Taylor made for t20 success
Northamptonshire and James Taylor are our Dave Tickner's tips for success in the Friends Life t20.
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The original Twenty20 competition returns this week - 10 years after its launch and a decade which has changed the face of the game.
While the likes of the IPL and Australia's Big Bash may have overtaken the dear old Friends Life t20 in terms of profile and glitz, this is still a competition that attracts interest from the supporters and brings plenty of high-profile players to England.
The format is the same as last year, with the 18 first-class counties divided into three loosely geographical groups of six. The top two sides from each group and the best two third-placed sides progress to the quarter-finals before the two semis and final are played on the always-entertaining finals day, hosted this year by Edgbaston.
- 1pt e.w. Northants to win Friends Life t20 at 28/1 (sportingbet, 1/4 1,2,3,4) - fine form in both other domestic competitions and have recruited well for this
- 1pt e.w. James Taylor to be top tournament runscorer at 40/1 (Stan James, 1,2,3,4) - currently sitting in top three of LVCC and YB40 run lists having moved up the order
As other, the southern group looks the toughest of the first-stage pools. Four of the top six in the betting - Sussex, Surrey, Essex and defending champions Hampshire - come from this section, while neither Middlesex nor Kent can be discounted after some shrewd overseas acquisitions.
In terms of the outright market, I'm happy to put a line through all six of these teams - especially those around the 10/1 mark - until we've got some idea who's going to qualify from this section.
The northern section looks stronger than perhaps ever before. Yorkshire were superb in this competition last year - although the absence of South African big-hitter David Miller is a blow - while Nottinghamshire's side oozes limited-overs quality.
Lancashire look strong this season as well, with New Zealand quick Mitchell McClenaghan - one of the standout bowlers at the recent Champions Trophy - a smart signing.
Derbyshire have Albie Morkel, one of the most successful cricketers in the 10-year history of T20 cricket, while Leicestershire are three-time winners of this competition. Durham are no mugs, either.
It's the Mid/West/Wales group, therefore, where the value appears to lie. Somerset are the class in this group, and being in the easiest pool goes a long way to explaining their skinny outright price of 5/1.
Warwickshire's quality is clear, and they would have home advantage should they make finals day. They're certainly interesting contenders at an eminently backable 20/1 despite their struggles this season.
But slightly further down the list come Northants, who are enjoying a superb season. They are well on course for promotion to the top flight in the County Championship, topping the table at the halfway stage, while they are second in a teak-tough YB40 group with five wins and only two defeats.
They've got a good squad of solid professionals and their overseas signings are eye-catchers. Cameron White has caused plenty of damage in this competition before and brings knowledge from the other top T20 leagues and plenty of leadership experience.
Their second overseas signing, announced only on Wednesday morning, is South Africa's Richard Levi. While he has largely been found out in the rarefied air of international competition, he is one of the most ferocious strikers of a cricket ball around and at this lower level could be a huge hit in Northampton. His T20 career strike-rate of 140 at the top of the order shows a serious big-hitter.
There's plenty of 28/1 around for Northants to win, which is a cracking price given they are in what appears on paper to be the weakest group. It's up to you, of course, but my advice would be to go to sportingbet because of their each-way terms. While most layers are 1/2 odds for the finalists, sportingbet pay 1/4 the odds for the four competitors on finals day.
That means we only need this in-form, confident side to qualify from the easiest group and win one knockout game to get paid out.
Elsewhere, Stan James' 40/1 for Notts' James Taylor to be top batsman looks a good price.
Taylor is enjoying a superb season after seeming to slip down the England pecking order. He's currently sitting third in the County Championship Division One scoring charts with 737 at 67.00, and also third in YB40 run list with 456 at 114 despite Group A being the toughest-looking of the three groups.
His Twenty20 record is solid with 1250 runs at an average of 35. His highest score, though, is a mere 62 not out. The reason for that is the fact he has spent most of his career batting at five or six.
This year, at 23 years old, he has graduated from promising youngster to senior pro at Trent Bridge. His success this year has come batting in the top three and there seems no reason to think he won't stay there for the shortest form of the game; he may be a small chap, but he can hit the ball a long way and to unexpected areas.
His consistency across four-day and one-day cricket right now is impressive. His most recent innings in all cricket for Notts are: 204*, 48, 90*, 46, 40, 38, 11, 97, 75, 39*, 47.
If that formline continues, then 40/1 will look huge.
- The competition gets under way at 1910 BST on Wednesday but most teams do not start their campaigns until Friday. Numerous matches are being televised live in the UK on Sky Sports.