Twenty20 Vision August 14, 2017

Is Reece Topley facing a T20 future?

Reece Topley's future, the ignoring of Sam Northeast and the unpredictability of Pakistan cricket jostle for attention in our latest NatWest Blast round-up

In the fortnight or so since he learned that he had suffered the fourth stress fracture of his career, Reece Topley has had other things to worry about. His dad and mentor, Don, has undergone a major operation in an Ipswich Hospital, but now he has been discharged, and is thankfully on the mend, the odds are that cricket conversation will soon become part of the rehab process.

Topley's move to Hampshire has been a nightmarish one. He has totted up 15 games in a season-and-a-half - including only three Championship matches - and as well as his back trouble he has also suffered a broken hand and a shoulder injury.

Nearly 18 months have passed since he played the last of his 10 ODIs and six T20Is for England and the excited talk that they had finally produced a left-arm quick with the ability to swing the ball at pace has quietened.

Perhaps it is time for Topley to follow the lead from Tymal Mills down the South coast at Sussex and accept that his future was as a T20 specialist where he might be able to manage his workload more successfully. It is no sort of decision for a young fast bowler of 23, with horizons ahead, but four stress fractures begins to force an inevitable conclusion.


Fifteen counties face an uncertain climax

The NatWest Blast has its critics but it is certainly competitive. As it reaches the final week of group matches the counties could not be more tightly bunched.

Only Notts Outlaws have qualified from North Group, their home quarter-final already assured.

Glamorgan and Hampshire are sure of their last-eight places in the South, although in Hampshire's case it will take a study of all permutations before they are ready to believe it. As they still want that home quarter-final, they are not about to do the maths.

To add to the mid-table melee, only Worcestershire and Durham, both in North Group, have no chance of reaching the last eight, with even Middlesex - bottom in the South - retaining a notional hope of a late dash into the quarters.

That leaves 15 of the 18 counties still with something to play for. The Blast has always been fiercely contested, but this is quite some run-in all the same.

Key matches? Essex will heavily influence the outcome in South Group as they face Kent at Chelmsford on Thursday and Sussex at Hove 24 hours later. In the North, Yorkshire's tie against the defending champions Northamptonshire at Headingley could yet turn into a must-win affair for both sides.


Fakhar Zaman never quite got on the plane © Getty Images

Pakistan's stars deserve better

Many of Pakistan's best players have missed out on the gain and the glory that has come with the global rise of Twenty20. They are excluded from IPL because of political tensions and they are recruited in other competitions with a certain amount of disquiet.

No wonder when the Pakistan board feels able to abruptly revoke 13 No Objection Certificates given to players involved primarily in the Caribbean Premier League but also in the county game and instruct that they should return home to fulfil national and domestic obligations.

The order affects Mohammad Amir, who had been playing for Essex in the Championship and T20, and also Sarfraz Ahmed, who was to play five games for Yorkshire in the Blast, and Fakhar Zaman, who was due to join Somerset until the end of the season, and whose visa had just come through, but whose NOC was withdrawn a day before he was due to get on the flight.

The whole thing is a mess. The players have been called back for a series between Pakistan and a World XI which has been rescheduled after Nawaz Sharif's disqualification as prime minister and a by-election that has resulted.

But the World XI series has never actually been confirmed. Sri Lanka might yet step in or perhaps no matches will actually take place.

Of course Pakistan deserves sympathy because of the long absence of international cricket in the country. Of course, everybody in cricket should yearn for a better future. Of course a healthy Pakistan would be wonderful for cricket. That being said, the board also has a responsibility to respect professional leagues around the world, and give its players to chance to play their part. That requires planning, consistency and reliability, qualities that are too often absent.


Keeping a lid on it

One of the joys about a Roses contest - and about English T20 in particular - is how partisanship does not run out of control. Loyalties are paraded but the dominant sense of one big cricket community holds sway.

Liam Livingstone, a tough-minded soul, tested that to the full at Headingley on Friday. He marked his first catch of the night, as he ended Yorkshire's opening stand at long-on, by a polite up-yours retort to those in the crowd who had been on his case.

There was no criticism of incitement, no over-reaction, no threat of violence. As T20 grows in England, staying the right side of that line is a challenge that the game must be keenly aware of. Cricket's community is a priceless thing.


Sam Northeast remains Kent's Nearly man © Getty Images

The ignoring of Sam Northeast

This column recently alighted on an excellent study by Sports Analytics Advantage about the most effective English batsmen in T20 matches between 2014 to 2016.

Sure enough, top of the list and routinely overlooked by England and by other T20 leagues worldwide was Sam Northeast, slightly more effective on their calculations than even Jos Buttler and Jason Roy and streets ahead of the England limited-overs captain Eoin Morgan.

Northeast has had another consistent season for Kent where he is one of five batsmen to average more than 30 only for their prospects of reaching the quarter-finals to be in the balance with two final-week victories against Essex and Surrey essential. No Finals Day means no publicity - and clearly, for whatever reason, he needs it.

As in the NatWest Blast, so too the Championship, where Kent are again challenging for promotion without suggesting that their pace attack is strong enough to complete the job.

The message for Northeast, Kent's captain, seems obvious. If you want Kent, and your own career to progress, sign some bowlers.

Sports Analytics Advantage prefers to put it this way. "It's difficult to understand why the selectors will not give certain players positions in the squad when the data makes a very strong case for them. Perhaps it's to do with a big/small county mentality, perhaps it's to do with influence from captains, or a preference to have consistency with other formats, perhaps it's to do with subjective assessment (which has the issue in that it is almost always inherently biased), or perhaps it's to do with the fact that they don't have a clue what they are doing."

David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps