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T20 BLAST TEAM-BY-TEAM GUIDES: The runners and riders in the 2018 North Group

Who is each team's big hitter? Which bowler will make the biggest impact? Who has been brought in from overseas? We have all the answers...

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Birmingham Bears

T20 record: Winners 2014, Runners-up 2003 and 2017. Semi-finalists 2015.

Last season: Third (North Group)

Captain: Grant Elliott

Overseas players: Jeetan Patel and Colin de Grandhomme.

Big hitter: Colin de Grandhomme - the Black Caps star arrived in Birmingham with the best T20 batting strike-rate in the world and soon became a cult hero in the Second City. He hits the ball very hard and very far and has left more than one bowler, having bowled a perfectly decent ball, pondering: "How on earth did he get that for six?"

Key bowler: Off-spinner Jeetan Patel is the bowler who binds it all together for the Bears. Now approaching a decade at Edgbaston, "Jeets" intelligent bowling is a familiar weapon to opposing batsmen - but not many have fathomed how to whack it.

Wild card: Ed Pollock. Was an unknown quantity when pitched in for his Blast debut last season but is extremely well-known now after making a brilliant impact with his aggressive batting.  Pollock's blazing strokes from ball one laid the foundation for victory in several huge games for Birmingham on their way to the final.

Derbyshire Falcons

T20 record: Derbyshire have never appeared at Finals Day. Last season's quarter-final was only the second time they have reached the last eight.

Last season: Second in the North Group with eight wins and 17 points from 14 games.

Captain: It is expected Gary Wilson will continue to lead the Falcons.

Overseas players: Wahab Riaz (Pakistan) and Lockie Ferguson (NZ)

Big hitter: Luis Reece hit 14 sixes in last season’s Blast but he will miss most of this summer’s tournament with a broken foot. So the Falcons will hope Calum Macleod can repeat the form he showed in his brilliant century for Scotland against England - while Wayne Madsen could again deliver batting pyrotechnics after his record-breaking run in 2017. He scored four half centuries in making 522 runs, the most for Derbyshire in the competition, and his background as a former hockey  international helps him improvise strokes.

Key bowler: Wahab Riaz has an impressive pedigree and he may also have a point to prove after Pakistan omitted him from their recent tour of England. The 32-year-old left-arm paceman was the leading wicket-taker in the Pakistan Super League with 18 victims at an economy rate of 6.9 and in 167 T20 matches, he has claimed 197 wickets at an average of 21. He is available for the first 10 Blast games before leaving  at the beginning of August to play in the Caribbean Premier League.  

Wild card: Matt Critchley announced himself to a wider audience with a blistering 64 from 37 balls for the North against the South in Barbados earlier this year and the 21-year-old all-rounder from Wigan could be an ace in the Falcons pack. A clean striker of the ball, Critchley also has the X factor a wrist spinner brings to one-day cricket and Derbyshire will be hoping he will have benefited from playing alongside Imran Tahir in last season's tournament.

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Colin de Grandhomme is back for the Bears

Durham Jets

T20 record: Finalists 2016, loss by four wickets to Northamptonshire.

Last season: 9th

Captain: Tom Latham

Overseas players: Tom Latham and Imran Tahir

Big hitter: Paul Collingwood. In the absence of a power player at the top of the order the onus will fall on Collingwood once again to be Durham’s big hitter in the middle order. The club experimented with moving him up the order to open during the Royal London One-Day Cup, although it did not go to plan. Last season in the Blast, Collingwood scored his maiden T20 century. He averaged 38.44 in the competition with a strike rate in the 140s, leading all categories for the north-east outfit. Durham will need him to match his boundary rate from the last term when he notched 25 fours and 13 sixes in 11 matches.

Key bowler: Chris Rushworth – Rushworth continues to be his side’s key man at the top of the innings in all formats of the game. He was extremely valuable in the RL50 matches taking nine wickets at an average of 22.44. The 31-year-old has not quite been as potent in T20s, but considering the lack of depth in the squad, his side will need both wickets and control in the opening overs. The pressure will be on Rushworth to lead an inexperienced attack against the power hitters of the North Group.

