T20 Blast 2018 - Detailed Team Assessment

23rd August, 2018.



Today sees the start of the T20 Blast knockout stages, following 14 group matches for each team.  While 14 matches isn't necessarily a big enough sample to definitively say that the four teams that qualified were the best from each group (Surrey, for example, as we will see later on, were extremely unlucky), it is certainly enough to draw conclusions about player and squad strengths and weaknesses, as well as recruitment and in-play tactics.

Firstly, it's important to discuss the pre-existing dynamics of the T20 Blast, as any astute county director of cricket, as well as the team coach, should be acutely aware of the particular traits of the competition.  It's vital for setting par scores batting first, as well as working out recruitment targets, both from an overseas and domestic perspective.

Without doubt, decision makers at counties should be have a basic understanding of some points that I've made in previous articles, and so as to not clog up this particular piece, a very brief summary is as follows:-

Very high batting strike rate - easy league to score runs in compared to other major worldwide T20 competitions
High % of overs bowled by pace bowlers (70.24% in 2016, 67.21% in 2017)
Overseas bowlers have generally been very successful
Spin cost almost 1 run per over less than pace in 2017
Domestic batsmen performed closer to the mean figures than domestic bowlers (indicating domestic batsmen are 'less worse' than overseas players, compared to domestic bowlers).

Basic T20 Blast 2018 stats:-

Mean Players Used: 17.11 per squad
Mean Batting Average: 25.34 runs per wicket
Mean Batting Strike Rate: 146.11 runs per 100 balls (8.77 runs per over)
Overseas Player Mean Batting Average: 30.17 runs per wicket
Overseas Player Mean Batting Strike Rate: 145.94 runs per 100 balls (8.76 runs per over)
Batting Position 1-5 Balls Faced Percentage: 76.87%
Batting Position 1-5 Mean Batting Average: 28.19 runs per wicket
Batting Position 1-5 Mean Strike Rate: 141.93 runs per 100 balls (8.52 runs per over)
Batting Position 6-8 Balls Faced Percentage: 19.84%
Batting Position 6-8 Mean Batting Average: 21.42 runs per wicket
Batting Position 6-8 Mean Strike Rate: 138.97 runs per 100 balls (8.34 runs per over)
Batting Position 9-11 Balls Faced Percentage: 3.30%
Batting Position 9-11 Mean Batting Average: 10.33 runs per wicket
Batting Position 9-11 Mean Strike Rate: 114.29 runs per 100 balls (6.86 runs per over)
Mean Bowling Average: 27.94 runs per wicket
Mean Bowling Economy Rate: 8.72 runs per over
Overseas Player Mean Bowling Average: 24.88 runs per wicket
Overseas Player Mean Bowling Economy Rate: 8.13 runs per over
Bowlers bowling 25+ Overs Mean Bowling Average: 26.31 runs per wicket
Bowlers bowling 25+ Overs Mean Bowling Economy Rate: 8.52 runs per over
Bowlers bowling less than 25 Overs Mean Bowling Average: 32.56 runs per wicket
Bowlers bowling less than 25 Overs Mean Bowling Economy Rate: 9.23 runs per over
Pace Bowler Over Percentage: 68.73%
Spin Bowler Over Percentage: 31.27%
Pace Bowler Mean Bowling Average: 27.40 runs per wicket
Pace Bowler Mean Bowling Economy Rate: 8.99 runs per over
Spin Bowler Mean Bowling Average: 29.32 runs per wicket
Spin Bowler Mean Bowling Economy Rate: 8.14 runs per over


One particular area where I feel counties were often lacking this year was utilising both overseas players.  The data above shows the huge impact that the average overseas player has, compared to the average domestic player, particularly for overseas bowlers. On numerous occasions, teams only went with one overseas player, and given the often huge ability difference between a quality overseas player and the average domestic player, it is far from inconceivable that this will have cost teams qualification, or a home quarter-final.  While some counties may suggest that financial costs prevented such acquisitions, there are many lower profile overseas players with the ability to qualify for a UK work permit and are unlikely to be financially expensive, who can add huge value compared to the average domestic player.  In addition, the costs of these can easily be recouped (or even generate profit) with crowds likely to be higher with a successful campaign, in addition to extra gate receipts and prize money from knockout stage qualification.

We can also see that T20 Blast teams are extremely fearful of using spinners, with again the spin bowler over percentage being very low indeed, compared to worldwide leagues.  This is despite the spin bowler economy rate again being almost one run per over lower than for pace bowling, so it would appear that some counties are missing a trick by not using spinners more.

I'll also be referring to the above data regularly in the team analysis, so with all this out of the way, I'll immediately move on to detailed team analysis of each county's performance in the group stages, starting with the North Group:-

NORTH GROUP

Worcestershire Rapids - Position 1st (Qualified).

Strengths:-

* Aggressive, deep batting line up - It was evident that Worcestershire understood the benefit of a solid top five, who could attack from the outset.  Overall, their batsmen scored runs at 10.11 runs per over, ranking 3rd in the group stages, and their top five scored runs at 8.82 runs per over, which is 0.30 runs per over above the 8.52 mean for top five batsmen in this competition.  Indeed, this continued down the order (not always the case for counties in the Blast), with their batsmen in positions 6-8 scoring at a superb 27.08 runs per wicket and 9.51 runs per over.  Unusually for a successful T20 team, it would appear that they built their platform on a solid, big-hitting, batting line-up.

