Bob Willis Trophy: Central Group Preview

The Bob Willis Trophy is a special, one-off first-class competition beginning on Saturday 1st of August. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a shortened competition based on six-team regional groups rather than two divisions was decided upon by the counties. Each team will play five games over the remainder of the summer, culminating in a five-day final at Lord’s between the two highest-scoring counties. Local derbies and the tantalising prospect for every county having the chance to be crowned champions will give a competitive boost to this new tournament.

Glamorgan


Fixtures


Somerset (a), Worcestershire (a), Gloucestershire (h), Northamptonshire (a), Warwickshire (h)


Overview

Glamorgan’s season may be dominated by who is not playing, rather than who is. Their surprise promotion push was largely due to the runs of Marnus Labuschagne. Beginning the season on the fringes of the Australian team, his county form saw him called up for the Ashes squad. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Welsh county simply will not be able to replace his 1114 runs from within a limited squad. Billy Root has proved a talent in the middle order, but resources with the bat are stretched to breaking point. Batsman David Lloyd, who was ever-present in 2019, suffered an injury during a warmup match and will miss the start of the season. There is even less cause for optimism with the ball. 38-year old seamer Michael Hogan was a star with the ball, taking 46 wickets at 21. But no other bowler averaged under 36. If Hogan suffers an injury, Glamorgan’s bowling attack could prove to be toothless.

Key Player


In recent seasons, Glamorgan has identified the need to field more Welsh-born players to strengthen the club’s identity and reach out to an at times indifferent local fanbase. Kiran Carlson has become a focal point of this policy. His classy 111 in April against Northamptonshire raised expectations, but injury and lack of form led to just two more Championship appearances. Glamorgan needs Carlson to be a success, as fortunes both on and off the field will rely on a Welsh core to prosper.


Prediction


6th - Glamorgan are a team that relies more than most upon overseas imports. Without that option, expect a difficult season for the Welsh side.

Gloucestershire


Fixtures


Worcestershire (h), Warwickshire (h), Glamorgan (a), Somerset (a), Northamptonshire (h)


Overview

Gloucestershire enjoyed an excellent 2019 season, gaining promotion and playing some exhilarating cricket along the way. Fans of the club will be optimistic an exciting crop of young players can bring silverware to the county in their 150th season. One fly in the ointment may be their unusually bad record at their home venue of Bristol. The last 26 games at Bristol has produced just three home victories. They failed to win any of their four championship matches there in 2019, relying on their out ground at Cheltenham and victories on the road to boost their promotion push. Three of their five games are at their Bristol base this summer, and a chance to amend this strange record will be extra motivation for a hungry squad.


The all-round excellence of Ryan Higgins anchored Gloucestershire’s efforts with both at and ball. Captain Chris Dent ground out over 1,000 runs in 2019 and will once again play the anchor role this summer. Young wicketkeeper James Bracey emerged as an exciting prospect and has already been selected amongst the reserves for England’s Test squad. How much his county see of him may determine their success.


Key Player


Since leaving Middlesex in 2017, Ryan Higgins’ career has gone from strength to strength. The all-rounder averaged a superb 60 with the bat and 23 with the ball in a 2019 season packed full of match-winning performances. It is hard to envisage Gloucestershire gaining promotion without his immense contributions. But in a youthful and positive changing room, the club will be backing Higgins to be their game-changer once again.


Prediction


3rd - Gloucestershire can hope to build on an impressive 2019 with their young and dynamic squad. Lack of an experienced spinner and over-reliance on Higgins may check their title aspirations.


Somerset by @d_ktalkballs


Fixtures


Glamorgan (h), Northamptonshire (a), Warwickshire (a), Gloucestershire (h), Worcestershire (a)

Overview

The season begins at home to Glamorgan in the Bob Willis Trophy, a quickly adapted competition to suit the condensed nature of the county season. Somerset are one of the finest counties right now and will rightly fancy their chances.

I was at Lord's last summer to watch the Cidermen comfortably beat Hampshire in the RLODC Final and it was a clinical performance. A conveyor belt of youth talent which has already been recognised (or soon will be) on the international stage includes Bess, Banton and the Overton twins; further, Leach and Gregory are also in the England reckoning so may miss several of Somerset's fixtures this season. This fact may well hamper Somerset's year, but the evergreen van der Merwe will lead the charge in the absence of any England stars. I expect Somerset to do well and push for honours on all fronts.

Key Player


2019 was once again a case of so near yet so far for the West country county. Their search for an elusive first title may have ended if Somerset possessed a more ruthless batting line-up. Captain Tom Abell topped the 2019 batting averages with a meagre 31.50, a figure that must improve when considering his talent.

