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Blast soars towards 1 million mark, and Ackermann's surprise spin success

The Oval was a sell-out on Tuesday night Getty Images

The Blast has enjoyed a considerable uplift from England's World Cup-winning campaign with the competition poised to reach 1 million spectators for the first time (David Hopps writes).

Hopes that the 1 million mark could be breached have been dashed before, but with nearly 900,000 sales achieved heading into last weekend's games, it appears that only a continuation of recent bad weather could stop the target being reached.

With the ECB's emphasis increasingly turning to the launch of The Hundred in 2020, there were fears that the Blast could suffer as a result - and until England won the World Cup for the first time in mid-July the tournament had been matching, but not exceeding, comparable sales in 2018. All that has changed, leaving total ground sales now 14% ahead of the same time last year.

London remains the main engine of Blast ticket sales with Surrey and Middlesex responsible for more than 20% of purchases. But the attraction of the Blast is growing in Hove, where Sussex, who went into the weekend games top of South Group, are packing them in with comparable success to two other non-Test grounds, Somerset and Essex.

Lancashire, who head the table in the North, are also enjoying their most successful Blast season ever as they have become the best-attended county outside London.

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In the excitement at Taunton on Saturday over Tom Banton's maiden T20 hundred - another eye-catching innings that will surely propel him into England's T20 side sooner rather than later - another crucial component in Somerset's attempts to win the Blast, and with it keep their hopes of a treble alive, gained less attention.

Tom Abell's 63 from 33 balls, including a series of street-smart deflections past the wicketkeeper was another plucky innings from Somerset's captain, but it was a surprise to discover that the innings put him into the top three in this season's Blast strike rates.

Abell awoke on Sunday morning to the news that he is scoring at 172.2 runs per hundred balls with only AB de Villiers (191.7) and Cameron Delport (180.6) above him (with a minimum of 200 runs scored). A little bloke who packs quite a punch, clearly.

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Colin Ackermann could be forgiven a slightly bemused expression as he claimed the most successful global analysis in Twenty20 history.

Ackermann, appointed Leicestershire's Blast captain this season, exploited rare turn in the pitch at Grace Road to return 7 for 18 from his four overs of offspin, figures made all the more astounding for the fact he is primarily a batsman.

Searching for an explanation for his success, he offered the thought that he had worked hard on his bowling over the English winter, which he spent playing for Warriors in his native South Africa, and had taken full advantage of the advice of former Test offspinner Simon Harmer, a team-mate at Warriors.

That improvement was signalled when he picked up a maiden five-wicket return in first-class cricket in Leicestershire's first Championship match of this season, a win against Sussex at Hove.

But it's fair to say that Warriors did not recognise they might be on to a good thing. Search his record in all competitions between October and March for the Warriors between October 2018 and March 2019 and there is not a wicket in sight.

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Birmingham Bears swooped quickly to sign Chris Green to replace the injured Ashton Agar, with Paul Farbrace telling Sky he had been working night and day to find a last-minute replacement (Matt Roller writes).

Green is a traditionalist's worst nightmare of a cricketer. At 25, he is yet to make his first-class debut, though counts Lahore Qalandars, Guyana Amazon Warriors, and Toronto Nationals among his clubs.

And he took the freelance lifestyle to the next level last week. After losing the Global T20 eliminator to Winnipeg Hawks on Thursday afternoon in controversial circumstances - the game was called off early due to bad light, and Green's side lost on DLS - he got a lift to the airport to get on the 11.19pm flight from Toronto to Heathrow.

That meant he arrived at 11.05am in the UK, and drove up to Birmingham just in time to meet his new team-mates and have a quick warm-up before Friday night's game against Nottinghamshire, which started around 18 hours after his previous game - on a different continent, remember - had finished.

After seven games for Birmingham, Green will fly straight to the Caribbean Premier League to make his Guyana return. In a blow for fans of nominative determination, his carbon footprint is racking up.

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On the subject of Birmingham, it was unthinkable last year that Ed Pollock - then a world-record holder for his pinch-hitting exploits - would be kept out of the team due to anything other than injury, but he found himself dropped four games into the Blast after a slow start to the competition.

While his side was capitulating against Ackermann, Pollock was sat at home after hitting a 39-ball 100 for Warwickshire's 2nd XI against Durham, and would have been forgiven for wondering why he had been omitted.

His situation demonstrates the difficulties of the role he was given - to score at a 200 strike rate from the word go. It is one that comes with a high floor and a low ceiling, and one which requires a team which will stick with you during the rough times. But as long as cricketing orthodoxy - which comes down hard on those who get out playing attacking shots - prevails ahead of new-age T20 thinking, the Pollocks of the world will be up against it.

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Sussex are expected to be without Delray Rawlins for four of their remaining games after the explosive middle-order batsman was picked in Bermuda's squad for the ICC Americas T20 World Cup Qualifier.

While the club is yet to comment publicly, the Bermudian Royal Gazette reported that after much wrangling and negotiation, the national team have secured Rawlins' service for the tournament.

Rawlins' opportunities with the bat have been limited this season - largely due to Sussex's imposing top order facing so many balls between them - but he is striking at 160.97, and hit a vital 35 not out off 17 balls to see off Gloucestershire at Bristol: he may yet be a big miss.

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Any disappointment Kent officials may have felt after their mauling by Somerset on Saturday evening will fade rapidly should their county qualify for Finals Day on September 21 (Paul Edwards writes).

The likelihood of that happening has been increased by the return to fitness of skipper Sam Billings, who dislocated his shoulder 80 minutes into his first appearance for his team in April but played a full part in Saturday's game, albeit he will not be keeping wicket this season.

Many of Kent's performances have already mocked the predictions made about the county in March but the addition of Billings' clean hitting to a batting line-up which already includes Mohammad Nabi and Alex Blake increases Kent's chances of making the last eight and even securing a home semi-final.

"Sam has come back quicker than we thought he would and he's worked very hard to get himself in the frame," the Kent coach, Matt Walker, said. "We're bringing back a very fine international T20 cricketer but also one of the best one-day captains in the country. It is almost like signing an overseas player.

"We've coped very well to win six games without him but his return gives a real lift to the dressing room."