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Luke Wright advocates staging Blast 'in a block' as quarter-finals loom after five-week hiatus

"Finals Day is nearly a month away and after this everyone goes back into four-day cricket"

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Luke Wright was Sussex's leading run-scorer in the Blast group stage  •  Getty Images

Luke Wright was Sussex's leading run-scorer in the Blast group stage  •  Getty Images

Asked to draw up a schedule for a T20 competition from a blank calendar, few could devise something as illogical as what has been served up for this season's Vitality Blast: 126 group games in a 39-day window, a five-week gap before the quarter-finals, then three more weeks before Finals Day in mid-September.
The result is a tournament that lacks any sense of flowing narrative throughout the season, with long breaks between rounds, players coming and going at various stages and teams who had gone on winning runs to reach the knockouts having to reacquaint themselves with one another after a month apart.
The root cause is the Hundred, which now occupies the midsummer headline slot and has forced the Blast to adapt but that tournament was voted for by the counties in the first instance and is not going anywhere soon. For the Blast to survive and retain its popularity - tickets have flown for three out of the four quarter-finals - it must adapt and address its relationship with the Hundred.
"Everything I've read so far in the papers has been critical of the scheduling but not many people are coming up with solutions, and that is the hardest part," Luke Wright, who returns from Hundred duty to captain Sussex against Yorkshire at Chester-le-Street on Tuesday night, said. "How do you make it ideal for both white-ball and red-ball cricket, and make everything fair for everyone?
"Personally, I think it'd be nice to have the Blast done in a block. Finals Day is nearly a month away and after this quarter-final everyone goes back into four-day cricket. That means for any team if you have any sort of momentum, you lose it, and most people will lose their overseas players because it's so far away.
"I don't think that's ideal and you'd really want it pretty soon after the quarter-finals. They're all this week, so this weekend being Finals Day would probably be ideal. People would be in T20 mode - or in this case coming from the Hundred - and going into it fresh rather than from a massive break or coming in from four-day cricket. It would be nice to bring that forward."
There is every chance that Wright will get his wish in 2022. The managing director of county cricket, Neil Snowball, told the Cricketer this month that the ECB is exploring the possibility of completing the Blast before the Hundred starts. With the Commonwealth Games - which features women's T20 cricket - running until early August, the most likely outcome is that the Hundred will shift slightly later in the summer, with the Blast's knockout stages following straight on from the groups in late July.
As well as solving the issues that Wright addresses, that will add relevance to the wildcard draft - in which Hundred teams select a player based on Blast performances - which took place almost unnoticed this year, two weeks before the end of the group stages. There is no prospect of the Blast or the Hundred being scrapped so the two have to coexist.
In the meantime, Sussex and the seven other quarter-finalists have to buckle up and get on with it but that is easier said than done. Take Wright, the leading run-scorer in Blast history, as an example: he scored 306 runs at a strike rate of 156.12 in the Blast's group stages but found himself running the drinks for Trent Rockets in the Hundred given their top-order strength, meaning his last pro innings was over a month ago.
"I went into it in real good form from the Blast but we'd signed three top-order batters [Alex Hales, Dawid Malan and D'Arcy Short] so it was always going to be difficult," he said. "I actually had a few other Hundred teams trying to work out if I could transfer across to play for them but that's not allowed under the current rules. Most of the team have been playing but I'm one of the few that hasn't."
Sussex are close to full strength for the first time this summer heading into their quarter-final. Jofra Archer is injured and Ollie Robinson is on Test duty but George Garton, Chris Jordan and Tymal Mills all return after spearheading Southern Brave's Hundred triumph and Rashid Khan is available for his third Blast game of the summer, having shared a dressing room with Wright at Trent Rockets.
"We've had people presuming that Sussex are like a franchise team when we're full-strength but the thing people don't realise is that when those guys aren't around, we're not like the Test-ground teams with big, strong squads and we have loads of young lads coming in. To get through like we did in the group stages without those guys being available all the time was a fantastic effort.
"We've got a lot of boys who won the Hundred and seem in great form so hopefully they can carry it on for us. Most of the lads are in top form and those guys at the Brave were unbelievable. They'll be confident and feeling good so we'll get them rested up today and then see if we can feed off that.
"Rash has always been great for Sussex in terms of wanting to play. He could have easily not pitched up here for us and gone back with everything going on but he's a credit to himself and is such an impressive guy. The way he has handled himself is unbelievable; I couldn't even imagine what it must be like for him, having his family back [in Afghanistan]. I've played with the odd overseas player around the world who can park it off a little bit at times but Rash is all-in. He gives his all for every team he plays for."
David Wiese will be Sussex's other overseas player on Thursday after Travis Head's return to Australia and after consecutive quarter-final defeats they hope their fortunes will change. James Kirtley, a Twenty20 Cup winner in 2009 while rooming with Wright, is in his first season as head coach and his meticulous, analytical approach is a contrast to Jason Gillespie's hands-off attitude in previous seasons.
They face a Yorkshire side without Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Dawid Malan, on England duty, and Lockie Ferguson due to Covid - and without home advantage due to the Test match at Headingley. "At this point in the competition you're not going to be playing any poor teams," Wright said. "Being at Durham, there might not be so many fans in which is a shame but even still, it's going to be a great game of cricket."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98