* Strong pace bowling from both main bowlers and squad bowlers - Worcestershire's bowlers who bowled 25+ overs (Pat Brown, Ed Barnard, Luke Wood, Daryl Mitchell) combined to take wickets at below 25 runs per wicket and 8.50 runs per over.  Their back-up bowlers (albeit led by Wayne Parnell and Moeen Ali, who were both unavailable for long periods of time) were able to replicate similar numbers, much better than the average back-up bowler.   Worcestershire's pace bowling, overall, went for 21.22 runs per wicket (the best in the group stages) and 8.37 runs per over, also considerably better than the 8.99 runs per over group stage pace mean.

Weaknesses:-

* Spin bowling - Worcestershire only bowled 22.58% of their overs from spinners, probably largely due to the absence of Moeen Ali in a number of matches.  Combined, their spinners went at over 35 runs per wicket and in excess of nine runs per over, which are numbers considerably worse than the tournament mean.

* Failure to promote Dylan Pennington to the first team quicker - My expected average/economy rate algorithm rates Pennington as one of the best young pace bowlers in the country, and this was evident even prior to his 50-over debut earlier in the season (his data from lower-level matches in combination with age-related upside made his ability extremely obvious, and I tweeted as such previously).  Worcestershire both recruited worse players than Pennington, and also (in other formats) gave worse bowlers opportunities, before giving him a chance, which should have come much sooner.  

Overseas Players:- 

* Worcestershire were one team who did fully understand the benefits of two overseas players in every match, with Callum Ferguson, Martin Guptill, Travis Head and Wayne Parnell splitting the duties in this respect.  All had a solid batting strike rate in excess of 140, and averaged over 35, with Parnell's bowling also adding value.  It's worth mentioning that the signings of Guptill and Head were rather astute given the likely conditions/opposition bowlers Worcestershire were likely to face - both batsmen are strong against pace bowling, but conversely weaker against spin in spin-friendly conditions.  

Surprise Packages:-

* Pat Brown.  While his bowling numbers in the second XI T20 last season were excellent (averaged around 20 at around 7 runs per over) and merited him being given a chance, it was still a step up for him to replicate these numbers at this higher level, particularly given that his 50 over data wasn't quite as impressive.  If he continues this improvement, he should be on overseas franchise radars in no time at all.

* Callum Ferguson.  When Worcestershire signed him, I was rather surprised, being of the opinion that there were many better choices for an overseas batsman than a player who has averaged just over 25 with a strike rate below 130 in the Big Bash across the last two seasons.  Perhaps this is the 'Ingram effect' I mention at the bottom of the piece in the detailed Blast dynamics, but Ferguson deserves credit for a strong season.

* Daryl Mitchell.  Despite being a top-order batsman in the Championship, the Worcestershire think-tank must have recognised that his strike-rate limitations were not an asset in the shorter format and he faced less than 50 balls in the entire competition.  However, his unexpectedly strong bowling data showed that he still added value to the team.

Domestic players potentially on overseas franchise radars:-

Moeen Ali
Joe Clarke
Ross Whiteley
Pat Brown

Potential areas for improvement in 2019:-

* Improve spin options - possibly an overseas recruitment in this area, particularly if it is anticipated Moeen Ali will be absent on England duty.

* Continuing promotion of players from second team and recruiting from the Birmingham League - Brown and Pennington have impressed in the first team, and there are a number of other high-potential young players in the Second XI, such as Alex Milton and Brinder Phagura.


Durham Jets - Position 2nd (Qualified)

Strengths:-

* Bowling in general.  Durham had the lowest bowling average and economy of the entire competition, at 20.48 and 7.71 respectively, and as has been seen around the world in various T20 leagues, this is a driver of almost certain success.  Both pace and spin bowling numbers were considerably better than the tournament average, indicating a well-balanced bowling attack.

* Imran Tahir.  The South-African spinner is a world-class performer, and showed again how effective a quality overseas spinner is likely to be in the Blast, taking 15 wickets at just over 13, and costing less than 6.50 runs per over.  He will be a huge loss for Durham in the knockout stages.

* Back-up bowling.  Durham had the best combined numbers in the tournament (16.88 average, 6.81 economy) for those bowlers bowling less than 25 overs in the group stages.

Weaknesses:-

* Batting strike rate - Durham's batsmen scored at just 7.83 runs per over, almost one run per over lower than the tournament mean.  The loss of Tahir will mean that Durham must be much more aggressive in their subsequent knockout matches this season.  Their strike rates both for batting positions 1-5, and 6-8, were considerably below the tournament mean figures.  It is a big ask for their bowling to consistently bowl them to wins, when their batting is unlikely post or chase big totals.

* Continued fitness issues of Mark Wood - their premier pace bowler managed just two matches in the tournament, which was a huge loss.  He has the ability to be an asset for T20 teams around the world.

Overseas Players:- 

* Tahir's influence has already been discussed, with Durham's second overseas player being Tom Latham.  Realistically, Latham did what Latham does - provide a solid platform at the top of the order, without scoring particularly quickly, although his strike rate just shy of 140 is an improvement on previously recorded numbers.  Could Durham have recruited a more aggressive top-order batsman?  Yes, but they may not provide Latham's stability, which was required given that he was only one of three regulars to average over 30 in this year's campaign.  I'm not entirely convinced Cameron Bancroft will be an upgrade.

Surprise Packages:-

* Graham Clark - the 25 year old batsman struck at almost 140, hitting 10 sixes in an impressive 19.93% boundary percentage. 

* Ben Whitehead - at just 20 years of age, the leg break bowler looks to have a high potential level - his numbers in second XI white-ball matches this season have also been impressive.

Domestic players potentially on overseas franchise radars:-

Ben Stokes
Mark Wood

Potential areas for improvement in 2019:-

* Improving batting strike rates and stability.  I'm not entirely convinced that they have an abundance of players in the second XI who can provide this, although Alex Lees' signing may be of use.

