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Analysing the Vitality Blast’s Final Four (Part Two)

By: Andy Cooper

Ahead of the Vitality Blast Finals Day, this latest article focuses on the counties participating in the second semi-final: Sussex Sharks and Somerset.

Read the first article, which looks at Worcestershire Rapids and Lancashire Lightning’s key performers

Key Takeaways

–        A plan to stop the in-form Laurie Evans

–        Different approaches to the powerplay

–        The important role leg spin plays for both sides

Targeting Sussex’s anchorman with left-arm spin

Sussex Sharks’ number three Laurie Evans has played a key role in getting his side to Finals Day. As well as comfortably being the Sharks’ leading run scorer with 506 (46 per innings), he also sits second in the competition overall for crease occupation time (34.18 balls per innings).

Evans has been particularly effective when chasing down totals. In the five games Sussex have batted second, he has carried his bat three times, guiding his team to victories with unbeaten scores of 65, 55 and most recently 63 in the quarter-final against Durham.

Despite his success in the 2018 competition, Evans appears to have a weakness against left-arm orthodox spin. Of his seven competition dismissals, three have come against left-armers and his strike rate against them drops to 109.5. Therefore Somerset may want to bowl their left-arm spinner, Roelof van der Merwe, early on in Evans’ innings. It is worth noting too that van der Merwe has dismissed right-handed batsmen 11 times so far during the Blast.

Lawrie Evans Batting Rates vs Bowling Type: 2018 Vitality Blast

As well as being Somerset’s leading run scorer, Corey Anderson has also hit the most sixes in the competition so far (31).

Anderson is predominantly a leg side player – all of his sixes have been hit either straight down the ground or on the leg side, whilst he has only scored three of his 29 fours on the off-side (and only one in front of square).

As a left hander, he is particularly destructive against spin and enjoys his best strike rate when hitting with the spin: left-arm orthodox (213.8) and leg spin (170.4). As we can see from his spray charts for this season, he scores heavily at deep midwicket, deep square leg and cow corner.

Corey Anderson Spay Charts: 2018 Vitality Blast

However, Anderson has also been dismissed four times to this type of bowler from 56 balls faced, so depending on the state of the game Sussex captain Luke Wright may be tempted to use either Will Beer or Danny Briggs to force an error, especially as we know three of his four dismissals have been caught in the deep at cow corner.

Alternatively, Wright may want to use one of his two genuine fast seamers, as this is the type of bowling where Anderson has had his lowest strike rate in the campaign (154.8).

Anderson has only faced 13 deliveries of left-arm fast seam this season, however his career T20 strike rate against left-arm fast seam since 2012 is only 128.2, so it may be worth bowling Tymal Mills. Mills could look to bowl full outside off stump with the leg side boundary protected, forcing the batsman to play across the line or into the off side. Mills also hasn’t conceded a single six with a big shot down the ground in the Blast so far this season.

Fast start for the Sharks?

The powerplay is a key phase of any T20 innings and Somerset and Sussex have taken contrasting approaches this year – Somerset at the aggressive end of the spectrum and Sussex at the conservative end.

Only Nottinghamshire and Middlesex have conceded more runs than Somerset in powerplay overs in this year’s Blast, but this may be down to a conscious decision to attack in the early overs as Somerset have also taken more wickets during the powerplay than any other side – with Jamie Overton leading the attack with eight powerplay victims.

Sussex have opted to play conservatively in the powerplay throughout the tournament – they’ve scored the 2nd fewest powerplay runs in the competitions, losing on average 1.3 wickets per game during that period –  but may sense an opportunity for a fast start in the semi-final.

Battle of the leg spinners

Leg spin has played a central role in both sides’ strategies in this year’s Blast and despite the absence of Rashid Khan, leg spin may well play a crucial role in deciding who progresses to the final.

Of players who bowled in at least five innings, Sussex’s marquee overseas signing Rashid Khan has the third best economy rate in the competition (6.63) – conceding only 1.73 per scoring shot. Rashid is unavailable for finals day however, so the burden will fall on Will Beer – whose figures in the competition, despite lacking the star billing of Rashid, suggest that the Sharks have a ready-made replacement.

With Max Waller boasting the third best economy rate (6.67) of leg spinners in the competition (behind Rashid and Durham’s overseas signing Imran Tahir) Somerset have also looked to the art of leg spin to contain opposing batsman.

Only 9.3% of his deliveries have gone to the boundary, the lowest of anyone else taking part in finals day who have bowled in at least five innings. He may have his work cut out against the Sharks though as Sussex have the highest average as a team against leg spin bowling of all teams in the competition.

We know that there are both similarities and differences in these two teams’ approaches. The outcomes of these key match-ups may prove crucial in determining who ends up on top this weekend.