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Bob Willis Trophy – Final Preview

 

Essex and Somerset proved their worth last season as the two best red-ball sides in domestic cricket – now they compete again for the inaugural Bob Willis Trophy. Dan Atherton breaks down the final in a data-driven preview.

By: Dan Atherton

2020 has been a year unlike any other – a constant series of firsts, as the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. The story is no different for cricket, as it has learnt to deal and work around the changing nature of international events. As a result, we now know what a bio-secure series looks like. Whilst all of that is true – for some, it is somewhat reassuring to know that every now and then, 2020 can play out like any other 12 months in recent memory. When it comes to English cricket for example, Essex and Somerset are set to feature in a five-day final at Lord’s this week. It is a familiar scene; these were the top two sides in the 2019 County Championship, and both are heavyweights of the English first-class game over the last four to five years.

So the inaugural final of the Bob Willis (BW) Trophy is set to be a re-run of the 2019 County Championship Division One finale; a game in Taunton which ended as a draw, with the visitors Essex lifting the title for the second time in only three seasons.

County Championship & Bob Willis Trophy Since 2017

TeamDefeatsDivision 1 Since 2017?
Essex5Yes
Somerset11Yes
Kent11No
Lancashire11No
Gloucestershire13No
Hampshire13Yes
Surrey13Yes
Yorkshire14Yes
Middlesex15No
Northamptonshire15No
Sussex18No
Warwickshire18No
Durham20No
Derbyshire21No
Worcestershire21No
Glamorgan22No
Nottinghamshire22No
Leicestershire24No

Few will be surprised that it’s Essex and Somerset who have made the final of the Bob Willis (BW) Trophy; no team has lost fewer games than these sides in the County Championship/BW Trophy since the start of 2017. Moreover, these two outfits have been ever-presents in Division One during that stretch.

Essex have only tasted defeat five times across that period and head into this encounter with Somerset having put together an 18-match unbeaten streak in league format first-class matches (winning a remarkable 13 of them). They’ve been a model of consistency in recent times and it in large part can be credited to two men – Simon Harmer and Jamie Porter.

Simon Harmer and Jamie Porter have been in scintillating form for Essex

False Shots Forced - County Championship & BW Trophy Since 2017

BowlerTeamFalse Shots Forced
Chris RushworthDurham1,574
Ben SandersonNorthamptonshire1,459
Jamie PorterEssex1,426
Simon HarmerEssex1,338
Ollie RobinsonSussex1,232

Only two bowlers have forced opposing batsmen into more false shots than Essex duo, Jamie Porter (1,426) and Simon Harmer (1,338) over the last four seasons in English domestic cricket. It is little surprise that Essex’s rapid rise coincided with the addition of Jamie Porter who solidified his place in the starting XI in 2015 and subsequently helped Essex record promotion to the top-flight the following season. Simon Harmer was drafted in as an all-rounder from South Africa ahead of that Division One campaign in 2017. A hallmark of his bowling has been the fact that no spinner (200+ overs) across those seasons has pitched the ball on a good length more consistently than Harmer (90.1%).

Bowling Figures - County Championship & BW Trophy Since 2017

BowlerTeamOversWicketsAverage
Simon HarmerEssex1848.524619.4
Jamie PorterEssex1356.420221.4
Chris RushworthDurham1413.519221.1
Darren StevensKent1303.218517.8
Kyle AbbottHampshire1126.518218.6

Armed with that knowledge, it’ll come as little surprise that the two Essex boys have recorded more wickets across the County Championship and Bob Willis Trophy since 2017 than anyone else. In fact, they are the only men to reach 200 scalps during that period of games (Harmer 246 & Porter 202).

County Championship Titles

TeamFirst AppearanceTitles
Yorkshire189032 (+1 shared)
Surrey189019 (+1 shared)
Middlesex189011 (+2 shared)
Lancashire18908 (+1 shared)
Essex18958
Warwickshire18957
Kent18906 (+1 shared)
Nottinghamshire18906
Worcestershire18995
Durham19923
Glamorgan19213
Leicestershire18953
Sussex18903
Hampshire18952
Derbyshire18951
Gloucestershire18900
Northamptonshire19050
Somerset18910

If Essex are a case study in repeated success over a very recent period – you could make the argument that Somerset are the complete opposite. They are one of only three sides yet to win a County Championship title (along with Gloucestershire and Northamptonshire) but despite this, they have repeatedly come close to breaking their duck in recent years. Heading into this summer, Somerset had finished as runners-up in three of the previous four campaigns. Whilst the County Championship has been a source of bitter disappointment of late, the Bob Willis Trophy is a different competition and they’ll be hoping for a different outcome as a result.