* Getting the best of talented second XI/squad players, particularly Brydon Carse, Gareth Harte and Barry McCarthy - all have the ability to perform well at this level but their selection, for whatever reason, often appears inconsistent.  Matty Potts is another young player with high potential, and it wouldn't surprise me if he made a decent impact in the near future.


Lancashire Lighting - Position 3rd (Qualified)

Strengths:-

* Top Order Batting.   Lancashire's top five batsmen combined for 34.00 runs per wicket and 8.63 runs per over - figures well in excess of the tournament mean.  

* Spin bowling.  Zahir Khan and Matt Parkinson bamboozled opposition, costing less than 20 runs per wicket and below 7.50 runs per over combined.  Lancashire were the only team in the Blast to bowl more than 50% of their overs via the spin option.

* Pace bowling.  James Faulkner has had success for Lancashire with the ball in previous years, and took 18 wickets at below 20.  Toby Lester was another strong performer - more on him later.

* Back-up bowling.  Lancashire produced solid numbers for bowlers who bowled fewer than 25 overs, with the likes of Steven Croft, Liam Livingstone, Steven Parry and Danny Lamb able to contribute successfully when called upon.

Weaknesses:-

* Lower-order batting.   From positions six and below, Lancashire averaged just over 15 runs per wicket at a strike rate of 110.  If their top five don't fire, they have a high likelihood of being in trouble, with the potential for batting collapses.  James Faulkner's continuing woes with the bat don't help (his 12.31% boundary percentage again was much lower than the tournament mean).

Overseas Players:- 

* A mixed bag.  Faulkner performed well with the ball but needs to rediscover his aggressive intent with the bat.  He's no longer the finisher that many commentators consider him to be.  4-day overseas player Joe Mennie played one match despite having barely featured in his native Big Bash.  However, Zahir Khan's signing was stunning. I've made the point many times that I consider him to be a huge talent but I'm shocked that Lancashire took the punt on him - they were handsomely rewarded.  

Surprise Packages:-

* Alex Davies.  While he's generated strong numbers previously, he improved them again this season.  The wicket-keeper batsman looks to be a solid player in this format.

* Karl Brown.  The white-ball specialist batsman had an excellent season, producing figures far in excess of my pre-tournament expectations.

* Toby Lester.  Even though he isn't to me. I've added him as a surprise package, because most will not have heard much of him prior to the competition.   Lester has recorded superb T20 bowling numbers for a while in the second XI, and he should be one of the mainstays in this Lancashire line-up for years to come - whether he will, is another case entirely.

Domestic players potentially on overseas franchise radars:-

Liam Livingstone
Jos Buttler
Matt Parkinson

Potential areas for improvement in 2019:-

* Quality overseas recruitment for the duration of the event - they signed Zahir Khan late, so he only played five group matches.

* Replacing Jordan Clark (moving to Surrey).  While Clark didn't perform superbly with the ball, he did well with the bat and provides a strong all-round option.  If he can improve his batting strike rate, Josh Bohannon might be able to step up from the Second XI.  

* Use Aaron Lilley consistently as a pinch-hitter.  He has an insane boundary percentage and excellent strike rate, and is tailor-made for such a role.  If he could get his bowling back to previous levels, he would definitely be one for overseas franchises to keep an eye on.

Notts Outlaws - Position 4th (Qualified)

Strengths:-

* Dan Christian as an overseas batsman - the Australian averaged over 45 at a strike rate of 175 and hit over 20% of deliveries for boundaries - superb numbers.

* Batting depth down the order - Notts averaged 24.46 from positions 6-8, at 9.13 runs per over.  Christian's impact boosted these numbers, but there were also contributions from the likes of Steven Mullaney.

* Tom Moores was identified as a wicket-keeper/boundary hitting batsman of promise here last year and he rubber-stamped that assertion with very strong batting numbers this year.

Weaknesses:-

* Batting positions 1-5 recorded below average numbers of 24.40 (average) and 8.29 (runs per over).  Frequently, Notts' lower/middle order has had to bail them out of precarious positions.  However, they've been unable to call upon the services of Alex Hales regularly, which would have helped in this regard.

* Samit Patel's performance level this season dropped markedly, with below average numbers recorded for both bat and ball.  A strike rate of below 120 was a surprise, for sure, based on expectations.  

* All-rounder bowling contribution was mediocre - all of Mullaney, Patel and Christian went for over 9 runs per over.

* Not much in the way of back-up bowlers - only 22 overs were bowled by bowlers who didn't bowl 25+ overs as individuals.


Overseas Players:- 

* Christian's impact with the bat was superb, as mentioned earlier, although (rather predictably, as a batting all-rounder), his impact with the ball was more limited.  Ish Sodhi was Notts' other all-rounder, and the New Zealand spinner impressed, taking 18 wickets at just over 22, with decent economy as well.  

* Notts definitely benefited from having two overseas players available for the duration of the event - something other counties would do well to note.  With decent research, it's not difficult to find work-permit qualified overseas players who are unlikely to be called up for national team duty.

Surprise Packages:-

* Jake Libby - I had him on my radar as a player of decent potential, but the batsman surpassed these, averaging almost 35 at a strike rate not far shy of 150.

Domestic players potentially on overseas franchise radars:-

Alex Hales
Riki Wessels
Harry Gurney
Jake Ball

Potential areas for improvement in 2019:-

* Improved contribution with the ball from all-rounders - perhaps a fit-again Paul Coughlin might be able to assist here.

* Getting more out of Billy Root - a strike rate of 110, and a boundary percentage of 10% isn't of a required standard to succeed.  Coughlin or Will Fraine could possibly be a better option.


