Hertfordshire will begin their defence of the National Counties T20 title with a very different side to the one that won the competition for the first time in 2019.
The COVID-19 pandemic meant that the 2020 and 2021 T20 tournaments were cancelled and in that time two experienced members of the side that beat Dorset in the final at Wormsley – opener Steve Gale and off-spinner Ben Frazer – are no longer playing National Counties cricket and experienced seamer Tanveer Sikandar’s availability is in doubt because of injury concerns. Batsman Rishi Patel, who also played in the final, as since joined Leicestershire from Essex.
Middle-order batsman Jack Keeping, who featured in the National Counties Trophy last season, has arrived from Bedfordshire and former Buckinghamshire pair Masoor Khan and Lee Tyrrell, who have joined Bishop’s Stortford and Potters Bar respectively, have been recruited ahead of Sunday’s season opener against Lincolnshire at Grantham.
“It would have been nice had we gone straight back into the competition with the same group of lads that won it,” said Hertfordshire captain Reece Hussain.
“We would have been in a good position again because, although that side was relatively young, we also had a few oldies that would have another year in them, the likes of Steve, Ben and Tanveer.
“There was a good balance of youth and experience whereas this year we have a much younger side, probably a little less experience, some new faces and we have ‘poached’ a couple from other counties who have let them go.
“So it will be a little bit of a new challenge for us, starting against Lincolnshire on Sunday , because we haven’t all played together as much as that team we had when we won it.
“We are a few light potentially, but the youth is probably what is needed in T20, especially in the field.”
With a mid-April start to the season there has been little opportunity for club cricketers to enjoy any outdoor practise but Hertfordshire will head to Grantham having enjoyed a good work-out against a strong Essex Second XI at Billericay.
“Preparation has been hard to come by but we did get a little game against Essex Twos on a very good wicket at Billericay,” Hussain said.
“They got about 230 in 55 overs and we were only given 37 back due to the light. We got to about 180 which, for a first run-out, I was pretty happy with.
“I got some time in the middle, some of the younger lads showed what they have been working on over the winter so it was a promising start against a good Essex Twos side with a couple of guys who will be potentially playing in their First XI.”
The Essex side include paceman Eshun Kalley, who played for Hertfordshire last season and will do again when his first-class commitments permit, and Feroze Khushi, who has featured for Suffolk.
As well as providing opportunities for contracted county players to develop their skills, Hertfordshire also have an excellent youth development system of their own with all-rounder Joe Cooke (Glamorgan) and batsman George Scott (Gloucestershire) among their recent graduates to the first-class game.
With COVID restrictions lifted this will be the first time three competitions have been played since the National Counties Cricket Association succeeded the Minor Counties Cricket Association two years ago.
No competitive cricket at all was played in 2020 because of the pandemic but the three-day National Counties Championship and 50-overs National Counties Trophy were played in full last year.
The return of the T20 competition, the youngest of the three tournaments, will be welcomed by Hussain, and not just because Hertfordshire are defending champions.
“The T20 is probably my favourite competition. I always thought they had to change the format of National Counties cricket – or Minor Counties cricket as was – because availability became an issue in three-day cricket and the standard dropped considerably from the white ball cricket,” Hussain said.
“With six three-day games meant people had to take 12 days’ holiday and that didn’t always go down particularly well and so you were having a different side each week.
“Now it’s only four three-day games it’s less of an issue and you find that guys are committing themselves to playing white ball cricket on a Sunday.
“Playing the three competitions in specific blocs also helps. The pitches are less important in the early weeks of the season for T20 and by the middle of summer the wickets are better for the 50 overs and three-day cricket.”
National Counties T20
Group One. Oxton: Cheshire v Shropshire, Porthill Park: Staffordshire v Northumberland.
Group Two. Bashley Rydal CC : Dorset v Wiltshire, Brockhampton: Herefordshire v Cornwall.
Group Three. Wisbech: Cambridgeshire v Suffolk, Grantham: Lincolnshire v Hertfordshire.
Group Four: Falkland CC: Berkshire v Oxfordshire, Bangor: Wales NC v Bedfordshire.