With Vitality succeeding NatWest as the new tournament sponsor for the next four years, the T20 Blast will now be played under the moniker Vitality Blast. The tournament follows the same format from last year with 18 first-class county teams divided into two groups - North Group and South Group - of 9 teams each. A total of 133 fixtures are set to be played between July 4 and September 15, 2018 with the semi-finals and the final scheduled to be played on the same day at the same venue - Edgbaston Cricket Ground in Birmingham. Nottinghamshire Outlaws are the current champions of the T20 Blast.
During the group stage, each team will play six of the other eight teams in its own group twice, once at its own home ground and once at that of its opponent. The remaining two teams in the group will be played only once, thereby making it a total of 14 group games for each team in the tournament. At the end of the group stage, the top four teams from their respective groups will qualify for the knockout stage comprising four quarter-finals, two semi-finals and the final. The teams will be ranked in their respective divisions first by total points and then by net run-rate.
Read on for team previews, squads, betting odds, betting tips and predictions for Vitality Blast 2018...
Birmingham Bears (Warwickshire) are winners of the inaugural season of the NatWest T20 Blast in 2014. They beat Lancashire Lightning by four runs in the final at the Edgbaston. Last year, they won eight and lost five matches to finish third in their group before going on to make the finals day. However, they could not overcome Nottinghamshire Outlaws in the final as they fell short by 22 runs. Sam Hain was their leading run-scorer with 458 runs and Jeetan Patel was amongst the season's top five bowlers with 20 wickets.
New Zealand all-rounder Grant Elliott will continue to lead Birmingham Bears in this year's T20 Blast. Batsman Sam Hain has extended his contract with the team for three years while Kiwi explosive all-rounder Colin de Grandhomme will return for his second season with the Bears. The county has also signed a two-year extension contract with young English batsman Ed Pollock who made a vital contribution to their success in the previous season.
Colin de Grandhomme, Ian Bell, Jeetan Patel, Grant Elliott(c), Dominic Sibley, Tim Ambrose, Boyd Rankin, Josh Poysden, Sam Hain, Adam Hose, Olly Stone, Will Rhodes, Oliver Hannon-Dalby, Ed Pollock, Henry Brookes
Betfair, Bet365 and Betway are all offering odds of 11 on Birmingham Bears to win the Vitality Blast 2018.
Derbyshire Falcons are one of the seven teams that are yet to win an English twenty20 cricket tournament. They had their most successful T20 campaign last year, finishing second in their group standings with eight wins from fourteen matches. They made it past the group stage but could not reach the semi-finals as they faced a massive 101-run loss to Hampshire in the first quarter-final. Wayne Madsen was one of the leading run-getters last season while South African leg-spinner Imran Tahir took the most wickets (17) for the Falcons.
Derbyshire Falcons have roped in Pakistan paceman Wahab Riaz for this year's T20 Blast. The left-arm bowler will be available to play for the county for the first ten matches only before setting off for the Caribbean Premier League. The team has also included Scotland fast bowler Safyaan Sharif in the mix along with his team-mate Calum MacLeod who came into the limelight after his majestic knock of 140 in the recent ODI against England. MacLeod will be available with the county for the entire duration of the tournament.
Derbyshire will look to set things right in this year's NatWest T20 Blast after failing to make the knockouts round in the previous three seasons. With high-profile signings (especially that of Imran Tahir) and John Wright appointed as the new coach, the Falcons will fancy their chances of going a long way in the tournament. But at the moment, Bet365 has them way up at 41.
The 2016 season was the most memorable for the Durham Jets when they made it to the finals of the tournament. They, however, could not win the title and finished runners-up as they lost to Northamptonshire Steelbacks in the final. The Jets had a disastrous season last year, finishing at the bottom of their group standings with just three wins from fourteen matches. Paul Collingwood scored the most runs for them (346 runs at a strike rate of 140) while Paul Coughlin was the standout bowler with 13 wickets.
Durham Jets have released pace bowler Paul Coughlin from their squad for this year's T20 Blast while former England international Paul Collingwood has extended his contract with the county for one year.
Tom Latham(c), Graham Clark, Ben Stokes, Paul Collingwood, Will Smith, Gareth Harte, Stuart Poynter, Ryan Pringle, James Weighell, Nathan Rimmington, Barry McCarthy, Chris Rushworth, Imran Tahir, Ben Whitehead
Betfair, Bet365 and Betway are all offering a price of 26 on the Durham Jets to win the Vitality Blast 2018.