Yorkshire Vikings - Position 5th (Failed to Qualify)

Strengths:-

* Top five batsmen - led by Kane Williamson, Adam Lyth and David Willey they scored at 31.34 runs per wicket and 8.87 runs per over, a fair bit in excess of the top five average for the Blast.  

Weaknesses:-

* No second overseas player.  A deal for Billy Stanlake was shelved, and no replacement was organised.  Given the bowling numbers for Yorkshire below, this looks to be a significant factor as to why they just failed to qualify - an overseas bowler could have been the difference.

* Poor bowling data generally, for both regular (25+ overs in competition) bowlers and back-up bowlers.  Both spin and pace bowlers for Yorkshire took wickets at a much more expensive cost than the tournament mean, and Yorkshire's spinners were very unsuccessful as a unit (and bowled just 21% of their overs).

* Poor numbers for batting positions 6 and below - Yorkshire averaged just 11.36 RPW & 114.16 SR in these spots.  Improved batting all-rounder options look required, and my opinion is that their batting line up in these spots was frequently 'one too high'.

* Continued loss of key players to England - an area where the Yorkshire management are understandably reported to be keen to address.

Overseas Players:- 

* Kane Williamson had an excellent campaign, and looks to have continued his improvement in this format from the 2018 IPL.  As mentioned above, a lack of a second overseas player was a big loss.

Surprise Packages:-

* I didn't have huge expectations of Jonny Tattersall but his batting data was solid, and an upgrade on previous wicket-keeper Andrew Hodd (when Jonny Bairstow was absent).

* Harry Brook's campaign was also strong, with a strike rate of almost 145 and a boundary percentage not far from 20% - he's a player of high potential.

* Jack Brooks hasn't been used much in T20 in previous years, but the paceman recorded strong numbers this season.

Domestic players potentially on overseas franchise radars:-

David Willey
Adam Lyth
Tom Kohler-Cadmore
Liam Plunkett (soon to move to Surrey)
Adil Rashid

Potential areas for improvement in 2019:-

* Improving an ageing bowling line-up.  Mat Pillans has already been recruited from Surrey, although I'm not convinced he's the answer.  Josh Poysden's signing could be useful, however.  Tim Bresnan now looks almost a batsman who bowls a bit, in this format.

* Second overseas player, as mentioned above - ideally a bowler.  Two quality overseas bowlers/all-rounders would make a big difference to these bowling numbers.

* Continue pushing players from the youth system/second XI.  I would recommend persisting with Matt Fisher in this format (he looks to have high long-term potential) and also, Jordan Thompson.


Birmingham Bears - Position 6th (Failed to Qualify)

Strengths:-

* Possibly unlucky not to qualify, given their runs per wicket when batting was higher than their runs per wicket when bowling, with similar runs per over figures.

* Overseas batting, which struck at 30.89 runs per wicket and 10.11 runs per over.  

* Top five batting, which recorded 32.61 runs per wicket and 8.73 runs per over, well in excess of the top five tournament mean figures.

Weaknesses:-

* Batting positions 6-8 did not impress, running at just over 18 runs per wicket and below 8 runs per over.  Stagnation at the death with the bat should be a worry.

* Mediocre bowling economy from pace bowlers, going at 9.44 runs per over.  

* Wicket-keeper Tim Ambrose contributes little with the bat.

Overseas Players:- 

* Colin de Grandhomme was in devastating form with the bat - Blast conditions really suit the big-hitting all-rounder.  However, he was a liability with the ball, costing almost 11 runs per over and taking just five wickets from 22 overs.

* Jeetan Patel's economy rate of 7.50 was impressive, but he wasn't a huge wicket-taking threat.  At 38 years of age, could his powers be on the wane?  If so, Josh Poysden's departure to Yorkshire could be a big loss. 

Surprise Packages:-

* Veteran batsman Ian Bell had a much improved season following last year's mediocre campaign.

Domestic players potentially on overseas franchise radars:-

Ed Pollock
Chris Woakes

Potential areas for improvement in 2019:-

* More aggressive batting wicket-keeper than Ambrose.

* Consistent bowling line-up (Birmingham used 13 bowlers in the tournament) - did they know their best bowling line-up?

* Promotion of some players who didn't play much this season - Matt Lamb, Ryan Sidebottom, Sukhjit Singh and Dom Sibley all look to capable of contending with the current squad. 


Derbyshire Falcons - Position 7th (Failed to Qualify)

Strengths:-

* Strong pace bowling.  Derbyshire bowled 88% of their overs via pace, and averaged 21.47 runs per wicket and 7.64 runs per over.  With these numbers, they put themselves in an excellent position to qualify - if only their batting was close to average.  Overseas player bowling numbers were magnificent.

Weaknesses:-

* Batting across all major position brackets was weak, particularly from a strike rate perspective.  Overall, they scored over one run per over lower than the tournament average.  Only Wayne Madsen, of their top order, had particularly strong numbers.

* Lack of back-up bowlers.  Their bowling success was almost all down to their regular attack.

* Lack of spin bowling options.  They bowled just 12% of overs from spinners.

Overseas Players:- 

* Pacemen Wahab Riaz and Lockie Ferguson terrorised opposing batsmen, and were huge successes.  Riaz's relative success with the bat, occasionally used as a pinch-hitter, was also an unexpected bonus.  Derbyshire could not have got more from their overseas recruitment.

Surprise Packages:-

* Riaz, as mentioned above, with the bat.

* Alex Hughes dramatically improved with the ball, taking 17 wickets at below 20 - a huge boost on previous data.

Domestic players potentially on overseas franchise radars:-

None

Potential areas for improvement in 2019:-

* Luis Reece returning to the squad following injury

* A better season from Matt Critchley - I felt that a good season this year from Critchley would put him with a chance of a franchise deal, but he didn't particularly impress with bat or ball

* Improving spin options - Matt McKiernan impressed in the second XI but got given one match.  Hamidullah Qadri could also be a potential inclusion.