Wild card: Gareth Harte – The South African made an impression during his brief stint in the side in the RL50s. He made vital runs in the lower order in victories over Worcestershire and Northants, displaying the ability to manoeuvre the field and find the boundary when necessary. The 25-year-old continued his form in the County Championship, scoring his maiden first-class century in Durham’s incredible fightback against Derbyshire. Harte has the talent and the character for the big occasion, while he can also provide useful overs with his medium pace. He could be a vital man for Jon Lewis’ men in the competition.

Lancashire Lightning 

T20 record: Winners in 2015, beating Northamptonshire in the final at Edgbaston. That was one of three final appearances (2005 and 2014 the others), while the Lightning have reached Finals Day six times in all.

Last season: Lancashire finished seventh in the North Group, winning five matches and losing six. They also played out a Roses tie at Emirates Old Trafford and had two No Results.

Captain: Liam Livingstone.

Overseas players: All-rounder James Faulkner, a Blast winner in 2015, returns to join fellow Australian Joe Mennie, the seamer who was signed for all formats by the Red Rose this summer.

Big hitter: Two-time England T20 international Liam Livingstone takes charge of the Lightning for the first time in T20 cricket. The 24-year-old, who has a 21-ball fifty to his name, opened the batting last year and has power and innovation similar to that of Jos Buttler, whose availability will by stymied by international cricket. But Livingstone has plenty to prove in T20s having only scored two fifties in 42 career appearances. His ever-improving off-spinners will be a valuable weapon for the Lightning, especially at Old Trafford where the pitches turn and the boundary rope is pushed right out. 

Key bowler: Lions leg-spinner Matthew Parkinson is fast becoming a rising star of English cricket. Described by Livingstone as his ‘go to man’ with the white ball at present, the 21-year-old debuted in T20 midway through last season’s Blast and took 14 wickets from nine matches with a superb economy rate 6.06 - one of the best in the competition. Parkinson took 18 wickets in the most recent Royal London One-Day Cup, and even bowled at the death. The Boltonian, whose twin brother Callum bowls left-arm spin for Leicestershire, can’t be a million miles away from full England honours in all forms of the game.

Wild card: Cumbrian all-rounder Jordan Clark has been around for some time at Emirates Old Trafford, taking a triple wicket maiden in the 2014 quarter-final against Glamorgan to turn that game on its head. The hard-hitting middle to lower order batsman and seamer, who debuted in the Blast back in 2011, hasn’t really hit top form consistently in a campaign yet. But improved form in the Championship and one-day cricket over the last couple of years leads you to believe this summer could be the one for the 27-year-old. Like Parkinson, Clark will come up against his brother in the Blast, with Graham a top order batsman at Durham.

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Liam Livingstone will skipper Lancashire

Leicestershire Foxes

T20 record: Reached finals day 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2011 and won the competition in 2004, 2006 and 2011.

Last season: North Group: fourth. Lost in quarter-final, against Glamorgan in Cardiff.

Captain: TBC.

Overseas players: Mohammad Abbas (Pakistan) Mohammad Nabi (Afghanistan)

Big hitter: Cameron Delport. One of the new breed of T20 specialists, the hard-hitting South African left-hander has played in the Caribbean Premier League, Pakistan Super League, South African Pro 20, Big Bash and earlier this year, in the Indian Premier League. An uncomplicated clean-hitter with a career strike rate of 138, he smashed 109 from 59 balls against Nottinghamshire to help the Foxes qualify for the Blast quarter-finals last season.

Key bowler: Mohammad Nabi. One of three Afghan players who will be breaking new ground in this summer’s Blast, this canny and vastly experienced off-spinning all-rounder has 98 one-day and 63 T20 caps for his country, picking up 168 white ball wickets. The 33-year-old features regularly in T20 leagues around the world, has represented Melbourne Renegades in the Big Bash and Sunrisers Hyderabad in this year's IPL, and has a career T20 economy rate of less than 7.

