Don Topley; It’s a Blast... A t20 Blast and it starts tonight for Essex

Essex's Varun Chopra, expected to open the batting for the Eagles Photo: PA SPORT

Essex's Varun Chopra, expected to open the batting for the Eagles Photo: PA SPORT - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Don Topley takes a look at the new t20 Blast season – and Essex entertain Sussex tonight

Essex's new Aussie signing, Adam Zampa, will strengthen the spin department for the Eagles Photo: PA

Essex's new Aussie signing, Adam Zampa, will strengthen the spin department for the Eagles Photo: PA SPORT - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Tonight sees the start of the Vitality t20 Blast with Essex Eagles hosting an exciting encounter with the Sussex Sharks at Chelmsford.

A near full capacity of 6,500 will descend on the Cloud FM County Ground with Essex enjoying another home fixture on Friday against Middlesex, which is already sold out.

t20 is cricket’s most exciting spectacle especially at the smaller county grounds which naturally sell out and have the crowd close and on top of the action.

Our t20 domestic competition makes enough money to ensure the four day longer format survives from the television income and decent gate receipts.

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The Oval – with a 26,000 capacity – often sells ‘a Kid for a Quid’ which is fantastic marketing. Lord’s in St John’s Wood can facilitate 32,000, is majestic when full, with many more corporate guests attending.

Essex Eagles will approach the competition with enthusiasm but in my opinion are a better 50-over side than t20. Essex have been considered a power house in this form of cricket over the years but last season’s lowly position of having only Gloucestershire below them was simply poor.

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Importantly, Matt Quinn returns to play, and will add skill in the death overs.

The burly Matt Coles will simply continue to improve with more game time. Quinn and Coles will become responsible for the death overs with some help from the ever-dependable and mature Ravi Bopara and Neil Wagner.

Jamie Porter will play but maybe not every game as he and Sam Cook need to be looked after with Essex still rightly holding ambitions of retaining the County Championship. Cook has endured shin-soreness, unusually on the right (back) leg on his right shin.

New Aussie signing, Adam Zampa, will strengthen the spin department as Simon Harmer has not enjoyed as much success in t20. Ashar Zaidi will play as he can be destructive with the bat but will probably slip a few overs in as a sixth bowler and in the blink of an eye – he bowls an over in about two minutes – great tactic.

With James Foster still away coaching in the new Canadian Premier League, Adam Wheater, will don the gloves.

Alastair Cook, despite having a t20 century from years ago, is not expected to play.

He may play for the England Lions in a four day fixture later in the month against India ‘A’ in preparation for the mouthwatering Indian Test Series next month, perhaps along with James Anderson – remember t20 cricket is no preparation for Test Match cricket with the recent experiences of Ben Stokes and his IPL foray.

Varun Chopra is expected to open Essex’s t20 batting, possibly with Wheater or Tom Westley.

Dan Lawrence, Bopara and the captain, Ryan Ten Doeschate, will be four, five and six, with a host of all-rounders filling the lower middle order.

Spin bowling has become the talk of t20 with many notable class overseas spinners arriving for a gig.

It welcomes two Afghanistani top-class slow bowlers in Rashid Khan (Sussex) and lesser known, Mujeeb Ur Rahman (Hampshire), with two Aussies in Ashton Agar (Middlesex) and Zampa (Essex).

I love watching spinners in t20. When this format first came in everyone said spinners would be smashed and struggle but they have become hugely important. Attacking both edges of the bat, inside and outside, has become a craft even with smaller boundaries – remember, this wonderful hot weather has encouraged drier wickets too.

This season should be even more competitive with some fantastic sides in an exciting South Group. Surrey look formidable, Hampshire’s batting is explosive, a dangerous Kent Spitfires who made the Lord’s Final last Saturday and a wonderful bowling unit at Sussex Sharks.

There’s my four to reach the quarter-finals but Essex Eagles will need to beat the majority of the four above to have aspirations of qualifying for the latter stages.

Essex’s opponents tonight possess Suffolk’s Tymal Mills who returns to his old hunting ground, a rejuvenated Chris Jordan, an impressive Jofra Archer and a magician in Rashid Khan - I am always excited by strong bowling line-ups in t20. Sussex may restrict sides but whether they can bat well may be their challenge.

Hold on to your hats, let the fireworks begin and the good weather continue!

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