Leicestershire Foxes - Position 8th (Failed to Qualify)

Strengths:-

* Spin Bowling - Leicestershire's spinners, led by the impressive Mohammad Nabi, were much stronger than the average Blast spinner, going at 27.32 runs per wicket and 7.65 runs per over.  It was no surprise they chose to bowl 41% of overs from spinners.

Weaknesses:-

* Top five batting - they scored just 21.39 runs per wicket at 7.92 runs per over from their top five across the competition, considerably below the tournament mean figures.  The effect of this is obvious - poor starts to innings giving their middle/lower order too much to do.

* Poor bowling core data - bowlers who bowled 25+ overs for the Foxes went for 31.60 runs per wicket and 8.76 runs per over.  

* Poor pace bowling data - Took wickets at 35.74, and cost 9.44 runs per over.

Overseas Players:- 

* I had high expectations for Mohammad Nabi (indeed, I recommended him strongly to another county prior to this season), and the Afghan all-rounder delivered, striking at almost 145 with the bat, and costing around 7.30 runs per over with the ball.  He didn't take many wickets, but contributing in both departments made him a superb signing.

* Mohammad Abbas' retention from the 4-day game was a strange one.  I've made little secret of my belief that he is one of the premier red-ball bowlers in world cricket, but he has little white-ball pedigree.  This was illustrated by very mediocre Blast 2018 numbers.  Teams (and indeed, countries) need to understand that red and white ball success requires very different skill-sets, and that 4/5 day cricket and T20 is virtually akin to being a different sport.

Surprise Packages:-

* Ben Raine had a magnificent campaign with the bat, running at well over 20% boundary hitting, and striking at almost 170.  With rumours abounding regarding interested teams, he certainly put himself in the shop window - although his bowling was much less impressive, going at almost 11 runs per over.

* Callum Parkinson has been one to watch for a little while, but Matt's brother continued his improvement, joining his sibling in recording excellent Blast bowling data.

Domestic players potentially on overseas franchise radars:-

Ben Raine
Callum Parkinson

Potential areas for improvement in 2019:-

* T20 specialist pace bowler

* Overhaul of batting line up to reduce reliance on players with low strike rates and boundary hitting abilities

* Improvement may need to come from external player recruitment - it is difficult to find much in the Second XI to considerably improve the batting, although Harry Swindells has some potential, and I can understand why he was given a chance.  


Northants Steelbacks - Position 9th (Failed to Qualify)

Strengths:-

* The top five scored at 9.06 runs per over, giving an aggressive start to the team's innings (albeit with a slightly below mean runs per wicket figure).

Weaknesses:-

* 15.72 runs per wicket from batting positions 6-8 led to batting collapses

* Bowlers, both from the core players, and back-up bowlers, recorded very poor figures, with bowlers bowling fewer than 25 overs going for 54.80 runs per wicket, and costing 9.82 runs per over.  Regular 25+ over bowlers didn't fare much better, running at 41.21 and 9.54 respectively. 

* Pace bowlers cost 9.89 runs per over, almost a run per over more than the tournament pace bowling mean.

* Spin bowlers were not a wicket-taking threat, taking wickets at a cost of almost 60.

* Premier pace bowler Richard Gleeson again was injured for part of the campaign.

Overseas Players:- 

* I felt that Seekugge Prasanna was a decent signing, with solid bowling economy and the ability to slaughter bowlers down the order, as well as the potential to be a decent pinch-hitter.  Unfortunately it didn't really work out for him with the bat, although he did hit almost 20% of balls faced for boundaries.  A strike rate of around 135 in conjunction with this indicates he had a high dot ball %, however.  He wasn't a wicket-taking threat with the ball, but was one of Northants' more economical bowlers.

* Rory Kleinveldt has been one of the most successful T20 overseas players in the Blast, but didn't impress at all with the ball this year, going for over 11 per over - although he did do well as a lower order hitter, striking at almost 190 - another potential pinch-hitter.  At 35, are his best days behind him?


Surprise Packages:-

Ben Curran showed potential with the bat when given a chance late on in the competition, and given his strong white-ball numbers for both Northants Second XI and MCCYC over the last couple of years, it leaves me wondering why he didn't get a chance sooner.

Domestic players potentially on overseas franchise radars:-

Ben Duckett
Richard Gleeson

Potential areas for improvement in 2019:-

* The return of wicket-keeper Adam Rossington from injury

* Quality overseas bowling options

* Looking to the second XI and released players for potential first team improvement.  Young players Charlie Thurston, Saif Zaib, Ricardo Vasconcelos and the aforementioned Curran, look to have potential.


SOUTH GROUP

Somerset - Position 1st (Qualified)

Strengths:-

* Along with Kent, recorded a tournament-high 1.43 points per game.

* Stellar lower/middle order, with batting positions 6-8 yielding 49.33 runs per wicket at 10.75 runs per over.

* Strong spin unit, led by Max Waller and Roelof van der Merwe, contributing 40% of bowling overs and going for just 7.54 runs per over.

Weaknesses:-

* Top five only averaged 24.77 throughout the group stages, leaving the lower-middle order, marshalled by Lewis Gregory, to put runs on the board.

* Lack of back-up bowling, with around 90% of the bowling overs bowled by bowlers who bowled 25+ overs in the event.

* Expensive pace bowling, going for 9.86 runs per over in the group stages.

Overseas Players:- 

* Corey Anderson's batting was magnificent, hitting over 20% of balls faced for boundaries (including 31 sixes) and striking in excess of 170.  He didn't contribute much with the ball, which looks to be a feature of his recent T20 tournaments.

