Rapids value at 40/1
Our Dave Tickner tipped eventual winners Northants at 28/1 last season and for this year's NatWest T20 Blast he's on a 40/1 shot.
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The original Twenty20 tournament returns with a new name, a new format, and a new schedule.
The name - the NatWest T20 Blast - is hideous and the format iffy. But the schedule - with the majority of matches played on Friday evenings - looks a winner.
- 1pt e.w. Worcestershire to win T20 Blast at 40/1 (Sky Bet, 1/2 1,2) - quality overseas players, team in confident mood after fine Championship start and a big price
- 1.5pts e.w. Luke Wright to be top T20 Blast batsman at 16/1 (general, ¼ 1,2,3,4,5) - proven T20 performer should be available for whole summer unlike most of his key rivals.
The format iffyness is a result of moving from three groups of six to two groups of nine. For some reason, each team plays 14 games in this group stage; home and away against six teams in the group, home or away against the other two.
The top four from each group progress to the quarter-finals, with the winners of those games progressing to the now-traditional finals day.
The change of format denies us a favourite tactic; selecting an outsider from the weakest of the three regional groups (invariably the Mid/West/Wales section) at a fancy price.
The new north and south groups look, on paper to provide a pretty even split of quality.
Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Durham, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire (competing in this event as the Birmingham Bears), Leicestershire, Worcestershire and Derbyshire make up the North Group.
Surrey, Middlesex, Hampshire, Kent, Essex, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Glamorgan and Sussex compete in the South Group.
But the method that led us to last year's winners Northants - at a tasty 28/1 - should not be entirely discounted. Northants were an unfashionable club and a big price, but had made high-quality overseas signings and been in good form in other forms of the game.
There is a team that meets those criteria this season: Worcestershire.
They sit top of Division Two of the County Championship after two wins and two draws (both of which they had the better of) in their four games. For overseas players they have Saeed Ajmal - perhaps the standout bowler in the competition - and big-hitting Kiwi Colin Munro. Both should do well. When they lose Ajmal in July, they have lined up a decent replacement in New Zealand paceman Mitchell McClenaghan.
It's certainly not a given that a team will take four-day form into the shortest format, and the fact that the tournament is played across a far greater chunk of the season means current form isn't as important as in previous years, but it still seems prudent to side with a team where the mood is good and confidence is high.
Worcestershire do not have as many star names as others, and they don't have a great record in this competition. But the rebranded Rapids could surprise a few at 40/1. At that price they look worthy of support.
Of those nearer the head of the betting, Hampshire and Yorkshire stand out. Both have made truly stellar overseas signings in the shape of Aussies Glenn Maxwell and Aaron Finch, although both men will miss the first three weekends of the T20 season due to the IPL - something to consider when looking at the top-bat markets.
Hampshire look short enough at no more than 13/2, but Yorkshire should give punters a good run for their money at Ladbrokes' 14/1. The twin concerns of England call-ups and the possible distraction of a County Championship title tilt are enough to put me off though.
Luke Wright looks hard to ignore at 16/1 in the top bat market. He's not in England's T20 squad against Sri Lanka, which suggests he's going to be available for Sussex all season. No-one else at the top of the betting has that going for them.
Wright struggled in England colours over the winter, but the return to Sussex seems to have worked wonders. He smashed 189 in the County Championship this week; if he carries that form into the early stages of the Blast he could move somewhere clear of some of his main rivals before they even get to the competition.
- The tournament gets under way on Friday May 16. With most matches taking place on a Friday night when one will be televised on Sky Sports, we will begin our new weekly county cricket preview, focusing on the T20 Blast, next week so be sure to look out for that over the course of the season.