Lancashire Lightning won the tournament in the 2015 season, beating Northamptonshire Steelbacks in the final at Edgbaston. They have finished runners-up twice - they lost the 2005 final to Somerset and the 2014 final to Birmingham Bears. In the previous season, Lancashire failed to make it past the group stage as they ended up seventh in their group with five wins and six losses. Jos Buttler was the team's most impressive batsman with 451 runs including five half-centuries and leg-spinner Matt Parkinson was their highest wicket-taker with 14 wickets.
Lancashire Lightning have signed a two-year deal with Australian all-rounder James Faulkner who played a significant role in the county's title triumph in 2015. The team has also drafted fast bowler Joe Mennie into their squad as an overseas player. Mennie has played one test and two one-day internationals for Australia.
Liam Livingstone(c), Karl Brown, Jordan Clark, Steven Croft, Alex Davies, James Faulkner, Keaton Jennings, Toby Lester, Arron Lilley, Joe Mennie, Graham Onions, Matthew Parkinson, Stephen Parry, Dane Vilas
While Bet365 and Betway are both offering odds of 15, Betfair has Lancashire Lightning slightly higher at 17 to win the Vitality Blast 2018.
Having lifted the trophy back in 2004, 2006 and 2011, Leicestershire Foxes have been the most successful of all the teams in the English domestic twenty20 cricket tournaments. They managed to qualify for the knockout round last season after finishing fourth in their group standings with 8 wins from 14 matches. The foxes after winning their last four group-stage fixtures were knocked out of the tournament with a nine-wicket loss to Glamorgan in the quarter-finals. New Zealand batsman Luke Ronchi topped the runs charts for the team with 429 runs while Australian paceman Clint McKay took 23 wickets to finish as the season's leading wicket-taker.
Leicestershire Foxes have released Australian fast bowler Clint McKay from their squad and have picked Mohammad Nabi for the Vitality Blast 2018. The Afghanistan all-rounder is now the team's second overseas player with Pakistani international Muhammad Abbas already in the squad.
Colin Ackermann(c), Mohammad Abbas , Zak Chappell, Mark Cosgrove, Cameron Delport, Neil Dexter, Gavin Griffiths, Lewis Hill, Paul Horton, Mohammad Nabi, Callum Parkinson, Ben Raine, Rob Sayer, Tom Wells
Leicestershire Foxes are the bookmakers' underdogs for the Vitality Blast 2018 and have been priced at 34 each on Betfair, Bet365 and Betway.
Northamptonshire Steelbacks won the tournament in the 2013 and 2016 seasons. The two-time champions came runners-up in 2015 when they lost to Lancashire Lightning by 13 runs in the final. In the previous season, the Steelbacks finished sixth in their group with six wins and five defeats. Their leading run-getter and leading wicket-taker were both from South Africa - Richard Levi who scored 375 runs and Rory Kleinveldt who took 14 wickets in 12 matches.
Northamptonshire Steelbacks have re-signed Seekkuge Prasanna for the Vitality Blast 2018. The Sri Lankan all-rounder has played 20 T20Is, 38 ODIs and a test match for his country as well as 10 matches for the Steelbacks in the 2016 season when they went on to claim the title. The team has retained Rory Kleinveldt who was their most successful bowler last year.
Nathan Buck, Joshua Cobb, Steven Crook, Ben Duckett, Brett Hutton, Rory Kleinveldt, Richard Levi, Seekkuge Prasanna, Ben Sanderson, Charlie Thurston, Ricardo Vasconcelos, Alex Wakely(c), Graeme White
Northamptonshire Steelbacks are 17.5 on Betfair, 21 on Bet365 and 19 on Betway to win the Vitality Blast 2018.
Nottinghamshire Outlaws defeated Birmingham Bears in the final of the previous season to clinch their maiden T20 Blast title. The defending champions finished toppers of their group at the end of the group stage with eight wins and four defeats before storming into the final. Riki Wessels and Alex Hales were the standout performers for them with the bat while pace bowlers Jake Ball and Harry Gurney were among the season's leading wicket-takers. Nottinghamshire also have plenty of happy memories from the 2006 season when they came runners-up.
Nottinghamshire Outlaws have retained New Zealand leg-spinner Ish Sodhi and Australian allrounder Dan Christian as their overseas signings from the previous season. The former, who is currently ranked as the no. 1 bowler in the ICC T20 rankings, had helped the county to their first title triumph last year and he will be available for all of the team's fixtures this year. Chris Nash and Paul Coughlin are two other players who have been roped in by the Outlaws.
