After years of being thought of as the weaker group, last season the North dominated with no southern teams making Finals Day.
Having lifted the trophy twice in four years Northants can no longer claim to be plucky underdogs. They are genuine heavyweights of the competition and having kept their squad largely intact will be top contenders again.
Nottinghamshire were the other beaten semi-finalists, and it is just as surprising that they have also never got their hands on the Blast trophy. They will hope that a full season of Alex Hales could make the difference.
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