The Blast: Seventeen Years of Twenty Overs

The first county twenty-over competition started in England in 2003 initially as a mid-season three-week break from championship cricket to coincide with the start of the school holidays, to encourage families to attend games. Surrey were the first winners. There is no doubting this format has changed the game all around the world and developed dramatically.

Tonight sees the start of the eighteenth season of the tournament initially called Twenty20, then T20, and now it’s the plain old Vitality Blast.  Somerset start their campaign at Birmingham (Friday 28 August) before heading to Northants on Sunday 30, and entertain Glamorgan at Taunton on Tuesday 1 September.

Having created a performance league table for how counties have fared in the two-tier County Championship, Stephen Hubbard thought he would try his hand at the twenty-over stuff too. And here’s the results.

T20 is perhaps the least predictable of the formats played.  A shorter game puts more emphasis on taking risks and individual performances.  With the huge changes in the drainage of pitches, leading to much drier squares, together with innovation from the players, batting now dominates bowling in a way which delights crowds (and thus county treasurers) but must be the despair of bowlers, slow or quick.

Since the introduction of T20 in 2003, every county bar three have reached the final, everyone has reached finals day.  The last counties to get to there were Derbyshire in 2019 and Worcestershire in 2018.

There have been changes to the format, with a minority of years using the three group arrangement but since 2014 it has settled down to two groups.  I have a strong preference for these groups being drawn out of a hat rather than the predictability of geographical groups.  Somerset to Durham may be a long journey but always playing the same group makes little sense to me.

Bearing in mind that thirteen teams have won over the seventeen years of competition, it comes as no surprise that only three teams have won more than once and, to my surprise, it is Leicestershire, long term underperformers in other formats, who come out top with three outright victories.  However, the last of these was in 2011 and since then their performances have fallen away and they have only emerged from the group stage once since. 

Overall Nottinghamshire have, as in the ODC, shown themselves consistently good.  In my assessment, best since inception, best in the past five years and second best in the past ten.  Worcestershire’s appearance in the past two finals puts them into the top two for the past five years and Lancashire, who have the best record overall, have ranked in the top three best performers ever since the competition’s inception.

Other leading performances come from Lancashire and Hampshire both of whom have reached finals day seven times, not quite every other year but much better than one in three. Well worth an each way bet!  Somerset have six appearances but have a poor recent record in this competition.  Those years between 2009 and 2012 are a long time ago.  Also in the underperforming category are powerful counties like Middlesex and Yorkshire, who have never struggled out of the bottom five performers.

Putting the performances through my assessment shows that while every team can have its season, teams do have the ability to realise reliable performances over an extended period with Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire and Essex reaching the knockout stage at least ten times in seventeen years; in contrast, none Derbyshire, Middlesex or Yorkshire have achieved this more than four times.

What I cannot tell is what emphasis is put on which competitions by county coaches.  Last year Essex won two out of three, and Warwickshire memorably won all three domestic competitions in 1994. For Somerset supporters, like me, the glory of two trophies in 1979 is to be valued.

Points allocation:

10 points – trophy winners

8 points – trophy runners-up

6 points – losing semi-finalists

4 points – losing quarter finalists

(*NB: there were no quarter finals in the 2003 tournament)

As with the County Championship table, Lancashire lead the pack having qualified a record 12 times, made finals day a record 7 times (alongside Hampshire) and won the trophy in 2015.

Derbyshire are once again basement boys (as they were in the County Championship table) having managed to get out of the group stages just 3 times in 17 attempts and enjoying one solitary appearance at finals day, which was  last season.