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T20 Blast - Cricket: Anniversary season promises to be a big-hitter

Almost unbelievably we have reached the 20th season of domestic Twenty20 action in England and, as ever, the T20 Blast promises to be action-packed and exhilarating.

Kent Spitfires go into the tournament as the defending champions, with no fewer than 13 of the 18 counties having tasted success over the course of the last 19 seasons.

And Kent are one of the four teams in action on the opening day of fixtures on Wednesday, with the Spitfires hosting Somerset in a repeat of last year's final, which they won by 25 runs at Edgbaston.

Yorkshire Vikings - still awaiting a first success in the tournament - take on 2018 champions Worcestershire Rapids in the other opening-day fixture.

Sharks need to find their bite

Sussex are one of the counties to have totally embraced the need for different options for T20 action, with Tymal Mills, record T20 Blast run-scorer Luke Wright and skipper Ravi Bopara among those on white-ball contracts only.

Add in New Zealand wicketkeeper-batter Tim Siefert and superstar Afghanistan leg-spinner Rashid Khan and Sussex appear to have all that is needed to be one of the teams to beat.

They have reached the knockout stages of the competition in each of the last four seasons, but have only reached one final during that time and will be desperate to correct that relative failure, with the Sharks 4/1 to top the South Group and 7/1 win the competition.

Surrey look for Caribbean inspiration

Surrey won the inaugural T20 domestic competition back in 2003, but surprisingly have not been able to add to that success since then.

This summer they have turned to a couple of West Indies veterans to try and end that run, with the Oval outfit 8/1 to win the Blast title.

All-rounder Kieron Pollard has signed up after retiring from international cricket, while Sunil Narine now provides not only top-quality off-spin, but also potential as a pinch-hitter high up the order.

Pollard carries a competition strike-rate of nearly 170 from his previous spell with Somerset just over a decade ago and, if he can get somewhere near that, Surrey should be serious contenders.

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Lightning aiming to strike

Lancashire Lightning have a similar pedigree to the Sharks, having also made the knockout stages four seasons in a row, however, they have not even reached a final during that run.

Armed with England big-hitters Jos Buttler, Liam Livingstone and Phil Salt they should be contenders once again, while the addition of Singapore star Tim David could be an inspired move.

The 26-year-old right-hander has a wealth of experience from playing franchise cricket around the world and carries a highly impressive career strike-rate of a touch over 163.

The Lightning can be backed at 10/3 to top the North Group, while they are priced at 8/1 to be crowned T20 Blast champions for the first time since 2015.

Outlaws a model of consistency

Nottinghamshire Outlaws have been the most consistent team of all in the Blast, having only failed to progress from the group stage once in the last 12 seasons, lifting the trophy in both 2017 and 2020.

Their top-order batting is to be feared, with Alex Hales, Ben Duckett and Joe Clarke all having points to prove, with the latter pair surely on the England radar under the new management regimes of Brendon McCullum and Matthew Mott.

The Outlaws are as short as 11/4 to win the North Group and are 7/1 to win the Blast for the third time in six attempts.

Runs and wickets aplenty

Last season, the Leicestershire Foxes managed to have both the leading run-maker and the leading wicket-taker in the competition among their ranks, but still failed to make it through to the knockout stages.

Leeds-born Aussie Josh Inglis bashed 531 runs, while Afghan seamer Naveen-ul-Haq claimed 26 wickets, but that was still not enough to help the Foxes hunt down a first title since 2011.

In the history of T20 competition in England, Hampshire Hawks ace James Vince holds the record for the most runs in a season with an incredible 710 in 2015, proving that orthodox technique and shot-making can still do the trick.

Thirty-three is the magic number for most wickets taken in a campaign, a mark reached by Alfonso Thomas for Somerset back in 2010 and almost matched by Pat Brown (31) as he helped Worcs to glory in 2018.

Surprisingly, the last time the leading run-scorer in the tournament played for the eventual winners was as far back as 2011, when current Australia head coach Andrew McDonald did so for the Foxes, and it has only happened on two other occasions.

Success with the ball would appear to be a little more important, with no fewer than seven winning sides having included the leading wicket-taker in the competition.

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