Prediction

1st - Despite the potential absence of Leach and Bess, Somerset has the bowling attack to secure another trip to Lord's. If captain Abell and others can improve with the bat, they may well be champions.


Northamptonshire


Fixtures

Warwickshire (a), Somerset (h), Worcestershire (h), Glamorgan (h), Gloucestershire (a)

Overview

Unfancied Northamptonshire have made a point of sticking it to their critics in recent years. Accusations of poor squad discipline and fitness, plus an over-reliance on Kolpak players did not stop the county gaining promotion to Division One in 2019. The key moment came when wicketkeeper Adam Rossington was appointed captain. Along with his 787 runs at 46, his calm and assured leadership galvanised a team greater than the sum of its parts.

Northants were allegedly one of the least supportive counties of a four-day competition, favouring a 50-over tournament instead. That should not affect a motivated team keen to remain in Division One in the 2021 season. A small squad will be tested due to the lack of an overseas player, and lack of an experienced spinner may be problematic on late-summer pitches.

Key Player

Seamer Ben Sanderson enjoyed a superb 2019 season. His 60 wickets at 19 were pivotal in Northants’ promotion charge. He bowled 448 economical overs, while his fellow seamers contributed under 250. If Sanderson can continue this form, Northants will be competitive. If his form dips, it is difficult to see who can take on the burden of so many overs.

Prediction


4th – Northants rely heavily on captain Rossington and Sanderson to produce victories. These key men must be supported by a squad full of misfits and Kolpaks. But do not write off a team that so regularly defy expectations.

Warwickshire

Fixtures


Northamptonshire (h), Gloucestershire (a), Somerset (h), Worcestershire (a), Glamorgan (a)

Overview

It would be a fitting tribute to Bob Willis if Warwickshire reaches the Lord’s final. Willis spent the majority of his career at Edgbaston, and his old county will be desperate to challenge for the title in his honour. However, a seventh-place finish in 2019 was a disappointment for such an ambitious county. Veteran spinner Jeetan Patel was once again magnificent, picking up 64 wickets. 2020 appears to be his last as a player before moving on to a coaching role.


2019’s Leading run-scorer Dom Sibley is now a permanent fixture at the top of England’s line-up, and his contribution will be near impossible to replace. But what the Bears do possess are two of county crickets’ best players; Sam Hain and Olly Stone. Both are determined to break into the England test team, and an impressive showing in 2020 may get them on the high-profile India and Australia tours in the next 18 months. Stone, in particular, will be keen to prove he is one of the fastest bowlers on the country circuit. His partnership with new recruit Tim Bresnan and reliable seamer Hannon-Dolby will be essential in a push for the title.


Key Player


Ian Bell missed the entirety of the 2019 season due to a knee injury. The stylish right-hander’s runs and experience will be essential for Warwickshire to succeed this summer. Bell has signed a contract extending his Edgbaston stay to the end of the 2021 season, and with retirement potentially looming, the ex-England man will want to go out on a high.


Prediction


2nd - If 40-year old Patel can produce one last season of magic, whilst Hain and Bell pile on the runs, Warwickshire can be a force to be reckoned with.

Worcestershire

Fixtures

Gloucestershire (a), Glamorgan (h), Northamptonshire (a), Warwickshire (h), Somerset (h)

Overview

Worcestershire endured a disappointing red-ball campaign in 2019, finishing 9th in the second division. They underperformed in all departments, especially with the bat. Not a single batsman scored more than 600 runs and consequentially lost 7 of their 14 Championship games. A run to the final of the T20 final papered over the cracks of a season the New Road club will hope to forget.

It is difficult to see an upturn in their fortunes this summer. One significant signing has been made, with Jake Libby brought in from Notts to bolster the ailing batting line-up. But with a career average of 27, it is unrealistic to foresee a significant improvement in the short term. The veteran opener Daryl Mitchell will want to improve on a 2019 average of 22. Worcestershire’s strength lies in their bowling. Lead by captain Leach, and ably supported by Ed Barnard and Chris Morris, these three seamers can trouble any side.

Key Player


Wicketkeeper-batsman Ben Cox will be essential in improving his sides batting displays. His attacking mentality and dynamic strokeplay can revitalise a struggling side. Now in his late twenties, Cox is reaching the peak of his powers. With the gloves, he is often praised by pundits as one of the best ‘keepers in the country.


Prediction

5th – An impressive seam attack will not be enough to cover for a misfiring batting line-up. It would be a big surprise if Worcestershire competed at the top of the group.

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