* Jerome Taylor was a signing I wasn't anticipating, but the West Indian paceman did well, taking 17 wickets at 18.

Surprise Packages:-

* Wicket-taking Impact of Taylor

* Lewis Gregory's hitting - He hit an incredible 40 boundaries in 124 balls faced and struck at over 210.

* Johann Myburgh's batting at the top of the order

Domestic players potentially on overseas franchise radars:-

Lewis Gregory
Max Waller

Potential areas for improvement in 2019:-

* Replacing the retired Myburgh - could Jamie Overton pinch-hit at the top of the order?

* Ensuring Tom Abell improves his batting strike rate, or is replaced. 

* On this subject, following the Kent defeat, ensuring that currently batting batsmen understand that high-strike rate batsmen are available on the sidelines - there is little need to play themselves in and wickets should not be overvalued with such a strong and lengthy batting order.

* Tom Banton looks to be a batsman of high potential and should be given more opportunities


Kent Spitfires - Position 2nd (Qualified)

Strengths:-

* One of the best top five batting line-ups in the tournament, running at 36.16 runs per wicket and 8.83 runs per over in the group stages.

* Wicket-taking threat from spinners - Joe Denly and Imran Qayyum took wickets at a cost of just over 22 between them.

Weaknesses:-

* Poor numbers from batting positions 6-8, which went for just 15.09 runs per wicket and 7.72 runs per over - there's a big reliance on the top batsmen to fire.

* Back-up bowlers struggled, with bowlers bowling fewer than 25 overs costing 10.43 runs per over.  Only Milne and Denly cost less than nine runs per over in the group stages.

Overseas Players:- 

* Adam Milne's success wasn't a surprise to me at all - in fact, he's redacted player 8 in my analysis here.  His career numbers are decent anyway, but my algorithm values him even higher, given that he frequently bowls at batsman-friendly venues.  One of the best pace bowlers in the T20 Blast.

* I was less enthused with the signings of Marcus Stoinis and in particular, Carlos Brathwaite, having questioned the viability of 'luxury' all rounders previously.  A quality overseas player adds so much over a domestic player, so it makes sense to have them in the action as much as possible - being a late order hitter, who cannot always be relied on to bowl four overs doesn't ensure this.

Surprise Packages:-

* Joe Denly's batting has got better and better, but that's no shock - he's one of the best batsmen in England now.  However, his bowling has come on leaps and bounds and boasts genuine all-rounder status, as well as one of the best bowling figures in the entire event.  England would do well to consider him.

* After some hit and miss campaigns, Sam Billings has benefited from continued availability and leads Kent's batting charts - finally going some way to justify the faith that overseas franchises and England have shown in him.

Domestic players potentially on overseas franchise radars:-

Joe Denly
Sam Billings
Daniel Bell-Drummond

Potential areas for improvement in 2019:-

* Improving the lower profile bowling options, with the likes of Qayyum, Haggett, Claydon and Thomas all costing in excess of 9.5 runs per over.  There doesn't look to be many options in the current Kent squad for this, so external player recruitment should be considered.

* Spin-bowling overseas all-rounder - Mohammad Nabi would be absolutely perfect.

* Introduce back-up batsmen Ollie Robinson and Zak Crawley when the time is right - both have solid potential.

Sussex Sharks - Position 3rd (Qualified)

Strengths:- 

* Strong top order batting - their top five scored 32.82 runs per wicket, and 8.77 runs per over.

* Exceptional bowling core unit - the main 25+ over bowlers took wickets at 20.55 runs per wicket and just 7.85 runs per over.  This puts them at a considerable advantage to the field, and is a huge driver towards T20 success.

* Tournament-best spinner numbers.  Led by Rashid Khan, Sussex's spinners took wickets at 17.30, and at 7.14 runs per over, bowling 40% of Sussex's overs.

Weaknesses:-

* Batting positions 6-8 scored at just 7.23 runs per over - instead of adding impetus later in an innings, Sussex were at risk of slowing down.  Batting Chris Jordan (not a huge boundary threat) ahead of Rashid Khan (high boundary upside) was a strange decision.

* Back-up bowlers didn't impress - those who bowled less than 25 overs cost 38.63 runs per wicket at 8.96 runs per over.  

Overseas Players:- 

* It is difficult to find enough superlatives to describe Rashid Khan, but surely he holds the title of the world's best T20 spin bowler.  As with every league he plays in, he performed superbly, taking 17 wickets at 14, as well as being Sussex's most economical bowler.  However, it's a shame that his batting talents were largely unused - he'd make a superb pinch-hitter.

* Tom Bruce's signing raised an eyebrow, despite having strong strike rates in the New Zealand Super Smash.  The problem with signing New Zealand batsmen is that it is incredibly unrealistic to expect them to replicate domestic numbers, due to the ease of scoring runs in that domestic T20 league.

Surprise Packages:-

* Laurie Evans had underwhelmed as a T20 batsman previously, but topped the Sussex batting charts, scoring almost 500 runs at 70 runs per wicket.  He upped previously mediocre strike rates as well, running at a shade below 140.

* Phil Salt had an excellent campaign in the group stages, striking at 170 and an above 20% boundary percentage.

Domestic players potentially on overseas franchise radars:-

Jofra Archer
Chris Jordan
Tymal Mills
Luke Wright

Potential areas for improvement in 2019:-

* Second overseas player, if they can keep Rashid Khan - a quality pace bowling all-rounder or aggressive batsman would be a real asset.

* Continued development of young prospect Delray Rawlins, as well as integration of some excellent talents in the Second XI, including Abi Sakande and Stuart Whittingham.

