Dave Tickner expects the T20 Blast holders to go well again, and has a 25/1 top batsman selection.
Recommended Bets: NatWest T20 Blast
The NatWest T20 Blast returns this week, shifting back to being played, for the most part, in a six-week block after the recent experiment with making it a Friday night show.
Friday nights are still a cornerstone of the fixture list, though, joined by Sundays and the usual smattering of games, often televised, here and there throughout proceedings before quarter finals at the back end of August and finals day on Saturday September 2.
There are plenty of teams one can build a case for, as ever, but I’ll make no apologies for keeping it nice and simple; back the defending champions Northants.
The unfancied Steelbacks have reached three of the last four finals, winning two. They are shorter than they have been, but still twice the price a club with a Test-match ground with their record would be. If you want proof of that, consider the fact that Northants are a bigger price than Middlesex, who have been to finals day once ever, and have only qualified from the group stage three times in 14 attempts.
Northants have a squad of few superstars – Ben Duckett would be the closest thing to it – but are superbly led by Alex Wakely and time and time again they target this event and do so successfully.
Azharullah and Rory Kleinveldt are canny with the ball, Steven Crook can win T20 games with bat or ball, while big-hitting Kolpak Richard Levi is still there as well. There seems no reason to think they won’t compete again, and they remain a hugely backable each-way option.
Turning to the South Group, and Essex look a big price to win it. They are consistent performers in the pool stage of the T20, qualifying for the knockout rounds in each of the last five years, seven of the last nine, and nine of 14 overall. The fact they’ve never once reached the final is one of the stranger stats in English T20, but one we need not concern ourselves with given the price on offer here for them just to win the group.
Essex have already this season proved themselves the most consistent team in the country in four-day and List A cricket; they can the same in T20 too. They might come a cropper under the bigger pressure of a knockout game, but in group play they are the men to beat.
Essex are top of the Specsavers County Championship and won the South Group – against all the same teams they face here – of the Royal London One-Day Cup at a canter, winning seven of their eight games before going down to Notts in a ludicrous high-scoring quarter-final.
A 15/2 fourth-favourite quote here looks to me one that would have been about right had the market been available back in April, and everything we’ve seen since in red, pink and white-ball cricket suggests this Essex side is better than anyone expected. It has to represent value.
In the top batsman market, I like Shaun Marsh at 25s. It’s a cracking piece of business for Yorkshire, given Marsh only arrives at Headingley because original signing Travis Head was called up for international duty. He’s a heck of a fill-in.
Marsh has over 5000 T20 runs, almost half of them in the cauldron of the IPL where he won the top batsman’s Orange Cap in the inaugural 2008 season. He is sixth on the all-time BBL runscoring list, and topped the charts in 2013. In 33 BBL innings, he has passed 50 13 times.
Available all season, he has pedigree in this format that few can match, and at a club priced to reach finals day, 25/1 for Marsh to top the scoring charts looks a chunky price.
Where to watch on TV: Sky Sports
Posted at 1950 BST on 05/07/17.