Bob Willis Trophy – Who Are Favourites?
The well competed Wisden Trophy has really felt like a step towards the return of summer normality for cricket fans. That being said, the absence of the County Championship 2020 from our lives has made this feel rather unlike summer. It is as if a worldwide pandemic hadn’t already put things into perspective. Enter the Bob Willis Trophy.
The brains trust at the ECB have been hard at work figuring out how best to put together a domestic competition that fairly represents the interest of the players and supporters whilst adhering to Covid-19 guidelines. The solution will be a regionalized competition whereby the 18 Counties represented in the Championship will be divided equally into three groups. These groups include North, Central and South.
Each team will face each other within the group once with the two teams across the three groups with the best records, meeting in the final. The teams in the final will compete for the Bob Willis Trophy, commemorating the late-great English fast bowler and expert commentator.
With this in mind which teams will fancy themselves the most in the tournament as a whole? In this article, we will preview the 2020 County Championship, which has been renamed as the Bob Willis Trophy.
Bob Willis Trophy – The North Group
With a downturn in form since their last Championship Title in 2013 and a spot of economical turmoil along the way, Durham will be looking for some reasons to be cheerful.
With an exodus of the county’s best players, Mark Stoneman, Keaton Jennings, Graham Onions and Scott Borthwick to name a few, Durham will be looking to new arrival Sean Dickson from Kent and the evergreen Chris Rushworth to provide some impetus.
Could this finally be their year? Can Durham win the 2020 County Championship?
Derbyshire has had similarly poor fortunes in recent times. One of several poorer Counties slightly abandoned due to the fact that their ground does not host men’s internationals. This is another issue for another day, however.
This season Derbyshire will be hoping for a big season from last season’s One Day Cup run leader Billy Godleman and stalwart Wayne Madsen.
Lancashire’s fortunes in the Bob Willis Trophy may well vary depending on the availability of first-team members. James Anderson, Keaton Jennings and Saqib Mahmood, for example, are training with England presently. Graham Onions and Alex Davies will prove key depending on the availability of captain Dane Vilas.
Leicestershire may be relieved when the Bob Willis Trophy comes to a close as the T20 format has been much more to the county’s liking over the last decade or two. The Foxes will be reliant on the emergence of Hassan Azad to continue in the vein that saw him much-touted for a slightly premature England call-up last season.
Captain Colin Ackermann took a T20 record 7 for 18 last season. However, it will be his batting which the Foxes will be hoping comes well during the County Championship 2020.
The underachievers of the championship in recent times. Nottinghamshire will be itching to prove what they can do in this shortened format. Stuart Broad is unlikely to feature at all in this tournament and Ben Duckett may feature for England in the ODI series against Ireland.
Nottinghamshire, therefore, will look to veteran Chris Nash and the talented Ben Slater to ensure a good start for a middle-order containing Tom Moores and the ever-popular Samit Patel. The young Liam Patterson-White and the consistent Luke Fletcher will look to anchor the bowling attack.
Can they finally perform and win the Bob Willis Trophy 2020?
Yorkshire finds themselves once again short of two world-class batsmen as Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root are away on England duty. Adam Lyth will once again be key in laying a platform for one of county cricket’s premier batsman in Gary Balance.
Yorkshire stalwart Tim Bresnan saw his time at the club end over last winter so the onus will fall upon former captain Steven Patterson to marshal a young bowling attack.
Their lack of star players could very well affect their chances in the 2020 County Championship.
Bob Willis Trophy – The Central Group
Welsh side Glamorgan has seen fairly lowly returns for the last few seasons. Until last season which saw an upturn in fortunes as they chased a promotion which didn’t quite materialise. Billy Root – younger brother of England skipper Joe Root – had a solid all-round season. England fans can feel aggrieved by the county’s shepherding of Marnus Labuschagne into form before last summer’s ashes series.
Veteran Aussie fast bowler Michael Hogan will be excited at the chance of reaching 600 first-class wickets over this summer so will be a real handful for opposition batsmen. This coupled with the lower order striking and wicket-taking ability of young Dan Douthwaite will make Glamorgan a team to handle with care. They could be a potential banana skin for the bigger teams in the Bob Willis Trophy.
Can Glamorgan go all the way at the 2020 County Championship?
A real team to look out for. Gloucestershire has a very talented young set of players including James Bracey who earned his first England call up this summer. Bracey helps complete a batting order including George Hankins, Miles Hammond, Chris Dent and all-rounder Ryan Higgins. All of whom are in with a chance of England honours later on.
One team that may find themselves short of confidence coming into this season is Northamptonshire.
The midlands club may find themselves without opener Ricardo Vasconcelos and big fast bowler Rory Kleinvelt for this summer. One crumb of comfort will be the return of the ever-threatening Ben Sanderson who all-but guarantees 50 wickets at a low average each season.
Led by precocious skipper Tom Abell, Somerset will be hopeful of some success this summer. They may be in luck if they are permitted access to some of their young bowlers.
