risk gamble and they are now somewhat behind the qualification eight ball.

Highlighting just how futile predictions can be in this format were a Glamorgan side who saw off favourites Hampshire to claim their first ever win at the Ageas Bowl. The Dragons impressed in limited overs cricket in 2014, reaching the final of YB40 and only narrowly missing out on escaping the group in this format and they will hope this year they can go one better and reach the knockout rounds for the first time in five years.

Elsewhere in the division Somerset proved party poopers as they saw off neighbours Gloucestershire for the fifth time in succession, in the process somewhat dampening the unveiling of renovation work by the home side and sending a crowd in excess of 5,000 home disappointed.

In that win on Friday night Somerset looked a serious Twenty20 outfit yet they were knocked down a peg less than 24 hours later by Surrey, who showed excellent character to respond from the demoralising defeat at Hove to clinch a 14-run victory.

The North Group

16th May

Durham beat Worcestershire by 29 runs
Leicestershire beat Derbyshire by 27 runs
Northamptonshire beat Yorkshire by three wickets
Nottinghamshire beat Lancashire by 33 runs

17th May

Lancashire beat Worcestershire by 12 runs

Fellow favourites Hampshire might have stuttered in the face of the expectation but Nottinghamshire produced the sort of imposing display at Trent Bridge against Lancashire that will only see their stock soar. 

In front of an impressive crowd of near 11,000 the Outlaws - inspired by Samit Patel - outclassed a Lancashire side who themselves were highly fancied, with it raising expectation that they will not only once more ease through the group but end a run of three successive quarter-final defeats and be there or there about come finals day.

Few sides would have been looking forward to the change in discipline more than Northamptonshire, with the defending champions belittling woeful early season Championship form to see off a Yorkshire side that showcased similar form to that which saw failed to mount a genuine assault on the knockout stages in 2013.

Both David Willey and Ben Duckett starred for Northants and on this evidence they will still be a significant threat in this format.

In contrast Worcestershire failed to transform their exceptional early season four-day form to the shortest format, as they were downed firstly by Durham before Lancashire responded to that Nottinghamshire defeat by beating the Rapids on Saturday night - already the odds are stacking up against them reaching a coveted first ever finals day.

No side has lifted the trophy more times than Leicestershire and the stirring fashion in which they claimed a 27-run against Derbyshire suggests they may have the attributes to upset more than a few apple carts once more.

Josh Cobb’s side have an intriguing balance of experienced heads and vibrant youth, while these early furlongs of the season hint at a renewed sense of identity and commitment within the group – making them a potentially dangerous proportion.

Performers of the week

Anyone of the view that Twenty20 is a young man’s game will have been firmly quietened by events of the weekend. Scott Styris rolled back the years to hit a destructive 63 in that victory over Derbyshire, while that the margin of victory was not more emphatic was down the efforts of Marcus North whose stunning 90 off 47 was one of the innings of the round.

Yasir Arafat was fundamental in bailing Sussex out against Surrey, at the same time the Pakistani can boast an economy rate of just 6.5 in his county's two victories.

Also worth a mention on the evergreen list were Paul Collingwood and Dirk Nannes, the former producing a superb all-round display in Durham’s win against Worcestershire and the latter taking four against Gloucestershire.

However, the youngsters were not to be completely outdone; Lewis Gregory enhanced his glowing reputation with both bat and ball, Jason Roy showed glimpses over his tremendous hitting ability and a renewed sense of consistency with back to back fifties for Surrey, whilst Ben Duckett displayed tremendous temperament in getting Northamptonshire home against Yorkshire.

There was still room for the usual suspects to figure, Craig Kieswetter - last season’s top scorer - scoring successive 50’s and Samit Patel proving the star turn in a talent-littered clash between Notts and Lancashire.

At the top of the pile though is arguably Pettini for that already mentioned sensational 95.

© Cricket World 2014