If a different outcome is what’s required, why not try a different method? Somerset have long been associated with spin bowling – they’ve had incredible spin depth in their ranks, not to mention the fact they play half of their games at the spin-friendly Taunton. This season however, just one of the 95 wickets taken in the Bob Willis Trophy by Somerset bowlers has been from spin – quite incredible when we consider that the share was 25% in the 2019 County Championship campaign.

It’s hard to say this is anything other than a result of circumstance; Dom Bess and Jack Leach have been away on international duty throughout the summer. Craig Overton and Josh Davey have stepped up in their absence, claiming 28 wickets @ 10.7 and 24 wickets @ 10.1 respectively. It could work out as a useful process as Lord’s is hardly known for its spin credentials. Becoming less reliant on spin, may well turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Somerset heading into this contest with Essex at the Home of Cricket.

Somerset have been without spin duo Dom Bess and Jack Leach for the majority of the season.

Ultimately the game hinges on which side can better-handle the opposing bowling attack – neither of these sides have been able to post huge innings totals this season. It has been all about their bowlers to this point.

Bob Willis Trophy 2020 - Batting Averages

BatsmanTeamInningsAverage
Ben FoakesSurrey475.7
Heino KuhnKent467.3
Dawid MalanYorkshire566.4
Steven CroftLancashire566.3
Jordan CoxKent664.8
Ben SlaterMultiple760.7
Ben DuckettNottinghamshire856.3
Jake LibbyWorcestershire955.3
Colin AckermannLeicestershire954.1
Tim BresnanWarwickshire653.5
Will RhodesWarwickshire952.9
Brett D'OliveiraWorcestershire852.4
Adam WheaterEssex750.2
Luke ProcterNorthamptonshire650
*4+ Innings Played

Despite being the two best sides among the 18 counties this summer in the red ball game; Essex and Somerset have only produced one batsman with an average of 50 or more between them in the Bob Willis Trophy (Adam Wheater), despite a total of 14 players reaching that mark. One man who has plenty of experience at Lord’s is England’s all-time leading Test run-scorer, Alastair Cook, who is set to open the batting for Tom Westley’s side. ‘Chef’ has logged four more Test half-centuries at Lord’s than anybody else in the format (16) and comes into this meeting having averaged an impressive 67 across his eight first-class knocks versus Somerset since 2017; the best rate of any man in that period to log five or more innings against them.

Somerset will be without batting prodigy Tom Banton (IPL) and Babar Azam who has returned to Pakistan for this five-day showpiece event. What’s more, they are set to be without experienced campaigner, James Hildreth at Lord’s, who is nursing an injury.

Hildreth - First-Class Batting By Venue (6+ Innings)

VenueInningsRunsAverage
Lord's Cricket Ground, St John's Wood943954.9
Trent Bridge, Nottingham1989149.5
County Ground, Taunton208896646.5
County Ground, Chelmsford830343.3
County Ground, Hove621342.6

Although he has struggled this season, Hildreth would be a huge loss – if indeed he is unable to feature for Somerset; he has a superb record at Lord’s with the bat. The Somerset county legend has averaged 55 there in first-class cricket – the best rate of any venue he’s logged six or more knocks at.

Somerset have to put aside any psychological blocks and focus on the fact that this is a different competition to the County Championship – easier said than done when you consider the success their upcoming opponents have had. Essex will be confident, not solely because they have managed to sustain their place at the helm of domestic red ball cricket but also because they have a solid record versus Somerset. They have only suffered one defeat against them in their last six first-class fixtures against them, winning three times in that run of games (D2). Nobody can say these sides have no business appearing in the final – their credentials are there for all to see, and we’re set for a game between two excellent county sides.


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