Blast off time for the NatWest T20!

T20 BlastSo like it or don’t like it there is a new dawn on the horizon for the T20 domestic game in 2014, the 12th season for the 20-over format. There is a bit more razzamatazz with a new competition name, the T20 Blast, aimed at giving the competition a similarly exciting and easy-to-market identity as Australia’s ‘Big Bash’. There is a new sponsor with NatWest taking over the reins left by Friends Life in 2013. And the T20 campaign will last longer over a season with group games starting on 16th May and ending at the end of July, spreading the games out in an attempt to get more people through the turnstiles more regularly. When the ECB first started the 20-over competition in 2003 as a replacement for the Benson & Hedges Cup the intention was for the tournament to be short, lasting three weeks only, and offering a break in the county season.  

To say T20 cricket has transformed the game around the world would be an understatement with the format taking the game to new audiences in the established and even non-established Cricket nations. The game of Cricket has never been so big and gets bigger all the time.

This season Friday night will more often than not be T20 night. A total of 87 of the 126 group stage matches are due to take place on Friday evenings over the 10-weeks of the competition. The quarter-finals will be completed over the first weekend of August and Edgbaston will once again host Finals Day on Saturday 23rd August.

Before that there is so much to look forward to and much excitement ahead.

Somerset will go into the tournament as one of the staunch favourites. But the squad will have to make do without local boy Jos Buttler who flew the nest after last season and headed to the delights of Manchester to play for Lancashire. His talent is so immense that, of course, his loss will be felt but I do believe that Somerset still have enough batting fire power to petrify opposing bowling attacks. A lot of sides would implode if they lost a player like Jos but we are one of the few county sides with enough explosion in the batting line-up to cope without the boy from Wedmore. That is not to say I don’t wish he was still wearing our colours but onwards we go.

Also missing from last season will be Yasar Arafat who has headed back to Sussex for the new season. Yasar was impressive in a Somerset shirt, particularly bowling in tandem with Alfonso, and his efforts were defining moments in a couple of wins that spring to mind.

Into the squad comes Dirk Nannes, the so-called “reluctant cricketer” who seemed to find a career in the game by mistake, but is now one of the most experienced and successful T20 bowlers in the world, indeed he is the fourth highest wicket taker in this format with 222 wickets to his name. He is now based in the west country and his signing is a major coup for the county as he can be selected for the duration of the campaign and few top players will offer that availability.

GlosvSomSomerset’s campaign starts against two teams that our supporters love to hate – an away match against that lot from up the M5 near Clevedon and for the first home game we welcome the dodgy barrow boys from south London. Ironically both our opponents played each other this week as Gloucestershire lost to Surrey in the 2nd tier of the LV=CC while Somerset were without a 1st Division fixture. Let’s hope the break stands us in good stead.

Expected team:

Of the players that have featured in the LV=CC so far I don’t expect Johan or Jonesy to feature in the T20 format. I am not sure Jamie Overton will play either. As fast and intimidating as he is I think his wayward tendencies could be meat & drink for the big hitters in this format. Nannes looks like a like-for-like replacement for Jamie. We will have to play a specialist spinner so a toss-up between Max & Docks as to who plays and I think the young Irishman may get the nod.

Tregs will move up the order to bat at 3 and it will be interesting to see if the out-of-form Hildy plays or whether Nos looks to young Barrow to fill the middle order. It is probably too early for Kirbs to make a comeback but Mesch should be fit and his bowling and ability to hit a ball hard will prove vital.

My team for Glos: Tres (C), Kiessy (WK), Tregs, Alviro, Compo, Hildy, Mesch, Gregs, Thommo, Dirk, Docks.

Gloucestershire (a) Friday 16th

With warm weather forecast there will be a full house at Bristol for the opening fixture and, of course, the home team will be up for it. Skipper Michael Klinger has issued his rallying call to his team telling the Bristol Post: “The Somerset game is a fantastic prospect and it promises to be a huge night for everyone involved with our club.

“We have a few new game plans in place for T20 cricket this season and the fact that we start with a two point deficit in our group means we have nothing to lose.

“The atmosphere at the ground on Friday will be amazing and we will do all we can to give our supporters a night to remember.”

But Gloucestershire have injury issues. Ian Saxelby will definitely miss out. Craig Miles, David Payne and Will Gidman are all unlikely to feature. Inexperienced seam bowlers Graeme McCarter and Matt Taylor could play as could all-rounder Benny Howell.

Prediction: The reality is if Somerset wish to be considered potential T20 winners then a victory against the near neighbours is a must and I really cannot contemplate another result.

Surrey (h) Sunday 18th

Last year’s T20 finalists Surrey beat Somerset in the quarter-finals on their way to Finals Day. The game will be most remembered for Gareth Batty’s disgraceful behaviour when he obstructed Tregs physically after getting him out then fired a tirade of foul and abusive language at him as he left the field. This prompted the ECB to ban Batty from Final’s Day but the punishment should have been much more.

This episode should give the game an extra edge but let’s hope the game comes out the victor. Surrey must control their players better this year and, if they don’t, I hope our players show the professional restraint they did in 2013.

Smith2There is no doubt that Surrey has an awesome looking team. They will be captained by former Somerset skipper Graeme Smith, who led us to our last trophy win in this competition in 2005. He scored his first ton for Surrey against Gloucestershire this past week so will be buzzing. He will enjoy playing at Taunton again and will be a real danger so we need to get him early.

So will the much maligned Jade Dernbach, recently discarded by England, he took 18 wickets in the T20 games he was available for Surrey in 2013 and will be a force. Nice guy off the field but a thorn to any batsman on it and I would write him off at your peril.

Another former Somerset player could play for Surrey as they have recruited Kevin O’Brien for the first half of the season. He was disappointing for us in his short spell but will be a useful squad player.

KP2And you can never write off Kevin Pietersen. He won’t play against Somerset (and we should be relieved by this even if his presence would have offered extra spice to the game) but will return to the domestic game in June after a so far disappointing IPL but has the ability to win any game on his own. With the world watching and much to prove to his critics he will certainly be up for the challenge when he dons a Surrey shirt in this competition.

Prediction: A tough game and much will depend on how we approach the batting. Tres and Kiessy need to get us off to a good start but I do worry what will happen if we don’t start well. One of the impact players needs to hold one end while the likes of Compo and Hildy keep the score ticking at the other.

But I will place faith in our team to rise to the occasion with the backing of a big crowd and come away victors.