The NatWest T20 Blast has returned for its third season this year and is well underway with the first match held between Worcestershire and Durham on May 20. The tournament features 18 teams in all that are equally split into two groups - North Group and South Group. Each team will play the other six teams in its respective group twice (home and away matches) and will face the remaining two teams only once.
The league stage of the tournament will conclude on July 29 and the top four teams from each group will advance to the quarter finals commencing from August 8. The Semi-finals and the final of the NatWest T20 Blast are played on the same day (this year on August 20) and at the same venue, which makes the format rather unusual yet interesting. Unlike the IPL, this tournament allows only two overseas players per team to feature in their playing XI. All in all, the NatWest T20 Blast with an excellent mix of local talent and international stars is UK's T20 extravaganza.
Below are the six teams we predict that could qualify for the knockout rounds:
Led by Steven Croft and the winners of the previous edition, they are one of the strongest contenders for the title. The defending champions were also the runners-up in 2014, and with the likes of James Faulkner, Jos Buttler and James Anderson in the side, they stand a good chance of making it to the quarter-finals this year as well.
They are the former champions who lifted the trophy back in 2014 which was the first edition of the Natwest T20 Blast. Ian Bell will lead the side and the key players will be the skipper himself, Brendon McCullum, Jonathan Trott and Chris Woakes.
They went all the way last year in 2015 to reach the finals and finished being the runners-up. Sekkyge Prasanna and Rory Kleinveldt are the two overseas players. The presence of Monty Panesar will add more bite to their bowling. The team is lead by Alex Wakely.
They made it to the knockout stage in the previous two editions but could not go past the quarter-finals. The Daryl Mitchel-led side has some quality international players such as Mitchell Santner, Kyle Abbott and Moeen Ali which make them a strong contender in this competition.
They have never gone beyond the league stage, but their current recruitment looks strong enough to take them through this time around. Captained by Andrew Gale, the team boasts exciting T20 players in Joe Root, Kane Williamson, David Willey, Travis Head and Liam Plunkett.
They are captained by Chris Rogers and they too will be seeking a place in the knockout stage for the first time, and with a solid squad like this, they have a very good chance. Chris Gayle, Mahela Jayawardene, Yasir Arafat and Roelof van der Merwe will make them a tough team to beat in this Natwest T20 Blast 2016.