Daniel Christian, Billy Root, Ish Sodhi, Jake Libby, Tom Moores, Luke Fletcher, Harry Gurney, Samit Patel, Steven Mullaney(c), Jake Ball, Riki Wessels, Chris Nash, Matthew Carter
Nottinghamshire Outlaws are favorites amongst the bookmakers to win the Vitality Blast 2018 at odds of 7.60 on Betfair, 7.50 on Bet365 and 7 on Betway.
Worcestershire Rapids have never been able to reach the final of the twenty20 tournament. They have had back-to-back disappointing seasons, finishing second from bottom in their group in 2016 and 2017. Last year, they could only muster three wins and ended up losing each of their last five group-stage encounters. Joe Clarke scored the most runs for them (381 runs at a strike rate of 183) while New Zealand left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner was their best bowler with 13 wickets in as many matches.
Worcestershire Rapids have signed Australian and New Zealand batsmen Callum Ferguson and Martin Guptill as overseas players for the Vitality Blast 2018. Guptill, who is currently ranked fifth in the ICC T20I rankings, will be available from June 20 to July 29. Ferguson will be his replacement and will take over once the Kiwi departs. The county has already added Travis Head as their main overseas signing for this year's T20 Blast.
Worcestershire Rapids have been set at odds of 30 on Betfair, 26 on Bet365 and 23 on Betway to win the Vitality Blast 2018.
2012 was the most successful season for the Yorkshire Vikings when they ended up being runners-up. They could not break into the top four in the previous season though, finishing fifth in their group with six wins and five losses. In a repeat of the 2016 season, Adam Lyth and Tim Bresnan once again finished as the leading run-getter and the leading wicket-taker respectively for the Vikings last year. While Lyth scored 535 runs which included one century and four fifties, Bresnan notched up 17 wickets from 12 matches.
Yorkshire Vikings have received a major blow ahead of the Vitality Blast 2018 as Australian pace bowler Billy Stanlake will not be joining the club this season. Stanlake had earlier agreed to play at least 12 matches for the team but was later pulled out of the squad by Cricket Australia to focus on the game's longer formats. Kane Williamson too has decided to take some rest from cricket and has reduced his stint with the Vikings. The New Zealand captain had earlier committed to play 11 games for the county but will now be available for 9 games instead.
Gary Ballance, Harry Brook, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Adam Lyth, Jonathan Tattersall, Tim Bresnan, Jack Leaning, Azeem Rafiq, Jack Brooks, Ben Coad, Steven Patterson(c), Matthew Fisher, Josh Shaw
Yorkshire Vikings are priced at 9.60 on Betfair, 10 on Bet365 and 9 on Betway to win the Vitality Blast 2018.
Essex Eagles, despite being one of the consistent teams in the competition, have neither lifted the trophy nor finished runners-up in any of the previous seasons. Last year, they won five and lost seven matches to finish eighth in the South Group. Varun Chopra hit the most runs for the Eagles (427 runs at a strike rate of almost 160) while left-arm seamer Paul Walter took the most wickets for them (15 wickets from 13 matches).
Essex Eagles have secured the services of Australian leg-spinner Adam Zampa for the entire T20 Blast season. Zampa, who has played for T20 franchises around the world, will join the team on July 1 and will also be available for the finals day, should the Eagles advance. He is now the second player from Australia to sign up with the county after paceman Peter Siddle who has been confirmed to make a return in August. Siddle will be available to play eight matches and the quarter-finals should the club make it that far.
Ryan ten Doeschate(c), Adam Wheater, Ravi Bopara, Varun Chopra, Matt Coles, Samuel Cook, Simon Harmer, Daniel Lawrence, James Porter, Matthew Quinn, Neil Wagner, Tom Westley, Ashar Zaidi, Adam Zampa
Betfair is offering a price of 14 on Essex Eagles to win the Vitality Blast 2018, while Bet365 and Betway both have the team fixed at 13.
Glamorgan made it to the quarter-finals of the tournament in the 2014 and 2016 seasons but had failed to progress further on both the occasions. However, they had their most successful campaign last season when they made their maiden appearance in the semi-finals after having topped their group standings with seven wins and three defeats. They went into the semis on the back of three consecutive victories but their journey was halted by the Birmingham Bears who inflicted an eleven-run defeat on them. South Africa's Colin Ingram was Glamorgan's best batsman with 462 runs at a healthy strike rate of 166 while Australian fast bowler Michael Hogan was one of the leading wicket-takers of the season with 20 wickets.