Wild card: Callum Parkinson. Young left-arm spinner (twin of Lancashire's leg-spinning Matt) played every Foxes' game in last year's Blast, often bowling in the Powerplay, picking up 15 wickets with a best return of 3-20, and an economy rate of 8. Uses flight with a guile that belies his youth and lack of experience, and holds the ball back with sufficient disguise to draw the batsman into hitting too soon.

Northamptonshire Steelbacks

T20 record: Four Finals Day appearances, twice winners

Last season: 6th

Captain: Alex Wakely

Overseas players: Rory Kleinveldt (South Africa), Seekkuge Prasanna (Sri Lanka)

Big hitter: Richard Levi. The second-highest runscorer for Northants in T20s, Levi remains one of the most destructive hitters in the world. Blessed with a great eye for a ball and natural timing to match, he can find the boundary at will and his runs from the top of the order are crucial to Northants. He was the county’s leading runscorer in last season’s competition, with 375 runs coming in only eight innings and at a strike-rate of 167.

Key bowler: Richard Gleeson. One of the breakthrough bowlers in county cricket of the past few seasons. Gleeson’s elevation from Minor Counties to England Lions has been a fairytale story. Genuinely quick, his spearing yorkers played a huge part of Northants’ 2016 title triumph and his spell against Jos Buttler was one of the highlights of last season. Gleeson was badly missed during the Royal London Cup but having recovered from an elbow problem, is now set to play a big role in another bid for a quarter-final place.

Wild card: Nathan Buck. His career economy rate may be a little high at 8.48 but his 45 wickets have come at 23 and Buck appears to have the attributes to be successful in the shortest format. Tall with decent pace, he hits the pitch and can bowl a hard length that is effective in T20s. If he can hone a yorker as effective as Gleeson’s, Buck could be the surprise in the Northants attack this summer.

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Dan Christian will lead last year's winners

Notts Outlaws

T20 record: Defending champions after winning the tournament in 2017, runners-up in 2005 and beaten semi-finalists in 2010 and 2016. On nine occasions they have advanced to the knockout stages of the competition.

Last season: Won the North Group, then defeated Somerset in the quarters, Hampshire in the semis and Birmingham Bears in the final.

Captain: Dan Christian returns to Trent Bridge for the fourth consecutive season and resumes as captain after lifting the trophy last year – a simple act that went wrong and resulted in the sharp edges of the silverware cutting his eyebrow.

Overseas players: Christian and New Zealand leg-spinner Ish Sodhi reunite at Trent Bridge to try and emulate last year’s outstanding success.

Big hitter: Riki Wessels. Now aged 32, Wessels was the Outlaws’ leading run-scorer in their 2017 success. He blasted 559 runs at an average of 43.00 and had the honour of becoming the first from his county to score a T20 century, making 110 against Derbyshire. One of the cleanest hitters in the game, he usually goes blow-for-blow with his regular opening partner, Alex Hales, to get the side away to a rip-roaring start during the powerplay overs.

Key bowler: Harry Gurney. A much better bowler now than when he represented his country in T20 Internationals back in 2014, the 31-year old played a key role in the Outlaws’ success last season. He took a total of 21 wickets during the competition and was a worthy contender for the man of the match award in the final, taking four for 17 to down the Birmingham Bears. Has all the variations required of a modern death-bowler, all now delivered from a significantly reduced run-up.

Wild card: Tom Moores. The 21-year old wicketkeeper–batsman already has a winner’s medal in his pocket after coming into the side for last season’s successful campaign. His athletic ability with the gloves on has already brought high praise from unusual sources (Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea is a fan) but his destructive batting may take him to the very top of the tree. Following in the footsteps of Chris Read was never going to be easy but his young successor has already made a huge impression.

Worcestershire Rapids

T20 record: No Finals Day appearances, best performance is quarter-finals in 2004, 2007, 2012, 2014 and 2015

Last season: Finished eighth in North Group

Captain: TBC

Overseas players: At various stages Martin Guptill, Travis Head, Callum Ferguson.

