Royal London One-Day Cup 2018: Rob Key looks at the ones to...

Royal London One-Day Cup 2018: Rob Key looks at the ones to watch

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The 2018 Royal London One-Day Cup gets underway on Thursday as defending champions Nottinghamshire tussle with Lancashire in the opening game at Old Trafford – watch live on Sky Sports Cricket from 1.30pm.

Who is in contention for the 2018 crown? Will Nottinghamshire defend their title? Will Surrey finally break their runners-up curse of the last three years? And who are the dark horses, emerging talents and gun fielders of the game to watch out for?

We’ve tasked Sky Sports Cricket’s Rob Key to answer all of this, and more, in his tournament preview…

North Group

Winners

Defending champions, Nottinghamshire. I tipped them last year, and they’ve only strengthened further with the likes of New Zealand’s Ross Taylor, veteran Sussex batsman Chris Nash and Durham allrounder Paul Coughlin.

They’ll also have Alex Hales, who is a fabulous player who pretty much single-handedly won them the final with his staggering 187 not out. He is now totally devoted to white-ball cricket, with a contract for only that format – this will be the first time Notts fans see him playing in England after the IPL. They are too strong.

Dark horse

Northamptonshire. I just think Ben Duckett has a lot of unfinished business – he is such a good player, and actually played brilliantly for England in white-ball cricket a year or so ago in Bangladesh. We haven’t seen him since, left out of the set-up due to his Test form and sent home from Australia in the winter for an off-field incident. If he can lead the way, they’re a handy one-day outfit.

Emerging talent

I’m going to go with the young lad for Yorkshire, Harry Brook. He captained the England U19s at last year’s World Cup. He also hit his maiden first-class hundred a couple of weeks ago, against Essex, and looks a real player.

Fantasy team must-have

Steven Mullaney. An allrounder, who are so crucial in these fantasy leagues. He is Notts club captain, but very much an unsung hero in that side over the last few years. He always pitches in with valuable runs – he had an excellent tournament last year, averaging 63 with the bat – and he is as reliable as anyone in the middle overs with the ball.

Gun fielder

Yorkshire’s Adam Lyth. I won’t pick out my mate Paul Collingwood again, surely he can’t throw himself around anymore like he used to.

Player to follow on Twitter/Instagram

I can’t pick just one, but I tell you who are quite funny; the Notts trio of Hales, Chris Nash and Luke Fletcher.

South Group

Winners

Surrey. Every one of the last three years they’ve made the final, falling at the final hurdle each time. But, like Notts in the North Group, Surrey have strengthened this year, with Morne Morkel coming in from South Africa on a Kolpak, and India captain Virat Kohli also having a short spell with the team before the Test series. Jason Roy should be available for much of the summer too, after the IPL.

They’ve also got some seriously good home-grown bowlers, including the Curran brothers – neither Tom nor Sam are over 25 and yet you feel like they’ve been around a long time – and young Matt Dunn, who has come back well after injury. I’ve always liked Surrey and the way they set up.

Dark horse

My old county Kent are another team that could be in the mix. Sam Billings is a good captain, Joe Denly is one of the best players in the country at the moment, they have strengthened with the arrival of South African batsman Heino Kuhn and New Zealand quick Matt Henry.

Also, Sussex could be strong. They’ve got an excellent coach in Jason Gillespie and, in the likes of Jofra Archer and Chris Jordan, they should have a pretty potent bowling attack in white-ball cricket, though they might end up being a little light on runs.

Emerging talents

It’s the young batting talent that stands out from the South Group. From the two teams I’ve mentioned, there’s Ollie Pope at Surrey, who could be one of the breakout stars this year, and Zak Crawley at Kent – probably the most promising batsman in the country – while there’s also Dan Lawrence at Essex.

Fantasy team must-have

Jofra Archer at Sussex. His bowling has got better, with impressive stints in the Big Bash and IPL. Last year, he didn’t come with much of a reputation at all, but now he is being massively talked up. He’s also a decent batsman and that part of his game is coming on.

Gun fielder

Ryan ten Doeschate at Essex. He is getting older but, certainly when I was playing, I always felt he was one of the best fielders I played against.

Player to follow on Twitter/Instagram

Joe Denly at Kent is worth a follow, for a laugh. Also, Marcus Trescothick – he is having his testimonial at Somerset this year. No one deserves one more.

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(c) Sky News 2018: Royal London One-Day Cup 2018: Rob Key looks at the ones to watch