Glamorgan have signed Australian batsman Usman Khawaja for this year's Vitality Blast and he will be teaming up with fellow countryman Shaun Marsh who was earlier picked up by the club on a two-year deal. While Marsh has been confirmed to be available for the entire duration of the tournament, Khawaja will be available for the group stage only. South African batsman Jaques Rudolph, who was one of Glamorgan's most consistent batsmen last year, has taken retirement and has therefore been released from the squad.
The odds for Glamorgan to win the Vitality Blast 2018 are currently set at 18 on Betfair and 19 each on Bet365 and Betway.
Gloucestershire had topped the South Group standings in the 2016 season to reach the quarter-finals. However, the 2007 runners-up finished at the bottom of their group last year with just four wins from fourteen matches and they lost their last four group-stage fixtures on the trot. Australia's Michael Klinger scored the most runs for Gloucestershire last time (281 runs in 13 matches) while England's left-arm paceman David Payne took 17 wickets which was the most by any bowler in the side.
Andrew Tye has re-signed for Gloucestershire for this year's T20 Blast as an overseas player. The Australian fast bowler had represented the county in the 2016 season where he claimed 18 wickets in 14 games but could not play the following season due to a shoulder injury. Gloucestershire have also added Ryan Higgins in their squad.
Betfair, Bet365 and Betway are all offering a price of 21 on Gloucestershire to win the Vitality Blast 2018.
Hampshire won the tournament back in 2010 and 2012. The two-time champions now have three semi-final appearances in the last four seasons. After a disappointing 2016 season where they finished second from bottom in their group, Hampshire turned things around last year and finished third in the standings with seven wins and six defeats. They defeated Derbyshire by 101 runs in the quarter-final but lost to Nottinghamshire by 23 runs in the semi-final. James Vince was amongst the season's leading run-getters with 542 runs in 15 matches and leg-spinner Mason Crane was their best bowler with 18 wickets in 13 matches.
Hampshire have signed Afghanistan spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman and New Zealand batsman Colin Munro for the Vitality Blast 2018. While Mujeeb has been confirmed to be available to the county for the entire tournament, Munro will not feature in the latter stages of the tournament due to his Caribbean Premier League commitments. Hampshire have also included left-arm seamer Reece Topley in the side while releasing batsman Michael Carberry to Leicestershire.
Betfair and Bet365 both have Hampshire locked at odds of 9 to win the Vitality Blast 2018 while Betway has them at 8.50.
Kent Spitfires won the tournament back in 2007 when they beat Gloucestershire in the final. They came runners-up the following year after facing defeat at the hands of Middlesex in the final. Last year, they finished sixth in the South Group standings with six wins and seven losses. Joe Denly was the leading run-getter of the season with 567 runs including two centuries and a fifty while New Zealand's Adam Milne took the most wickets for them - 15 in 7 matches.
Kent Spitfires have released Sam Northeast and have named Sam Billings as captain of their side for this year's Vitality Blast. The county has also signed a deal with West Indian all-rounder Carlos Brathwaite who will be available for the first four games only. Apart from him, Australian all-rounder Marcus Stoinis and New Zealand fast bowler Adam Milne have also been drafted into the squad as overseas players.
Kent Spitfires are 17.50 on Betfair and 17 each on Bet365 and Betway to win the Vitality Blast 2018.
2008 was the most successful season for Middlesex when they defeated Kent Spitfires in the final to claim their maiden title. After an impressive run in 2017 where they reached the quarter-finals, the former champions had a forgetful last season finishing seventh in their group standings with five wins and seven defeats from fourteen matches. Eoin Morgan was their best batsman with 319 runs while Tom Helm and Steven Finn were among the leading wicket-takers with 19 and 16 wickets respectively.
Middlesex have roped in West Indian all-rounder Dwayne Bravo as an overseas player for the 2018 T20 Blast. The club had earlier signed Australian spinner Ashton Agar to boost their spin department. While Bravo will be available for the first six games only, Agar has been confirmed to be available for the entire duration of the tournament.
Dawid Malan(c), Dwayne Bravo, Hilton Cartwright, Steve Eskinazi, James Fuller, Nick Gubbins, James Harris, Tom Helm, Ravi Patel, George Scott, John Simpson, Nathan Sowter, Paul Stirling
Middlesex are being offered at a same price of 15 on Betfair, Bet365 and Betway to win the Vitality Blast 2018.