Gloucestershire - Position 4th (Qualified)

Strengths:- 

* Lower-order hitting was strong, with batting positions 6-8 striking at 9.33 runs per over, almost one run per over higher than the tournament mean for these positions.

* Strong core bowling unit, with bowlers bowling 25+ overs going for 24.65 runs per wicket and 8.46 runs per over.

Weaknesses:-

* Lack of spin bowling options - Gloucestershire only used spinners in 18% of overs bowled.

* Poor strike rate from batsmen 1-5 (more on this later) of 8.33 runs per over leading to pressure on lower order batsmen.

Overseas Players:- 

* While Michael Klinger scores plenty of runs, it is at a very low strike rate (particularly against spin).  It is important that batsmen don't score at such rates, to avoid putting pressure on lower order batsmen.  A strike rate of just over 115 really isn't ideal from a top-order overseas batsman.

* Andrew Tye is one of the best T20 bowlers in world cricket, and did well, taking 12 wickets at just under 24, at an economical 7.66 runs per over.

* Thisara Perera played two matches and had little impact.

Surprise Packages:-

* Jack Taylor struck at over 200, hitting over 30% of balls faced to the boundary - stunning numbers.  While his hitting ability has been highlighted previously, this is superb.

* I had low expectations for Kieran Noema-Barnett, but the 31 year old all rounder was one of Gloucestershire's MVPs, starring with both bat and ball.

Domestic players potentially on overseas franchise radars:-

Benny Howell

Potential areas for improvement in 2019:-

* Overseas batsman with a better expected strike rate than Klinger.

* More spin options - Jack Taylor's ban from bowling looks to have been a blow.  I'm surprised off-break bowler George Drissell wasn't given opportunities given his superb second XI data in both white-ball formats.

Glamorgan - Finished 5th (Failed to Qualify)

Strengths:-

* Long batting line-up - batting positions 9-11 scored 17.29 runs per wicket and 7.89 runs per over, considerably above the tournament mean figures for these spots.

* Economical spin bowling, costing just 7.80 runs per over.  However, they bowled spin in just 23% of overs.

Weaknesses:-

* Overall, Glamorgan's batsmen scored just 23.80 runs per wicket - they needed this long batting line-up.

Overseas Players:- 

* Colin Ingram was predictably awesome, averaging over 50 at a strike rate of almost 165, as well as contributing economy of around 8 runs per over with the ball - he was a real asset.

* The Australian trio of Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh and Joe Burns were much less successful.  Khawaja wasn't a disaster, but Marsh and Burns contributed just 31 runs in 44 balls across four innings.  Perhaps Glamorgan may wish to consider a hard-hitting pace-bowling all rounder for the second overseas berth next season.

Surprise Packages:-

* Rhuaidri Smith was certainly not on many people's predictions as a star of the tournament, but the 24 year old Scotsman's medium-pace impressed, taking nine wickets at 22, with a 7.50 economy rate.  His second XI data in T20 wasn't bad at all last year, but whether he can maintain such a strong season next year will be up for debate - his numbers across other formats aren't nearly as impressive.

Domestic players potentially on overseas franchise radars:-

None.

Potential areas for improvement in 2019:-

* Second overseas player dynamic as mentioned

* Replacement for Aneurin Donald (transferred to Hampshire) - while Donald didn't have the best campaign from an average perspective, he still impressed with his boundary hitting and strike rate, and is a player of high potential.

* Improving spin department - Kieran Bull and Prem Sisodya could compete for a first-team berth next season in the Blast, while from a pace perspective, I'm surprised Lukas Carey didn't get opportunities.

Surrey - Position 6th (Failed to Qualify)

Strengths:-

* A star-studded squad, which was unlucky not to qualify.  They had a higher team batting average than bowling average, and scored at a higher runs per over figure than they conceded.  A rained off match vs Kent where Surrey scored 250/6 batting first didn't help at all.

* Magnificent, Aaron-Finch inspired, top five batting figures, running at 40.55 runs per wicket, and 9.70 runs per over.   

* Surrey also impressed from positions 6-8, scoring 32.33 runs per wicket at 8.86 runs per over.  They consistently scored above average numbers even a little further down the order.

* Strong pace bowling, which delivered 78% of Surrey's overs.  Surrey's pacemen took wickets at 25.91, while retaining a solid 8.97 economy rate - around the 2018 T20 Blast mean.

Weaknesses:-

* Poor spin numbers - Surrey took spin wickets at 39.33 runs per wicket, and at 8.91 runs per over (well above the 8.14 Blast 2018 spin mean)

* Expensive economy for non-core bowlers.  Surrey's bowlers who bowled less than 25 overs, went for 9.95 runs per over.

* Continued absence of key men to England duty.

Overseas Players:- 

* Aaron Finch enjoyed a stellar campaign, scoring almost 600 runs for just four dismissals.  The conditions and opposition in the Blast certainly benefit the Australian.

* Nic Maddinson was a surprising signing as my algorithm doesn't grade him as a particularly above-average batsman.  His numbers, however, this Blast, were pretty solid.  Having said this, I do feel that Surrey could have benefited from a spin-bowling all-rounder - another county who would benefit from a Mohammad Nabi type signing.

Surprise Packages:-

* Surrey's squad largely comprised of known quantities.

Domestic players potentially on overseas franchise radars:-

Ollie Pope
Sam Curran
Jason Roy
Tom Curran
Liam Plunkett (following move from Yorkshire)

Potential areas for improvement in 2019:-

* Spin bowling, and second all rounder, as discussed.

* Continuing the development of Will Jacks by giving him opportunities - he looks a player of huge potential.


Essex Eagles - Position 7th (Failed to Qualify)

Strengths:- 

* Varun Chopra had another excellent individual Blast campaign, scoring over 500 runs.

