Cricket expert Richard Mann takes an in-depth look at this year's T20 Vitality Blast and picks out the names who could make the headlines in the coming weeks.
Birmingham Bears - 12/1 with Sky Bet
Young and improving squad who boast an array of exciting batting talent. With Ed Pollock and Sam Hain expected provide rapid starts with the bat and captain Jeetan Patel leading from the front with the ball, last year’s runners-up should go well again.
One to watch: Will Rhodes
Rhodes has looked a different player since arriving from Yorkshire this year and the classy all-rounder could prove one of the surprise packages of the competition with his star seemingly on the rise.
Derbyshire Falcons - 25/1
One of the success stories of last year’s edition with specialist T20 coach John Wright taking over the reigns and guiding the Falcons to a quarter-finals finish. Wahab Riaza, Lockie Ferguson and Hardus Viljoen provide genuine pace with the ball while the batting is smart and effective.
One to watch: Wayne Madsen
Madsen racked up 526 runs at 47.81 in last year’s competition and claimed 13 wickets with his medium-pacers. Has been in excellent form so far this season and will be key to the Falcons' chances again.
Durham Jets - 25/1
Durham finished rock bottom in the North Division last year and appear unlikely to see too much of England stars Ben Stokes and Mark Wood this time around. Still, they are never to be underestimated and have enough batting talent in their ranks to hold their own.
One to watch: Nathan Rimmington
The Australian is settling nicely into his first season at Durham and bowled well in the recent Royal London One-Day Cup campaign. However, T20 cricket has always been his forte with his excellent variations making him a very smart operator at the death.
Essex Eagles - 12/1
Essex finished second bottom in the South Division last year but five wins didn’t put them too far away and they remain a respected outing. Their batting contains the likes of Ravi Bopara and Ryan ten Doeschate while the bowling has a handy mix of seam and spin.
One to watch: Tom Westley
Westley is right to still harbour England ambitions and following injury, enjoyed a strong return in the Royal London One-Day Cup by making 387 runs at 48.37. A good run in front of the cameras in the next few weeks wouldn't do him any harm.
Glamorgan - 16/1
Glamorgan topped the South Division in fine campaign last year before losing out to Birmingham Bears in the semi-finals. Personnel is much different this time around but Australians Shaun Marsh and Usman Khawaja should ensure the batting remains strong.
One to watch: Shaun Marsh
Marsh is a high-class operator who might well have gone on to achieve great things for Australia were it not for a spate of injuries. He is making up for lost time now, though, and a couple of sparkling hundreds against England in the recent ODI series suggest he will be a big hit in Wales over the next few weeks.
Gloucestershire - 20/1
Gloucestershire ended their recent Royal One-Day Cup campaign with four consecutive defeats but played some decent cricket in the tournament at times. The return of Andrew Tye – who represented the county in 2016 – will provide a big boost, though last season’s dreadful showing in this competition illustrates how much they need to improve.
One to watch: Andrew Tye
Andrew Tye suffered at the hands of England in the recent ODI series but his stock remains high, especially on the T20 circuit. It was only a few weeks ago that he finished as the leading wicket-taker in the IPL and he will be Gloucestershire’s main man again.
Hampshire - 8/1
Hampshire will be riding on a crest of the wave following their brilliant Royal London One-Day Cup campaign. Much of their success can be credited to their excellent batting with James Vince in exceptional touch. Captaincy has been the making of him and with Mujeeb Ur Rahman arriving to bolster an already excellent spin attack, there is plenty to like about their chances.
One to watch: Mujeeb Ur Rahman
Hampshire have an embarrassment of riches at their disposal but in Mujeeb, they have acquired a mystery spinner who will put fear into opposition batsman throughout the land. Mujeeb took 14 wickets at an average of 20.64 in this year’s IPL with his economy rate a staggering 6.99. Still only 17 years of age, the Afghanistan international looks to have the world at his feet and can take this competition by storm.
Kent Spitfires - 16/1
The loss of Sam Northeast to Hampshire was supposed to leave Kent short of quality this summer and with little chance of challenging for silverware. A few months on, they have enjoyed a sparkling Royal London One-Day Cup and are now challenging for promotion to Division One of the County Championship. Key to their success has been all-round contributions from a number of different players, something we can expect more of in the next few weeks. The signing of Carlos Brathwaite is an exciting one, too.
One to watch: Joe Denly
Matt Henry leads the bowling attack wonderfully well but in Joe Denly they have an X-Factor white-ball batsman who has proven himself in domestic T20 competitions around the world. Denly might have played more for England if born in a different generation and his fine recent form in the Royal London One-Day Cup suggests he has his game in full working order.
Lancashire Lightning - 14/1
Despite boasting a seemingly fine array of white-ball talent, Lancashire were unable to progress from the North Division last season while they were never really in the hunt in this year’s Royal London One-Day Cup. Further struggles beckon if coach Glen Chapple isn’t able to get more out of his misfiring bowling attack.
One to watch: Liam Livingstone
Despite being in an around England squads for a while now, Livingstone currently finds himself out of favour and needing big performances to put himself back in the picture. A fine batsman who has the makings of a genuine all-rounder, this tournament could be a huge one for Lancashire man.
Leicestershire Foxes - 33/1
Leicestershire enjoyed a strong campaign until misfiring in the quarter-finals of this competition last year but they don’t look quite as settled 12 months on. New captain Michael Carberry has already been sacked from that position and they offered very little in the recently concluded Royal London One-Day Cup.
