Wednesday 28 May 2014 

NatWest T20 Blast - Week Two Review

David Willey hits out
David Willey further enhanced his reputation this week
© REUTERS / Action Images
 

After an opening weekend of weather conditions more reminiscent of those you might expect in the Caribbean Premier League rather than the NatWest T20 Blast, the elements dealt somewhat of a reality check for this latest round of games.

Nonetheless in spite of the weather's best efforts, only one game of the nine that were scheduled was completely washed out - Birmingham against Yorkshire - although four fixtures on Friday night were reduced in overs.

That disruption was kept to a minimum signifies a more than commendable effort from the counties involved and their respective ground staff. Such determination to play a game is an excellent advert to the newcomers this format is so keen to capture.

In regards to the actual cricket being played the competition is already living up to its perceived unpredictable nature, given that of the sides who have played more than a single game only Northamptonshire and Essex can vaunt a 100% record, while of the counties to have completed at least two games Derbyshire and Middlesex are the sole pair yet to taste success.  

The South Group

Two further defeats - which followed a pair of losses last weekend - mean Middlesex’s hopes of escaping the group for the first time since winning the trophy in 2008 are already in the balance. An inept batting performance, where in the absence of Eoin Morgan, Middlesex made just 111 from 20 overs, laid the seed for defeat at Gloucestershire, before they were emphatically outclassed a day later by seasoned Twenty20 campaigners Hampshire.

That victory represented Hampshire’s second in successive days, with Jimmy Adams’ side having produced a similarly professional performance to outclass Sussex on Friday night - in the process inflicting a first defeat on the Hove county.

Defeat last week against Glamorgan came as somewhat of a shock considering Hampshire are highly fancied by many to reach a fifth consecutive finals day, however these back-to-back victories have seen normal service resumed and their well-oiled Twenty20 unit should feature heavily in the closing stages once more.

Arguably the contest of the round came in South Wales where Essex and Glamorgan, who both impressively won their opening fixture, met in a high-scoring affair. Having chased down 180 last weekend to oust Middlesex, Essex produced an even better showing to reach a target of 190 with two balls still in the bank -  four of their top six scoring at least 25 at a strike rate in excess of 165, including James Foster who launched 24 off one Jim Allenby over.  

Kent - without a game last week - ignited their campaign in explosive fashion, racking up a remarkable 164 in just 13 allotted overs, their top three - all of whom boasted strike rates in excess of 195 - doing the bulk of the destruction.

Even accounting for Somerset’s batting talents that total was always likely to be a bridge too far and so it proved. Marcus Trescothick’s side fell to a perhaps surprising second defeat in three games.

The North Group

While their Championship season persists to evolve in nightmare-like fashion, Northamptonshire’s Twenty20 juggernaut continues to roll on unaffected. Leicestershire where the latest victims, as Kyle Coetzer’s side - inspired once more by David Willey’s brutal hitting power and benefiting from some questionable fielding - chased down 176 with just two balls to spare and the same number of wickets in hand.

This signified the second consecutive game that Northants have prospered in tight finishes and for all their four-day problems they clearly remain a formidable outfit in the shortest format.

The eyebrow-raising result took place at Trent Bridge where Nottinghamshire - tournament favourites and so impressive last week in seeing off Lancashire - fell victim to a Worcestershire side who had been beaten comfortably in each of their opening two encounters. 

After posting a respectable 163, Worcestershire’s bowlers, including a trio of spinners, produced a superb effort to limit Nottinghamshire’s talent-brimming batting unit to just 139 from their allocation.

After the disappointment of last weekend which hinted that Worcestershire’s misery in this tournament - they have only once escaped the group once in six attempts - would be extended, this result indicates there is the potential for 2014 to be brighter, particularly if the bowling attack can consistently function in the efficient manner showcased on Friday night.  

The only other concluded game in the division took place at Derby between Derbyshire and Lancashire, where the hosts slipped to a second consecutive defeat that leaves them rooted to the foot of the table and facing an uphill qualification battle.

At the same time they are now the only side in the country yet to win in any format. Lancashire have now responded to an opening night defeat at Nottinghamshire with successive victories and did so impressively here recovering from a sluggish start to post an imposing 169 from their 19 over allocation.

Outstanding Performers

That James Vince was the batting star of Hampshire’s twin victories will come as no surprise; the in-form right hander adding to his glowing reputation with a rapid half-century in each of those successes, however, the starring role Will Smith enjoyed with the ball was somewhat more unexpected. 

Smith’s off spinners were used only sparingly for Durham, however they have thus far proved a potent weapon for his new county as this weekend’s returns of two for 24 and two 21 against Sussex and Middlesex respectively highlight.

Any one of Robert Key, Daniel Bell-Drummond and Darren Stevens could be singled out for individual praise following their destructive efforts against Somerset; however the evergreen Stevens is perhaps most deserving of special commendation given he followed up 47 off 20 balls with two for 14 with the ball - including the key scalp of Trescothick.

Gloucestershire and Worcestershire produced the two outstanding bowling performances of the round and while both were based around excellent all-round efforts there are individuals well worthy of a mention.

For Gloucestershire, James Fuller and Liam Norwell each claimed three wickets, while for Worcestershire Chris Russell also achieved that feat although most worthy of acclaim are spinners Saeed Ajmal and Brett D’Oliveira who combined claimed impressive combined figures of three for 42 from eight overs.

Steven Croft (76 off 32) and Karl Brown (67 off 50) provided a match-winning combination for Lancashire against Derbyshire and Josh Cobb (70 off 45) is also deserving of admiration despite his Leicestershire side falling short against Northants.

Arguably though, the exceptional batting display of the weekend was delivered in that very game by David Willey who followed up 43 last week by blasting a career best 95 off just 45 deliveries - including six maximums - to add further weight to his reputation as one of the most destructive batsmen on the circuit.  

© Cricket World 2014