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Vitality Blast 2023 team-by-team preview: North Group

Members of the ECB Reporters Network have cast their eyes over the prospects of the North Group teams in this year's Vitality Blast

Birmingham Bears

Captain: Moeen Ali

Overseas players: Glenn Maxwell (Australia, after IPL commitments with RCB), Hasan Ali (Pakistan), Paul Stirling (Ireland, until Maxwell arrives)

Finals Day appearances: Four (2003, 2014, 2015, 2017)

Titles: One (2014)

2022 finish: Quarter-finals

2022 leading runscorer: Adam Hose (557)

2022 leading wicket taker: Jake Lintott (22)

Key winter moves: Three potential match-winners have been signed in Ali, Maxwell and Stirling and the Bears will hope they deliver in spectacular fashion when available. A key departure is last year’s leading runscorer Adam Hose who has joined Worcestershire Rapids but Pakistan seamer Hasan Ali will bring welcome nous to the seam attack.

The big question: Will the big-name recruits help to end the Bears’ fallow period in the Blast? After three Finals Day appearances in four years, the frustration which had dogged the team for most of Blast history has returned of late. Too often they have been hosts but not participants at the Edgbaston Finals Day jamboree. 

Wildcard watch: Rob Yates - The 23-year-old first forged his reputation as a solid opening batsman in red ball cricket but has blossomed in the white ball game. He blends orthodox strokeplay with clouting the ball a long way and some strong early Blast knocks could well attract a Hundred gig.

Final thought: Entertainment was high from the Bears last year as they topped 200 in half their games with a go-for-broke batting policy. It often succeeded but was high-risk and imploded spectacularly on occasions – a ten-wicket group stage defeat to Yorkshire and a 104-run quarter-final thrashing by Hampshire. Will the vastly experienced signings allow for a more measured approach?

Derbyshire Falcons

Overseas players: Suranga Lakmal (Sri Lanka), Haider Ali (Pakistan), Zaman Khan (Pakistan, arrives before end of May).

Finals Day appearances: One (2019)

Titles: 0

2022 finish: Quarter-finals

2022 leading runscorer: Shan Masood (547)

2022 leading wicket taker: George Scrimshaw (23)

Key winter moves: The signings of Matt Lamb and Zak Chappell have bolstered both the batting and bowling while 22-year-old Haider Ali is an exciting prospect with the potential to deliver destructive performances at the top of the innings. Young Pakistan international Zaman Khan adds more pace to the line-up having been clocked at 90mph.

The big question: The Falcons soared until they fell to earth spectacularly in the quarter-final at Taunton so can they use that defeat as a motivating factor to go one better this summer? The batting and bowling looks strong but if there is a weakness, it could be in the field where a lack of athleticism might be a problem.

Wildcard watch: Luis Reece played in the first year of The Hundred for London Spirit so a strong Blast tournament could result in another contract. At his best, the all-rounder is capable of taking attacks apart and his ability to keep it tight and swing the ball makes him a dangerous opponent.

Final thought: After failing to make an impact in T20 cricket for years, the Falcons have emerged as a force to be reckoned with, reaching the knock-out stages three times in the past six seasons. If Ali fires and Scrimshaw has another big competition, they have a good chance of qualifying from a strong North Group.

Durham

Captain: Alex Lees

Overseas players: David Bedingham (South Africa).

Finals Day appearances: One (2016)

Titles: Zero

2022 finish: Eighth (North Group)

2022 leading runscorer: Michael Jones (319)

2022 leading wicket taker: AJ Tye (21)

Key winter moves: Durham have been dealt a blow after their major Blast signing Tristan Stubbs was called up for a South Africa A tour of Sri Lanka ruling him out of contention. The club are close to sealing a like-for-like replacement with experience of worldwide T20 competitions, so the drop-off should not be too drastic. Coach Ryan Campbell used his Netherlands connections to sign all-rounder Bas de Leede and quick Brandon Glover.

The big question: Can head coach Ryan Campbell’s attacking mindset help Durham shake the unwanted tag of serial underperformers. Campbell has already worked wonders in the red-ball format and now faces a challenge to turn around Durham’s T20 form which, outside a run to the 2016 final, has seen them otherwise fail to reach Finals Day.

Wildcard watch: Ollie Robinson has been one of the signings of the season so far in the Championship, excelling with the gloves and bat, after a permanent move from Kent. Robinson failed to make an impact when on loan for the Blast last summer, but the 24-year-old is now fully embedded and has the all-round ability and strike-power to give Durham something they have lacked in the past.

Final thought: Alex Lees has inherited the captaincy and has decent talent to make a charge, but a lot will hinge on whether the club are willing to adapt their tactics to match the striking ability of other teams in the competition. Campbell’s cavalier attitude as a player is rubbing off on his squad so far, and any improvement in the T20 format would be welcome by fans.