Jack Leach and Dom Bess are firmly in England’s thoughts as it stands but if one were to fall out of favour they can fall into line with fellow spinner Roelof Van der Merwe. The Overton twins may not find themselves in England’s plans for the rest of the summer so their addition alongside that of Lewis Gregory will boost Somerset’s chances no end.
Another contender this season. Warwickshire finds themselves with the services of club legend Jeetan Patel for one more year. It would be a fitting end for a wonderful performer should they grab the Bob Willis Trophy.
Former England batsman Ian Bell will be raring to go after a long injury layoff. Alongside international wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose and depending on the availability of Olly Stone, Sam Hain and Henry Brookes, Warwickshire will be a real threat in the County Championship 2020.
Owing to their lack of reliance on Kolpak players and having no England Internationals apart from Moeen Ali, Worcestershire may find themselves in a position to take a few teams by surprise. Club legend Daryl Mitchell provides a firm base for a middle-order containing the dynamic Ben Cox and the lethal Rikki Wessels.
Should Moeen Ali become available they add a world-class all-rounder to their ranks which already include the trusty Joe Leach and Brett D’Oliveira. Tom Fell and Ed Barnard add real stability and penetrative quality to the batting and bowling respectively.
Bob Willis Trophy – The South Group
Essex: Bob Willis Trophy Favourites
Essex have to be the favourites for the Bob Willis Trophy. A full-strength squad will include England’s greatest batsman in Sir Alastair Cook alongside Nick Browne, Tom Westley and Dan Lawrence at the top of the order. Ex-captain Ryan Ten Doeschate is an all-time great of the championship and will hope to add yet more silverware to his collection.
The Essex bowling attack boasts the reliable and criminally underrated (by England) Jamie Porter alongside Sam Cook and Simon Harmer – who has caused havoc for batsmen across the last 3 years. This line up alongside former Hampshire keeper Adam Wheater makes Essex the strongest team in the tournament.
Surely favourites for the County Championship 2020?
The loss of Sean Dickson may be a blow to Kent’s top order but the potential return of Joe Denly will bolster a batting lineup including a selection of England hopefuls. Sam Billings will be looking to prove his worth after missing a large part of last season with a serious injury.
Daniel Bell-Drummond can count himself unlucky to not be included for the One Day training squad. However, England’s loss will be Kent’s gain one would imagine. If Heino Kuhn is available to travel from South Africa then this makes for a top-class batting lineup. 44 Year Old Darren Stevens will start his 16th season at Kent already an MVP candidate.
Hampshire’s success will hinge largely on the availability of overseas and England International players. Kyle Abbott and Fidel Edwards have been central to Hampshire’s penetrative bowling attack for a number of years. They will be big shoes to fill, however, James Fuller and Chris Wood both boast over 100 first-class wickets.
The ever-dependable Keith Barker (an absolute steal from Warwickshire) will lead the attack in the absence of Kyle Abbott. The batting order will suffer should James Vince and Liam Dawson not be available through England call ups. As with Kent, however, Hampshire is due to benefit from England’s shortsightedness as Sam Northeast is set to have yet another big year.
Another team to consistently underperform in recent years, Middlesex can hope that a shortened season may suit them this year. The departure of Dawid Malan for Yorkshire will weaken their batting lineup but his year as club captain was tumultuous, to say the least, so they may benefit from a more stable leadership group.
One of England’s forgotten men will be desperate to make an impact in some first-class cricket, Steven Finn still has plenty to offer and hopefully, this will be made clear from August 1st.
Surrey: Potential to win The Bob Willis Trophy?
Surrey is a team with seemingly never-ending resources to draw from. Despite the probability that they will be without Ollie Pope, Sam Curran and perhaps Ben Foakes they will be able to field a strong team nevertheless. With Pope away with England this represents a chance for young Will Jacks to show he can make the transition to first-class cricket given that we all know how formidable a stroke player he can be.
It remains to be seen whether Surrey can rely on the services of South African greats Morne Morkel and Hashim Amla. If not, Tom Curran, Reece Topley and Scott Borthwick are worthy enough replacements. Amar Virdi is an excellent attacking spinner and should give opposition batsmen something to think about coming into the fourth day.
Can Surrey win the 2020 County Championship?
The recent addition of Ravi Bopara has given Sussex a real boost to their batting lineup and leadership qualities. Bopara is a brilliant player across all three formats and the veteran of over 100 ODI’s will add valuable influence for youngsters such as Phil Salt, Harry Finch and the precocious Delray Rawlins.
Jofra Archer is very unlikely to be available whilst on England duty but Chris Jordan may be free from ODI responsibilities for long enough to bolster Sussex’s lower order and bowling stocks.
The Bob Willis Trophy!
All in all, it is exciting to see domestic cricket back on the calendar in any shape or form. This season is very difficult to predict due to the unexpected nature of the circumstances involved but one thing is for sure, it will be a relief to many involved! Up to 2,500 fans will be allowed to attend the games in the Bob Willis Trophy says the ECB. The 2020 County Championship, although a shortened tournament, promises to be a good one.
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