|Vitality Blast 2022|
|Dates: 25 May – 16 July|
|Coverage: Live ball-by-ball BBC local radio commentary on all matches, plus reports and selected live texts on BBC Sport website, desktop, tablet, mobile and app.|
Kent Spitfires head coach Matt Walker has challenged his side to become the first to win back-to-back T20 Blast titles, with the 2022 competition starting on Wednesday.
Kent beat Somerset in last year’s showpiece at Edgbaston to lift the trophy for a second time, 14 years after their first.
This year marks the 20th season of T20 cricket in England after the tournament launched in 2003 as the Twenty20 Cup.
Walker wants it to be another special one for his team, who have struggled in four-day cricket so far this campaign.
“We’ve got a challenge on our hands,” former batter Walker told BBC Radio Kent.
“No-one’s ever won it back-to-back, that’s the challenge we face and that’s the challenge I’ll put to this group.
“Can we go and do something very special and win it again? We’ve got a slightly bigger target on our back, nothing changes in terms of the strength of the south division.
“Anyone in South Group can get on a run and go and top the table pretty quickly. We know we’ve got the squad but it doesn’t mean other sides haven’t improved and will be out to get us.”
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The Spitfires are one of four sides in action on the tournament’s opening night, along with Yorkshire and Worcestershire in North Group, as they host Somerset in a repeat of last year’s final.
In last season’s competition all four sides at Finals Day came from South Group, having beaten their northern opponents at the quarter-final stage.
“We’ve got to make sure we come out of the blocks flying,” Walker added.
“We started last year really well, we don’t always start really well at the start of competitions for some reason, but if we can start well here it definitely helps, it builds confidence and gets you on that run.
“But Somerset will be tough, as it would be with any other side – Essex to follow, Sussex comes around quickly, you don’t look at any of the sides [in South Group] and think it’s going to be a breeze.
“There is a belief that we’re a good side and when you win a trophy there has to be belief. If there’s not then there’s something seriously wrong.”
Each side will play 14 group matches, seven home and seven away, before Finals Day at Edgbaston on Saturday, 16 July, which has been moved forward from its traditional September date.
‘Our fielding stood out’
Kent and England opener Zak Crawley believes his county can only get stronger this year.
“We had quite a young team last year, everyone’s getting a bit older and better,” the 24-year-old said.
“I think what stood out last year was our fielding. We were the best fielding side in it and that’s what carried us through in tough situations. Every 50/50 game we won in the field.
“If we carry on doing that, our batting and bowling carries itself.
“You need a bit of luck in the group stage, but when you get to the knockouts you’re only three games away at that point.
“I certainly think we’re in the top four teams in the country at least. If we play well we should be at Finals Day.”
Overseas names to look out for
- Kieron Pollard (Surrey) – The West Indian has made the most T20 appearances in history with 592.
- Sunil Narine (Surrey) – Another hugely experienced West Indian. The spinner has 438 wickets in 405 games.
- Chris Lynn (Northants) – Dynamic opening batter. The Australian has hit 341 sixes in 220 games.
- Tim David (Lancashire) – Has one of the highest batting strike-rates in T20 cricket – 163.07.
- Rashid Khan (Sussex) – The Afghanistan spinner is one of the biggest names in this format. Already has more than 450 wickets aged just 23.
- Carlos Brathwaite (Warwickshire) – The West Indies all-rounder made his name by hitting four sixes in a row to down England in the 2016 T20 World Cup final.
- Dwayne Bravo (Worcestershire) – The former West Indies all-rounder is the leading wicket-taker in T20 cricket with 587.
South Group sides (2021 result)
- Essex Eagles (7th in group)
- Glamorgan (9th in group)
- Gloucestershire (6th in group)
- Hampshire Hawks (semi-final)
- Kent Spitfires (winners)
- Middlesex (8th in group)
- Somerset (runners-up)
- Surrey (5th in group)
- Sussex Sharks (semi-final)
North Group sides (2021 result)
- Derbyshire Falcons (8th in group)
- Durham (7th in group)
- Lancashire Lightning (quarter-finals)
- Leicestershire Foxes (6th in group)
- Northamptonshire Steelbacks (9th in group)
- Notts Outlaws (quarter-finals)
- Birmingham Bears (quarter-finals)
- Worcestershire Rapids (5th in group)
- Yorkshire Vikings (quarter-finals)