By Ronan Alexander
With the South Group of the Vitality Blast getting underway today (Wednesday), here is an in-depth look at who the best boundary scorers and preventers are, as well as the best six hitters and preventers. Beginning with a look at how teams have performed in these departments over the last two seasons, then crunching the numbers for individual players at each county before assessing who the top performers are overall.
Somerset, Surrey and Gloucestershire all achieved positive net boundary percentage and balls per six, with Middlesex the worst overall in this department which is reflected by their poor finishes in the competition. Glamorgan conceded boundaries most frequently, whilst Kent had the worst boundary percentage with the bat, but the best boundary prevention with the ball.
After an underwhelming 7th place finish in 2021, Essex ended 3rd in the South Group last year before Lancashire ran out quarter final victors at Old Trafford. Essex go into the 2023 comp with the same squad as last year. Adam Rossington had an excellent winter in SA20 and the PSL, whilst Michael Pepper had a breakthrough summer in 2022 and Daniel Sams six hitting continues to improve. Will Buttleman has impressed at 2nd XI level but has yet to hit the ground running at county level. Perhaps this can be his breakthrough year. Simon Harmer and Matt Critchley provide control in the spin attack, supported by Aaron Nijjar who will also operate in the powerplay. Paul Walter had an excellent 2022 and Aaron Beard’s boundary and six prevention numbers are excellent.
Having finished bottom in 2021 and 6th in 2022, the Welsh side may again find it tricky to force a way into the quaerter finals. They may need to have some overseas replacement options up their sleeve with Marnus Labuschagne and potentially Michael Neser linking up with Australia ahead of the Ashes. Dan Douthwaite provides an excellent finisher option, David Lloyd operating as the main hitter whilst Sam Northeast anchors the innings, supported by Colin Ingram. However, in between these options, the batting unit has struggled to get going and found themselves stuck, proven by 6 batters having a boundary percentage below 15%. Prem Sisodiya has never batted above 9 in T20’s, but scored a club double ton at the weekend before smashing 62(28) opening the batting in a 2nd XI T20. They may float him up the order giving him a license to hit given their middle order struggles. Thomas Bevan has shown hitting potential at 2nd XI level and may get a run in the side opening the batting.
Gloucestershire have narrowly missed out on the quarter finals in the last two seasons, but this year looks like it will be an even bigger task given who they have lost over the winter. Losing Benny Howell, Ryan Higgins and Ian Cockbain leaves a hole in their side, not to mention that Glenn Phillips is not returning as overseas. Marchant de Lange adds some heat to their bowling attack and will be well supported by Paul van Meekeren and David Payne. Tom Price who continues to improve in red ball cricket may also get a run and will add value with the bat, perhaps coming into play Higgins role. Chris Dent and Miles Hammond will look to provide the goods from the top of the order, but they could struggle to make the top four.
Come into the tournament off the back of an excellent previous two years. Last seasons champions and semi-finalists in 2021, Hampshire have pretty much the same team coming into 2023. Their only addition is Benny Howell who has been fantastic in recent years, his boundary scoring and prevention numbers also make for good reading. Nathan Ellis and Ben McDermott combine again to form a strong overseas duo, backed up by a core of strong players. Expect them to do well again this term.
Kent went from the high of winning the tournament in 2021 to the low of finishing bottom of the group last year and will obviously be aiming to improve on that poor display. Now headed by analytical duo Dan Weston and James Tomson who both know the T20 game inside out. Ollie Robinson will be a loss for them, but they do have a side that will look to challenge for a quarter final berth. Kane Richardson comes in as overseas as well as Michael Hogan who links up from Glamorgan to strengthen the seam department. Tawanda Muyeye has shown he has potential and will be aiming to nail down a place in the side. Their middle order is strong with the likes of Billings, Cox, Leaning and Blake. George Linde will look to provide the fireworks towards the back end of the innings.
Middlesex have finished second bottom in each of the last two campaigns and looking at their squad, I find it hard to see how they improve on that. Other than Steve Eskinazi, there is no real firepower in their batting unit and they have no overseas T20 players which leaves them looking light. Luke Hollman, Tom Helm, Blake Cullen and Joe Cracknell are younger players with potential, but they look like a side who will struggle.
Have made finals day in each of the last two years and have a strong squad again this season. The addition of Tom Kohler Cadmore is exciting. Him, Tom Banton and Will Smeed provide some excellent options up top, with Abell and Lammonby in the middle order and Gregory as the finisher. Their bowling unit is also pretty good. Roelof van der Merwe was the leading wicket taker in SA20 and has a gig with Welsh Fire for The Hundred. Peter Siddle is a consistent performer, whilst New Zealand quick Matt Henry will likely take the second overseas slot.
A team littered with talent and strength in depth, it’s hard to believe they haven’t made finals day in recent years. A 5th place finish in 2021 followed by a quarter final exit last year, Surrey will be looking to go better this time around. Without over-analysing things, they just have a really good squad. Despite a recent dip in form, Sunil Narine will be looking to get back to his economical best and Gus Atkinson is a player who can shine. Jamie Overton’s late order hitting is also dangerous.
A quarter final spot in 2021 was followed up by a disappointing 7th place finish last term. The Sharks will be aiming to make it back to the knockout stages again. Having had Rashid Khan in the past, replacing him with Shadab Khan is an excellent piece of work. They’ve also today added Warwickshire keeper Michael Burgess to bolster their ranks. Ali Orr is someone to look out for, having flourished in his career so far, a couple Hundred sides may be keeping tabs on him as a left handed top order batter. There are a few gaps in the side, but they have enough to mount a challenge for the top four.