This week saw the beginning of the Vitality Blast T20 competition in England. The most explosive and popular cricket tournament in England kicked off in fine fashion with a number of GM batsmen racking up early runs.
The warm weather, flat pitches and fast outfields meant that quick runs were on the menu, typified by Northants batsman Ben Duckett who kicked off his campaign with a blistering 96, his highest score in the format, against Leicestershire. His innings came complete with 12 fours and 3 sixes before he was caught in the last over, as his efforts guided his side to 218/3. Incredibly, Duckett’s remarkable innings wasn’t enough, however, as Leicestershire’s batsmen all made fast starts to their innings to ensure they stayed up with the run-rate, before a thrilling finish saw them get over the line with two balls to spare.
Duckett continued his fine form just two days later as the Steelbacks hosted Nottinghamshire. The Outlaws batted first and posted an intimidating 219/6 from their 20 overs, with Samit Patel contributing 35 from 26 balls. Unfortunately, Northants were unable to match their efforts against Leicester as Duckett received little support on his way to 88, thrashing 13 boundaries, including 4 sixes. His wicket at 123/5 sparked a collapse in which they lost the final five wickets in under 5 overs to finish 161 all out with 2.3 overs to go, thanks largely to the efforts of Harry Gurney (3/30) and Luke Fletcher (3/21).
Notts carried their strong performance into their next match against Leicester, with Patel’s 52 proving crucial as his side reached 199/8 from their allotted overs. Despite some lusty blows at the top of the order, Notts’ bowling attack proved too strong for the Foxes. Gurney, though wicketless, went at only 6 an over whilst Patel (1/19) and Fletcher (2/36) picked up crucial wickets to restrict Leicester to 180/9, 20 runs short of their target.
In another high-scoring affair, Yorkshire hosted Durham who saw the return of Ben Stokes as he returned from a hamstring injury. The Vikings were asked to bat first, and despite losing a wicket in the second over were able to rely on Adam Lyth who proved to be the glue holding the innings together, plundering 92* from 54 balls as he helped his side reach 200/3.
Yorkshire’s next match against the Birmingham Bears proved a much sterner test. Once again the Vikings batted first, this time however Lyth was unable to recreate the heroics of their first match, dismissed second ball without scoring. With their opener back in the pavilion, Yorkshire struggled to just 157/7.
The Bears kicked their innings off by smashing 33 runs off the first over from Matt Fisher, which set the platform for Adam Hose to see his side home, making 51* from 33 balls as his side chased the target down with over 4 overs to spare.The reply was hampered by early wickets, but similarly to Lyth, Stokes held the innings together, finishing 90* in an innings which featured 5 sixes. However, he received very little support from his teammates as Durham whimpered to 156/4 from their 20 overs to give Yorkshire a comfortable start to the competition.
Elsewhere, Derbyshire hosted Lancashire in a comparatively low-scoring match. Having lost the toss, Derby got off to bad start, losing Ben Slater to a run out in the first over. Another wicket followed shortly afterwards, but Wayne Madsen ensured his side reached a competitive 161/4, finishing 76*. In the end, it proved to be nowhere near enough as Alex Davies and his opening partner put on 160 in 14.2 overs, losing a wicket just two runs short of the target. One ball later, the match was finished with Davies making an unbeaten 50 from 35 balls.
Lancashire made it two wins in a row a few days later when they hosted Northants who were hoping for their first win of the competition. Batting first, Levi and Duckett opened the batting for the Steelbacks but Duckett soon found himself walking back to the pavilion, caught by Dane Vilas for 10. Levi was the next man to go, but he had 40 to his name before he was caught and bowled by Jordan Clark in his only over of the innings. The rest of the Northants batting lineup struggled to get going as they slipped from 62/2 to 123/9. Lancashire’s reply got off to a poor start, losing their captain in the first over, however Alex Davies played superbly to once again make a half-century, finishing 64* as his side cruised to victory with 23 balls to spare, losing just one more wicket in the process.
The final standout performance of the came from Kent’s opening batsman Daniel Bell-Drummond who struck 58 in his side’s successful chase. Somerset’s innings struggled to get going, losing three early wickets, before some middle order resistance helped them reach 159/6. Kent, in reply, whacked their way to their target with 21 balls remaining, thanks largely to Bell-Drummond, who struck four 4’s and two 6’s on course to a 101-run partnership for the second wicket.