Weaknesses:-

* Prone to batting collapses - batting positions 6-11 went for just 13.94 runs per wicket.

* Lack of wicket-taking threat from core bowlers.  Those who bowled 25+ overs went for 31.63 runs per wicket.

* Very poor data for back-up bowlers - bowlers who bowled less than 25 overs went for 10.21 runs per over combined, and 47.19 runs per wicket.

* Pace bowling generally - Essex's pacemen cost 10.17 runs per over, and averaged just shy of 50 runs per wicket.

* 19 players (and 14 bowlers) used, hinting at a possible inability of the Essex decision makers to know their best team.  

* Michael Pepper pushed down the order when he finally got a chance.  I am very much against a non-bowling batsman batting so low - if a team considers a batsman to be good enough to make the team, trust them higher up the order where they play at a lower level.  This was particularly frustrating as I consider him a player of huge future potential.

Overseas Players:- 

* Adam Zampa was a rare bright point of Essex's campaign, with the Australian spinner costing just over 20 runs per wicket, at an economy of below 8 runs per over.  

* Peter Siddle and Neil Wagner had little impact as the second overseas player, and obtaining a quality, T20 specialist, second overseas player should be a priority for Essex next season.

Surprise Packages:-

None

Domestic players potentially on overseas franchise radars:-

Ravi Bopara

Potential areas for improvement in 2019:-

* Improving pace bowling, particularly with the addition of an experienced T20 specialist overseas bowler.

* Starting to work out strategies to counter ageing of veteran mainstays Ryan ten Doeschate, Ashar Zaidi and Ravi Bopara.

* Further integration of younger talents such as Aron Nijjar, Jack Plom, and the aforementioned Michael Pepper, into the team.

Hampshire - Position 8th (Failed to Qualify)

Strengths:-

* Solid and very economical bowling core - their bowlers who bowled 25+ overs in the 2018 Blast went for just 7.62 runs per over, combined.

* Very economical spinners - Hampshire bowled 39% of overs via spin, and these cost just 7.11 runs per over.

Weaknesses:-

* Horrific batting combined stats from the top five, who averaged 19.70 runs per wicket and 7.68 runs per over - with such T20 talents as James Vince and Sam Northeast in their top five, this was a huge surprise.

* Lack of ability of batsmen 6-8 to bail out the misfiring top order - batsmen in positions 6-8 averaged 17.89 runs per wicket, and 7.53 runs per over.  

* Mediocre batting stats from keeping options.  It is difficult to envisage Lewis McManus being a huge asset in this format - where was the big hitting Calvin Dickinson?

* Spinners, although economical, were not particularly a wicket-taking threat.  They cost 36.28 runs per wicket.

Overseas Players:- 

* Colin Munro had a solid, if unspectacular campaign with the bat, averaging just over 26, striking at 154, while Afghan spinner Mujeeb, a mainstay of the season, was very economical indeed, going at just over 7 runs per over, but only taking 9 wickets in 44.5 overs - did opposition teams just look to see him off without taking risks?

* Dale Steyn also played four matches and was Hampshire's most economical bowler, and taking five wickets at just over 20 runs per wicket.

* Despite Hampshire's problems in general, overseas recruitment wasn't bad at all.

Surprise Packages:-

* I had mediocre expectations for Chris Wood, but the 28 year old left-arm seamer had an excellent season, taking 19 wickets at just under 18, with impressive economy.

Domestic players potentially on overseas franchise radars:-

Liam Dawson
Sam Northeast
James Vince

Potential areas for improvement in 2019:-

* The batting, both from the perspective of the experienced campaigners such as Northeast, Vince and Rilee Rossouw, but also the lower-profile squad players - Tom Alsop, Joe Weatherley and McManus have much to prove at this level.

* Assessment of Second XI to find players better than current squad - certainly, Ian Holland, Sean Ervine (now shipped off on loan to Derbyshire), Calvin Dickinson and Brad Taylor (injured) look capable of making a bigger impact than some of the current squad.  From a small sample of data, 17 year old pace bowler Scott Currie looks to have real potential also.

Middlesex - Position 9th (Failed to Qualify)

Strengths:- 

* In a disastrous team campaign, Paul Stirling held his head high with almost 500 runs, striking at 160.

Weaknesses:-

* Core bowling group failed to provide economy or a wicket-taking threat, with bowlers bowling 25+ overs costing 10.40 runs per over, and averaging 35.95.

* Pace bowlers struggled for Middlesex, costing 10.15 runs per over.

* Spinners also had little impact, taking wickets at almost 38, with an economy of 9.41.

* 21 players used (including 16 bowlers), indicating that team management struggled to ascertain their best starting XI.  

Overseas Players:- 

* Middlesex took on Ashton Agar and Dwayne Bravo earlier in the competition, and then failed to replace them.  On the surface, both seemed solid enough signings, and both contributed reasonably enough, particularly Bravo.  

Surprise Packages:-

* James Fuller (with the bat) - has pinch-hitting potential.  However, despite 15 wickets, Fuller's economy rate of almost 11 was not a positive.

Domestic players potentially on overseas franchise radars:-

Paul Stirling
Eoin Morgan
Dawid Malan
Steven Finn
Tom Helm

Potential areas for improvement in 2019:-

* Two quality overseas bowlers

* Long-term overseas signings or at least replace departed players- other counties benefited from such consistency.  

* Hope that Finn and Helm stay fit - their fitness is critical to Middlesex's success.

* Trust young players more - batsman Martin Andersson has recorded decent second XI numbers for several years now yet has barely had a chance.  Robbie White also falls into this category.  Left-arm spinner Thilan Walallawita also looks to have potential, and I feel white-ball spinner Nathan Sowter should have bowled more, despite his lack of wickets.



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