INSIDE COUNTY CRICKET: Guide to this year's Vitality Blast

RICHARD GIBSON – INSIDE COUNTY CRICKET: The Vitality Blast returns this weekend with international stars Glenn Maxwell, Shaheen Afridi and Daryl Mitchell all set to feature… here’s your guide to this year’s competition

  • The Vitality Blast returns with a double-header on Saturday afternoon
  • The competition is into its 21st year, and a host of international stars will feature 
  • Mail Sport’s Richard Gibson assesses how the 18 teams are shaping up 

The 2023 Vitality Blast gets under way this Saturday at Edgbaston with an inaugural Blast Off – a double header that sees last year’s beaten finalists Lancashire play Derbyshire before hosts Birmingham Bears take on Yorkshire Vikings.

The new-look launch for its 21st season indicates the ECB are treating Twenty20’s oldest domestic competition with greater care following two years of Hundred-Hundred vision, while the quality of players participating over the next two months, culminating in finals day back at the Birmingham venue on July 15, shows it retains both global appeal and relevance.

Here is how the 18 teams shape up:

Birmingham Bears

Overseas players: Hasan Ali (Pak), Glenn Maxwell (Aus) and Paul Stirling (Ire)

Last season: Quarter-finalists

Glenn Maxwell (above) has established himself as one of the biggest hitters in world cricket, and will be playing for Birmingham Bears this year

Previous titles: 2014

Moeen Ali’s return to Warwickshire as T20 captain is just one feature of strong winter recruitment. Stirling will deputise until Australian star Glenn Maxwell finishes at the Indian Premier League while Hasan Ali provides a bowling attack often over-reliant on spin duo Jake Lintott and Danny Briggs with greater wicket-taking capacity.


Overseas players: Haider Ali, Zaman Khan (both Pak) and Suranga Lakmal (SL)

Last season: Quarter finalists

Previous titles: None

Derbyshire are no longer whipping boys of the north, and have three quality overseas players to rotate in their quest to reach the latter stages once more. Zaman’s 90-mile-per-hour pace will add X factor to a side that claimed a club record nine group stage wins 12 months ago.


Overseas players: Ashton Turner (Aus) and David Bedingham (SA)

Last season: 8th North Group

Previous titles: None

Serial Big Bash winner Ashton Turner will fill one of the club’s overseas slots again after Tristan Stubbs – set to use his Dutch ancestry to play for the Netherlands under now Durham coach Ryan Campbell before South Africa capped him – became unavailable. Two other Dutch-connection arrivals Bas de Lede and Brandon Glover add to the squad depth.

Ashton Turner is a serial Big Bash winner in Australia, and has returned to Durham this year


Overseas players: Simon Harmer (SA) and Daniel Sams (Aus)

Last season: Quarter finalists

Previous titles: 2019

Sams has become a popular member of the Essex T20 side and returns as one of the world’s premier freelance cricketers. In Paul Walter and Michael Pepper, they also possess two quality short-form batters happy to operate under the radar. Fortress Chelmsford is rarely breached by visitors these days.


Overseas players: Marnus Labuschagne, Michael Neser (both Aus) and Colin Ingram (SA)

Last season: 6th South Group

Previous titles: None

The Welsh club have a new voice in the dressing room this season in the form of specialist white-ball coach Mark Alleyne, who as a player steered Gloucestershire to multiple limited-overs titles. How often he gets to select Labuschagne and Neser will depend chiefly on when Australia call them for a pre-Ashes camp.

Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne may get to play some Twenty20 matches before the Ashes


Overseas players: Zafar Gohar (Pak), Marcus Harris (Aus), Grant Roelofsen (SA)

Last season: 5th South Group

Previous titles: None

One of the five clubs yet to win an English domestic T20 crown do not appear as strong as in previous years, with the departures of Benny Howell, Ian Cockbain and Ryan Higgins severely depleting the batting firepower. More likely to be dwelling at the bottom end of the table than middle this time.


Overseas players: Nathan Ellis, Ben McDermott (both Aus)

Last season: Winners

Previous titles: 2010, 2012, 2022

The return to the club of Howell strengthens the Hawks, whose shirts this season will incorporate three stars, marking their third title last July – claimed despite a poor start to the season and on the back of captain James Vince’s 678 runs, second only to his own previous return of 710 in competition history.

Hampshire won the competition last year after a final that went down to the final ball

Captain James Vince will have a crucial role to play with the bat once more this year


Overseas players: Kane Richardson (Aus) and George Linde (SA)

Last season: 9th South Group

Previous titles: 2007, 2021

Champs one year, chumps the next. That has summed up Kent’s last two seasons, and highlights the competitive nature of the Blast as much as any drop in standards at Canterbury. Their personnel remains relatively untouched, although they have added seamer Kane Richardson, one of 15 Australians here for the tournament, to their attack.