Somerset are the former champions having won the tournament back in 2005. They are also the three-time runners-up having reached the finals in three consecutive seasons from 2009-2011. After a disappointing 2016 season, Somerset came back strongly last year to advance through to the knockouts after finishing fourth in the standings with six wins and as many defeats. They were however knocked out by Nottinghamshire Outlaws in the quarter-finals. James Hildreth, Adam Hose and Johann Myburgh all did well with the bat for the team with each having a strike-rate of over 145. Leg-spinner Max Waller was the pick of the bowlers with 16 wickets.
Somerset have appointed allrounder Lewis Gregory as their new captain for the Vitality Blast 2018. The county have added Corey Anderson in the squad as their overseas player. The New Zealand explosive batsman has so far represented his country in 29 T20 internationals, 44 one-day internationals and 13 test matches.
Betfair is offering a price of 12 on Somerset while Bet365 and Betway both have them at 15 to win the Vitality Blast 2018.
Surrey are the winners of the inaugural edition of the English Twenty20 Cup in 2003 and are also runners-up of the 2004 and 2013 seasons. After failing to qualify for the knockouts in 2016, the county put up an impressive show last year finishing second in their group with seven wins and five losses. However, their campaign came to an end when they met Birmingham Bears in the quarter-finals who eliminated them with a six-wicket victory. Aaron Finch scored the most runs for them - 489 runs which included a hundred and a couple of fifties. Jade Dernbach was the most impressive among the bowlers with 16 wickets in 13 matches.
Australian batsman Nic Maddinson is the latest overseas signing for Surrey and he will join the team after the conclusion of Australia's twenty20 tri-series in Zimbabwe next month. Maddinson had top-scored for Sydney Sixers in the previous Big Bash League scoring 291 runs in 10 games. Surrey had earlier signed Australian international Aaron Finch who is due to join them on July 12.
Jade Dernbach(c), Gareth Batty, Scott Borthwick, Rory Burns, Rikki Clarke, Matt Dunn, Ben Foakes, Will Jacks, Morne Morkel, Ryan Patel, Mathew Pillans, Ollie Pope, Jamie Smith, Freddie van den Bergh
Surrey have been set at a 7.50 offer on Betway and 8 each on Bet365 and Betway to win the Vitality Blast 2018.
Sussex Sharks have failed to make it past the group stage in the previous two seasons. The champions of 2009 had made their last quarter-final appearance in 2015 and since then have not a found a place in the top four. They finished fifth in their group last time having won five and lost as many matches. Chris Nash topped the team's runs charts with 520 runs at a strike rate of 142 while paceman Chris Jordan was their leading wicket-taker with 16 wickets.
South African all-rounder Stiaan van Zyl is set to miss the majority of the action this year due to a knee injury. The team has called up New Zealand batsman Tom Bruce as replacement for van Zyl. Bruce who has scored 958 runs in the 14 T20 international appearances for his country will be available for the entire T20 Blast season. Sussex Sharks have also bolstered their spin department with the inclusion of Afghanistan spin sensation Rashid Khan but he is going to be available for just the first half of the competition.
Luke Wright(c), Will Beer, Danny Briggs, Tom Bruce, Michael Burgess, Laurie Evans, George Garton, Rashid Khan, Delray Rawlins, Jofra Archer, Ollie Robinson, Philip Salt, David Wiese
Sussex Sharks are being offered at odds of 10 on Betway and 8 each on Betfair and Bet365 to win the Vitality Blast 2018.
Leicestershire Foxes are the most successful team in the tournament having won the title three times but their chances of going all the way this year look slim. Yorkshire have rarely offered much of a challenge in the past editions of the tournament but they could turn things around this time. Somerset and Hampshire will look to improve upon their previous season's performances while Birmingham Bears are one of the strongest contenders for this year's Blast. Nottinghamshire Outlaws will begin this season as defending champions and with the likes of Paul Coughlin, Samit Patel, Jake Ball and Riki Wessels in their ranks, they seem to have come up with a decent looking squad. We expect Nottinghamshire to defend their title and end up winning the tournament this year as well.
Final Verdict: Back Nottinghamshire Outlaws to win the Vitality Blast 2018 at 7 with Betway, 7.50 with Bet365 and 7.60 with Betfair.