Big hitter: Ross Whiteley – the left hander last summer became the first ever Englishman to score six sixes in an over in ANY format of the game in a Blast match against Yorkshire’s left arm spinner Karl Carver at Headingley. That kind of power-hitting helped earn Whiteley a lucrative winter playing in the Bangladesh Premier League, the inaugural T10 tournament in Sharjah and the Pakistan Super League. Whiteley feels he has learnt from those experiences and on his day is one of the most destructive batsmen in Blast and all white ball cricket.

Key bowler: Brett D’Oliveira – his impact in Championship cricket has been limited but in white ball cricket D’Oliveira is a key component of the Worcestershire attack. He has developed into one of the most economical bowlers in Blast cricket in recent seasons and gone toe to toe with fellow spinners Saeed Ajmal and Mitchell Santner during their spells at Blackfinch New Road. Harnessed to his own destructive hitting, D’Oliveira will have a key role in all facets of the game if the Rapids are to make a first finals day appearance.

Wild card: Martin Guptill – the New Zealand batsman is with the Rapids for the first eight games of the Blast and, if on song, will add even more fire-power to an impressive looking line-up. Guptill can take any attack apart on his day and, with the likes of Travis Head, Callum Ferguson, Joe Clarke and Ross Whiteley for company, the Rapids batting line-up represents their best chance of qualifying from the North Group. Head, who captained the Adelaide Strikers to the Big Bash title this year, and his fellow Aussie Ferguson, who hit the County’s highest List A score of 192 in the One-Day Cup, could also entertain Rapids fans if they fire on all cylinders.

Yorkshire Vikings 

T20 record: Yorkshire have only reached Finals Day twice since the start of T20 cricket in 2003. They were beaten in the 2012 final by Hampshire at Cardiff and beaten semi-finalists by Durham at Edgbaston in 2016.

Last season: The Vikings finished fifth in the North Group with six wins and five defeats. They also played out a Roses tie away at Lancashire and had two No Results. That they didn’t qualify was pretty amazing given they topped 200 four times with the bat. They just lost a couple of key games on the road.

Captain: Steve Patterson. 

Overseas players: Yorkshire are set to go into the Blast with just one overseas, the New Zealand captain Kane Williamson, who has returned to Emerald Headingley for a fourth spell. He will play nine group games from July 20 and a potential quarter-final. 

The White Rose had signed towering fast bowler Billy Stanlake, but he was pulled out by Cricket Australia in May. They have opted not to replace him.

Big hitter: Tom Kohler-Cadmore blazed a trail in the recent Royal London One-Day Cup, scoring 472 runs with one century - a career best 164 against Durham. The 23-year-old gained England Lions recognition as a result. A powerful striker who hits particularly well down the ground, Kohler-Cadmore played the majority of last season’s Blast for Yorkshire having moved from Worcestershire. He encouraged without dominating. Nicknamed Pepsi, he scored the fastest hundred in English cricket in 2016 when he reached 100 off 43 balls in Worcester’s opening night Blast win over Durham at New Road.

Key bowler: The obvious choice would come from one of Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid or David Willey, but given they are going to miss the first half of the competition due to England limited overs commitments, let’s delve a bit deeper into the Vikings squad. Seamer Matthew Fisher, 20-years-old, took five wickets on his T20 debut against Derbyshire in 2015 and was described by then coach Jason Gillespie as their best bowler in that campaign. Fisher’s development has been stunted by injury since, and he missed the first six weeks of this season with a torn side. But he encouraged in the Royal London One-Day Cup and earned a Lions call-up. Has good pace with plenty of variation. 

Wild card: Jonny Tattersall is in his second spell with Yorkshire having been released in 2015 following one first-team appearance. A batsman by trade, Tattersall was invited back to Headingley to play second-team cricket in 2016 and signed a one-year deal ahead of this summer. However, he did so with the Yorkshire coaching staff urging him to work on his little known wicketkeeping skills, something he had done as a kid before giving up. He played the second half of the recent One-Day Cup campaign and scored a crucial 52 not out in a final North Group win over Northants to secure a knockout berth and a career best 89 in a losing semi-final cause at Hampshire. The 23-year-old is set to keep his spot for this summer’s Blast.

Copy courtesy of the ECB Reporters Network

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