Overseas players: Colin de Grandhomme, Daryl Mitchell (both NZ)

Last season: Runners-up

Previous titles: 2015

No county have made more finals day appearances than Lancashire, and their latest last July went to the wire. With the power of Jos Buttler, Phil Salt and Liam Livingstone, and two canny finishers in New Zealand recruits De Grandhomme and Mitchell, do not bet against them making a 10th visit in 2023.

New Zealand’s Daryl Mitchell could be a huge asset for Lancashire this season with bat and ball


Overseas players: Wiaan Mulder (SA) and Naveen-ul-Haq (Afg)

Last season: 6th North Group

Previous titles: 2004, 2006, 2011

Ill discipline cost the Foxes progress to the latter stages last year, when a two-point deduction rendered five straight wins at the end of the group stage worthless and allowed Yorkshire through instead. Expect Rehan Ahmed to be front and centre of this season’s campaign.


Overseas players: Pieter Malan (SA)

Last season: 8th South Group

Previous titles: 2008

In Stevie Eskinazi, Middlesex possess the Blast’s most prolific batter between 2020-22 but there is a lack of overall white-ball quality in their squad and an over-reliance on a batch of developing youngsters like Joe Cracknell and Jack Davies, so it is hard to envisage an upgrade on last year’s results.


Overseas players: Chris Lynn, Andrew Tye, Sam Whiteman (all Aus)

Last season: 7th North Group

Previous titles: 2013, 2016

Oh, to be in the dressing room at Wantage Road right now. Safe to say that Josh Cobb did not take last week’s announcement that he had been replaced as Steelbacks captain by the returning David Willey quietly, announcing publicly he had been ‘blindsided.’ However, if team unity holds, they will be contenders.

England swing bowler David Willey has returned to Northamptonshire to captain the side


Overseas players: Shaheen Shah Afridi (Pak), Dane Paterson (SA) and Colin Munro (NZ)

Last season: 5th North Group

Previous titles: 2017, 2020

With Dan Christian, the captain that led them to both their Blast successes now retired, this feels like the start of a new era at Trent Bridge. Big shoes to fill, but the giant Afridi appears the perfect fit – expect some eye-catching innings as well as explosive spells from the Pakistani.

Shaheen Afridi is one of the world’s premier bowlers and is a huge signing for Nottinghamshire


Overseas players: Peter Siddle (Aus) and Matt Henry (NZ)

Last season: Semi-finalists

Previous titles: 2005

A flexing of their enviable collective muscle saw Somerset surge to the latter stages in 2022. Rilee Rossouw broke the record for sixes in a season (42) while Derbyshire were dispatched in the quarter finals via a competition-high 265-5. However, seven days later they flunked at Edgbaston, fuelling the theory they are a nearly-team.


Overseas players: Sunil Narine (WI) and Sean Abbott (Aus)

Last season: Quarter-finalists

Previous titles: 2003

The inaugural tournament winners really ought to have added to their trophy haul in the subsequent 19 seasons. The fact they have a squad boasting 15 full internationals means that even England calls should not hamper them. Chris Jordan, appointed captain after signing from Sussex, could miss early matches due to Indian Premier League commitments.

Chris Jordan will captain Surrey this season once he returns from the Indian Premier League


Overseas players: Shadab Khan (Pak) and Nathan McAndrew (Aus)

Last season: 7th South Group

Previous titles: 2009

Not so long ago, the club was fending off criticism that they paid too much heed to white-ball cricket, but levelling up on the first-class front has coincided with the departures of big-name Twenty20 stars like Rashid Khan, Luke Wright, Jordan and Salt, and the youngsters at Hove being given short-form chances.


Overseas players: Michael Bracewell, Mitchell Santner (both NZ)

Last season: 9th North Group

Previous titles: 2018

The only way is up at New Road, where there will be a Kiwi feel to their post-Moeen T20. All-rounders Santner and Bracewell should provide quality spin and regular runs. Expect new recruit Adam Hose to be amongst the competition’s leading scorers again, having finished fourth as a Bears player last year.

Mitchell Santner (above) will be joined by fellow Kiwi Michael Bracewell at Worcestershire


Overseas players: Shan Masood (Pak) and David Wiese (Nam)

Last season: Semi-finalists

Previous titles: None

This will be a different-looking Vikings team: Willey and wicketkeeper Tom Kohler-Cadmore have moved on while Harry Brook – who wore the armband as Willey’s stand-in on finals days last July – will be absent on Test duty. Pakistan international Masood leads the side, with the evergreen David Wiese adding game-changing ingredients with bat and ball.

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