Lancashire Lightning

Captain: Keaton Jennings

Overseas players: Colin de Grandhomme (New Zealand), Daryl Mitchell (New Zealand), Dane Vilas (South Africa).

Finals Day appearances: Nine (2004, 2005, 2007, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2018, 2020, 2022)

Titles: One (2015)

2022 finish: Runners-up

2022 leading runscorer: Steven Croft (548)

2022 leading wicket taker: Richard Gleeson (25)

Key winter moves: New Zealand all-round pair Colin de Grandhomme and Daryl Mitchell will provide a mixture of experience, power and skill. They are two of three overseas players in the squad alongside the Red Rose’s South African stalwart Dane Vilas. The signing of 2021 World Cup finalist Mitchell is particularly exciting for Lightning fans.

The big question: Can this year be a case of the perfect 10 for Lancashire? They have reached a joint-record nine Finals Days with Hampshire, the team who beat them in last year’s final. It would be the perfect way to mark a 10th appearance at the Blast showpiece if they were to go on and win a second title this July.

Wildcard watch: Matthew Parkinson was a shock non-selection in March's The Hundred draft. Released from the Manchester Originals squad last year and loaned out to Durham last month, all’s not lost for England's fringe leg-spinner who is one of only two bowlers to have taken 100 T20 wickets for Lancashire (Stephen Parry the other) given Hundred teams have one more available spot to fill.

Final thought: Lancashire have an interesting conundrum in the early stages of the Blast. Captain Keaton Jennings (hamstring) is sidelined, and Vilas has deputised in the Championship. But it may be that New Zealanders De Grandhomme and Mitchell are the preferred Blast overseas pair. If so, another captain is needed. Steven Croft and Luke Wells spring to mind.

Leicestershire Foxes

Captain: Colin Ackermann

Overseas players: Naveen-ul-Haq (Afghanistan), Wiaan Mulder (South Africa)

Finals Day appearances: Five (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2011)

Titles: Three (2004, 2006, 2011)

2022 finish: Sixth (North Group)

2022 leading runscorer: Colin Ackermann (367)

2022 leading wicket taker: Naveen-ul-Haq (24)

Key winter moves: The Foxes have lost all-rounder Ben Mike to Yorkshire but former Nottinghamshire batter Sol Budinger will bring explosive qualities to the power play, while the retention of Naveen-ul-Haq after 50 wickets in two seasons is a coup in itself.  New batting coach James Taylor, meanwhile, knows what it takes to win the competition, having been part of the Foxes team that triumphed in 2011.

The big question: Can the Foxes overcome their habit of making stuttering starts and turn a decent, competitive Blast side on paper into one that can mount a proper tilt at the silverware? The Foxes were the dominant side in the early days of T20, taking to the format from the start and lifting the trophy twice in the first four years. Can they reach those heights again?

Wildcard watch: With 50 wickets in two Blast seasons, Naveen-ul-Haq’s unorthodox but highly effective bowling, packed with devilishly hard-to-pick slower balls, even in high-pressure situations, has been a huge asset for the Foxes. He has yet to play in The Hundred, having turned down an opportunity last year because of international commitments. If he is available this year, a chance will surely come again.

Final thought: In left-arm spinner Callum Parkinson, leg-spinning all-rounder Rehan Ahmed and prolific wicket-taker Naveen-ul-Haq, the Foxes have three bowlers who would arguably walk into any other Blast side, with the potential for big runs from the likes of Colin Ackermann, Arron Lilley, Wiann Mulder and Rishi Patel. The time to realise their potential as a team is overdue.

Northamptonshire Steelbacks

Captain: David Willey

Overseas players: Chris Lynn (Australia), Andrew Tye (Australia)

Finals Day appearances: Four (2009, 2013, 2015, 2016)

Titles: Two (2013, 2016)

2022 finish: Seventh (North Group)

2022 leading runscorer: Chris Lynn (516)

2022 leading wicket taker: Ben Sanderson (16)

Key winter moves: England white ball all-rounder David Willey returns to his childhood club after seven seasons with Yorkshire. In a controversial move following his early return from the IPL, he was awarded the captaincy just two weeks before the start of the Blast, replacing long-time skipper Josh Cobb. Australian quick Andrew Tye provides extra bowling firepower alongside returning countryman Chris Lynn.

The big question: With Lynn’s explosive hitting up top, the Steelbacks started strongly last year but fell away sharply, ending their Blast campaign with four straight defeats. Can they sustain their challenge this year and go one step further with the addition of Willey and Tye?

Wildcard watch: Saif Zaib came of age last season, nailing down a first-team place and earning himself a short-term Hundred deal with Northern Superchargers. While he didn’t play, his call-up was just reward for a consistent Blast campaign (311 runs), and a strong start to the One Day Cup with 136 against Essex. He also adds another bowling option with his slow-left arm deliveries.

