Bob Willis Trophy: North Group Preview

Updated: Aug 10, 2020

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 three, 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.



Derbyshire


Fixtures


Nottinghamshire (a), Leicestershire (a), Yorkshire (a), Durham (a), Lancashire (a)


Overview


Perennial holders of the wooden spoon Derbyshire finished 7th in Division Two last season. Despite some encouraging performances, promotion back to Division One appeared unlikely. A drab, rain-affected final game at Middlesex in September profoundly summed up both club's championship campaigns. Derbyshire's focus appeared to be primarily on white-ball cricket, in which they reached T20 final's day for the first time.


2020 appears to be another tough proposition. Middlesex loanee batsman Tom Lace topped Derbyshire's 2019 batting averages, and a solid but unspectacular top order of Billy Godleman, Wayne Madsen and Luis Reece will be charged with replacing his runs. Reece was a standout performer with bat and ball. His left-arm seam accounted for 55 opposition batsmen at 19, meaning Derbyshire acquired more bowling points than most of their fellow strugglers.


Key Player


Captain Billy Godleman will hope to steer his team through a difficult season with both his bat and his leadership. The calm, authoritative left-hander has been a solid servant for his county for several years, and a fixture at the top of the order. By leading by example, he can inspire a side with low expectations in red-ball cricket.


Prediction

6th - Derbyshire will not be able to call upon home comforts this season, as their ground is being used as a bio-secure bubble for the England Women's team. This disadvantage suggests a season in which victories will be in short supply.



Durham


Fixtures


Yorkshire (h), Lancashire (h), Leicestershire (a), Derbyshire (h), Nottinghamshire (a)


Overview


After an enforced relegation, points deductions and an exodus of home-grown talent in recent years, Durham supporters can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. 2019 did not see a sustained promotion push, but a nucleus of an impressive squad is forming.


Chris Rushworth, the new ball and overcast conditions are a match made in heaven. Backed up by Ben Raine, Durham have a seam attack that keeps them competitive in every encounter. Where they may struggle is top-order runs. Australian Cameron Bancroft topped Durham's batting averages in 2019, and his absence will be keenly felt. New club captain Ned Eckersley performed commendably with bat and 'keeper's gloves. A repeat of his 2019 batting average of 40 will be essential.


Key Player


Brydon Carse has pushed himself onto England's radar after impressive performances with the Lions this winter. His quick action and extra pace stands out in a first-class competition dominated by medium pace. A summer full of wickets and hostile spells could push Carse ever closer to England selection.


Prediction


4th - Durham's impressive stock of seamers will prove hazardous for opposition batsman. If they grind out enough first innings runs, Durham could be the surprise package of the summer.




Lancashire


Fixtures


Leicestershire (n), Durham (a), Nottinghamshire (h), Yorkshire (a),

Derbyshire (h)


Overview


The Red Rose county enjoyed a superb 2019 season. Promotion from a competitive second division was secured decisively and convincingly. Had it not been for two rain-affected draws, the title would have been decided by August. An outstanding bowling attack of Anderson, Onions and Bailey, was supplemented by exciting seamer Saqib Mahmood and leg spinner Matt Parkinson. With the bat, Dane Villas was a revelation, scoring over a thousand runs at 79.66.


Lancashire will be without several members of 2019's successful team due to England commitments. Replacing the wickets of Anderson and Mahmood, in particular, will be difficult. But in a shortened season, they should have enough quality to cope. Expect England opener Keaton Jennings and 'keeper-batsman Alex Davies to score heavily at the top of the order.


Key Player


Graham Onions is a great of county cricket. Approaching 200 first-class games, the seamer's continued excellence was essential in Lancashire's promotion in 2019. With the absence of Anderson and Mahmood for the majority of the county season, Onion's nagging accuracy will once again provide the spearhead for Lancashire's bowling attack.


Prediction


1st – Despite the loss of players to England, Lancashire have the confidence, momentum and talent to claim a place in the Lord's final. The match with their rivals across the Pennines will be decisive.




Leicestershire


Fixtures


Lancashire (n), Derbyshire (h), Durham (h), Nottinghamshire (h), Yorkshire (a)


Overview


Leicestershire are a club whose very future seems to be constantly questioned. Financial restrictions, low crowds and a team rooted to the bottom of Division Two result in some critics questioning their worth as a first-class county. 2019 was another underwhelming season with the red ball, a single victory leaving them rooted to the bottom of the table while a rare win at Lord's was scuppered by rain.


