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Five players to watch in the 2021 Vitality Blast

This summer's Vitality Blast will feature a smattering of World Cup winners, a host of promising youngsters and a bevy of overseas stars. Here are five players to keep an eye on.

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Five players to watch in the 2021 Vitality Blast

Luke Hollman made an instant impression in his debut season last year

Tom Banton

A lot has happened in Tom Banton's cricket career in the last 24 months. Summer 2019 was a breakout year for the Somerset youngster, setting the Vitality Blast alight with his game-changing brand of power hitting at the top of the order.

His tally of 549 runs was the second highest in the group stages that year, behind Somerset teammate Babar Azam, and an international call-up wasn't far away. Banton was selected for England's tour of New Zealand, where he made his IT20 debut in November 2019, followed by an ODI debut in South Africa the following February.

But for one reason or another, Banton wasn't able to replicate his form on the international stage and missed out on selection for England's tour of India earlier this year.

His talents at the top of the order are still evident, though, as he's shown in various successful stints at T20 franchises around the world, and having burned himself out in COVID bubbles this winter Banton now seems relaxed and ready to show the England coaches why he deserves another shot.

Finn Allen

For a man who's only played 19 T20 matches for club and country in his career so far, Finn Allen enters the Vitality Blast this summer with a lot of excitement surrounding him.

And that's because his performances in those 19 matches have been pretty remarkable. In 16 domestic games back in his native New Zealand, the 22-year-old boasts 625 runs at a strike rate of 187.88, which is the highest ever for any batsman who's faced more than 250 balls.

He made his New Zealand debut in March in their home IT20 series against Bangladesh and after an inauspicious start in the first two matches, he smashed 71 from 29 balls in the rain-affected third to win the player-of-the-match award.

The prospect of Allen potentially opening the batting with Jos Buttler in Lancashire Lightning's opening matches of the tournament is mouthwatering to say the least, but will the Kiwi live up to his hype?

Sol Budinger

Like Allen, Notts Outlaws' Sol Budinger has been attracting a lot of attention in recent years, albeit on a more local level.

The 21-year-old is a staple on Nottinghamshire's social media accounts, which is impressive for someone who's yet to make his first-team debut, but when the left-hander does pull on the shirt for the first time there's a good chance he could make an instant impression.

Having graduated from the Notts Academy, his stats for the second team have been superb, especially this season where he outshone a number of the Outlaws' established stars in some T20 warm-up matches. He smashed 77 from 41 balls at the top of the order against Lancashire 2nd XI and four days later hit 56 from 38 against Leicestershire 2s to earn himself a place in the Outlaws' squad for the opening match of the Blast campaign.

His route into the first team isn't necessarily straightforward though, with the reigning champions boasting a number of big hitters at the top of the order. But if his early season form is anything to go by, Budinger could well be given a dart sooner rather than later.

Luke Hollman

A number of England's squad from the most recent U19 World Cup have been making their names for their counties in recent summers, but Luke Hollman could be the one best prepared for a starring role in the Vitality Blast this summer.

Two things a T20 coach looks for when building a successful team are a good leg spinner and a batsman who can finish games in the lower-middle order. In Hollman, Middlesex could well have both those things.

He's relatively tall and stocky for a spinner, but he used that to his advantage last summer when he took nine wickets in his first seven T20 games at an average of just 18. He also scored 139 runs from 100 balls at an average of nearly 35.

With Eoin Morgan likely to be available for the first few Blast fixtures this summer, it will be interesting to see how Hollman can perform under arguably the best white-ball captain in the world and whether he can solidify his place and drive Middlesex to a quarter-final place.

Carlos Brathwaite

Having set the cricketing world alight with his exploits in the final of the T20 World Cup in 2016, it seems odd that Carlos Brathwaite hasn't graced these shores more often in the Vitality Blast.

A spell at Kent in 2018 is his only experience to date and many cricket fans' most recent memories of the Barbadian are of his breakthrough commentary stint with the BBC last summer.

But Ben Stokes' tormentor is back in the Blast with the Birmingham Bears this summer and will be looking to help his side reach their first Finals Day since 2017 with his big hitting and troublesome medium-pacers.

His figures on paper aren't actually that impressive - averaging 15 with the bat and 27 with the ball in T20 cricket, but his experience of playing at the highest level for the West Indies and in the biggest franchise tournaments should be a great addition for the Bears.

We already remember the name, but will we remember his performances this summer?

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