The English domestic season is well underway with some staggering performances being put up already. There has been all sorts of action in the LV County Championship with teams showing resilience for survival at one place, and the others hammering bowlers to pull off stunning victories at another. To make matters (and the summer) more interesting comes The Natwest T20 Blast now as counties get ready for life in coloured clothes. Cricketing superstars, grim-reapers (metaphoric), exciting young prospects and some old guards will hence compete in what is expected to be the most successful domestic T20 season in English Cricket yet.
Unlike last time around, the T20 Blast in 2015 will feature a whole lot of players from around the world, making the competition worth loving as well as cherishing. Again, the tournament is expected to be even more competitive than 2014 due to the presence of the ever-improving and emerging domestic talent across England, with every single one of the 18 counties boasting strong squads - something that is very uncommon when it comes to other such tournaments. If you are on the look for highly competitive bit of cricket with some serious quality on show, look no further than the NatWest T20 Blast.
The opening fixture being only a few hours away, we look at every single team competing in the tournament, and assess their possibilities of lifting the silverware.
Captain: Varun Chopra
Overseas Players: Brendon McCullum (to join later) and Jeetan Patel.
One of the most balanced sides in the competition, and hence their NatWest T20 Blast triumph in 2014. Warwickshire have got all bases covered, and can no doubt retain the crown again - which they won by beating Lancashire the previous year. The presence of Varun Chopra, Brendon McCullum (to join later) and William Porterfield gives them solidity at the top of the order, while the presence of Rikki Clarke, Ateeq Javid and Chris Woakes means they don't lack depth in batting at all. Coming over to the bowlers, Jeetan Patel - who was the best bowler by far the previous year - Chris Wright, and Boyd Rankin like players make them a cruel bowling team. That said, it could all go the other way around as well if the Bears' domestic talent doesn't do well as that's what they hugely rely upon.
Captain: Wes Durston
Overseas Players: Hashim Amla, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Nathan Rimmington.
Pre-season signings means Derbyshire will play with a strong squad this time around. The addition of Amla and Dilshan to a batting order that already has Chesney Hughes and Wayne Madsen, makes the line-up ever explosive and dependable while Alex Hughes and captain Wes Durston give the team the all-important balance, and the luxury of fielding more batsmen. As for the bowling, Mark Footitt and Nathan Rimmington's pair is as good as it gets. Tom Knight and Tony Palladino are expected to play key roles as well.
Captain: Mark Stoneman
Overseas Players: John Hastings
There were quite a few people amazed when Durham didn't make it to the finals day the last time around, because theirs was a very decent side, having few of the best in the county circuit. Honestly, the side doesn't have one player who looks like he can't win a match. Rich in all-rounders like Paul Collingwood, John Hastings, Scott Borthwick and Ben Stokes (won't be available due to England duties), and fine specialist batsmen in Callum Macleod, Mark Stoneman, Gordon Muchall, Phil Mustard (WK) and Keaton Jennings, they have the edge over many of their opponents. Add the bowlers as Usman Arshad, Chris Rushworth and Graham Onions and you'll find a team that is out there to challenge for trophies.
Captain: Ryan Ten Doeschate (stand-in)
Overseas Players: Jesse Ryder and Shaun Tait.
A decent team, that's for sure. The presence of Mark Pettini, Tom Westley and James Foster (WK) - who were all very impressive in 2014 - alongside all-rounders Ravi Bopara (who'll join later), Jesse Ryder, Graham Napier and Ryan Ten Doeschate makes them a threat. David Masters, Reece Topley and Matthew Salisbury lined-up with Shaun Tait, make the bowling equally good. Would be interesting to see how far they go this season.
Captain: Jacques Rudolph
Overseas Players: Jacques Rudolph and Wayne Parnell.
While Glamorgan have some promising batsmen in Ben Wright and Will Bragg, a lot depends on their overseas signings Jacques Rudoplh and Colin Ingram; and wicket-keeper Chris Cooke. The real strength of Glamorgan lies in their all-rounders and bowlers namely Graham Wagg, Craig Meschede, Michael Hogan, Andrew Salter and Dean Cosker who were very-very good the previous season. If their batsmen can get good totals, this line-up can defend them with a certain ease. Glamorgan may look a touch weaker on paper in comparison to other teams, but they actually aren't that weak that all. Undoubtedly a competitive side.
Captain: Ian Cockbain
Overseas Players: Michael Klinger and Peter Handscomb.