But this is a club brimming with resilience and strong characters. Head coach Paul Nixon has brought his characteristic enthusiasm and hard graft to a squad that can only improve. Colin Ackermann is now club captain and will hope to spur on a team containing the emerging talent of spinner Callum Parkinson, alongside young batsmen Harry Swindells and Harry Dearden. Veteran seamer Chris Wright will once again be required to perform the bulk of the work for an inconsistent bowling unit.


Key Player


Leicestershire are a county more than capable of producing players for the national team, and the next may well be Hassan Azad. He averaged 54 in 2019, and his patience, shot selection and occupation of the crease are an invaluable asset to his team. His performances prove the fundamentals of opening the batting are still based around discipline, and not speculative drives through the covers. Azad will want to push on once again this summer.


Prediction


5th - Faced with a very tough group, Leicestershire will be delighted to win two of their five games. It may well be that coach Paul Nixon is more interested in fostering a positive attitude and style of play this season. If they do that, no matter the results, it is a step in the right direction.




Nottinghamshire

Fixtures

Derbyshire (h), Yorkshire (h), Lancashire (a), Leicestershire (a), Durham (h)

Overview

Notts had an appalling 2019 season, and on paper, it is hard to understand why. They failed to win any of their 14 games, losing ten. But delve a little deeper, and it becomes clearer. Joe Clarke, Ben Duckett, and Ben Slater were all signed from neighbouring counties, and this melting pot of highly-rated batsmen failed to perform. Joe Clarke found himself embroiled in the Alex Hepburn court case, resulting in a season that descended rapidly from encouraging to terrible. Yet despite that, he averaged more than every other front-line batsman. All-rounder Samit Patel found no form and was eventually loaned to Glamorgan. This vacuum of experience was further compounded with Alex Hales and Harry Gurney electing to play only white-ball cricket. Relegation was a certainty by the middle of the season.

So where do Notts go from here? After having a year to bed in under the tutelage of Peter Moores, it is hard to believe the talented crop of top-order batsman will fail again. Yet another opener, Haseeb Hameed, has been signed from Lancashire, along with Somerset icon Peter Trego. Luke Fletcher will be desperate for more support in the bowling department. One-time England seamer Jake Ball averaged over 50 in 2019, this must surely improve. Captain Steven Mullaney’s role is more important than ever, he needs to inspire a talented squad and dispel the disappointment of 2019.

Key Player

Ben Duckett was the hot young prospect of English cricket in 2016. He was consequently parachuted into the England team for a tour of India and understandably struggled. After leaving Northamptonshire for Trent Bridge, his form has continued to decline. He is still in the England selector’s thoughts, and an improved commitment to fitness will help his cause no end. Expect big things from the attacking left-hander this summer.

Prediction

3rd- Nottinghamshire’s squad looks a little top-heavy. Too many top-order batsmen will need to be squeezed into a side that needs reinforcements in the bowling department. But if Clarke, Duckett and company find form, no bowling attack in the country will be able to contain them.




Yorkshire


Fixtures


Durham (a), Nottinghamshire (a), Derbyshire (h), Lancashire (h), Leicestershire (h)


Overview


Yorkshire experienced a 2019 season that neither excited the locals with a title challenge or angered them with a relegation dog-fight. The five centuries from the bat of Gary Ballance ensured the white-rose county would be well clear of the bottom of the table, but an under-par performance from the majority of an experienced squad prevented a run of victories.


Left-arm, South African spinner Keshav Maharaj will be prevented from rejoining Yorkshire this summer due to travel restrictions. This could prove terminal to the county's title challenge, as he was their most dangerous bowler in 2019. What cannot be understated is the undoubted international pedigree captain Steven Patterson has at his disposal in an impressive squad. Ex-England Test batsman Gary Ballance and Adam Lyth are joined by David Malan from Middlesex, in what looks a formidable top-order. South African pace-merchant Duane Olivier will be hoping to improve on a tentative first season in English cricket.


Key Player


The lack of an overseas spinner and departure of reliable all-rounder Tim Bresnan will place even greater responsibility on Ben Coad. Regarded as too slow for an England call up, the accurate seamer has been a scourge of county batsman for the past five seasons. Coad will want to improve on a solid 2019 bowling average of 25 and drive his team towards the top of the group.


Prediction


2nd - Yorkshire has a side packed full of unquestionable class and experience. Their penultimate game at home to Lancashire may be the pivotal fixture in a tense title fight.

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