NatWest T20 Blast May 14, 2015

Overseas influx for the biggest Blast yet

Never has the Twenty20 Blast attracted such a wide array of overseas talent. From Brendon McCullum to Chris Gayle and Shahid Afridi to Glenn Maxwell, the Blast's imports are the envy of T20 leagues the world over, the IPL apart

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Nick Compton joins Dan Norcross for the launch of our new magazine show on the NatWest Blast

Martin Guptill and Tillakaratne Dilshan will provide power and panache at the top of Derbyshire's order, although the two do not overlap. Yet Derbyshire's most significant signing could be Nathan Rimmington, who has bowled incisively with the new ball and frugally at the death in the Big Bash.

Durham only have one overseas player, but what he lacks in glamour John Hastings makes up for in effectiveness. For bustling, canny bowling allied to powerful late-order bashing, Hastings was named Melbourne Stars' Most Valuable Player in last winter's Big Bash League and took nine wickets in Durham's recent Championship defeat to Middlesex.

In the Championship, Jesse Ryder has become more valuable as a nagging swing bowling than belligerent batsman. But in front of the febrile Chelmsford crowd, the T20 Blast should provide the perfect stage for Ryder's batting destructiveness: it was only last year that he scored a 46-ball ODI century. He will have company from across the Tasman as, fresh from conceding just 6.94 an over in the Big Bash, a 32-year-old Shaun Tait seeks out the pace and toe-crushing yorkers that have made him such an intoxicating sight.

The World Cup highlighted the supreme value of high-class left-arm pace bowlers in limited overs cricket, and Glamorgan will feel they have one in Wayne Parnell, one of a trio of South African imports. Jacques Rudolph provides class and solidity opening the batting - he averaged 60.33 in the Blast last year - while the Kolpak Colin Ingram offers brutal middle-order hitting.

Australian-born but with two English parents, Peter Handscomb made his name four months ago: coming in at 8 for 2 after a golden duck for Kevin Pietersen, he bludgeoned 103 not out from 64 balls to help Melbourne Stars beat Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash. His hitting skills will be complimented by Michael Klinger's nous from June.

It somehow wouldn't be the Blast without Yasir Arafat popping up. Onto his sixth county, Arafat offers nippy, skiddy bowling and a cool temperament: in a Super Over in the 2014 Big Bash, he conceded just a solitary run. Jackson Bird's shoulder and neck injuries have undermined Hampshire's start to the season, but the hope is he might be fit to play next month. Fidel Edwards (a Kolpak) is providing cover, though whether he retains his zip aged 33 is unclear.

In the county where Ukip leader Nigel Farage stood in the general election, albeit unsuccessfully, no overseas players have been signed this season - despite the club making a significant profit in 2014. Many members are known to be aghast.

James Faulkner is a cricketer that could have been designed for the T20 age: boasting one of the game's most formidable throwing arms, venomous left-arm pace and - as England know too well - brutal hitting ability.

When Leicestershire signed Grant Elliott some were nonplussed. No longer. The 84 not out that took New Zealand to their first World Cup final was an innings brimming with skill, judgement and, as he showed by lofting Dale Steyn over long-on to secure victory, no little power. The belligerent Umar Akmal provides cover for four games - perhaps another indication of Leicestershire's determination to engage the local British Asian population. The Australian Clint McKay is an outstanding white ball bowler.

After another poor T20 campaign in 2014, Middlesex might have hoped for a more illustrious overseas signing than Joe Burns. He played two Tests for Australia against India last winter but has less pedigree in the shortest format. The additional signing of South African pace bowler Kyle Abbott for the first half of the season will have rallied optimism, but the T20 final in 2008 seems a long time ago.

For their first six games, Northamptonshire will have Shahid Afridi's bravado with bat in hand to excite, though his canny legspin, which has yielded just 6.50 an over during a career of 78 T20 internationals, will probably prove more valuable. The South African Rory Kleinveldt is a dependable new ball bowler.

Chris Gayle's roar will resound around Taunton © BCCI

Darren Sammy's violent hitting, allied to skilful medium pace, electric fielding and all-round affability should make him a fine signing until CPL commitments intrude. Ben Hilfenhaus' ability to swing the new ball should also prove an asset.

Those occupying the swanky new flats overlooking the Taunton ground might soon have cause to take out extra insurance. Chris Gayle, who almost played for Somerset three years ago, has finally made his way to the West Country, expecting to add to his world record 14 T20 hundreds. His successor is scarcely less destructive: Corey Anderson scored a 36-ball ODI century last year, and also offers eminently useful left-arm pace. Another left-arm quick, Sohail Tanvir, could be among the tournament's shrewdest signings: bowling off the wrong foot, he has a devilish yorker from wide of the crease.

Catch him while you can. Wahab Riaz's two-game stint will be over and done within 24 hours, but no one who witnessed his intoxicating spell against Australia in the World Cup will want to miss it. The Aussie allrounder Moises Henriques, a brawny ball-striker and fine exponent of cutters, will succeed him. And don't forget Kumar Sangakkara, fresh from four consecutive World Cup centuries.

Sangakkara's great friend Mahela Jayawardene will grace county cricket for the first time. They face each other at picturesque Arundel on June 14. After a seven-game stint Jayawardene will be replaced by George Bailey: having built a career clearing huge Australian boundaries, Hove's could seem a paltry challenge.

The unremitting aggression of Brendon McCullum's batting will terrify county bowlers when he joins Warwickshire after New Zealand's series in England; whether he brings in bigger crowds will be almost as intriguing as watching him play. However well he does, McCullum would do well to match the offspinner Jeetan Patel's impact. Varying his pace, flight and trajectory with magnificent skill, he took 23 wickets for last season's champions while yielding just 5.62 runs an over.

Whether Saeed Ajmal 2.0, with his remodelled action, can flummox county batsmen as he did last year, will go a long way to determining Worcestershire's prospects. Before he arrives next month Worcestershire have another mystery spinner who has suffered from the ICC's clampdown on throwing, Sachithra Senanayake. The Kiwi Colin Munro was Worcestershire's second top scorer in the competition last year.

An injured hamstring means that Aaron Finch may miss the whole Blast, though Yorkshire could yet sign-up a replacement. In the meantime they will have to make do with another brawny Australian: "The Big Show" Glenn Maxwell (though he hates the nickname). Maxwell has endured a grim IPL and a T20 average of 21.73 is testament to his inconsistency, but no one who saw his exploits in the World Cup would doubt his penchant for batting destruction.

Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts