Over the last couple of years, the T20 format has been undergoing its next revolution, with more runs, more sixes, and more hundreds. The run rates in IPL 2017 (8.41) and 2018 (8.64) were the highest in the tournament's history while the ongoing CPL has been a run-fest as well. The Vitality Blast this season has also been at the forefront of this change. At the end of the league stage, this year's tournament has witnessed an overall run rate of 8.88, which is not only the best scoring rate in the history of the competition but also in the history of any T20 league that has taken place.
England's flat pitches and small grounds have made it a lot easier for the batsmen. This year's edition has witnessed 1392 sixes - 11.6 sixes per game, which is the most in the history of the league. Fifteen centuries have been scored - the second-highest since the league started - with seven matches left. There have been three centuries in this year's edition that are among the 20 fastest centuries in all T20s. Northamptonshire have been at the receiving end of two such scores - Daniel Christian walked into bat at 9.4 overs and scored 113 runs from just 40 balls , while Martin Guptill scored 102 runs from 38 balls to help Worcestershire chase down 187 in just 13.1 overs. However, it wasn't all doom and gloom for Northamptonshire, as they managed to end their streak of 13 matches without a victory, the longest such streak in the Blast.
In last year's tournament, there were 27 scores in excess of 200 - a record at the time - but 2018 has already witnessed 31 such scores at the end of the league phase. Teams have also realized the need to maximise their returns from the Powerplay overs: 12 of the top 13 highest Powerplay scores in the tournament have come in the last two editions, with ten instances of teams scoring in excess of 90 in the first six overs. The average Powerplay run-rate of 8.87 is the best across all T20 leagues.
Earlier this year, ESPNcricinfo launched Smart Stats to measure a player's performance in T20s based on match context and situation. Here is what those numbers say about the top performers in the Blast this season.
The top batsmen at the Blast
Aaron Finch has been in great form in the T20 format since his poor IPL campaign. Finch tops the run charts in this year's Blast scoring 589 runs from nine innings at an average of 147.25 and a strike rate of 182.35. Not surprisingly, Finch is among the top names in the Smart Stats batting metrics as well. His 589 runs have come off only 323 balls. When match strike rate and runs scored at the other end are considered, his Smart Strike Rate goes up to 214.96, which means he has contributed 105.32 extra runs in the balls he has faced. This Smart Contribution is the highest among all batsmen this season; Colin Ingram is not too far behind with a Smart Contribution of 101.08. Incidentally, both Finch and Ingram won't play any further part in the tournament, as their teams have failed to qualify for the quarter-finals. Daniel Christian, Corey Anderson and Philip Salt complete the top five with Smart Contributions of 86.68, 78.23 and 75.72. The teams they represent have qualified for the playoffs. From this top-five list, Finch is the only one who is also among the top five run-getters in the tournament.
Wrist spinners continue to dominate the format
Wristspinners have ruled the T20 format recently, and the Blast has not disappointed in that regard. The top five wicket-takers among spinners are legbreak bowlers, and three of the top five bowlers with the best Smart Economy Rates are wristspinners. The encouraging sign for England is that the top two wicket-takers are domestic recruits Matt Parkinson and Joe Denly, while the other three are seasoned overseas T20 bowlers in Ish Sodhi, Rashid Khan and Imran Tahir. Wristspinners struck once every 18 balls and conceded a rate of 7.77 while fingerspinners struck once every 24 balls and conceded 8.36 runs per over.
Kent Spitfires were involved in seven matches that had scores in excess of 200, while their home venue has one of the worst economy rates this season, with bowlers going at 9.75. In such a venue, Adam Milne's economy rate of 7.05 stands out. Taking into account the match economy rate and the specific overs that he has bowled, Milne's Smart Economy Rate (SER) of 4.85 is the best in the tournament so far. The fact that he has bowled the difficult overs in the Powerplay and the Death speaks volume of his skills.
In simple terms, taking into account the context of each match he has played so far, Milne has saved his team 83 runs in the overs he has bowled. Three legspinners in Max Waller from Somerset (SER 4.9), Imran Tahir (SER 5.16) and Rashid Khan (SER 5.37) occupy the next three positions in the Smart Economy Rate index. Milne's New Zealand colleague, Lockie Fergusson, has also had a good season going at a SER of 5.43 and saving 58 runs for his team.