Final thought: Northamptonshire have bolstered their squad and in Lynn and Tye, boast the Big Bash’s all-time leading runscorer and second highest wicket-taker. Willey, with 107 England caps and plenty of captaincy experience, now has to galvanise the club after a tough start to the Championship and several injuries.

Notts Outlaws

Captain: Steven Mullaney

Overseas players: Dane Paterson (South Africa), Colin Munro (New Zealand), Shaheen Afridi (Pakistan)

Finals Day appearances: Six (2006, 2010, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2020)

Titles: Two (2017, 2020)

2022 finish: Fifth (North Group)

2022 leading runscorer: Ben Duckett (396)

2022 leading wicket taker: Jake Ball (18)

Key winter moves: Overseas signings Colin Munro, the New Zealander who was part of the Trent Rockets side that won The Hundred last season, and Pakistan’s Shaheen Afridi are two of the world’s best players in the format, while domestic signing Olly Stone adds the missing ingredient of express pace to the Outlaws armoury, provided he is fit.

The big question: Will two big-name overseas signings be enough to compensate for the retirement of double Blast-winning skipper Dan Christian and the likely loss of last season’s top run-getter Ben Duckett on Ashes duty with England as the Outlaws seek to bounce back from last season’s rare failure to qualify from the group stages?

Wildcard watch: Despite keeping wicket for the winning team as Trent Rockets beat Manchester Originals in the final to be crowned The Hundred champions for 2022, Tom Moores has surprisingly been overlooked for this year’s competition. But he has a solid record in T20 and another good showing this year - fitness permitting - could see him find a role, elsewhere if not with the Rockets.

Final thought: After missing out on a quarter-final place last year for only the second time in 13 seasons, the Outlaws are keen to show they are still the team to beat in the 20-over format and their recruitment of Munro and Afridi is a statement of intent. Much depends, though, on hitting the ground running after a slow start cost them in 2022.

Worcestershire Rapids

Captain: Brett D’Oliveira

Overseas players: Michael Bracewell (New Zealand), Mitch Santner (New Zealand).

Finals Day appearances: Two (2018, 2019)

Titles: One (2018)

2022 finish: Ninth (North Group)

2022 leading run-scorer: Colin Munro (323)

2022 leading wicket taker: Pat Brown (14)

Key winter moves: Worcestershire are hoping Adam Hose, signed from Warwickshire over the winter, can reproduce the firepower that saw him finish in the top three of run-scorers in last season’s competition – 557 - and the form he showed for Adelaide Strikers in the 2022-2023 Big Bash League.

The big question: Can Worcestershire recapture the form they demonstrated when winning the title in 2018 and then coming so close to retaining the title 12 months later? Since then they have failed to live up to expectations but stability should be provided by Brett D’Oliveira’s appointment as captain as he will be available – unlike Moeen Ali – to lead for the entire tournament.

Wildcard watch: On his day Jack Haynes is one of the most talented youngsters in the country and his England Lions call-up this winter will probably be the stepping stone to greater international honours. Has already showed his potential in T20 cricket for the Rapids.

Final thought: There is genuine optimism that the Rapids can live up to their potential with the recruitment of Bracewell and Santner, who will not only provide spin options but are also set to bat in what should be a powerful top six. There is also a belief that Pat Brown can recapture the form with the ball that won him an England T20 call.

Yorkshire Vikings

Captain: Shan Masood

Overseas players: Shan Masood (Pakistan), David Wiese (Namibia, after IPL commitments with KKR).

Finals Day appearances: Three (2012, 2016, 2022)

Titles: Zero

2022 finish: Semi-finals

2022 leading runscorer: Adam Lyth (525)

2022 leading wicket taker: Jordan Thompson (17)

Key winter moves: It’s as much who’s left as who’s joined. Dynamic duo David Willey - Yorkshire’s ex-Blast captain - and Tom Kohler-Cadmore departed to Northamptonshire and Somerset and have left a hole. Harry Brook’s limited availability is also a blow. The signing of veteran all-rounder David Wiese is a smart one, while rookie leg-spinner Jafar Chohan could emerge.

The big question: Yorkshire have gone into many a Blast campaign amongst the favourites down the years. That won’t be the case this year, even though they reached last year’s Finals Day. Can they surprise a few and claim a maiden Blast crown? It would be the perfect tonic for a squad who haven’t had the easiest of starts to the summer. 

Wildcard watch: All-rounder George Hill has already caught the eye in Championship cricket over the last couple of years, but the 22-year-old is yet to emerge in the Blast having only played 14 times since debuting in 2020. A crisp striker who loves to attack spin and a canny seamer, this would be the perfect time to shine for Yorkshire and with Hundred teams watching.

Final thought: As well as targeting a maiden Blast title, Yorkshire will also hope to reverse last season’s Roses record when they were beaten twice in thrillers, including in the semi-final, and drew the other clash. The Vikings have only won five Roses Blast matches in the last 10 seasons.

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