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The Twenty20 Cup, known since 2014 as the T20 Blast, is a professional Twenty20 cricket competition for English and Welsh first-class counties. The competition was established by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) in 2003 as the first professional Twenty20 league in the world. It is the top-level Twenty20 competition in England and Wales.
|Tournament format||Group stage and knockout|
|Number of teams||18|
|Current champion||Worcestershire Rapids (1st title)|
|Most successful||Leicestershire Foxes (3 titles)|
|2019 t20 Blast|
The competition has been known by a variety of names due to commercial sponsorship. From 2010 to 2013 it was known as the Friend Provident t20 and Friends Life t20 and from 2014 to 2017 as the Natwest t20 Blast. In 2018 the competition was sponsored by insurance company Vitality and was known as the Vitality Blast.
When the Benson & Hedges Cup ended in 2002, the ECB needed another one-day competition to fill its place. In response to dwindling crowds and reduced sponsorship the decision was made to launch a 20 over competition with the aim of boosting the game's popularity, particularly with the younger generation. The intention was to deliver fast-paced, exciting cricket which was accessible to fans who were put off by the longer versions of the game.
The first official Twenty20 Cup matches were played on 13 June 2003, between the English counties in the Natwest t20 blast . The first season of Twenty20 in England was a success, with the Surrey Lions defeating the Warwickshire Bears by nine wickets in the final to win the first Twenty20 Cup Final. On 15 July 2004 Middlesex versus Surrey (the first Twenty20 Cup game to be held at Lord's) attracted a crowd of 26,500, the largest attendance for any county cricket game other than a one-day final since 1953. The tournament saw six different winners in its seven years.
By the end of the 2009, the ECB had decided to implement a larger competition for the T20 format of the game. The Twenty20 English Premier League was a proposed cricket league to be run by the ECB consisting of the 18 county teams and two overseas teams divided into two divisions with promotion and relegation. The proposal was influenced by the success of the Indian Premier League and by Allen Stanford who had organised the Stanford Super Series in the Caribbean. After the collapse of Stanford's series the proposals were scrapped. Instead a modified 40 over league, the Clydesdale Bank 40 was implemented.
Friends Provident/FriendsLife t20Edit
The Friends Provident t20 (renamed the FriendsLife t20 after just one season) was introduced in 2010. The competition initially divided the eighteen counties into North and South groups, before reverting to the previous model of three divisions of six teams. This period of twenty20 cricket in England and Wales saw Leicestershire and Hampshire becoming the most successful sides, and in 2013 Northamptonshire won their first trophy for two decades.
NatWest t20 BlastEdit
NatWest became the tournament sponsors in 2014, renewing a longstanding relationship the bank had with the county game. The first year of the tournament saw 700,000 spectators attend the games, the most in the competition's history.The tournament was won in 2014 by the Birmingham Bears, Warwickshire County Cricket Club's name for the purposes of Twenty20 cricket, making it the first time a county trophy had been won by a team using a city name. The final victors of this branding of the tournament in 2017 were Notts Outlaws.
Vitality became the tournament sponsors in 2018 after signing a deal to become the title partner for four years.
The 18 first-class counties compete for the title, initially playing in two geographical divisions. In the past three divisions were used in some seasons, but since 2014 this has been reduced to two. As of 2018, matches are played in a block during July and August with the aim of attracting large crowds during the school summer holidays. The top four teams in each division qualify for the playoff stage, with a set of quarter-finals leaving four teams in the competition. The two semi-finals and the final are played on one finals day at a major cricket stadium, in 2018 at Edgbaston Cricket Ground in September.
Finals day has been held annually towards the end of the English cricket season.