Gloucestershire's is an interesting squad, and surely has the capability to do well this season. Ian Cockbain, Michael Klinger, Hamish Marshall, Geraint Jones, Peter Handscomb and Will Tavare constitute the top-half of the team while all-rounders Benny Howell and Jack Taylor along with Tom Smith like bowlers make this team a difficult one to beat, given that the domestic talent performs as well as it did last season.
Captain: James Vince
Overseas Players: Yasir Arafat and Jackson Bird.
Hampshire's squad is a bit of a ripper, and one you can easily bank upon to reach the knockouts, as has always been the case. Whereas Jimmy Adams, James Vince, Michael Carberry, Owais Shah are their specialist batsmen; Will Smith, Yasir Arafat and Sean Ervine like all-rounders are sure to cause fantods to the opposition teams. The other half of the team is constituted by Danny Briggs, Chris Wood and Jackson Bird who are all top-class bowlers. Anyone who wants to win the T20 Blast might have to beat Hampshire first.
Captain: Sam Northeast
Overseas Players: None
It'd be a real shame if they don't make it to the knockouts, even though they don't have an overseas player. In Sam Northeast, Alex Blake, Joe Denly, Sam Billings and Alex Bell-Drummond - they have as good a batting line-up as any. Add Darren Stevens and Matt Coles to this and the balance factor is achieved as well. Take a look at the bowling, and again, what you'll find is potential and class in James Tredwell, David Griffiths, Adam Riley and Mitchell Claydon. Don't be surprised at all, if the men from Kent go all the way.
Captain: Steven Croft
Overseas Players: Peter Siddle and James Faulkner (to arrive later).
They reached the finals last time, and were a very good side overall. What makes them a better team than many others is their possession of a deadly trio of all-rounders in Steven Croft, Tom Smith and Jordan Clark (Faulkner to join later) who were one of the success stories last season; and just as it is important to beware of their all-rounders, so it is to be very very aware of their rest of the players, the best of which are batsmen Karl Brown, Liam Livingstone (one to watch this season), Ashwell Prince, Alviro Petersen and Paul Horton; and bowlers Peter Siddle, Simon Kerrigan, Stephen Parry, Kyle Jarvis and Nathan Buck. It's a very strong squad and a tough one to overcome.
Captain: Mark Cosgrove
Overseas Players: Umar Akmal, Grant Elliott and Clint McKay.
The potential in the team is plenty, but the question is do the players play upto it? Frankly, Leicestershire's is a suprisingly good squad. Talking about the batsmen first, they have added Umar Akmal to a line-up that already has the services of Mark Cosgrove, Daniel Redfern, Matthew Boyce, Tom Wells and Angus Robson. The all-rounders' department is very fine as well, thanks to the presence of Jigar Naik, Ben Raine, Kevin O'Brien, and new signing Grant Elliott whose heroics in the world cup are well known to everyone. Come over to the bowlers and you'll find a lot of ability in the old guard Charlie Shreck, Australian Clint McKay, James Sykes, Atif Sheikh and a few others to go with it. Surely, the knckout stage has to be a bare-minimun for the Foxes.
Captain: James Franklin (stand-in)
Overseas Players: Joe Burns
Middlsesex, unlike last time around, may get off to a good start, despite two of their key batsmen Dawid Malan (injured) and Eoin Morgan (in the IPL) absent from the squad, which leaves them with Joe Burns, Nick Compton and Ryan Higgins as their main specialist batsmen. The Panthers boast some very good all-rounders in Neil Dexter, Ollie Rayner, James Franklin and Paul Stirling and that's where their real strength lies in, as these many world-class all-rounders give them both variety and depth. Don't take the bowling very lightly, however, as names like Ravi Patel - who was impressive last season - Toby Roland-Jones, Steven Finn, Tim Murthagh and James Harris combine for a lethal bowling attack.
Captain: Alex Wakely
Overseas Players: Shahid Afridi and Rory Kleinveldt.
One of the contenders for this year's competition with a rip-snorting squad. Northamptonshire boast the astounding quintuple of all-rounders David Willey, Steven Crook, Josh Cobb, Rory Kleinveldt and Shahid Afridi and that just about sums up the chances for the Northants this year. Add to these all-rounders, batsman like Kyle Coetzer and Richard Levi; and bowlers as Graeme White and Mohammad Azharullah; what you'll find is just how well are they equipped for this format.
Captain: James Taylor
Overseas Players: Darren Sammy (to arrive later), Vernon Philander and Ben Hilfenhaus (to replace Philander from June 5).