One to watch: Muhammad Abbas
Abbas shot to prominance when staring in the drawn Test series against England and news that he will be available for Leicestershire for the remainder of the season will be a big boost to the Foxes. If Abbas can get the white ball swinging early, he will do some damage.
Middlesex - 12/1
For a club with such a rich history and with so many resources at their disposal, it is staggering that Middlesex have only made the quarter-finals stage of this competition once in the last ten years. Daniel Vettori was brought in as a specialist T20 coach last year but his CV is hardly inspiring and the signings of Ashton Agar and Dwayne Bravo will need to be inspired ones.
One to watch: Ashton Agar
Australia endured a thumping at the hands of England in the ODI series earlier this summer but Agar was one of the rare bright spots. The Western Australian has honed his white-ball craft for the mighty Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash and both his left-arm spin and flamboyant batting could be key to Middlesex hopes this year.
Northamptonshire Steelbacks - 14/1
Leg-spinner Seekkuge Prasanna returns to Northamptonshire after a successful campaign for the club back in 2016. He is a shrewd acquisition and the Steelbacks weren’t far away from qualifying from the North Division last year, a heavy defeat to Yorkshire and a washed out game against Durham putting paid to their chances.
One to watch: Richard Levi
Levi is a sight to behold when in full flight and white-ball cricket suits his attacking game really well. Levi made an international T20 hundred for South Africa back in 2012 and was also picked up by Mumbai Indians in that year’s edition of the IPL. Now firmly settled in Northampton, he is a prized scalp for opposition teams.
Nottinghamshire Outlaws - 7/1
Last year’s winners welcome back successful captain Dan Christian to re-join the likes of Samit Patel, Alex Hales, Harry Gurney, Steven Mullaney and Jake Ball. Nottinghamshire’s stability has been key to their ongoing success over the past few years and they played some excellent cricket to make the quarter-finals of the Royal London One-Day Cup recently.
One to watch: Samit Patel
As ever, Nottinghamshire have a wide array of talent to lean on but Patel remains one of the club’s most consistent performers and starred in last season’s winning final, making 64 not out from only 55 balls. Patel is desperate to play international cricket again and will know performances in front of the TV cameras will give him the best possible chance to do that.
Somerset - 16/1
Somerset lost out to eventual winners Nottinghamshire at the quarter-finals stage last year and remain a useful white-ball outfit judged on their decent run in the Royal London One-Day Cup. Despite failing to qualify for the latter stages, they still managed to pull off an epic run chase to down Hampshire in their final game and the likes of James Hildreth and Peter Trego continue to lead from the front.
One to watch: Lewis Gregory
With Joe Leach out injured and doubts over the availability of the Overton brothers, a great burden will fall on the shoulders of new skipper Lewis Gregory who bowls with impressive accuracy and can be a handy lower order hitter. He will need to use his resources really well if Somerset are to contend.
Surrey - 8/1
Surrey will be hoping they see plenty of the Curran brothers while Jade Dernbach has been bowling really well of late and remains a fine one-day bowler. Aaron Finch’s return at the top of the order gives them plenty of power and he will be joined later in the tournament by fellow countryman Nic Maddinson, another brutal power-hitter who should enjoy batting at The Oval. As ever, expectation will be high in the Surrey camp.
One to watch: Ben Foakes
He might not make the headlines as much as some but Foakes is a vital cog in this Surrey team and made 279 runs at 55.80 in the recently concluded Royal London One-Day Cup. His glovework remains excellent and he is a fine batsman.
Sussex Sharks - 9/1
Sussex would appear to have plenty going for them this year. Jason Gillespie’s arrival as coach has breathed new life into a club that, more importantly, boasts some fine white-ball cricketers. Luke Wright and Chris Jordan are the obvious two but Jofra Archer is rapidly becoming one of the hottest properties in world cricket while the signing of the brilliant Rashid Khan will further strengthen a frightening bowling attack.
One to watch: Rashid Khan
Where to start? Gillespie has assembled a terrific bowling arsenal but the ace in the pack could prove to be Khan. A wonderful leg-spin bowler, Khan has already taken the Big Bash and IPL by storm and the recent hot spell suggests he could encounter a few pitches that offer plenty of assistance for the spinners.
Worcestershire Rapids - 33/1
Worcestershire are a club with plenty to cheer about at present having gained promotion from Division Two of the County Championship at the end of the season and they are slowly starting to find their feet in the top tier of English cricket. The limited overs side continues to go from strength to strength and they only narrowly missed out on a place in the Royal London One-Day Cup final following a wonderful campaign. Martin Guptill and Callum Ferguson are excellent overseas signings.
One to watch: Callum Ferguson
Ferguson would be within his rights to feel aggrieved not to have added to his sole Test match appearance and 30 ODI’s. Ferguson averages 41.43 in 50-over cricket for Australia and five appearances for Worcestershire in the Royal London One-Day Cup yielded two big hundreds. There should be more to come.
Yorkshire Vikings - 10/1
Yorkshire are yet to crack limited overs cricket but the more recent signs have been encouraging and they played some excellent stuff to reach the semi-finals of the Royal London One-Day Cup. Coach Andrew Gale seems intent on backing young talent in this form of the game but will be disappointed that Australian quick Billy Stanlake will not be joining, as originally intended.
One to watch: Matthew Fisher
Fisher has been destined for big things ever since becoming the youngest post-war first-class cricketer when making his Yorkshire debut in 2013. A T20 blast five-for followed in 2015 and although injuries have held him back since, he has looked fit and strong more recently. A recent call up to the England Lions will have been a huge boost to his confidence, as would a strong showing over the next few weeks.