"Born to play the shorter versions" is concisely the description of Nottinghamshire Outlaws' squad. Alex Hales, James Taylor, Michael Lumb, Brendan Taylor, Greg Smith, Samit Patel, Steven Mullaney, Will Gidman, Darren Sammy and Riki Wessels are the options Notts have when it comes to Batsmen and all-rounders which indeed, gives them an embarrasment of riches in terms of attacking talent, and hence the Outlaws look set, to set the NatWest T20 Blast on fire, "yet again". Furthermore, they do possess some really good death bowlers in Luke Fletcher and Harry Gurney while Andy Carter and Jake Ball are equally potent.
Captain: Marcus Trescothick
Overseas Players: Chris Gayle (to arrive later), Corey Anderson (to arrive later), Sohail Tanvir and Abdur Rehman.
They gasconade an abundance of bowlers and all-rounders in particular and that's what puts them into the race alongside other clubs, to win the T20 Blast. Marcus Trescothick, Tom Cooper, James Hildreth do sound good, but even exciting is the presence of Jim Allenby, Peter Trego, Lewis Gregory and Josh Davey with Chris Gayle and Corey Anderson to join later. Turn your neck towards the bowlers, and you find names as Jamie and Craig Overton, Malcolm Waller, Alfonso Thomas, Tim Groenewald, George Dockrell and the new recruits Abdur Rehman and Sohail Tanvir. You don't want to be a Somerset coach when you have to select an XI from a squad as such.
Captain: Gareth Batty
Overseas Players: Kumara Sangakkara, Azhar Mahmood (to arrive later), Moises Henriques (to arrive later) and Wahab Riaz.
To beat Surrey is to put yourself in contention for the all-important trophy. An aggressive and stylish line-up from the top to bottom, Surrey have always been a consistent team in shorter formats. Jason Roy being their best, they also have Vikram Solanki, Zafar Ansari, Steve Davies, Ben Foakes, Gary Wilson, Kumara Sangakkara and the list goes on. Looking at the other half, you can't find a weakness there either with Jade Dernbach, skipper Gareth Batty, Stuart Meaker, Chris Tremlett and Matt Dunn like players making up a fairly good bowling unit.
Captain: Will Beer
Overseas Players: Mahela Jayawerdene, George Bailey (to arrive later) and Steve Magoffin.
Injuries have hit Sussex at the wrong time as Ajmal Shehzad, Tymal Mills, Lewis Hatchett and James Anyon find themselves on the sidelines, making the Sussex bowling line-up a touch weaker - which leaves Chris Liddle, Steve Magoffin and captain Will Beer with a lot to do - in an otherwise very strong squad that has the services of explosive batsmen as Luke Wright and Craig Cachopa, the run-machine Ed Joyce and the ever-classy Mahela Jayawerdene. In addition, they have the all-round capabilities of Steffan Piolet, Chris Nash and Michael Yardy at their disposal.
Captain: Daryl Mitchell
Overseas Players: Colin Munro, Sachithra Senanayake and Saeed Ajmal.
Not as explosive as one would like, but Worcestershire can do well. In their captain Daryl Mitchell, they have one of the best batsmen in the domestic circuit, and Richard Oliver, Tom Cohler-Cadmore, Alexei Kervezee, Alex Gidman like batsmen can complement him well but it's a question of "will they?" Again, they have Colin Munro and Ross Whiteley as their main all-rounders and do look weak in this area too. Jack Shantry, Chris Russell and Sachithra Senanayake are where they get their real strength from, henceforth the trio would have to fire for them in every single match. Saeed Ajmal's arrival would make the bowling line-up even stronger. To have any chances of making it to the knckouts, the Rapids must play out of their skins.
Captain: Andrew Gale
Overseas Players: Glenn Maxwell (to arrive later), Aaron Finch (to arrive later) and Cheteshwar Pujara.
There's class written all over this Yorkshire team. They look calm and composed, there's no mess in sight, and everything is so simple. One has the right to be amazed if they don't make it to the finals day or at least the knockouts. In Alex Lees, Jonathan Bairstow, Andrew Gale and Jack Leaning, they surely have a dependable and solid batting line-up if not overly aggressive. In the all-rounders' department, they do have the exciting Will Rhodes (watch out for him), Richard Pyrah, Adil Rashid, and Tim Bresnan - everyone as good as anyone. Come over to the bowlers, and you find Steven Patterson, Jackie Brooks, Liam Plunkett, Ryan Sidebottom and a lot of other young prospects. They may not seem to be the most aggressive, but to play above their potential is what defines this team.