It is entirely possible that the strongest group, the south, will fail to produce a finalist as two or three teams are neck and neck for the top spot having beaten or drawn with each other.

Bob Willis Trophy Preview

Somerset v Glamorgan, Taunton August 1st to 4th

The Bob Willis Trophy, which starts tomorrow, provides an intriguing twist on the four-day format. The 120 over first innings limit may be an indication of the ECB’s current thinking for the future of the Championship. Given what they have tried to do to our game over the last couple of years this wouldn’t be a surprise. It won’t surprise many readers that I am not a fan of any over limit in red-ball cricket, scarred as I still am by the artificiality of the 3-day 100 over first innings of my childhood. 

The underlying principle of this new, one-off, competition though is very strong, as each team is effectively competing against not just with the teams in its group but with the other group to qualify for the final given the two teams from three groups qualification. This has probably been done because of the shortness of the schedule given the available time, but it adds extra interest from the start of the competition. 

It is entirely possible that the strongest group, the south, will fail to produce a finalist as two or three teams are neck and neck for the top spot having beaten or drawn with each other.

My way of establishing the relative strengths of the groups is as follows: I have calculated the combined value of the place finishes in last season’s Championship. Somerset are ranked 2 (inevitably, again), while Gloucestershire who finished third in division two, 11 and poor old Worcestershire who tumbled from relegation in 2018 to second bottom of division two in 2019 rank 17. The lower the combined rankings of a group the stronger it is on paper.

Aggregating these rankings the three groups are rated

1st        South               44 points;

2nd       Central            59 points;

3rd        North              68 points

Extending the logic set out above you have to make Yorkshire strong favourites to dominate the north group with the relatively easy pickings of relegated Notts, promoted Lancashire, and lower division also-rans last year Durham (5th) Derbyshire (7th) and Leicestershire (10th)  I will be very surprised if any of these three threaten anything, leaving Notts and Lancashire to try to push the White Rose.

The south group for me will be a toss-up between Essex, Surrey and Hampshire. I’m not sold on Essex repeating their form of last season while the other two will I think be stronger than last year. An outside bet might be Jason Gillespie’s Sussex but to expect them to sustain strong performances against (grudgingly) four division one teams (well three and Kent) may be a little too much. 

In the Central group while Somerset are far and away last season’s strongest team Warwickshire, Northants, Gloucestershire and Glamorgan were covered by 6 places in the rankings from 7th in division one to 4th in division two. Jason Kerr will be very disappointed if his side don’t top the group comfortably as you would expect these for to take points off each other.

The key will be winning games and if 2019 is any form guide Somerset, with 9 wins last season are way ahead of the other four with 3,5,5 and 4 wins respectively. Apologies to Worcestershire fans for discounting them but it is a real stretch to see them having any impact.

On the evidence of the Gloucestershire game earlier this week the gulf between the two divisions remains huge so Somerset’s game with Warwickshire at Edgbaston in the middle of August could be pivotal.

Predictions? Group winners; Somerset, Yorkshire, Hampshire, second places; Warwickshire, Notts and Surrey feel free to agree or disagree on the site’s newly launched forum where I’ve posted my full predictions for the three groups and the final

The uncontrollable factors will be the weather and England selections the latter of which will almost certainly significantly impact Somerset in the spin department. Hopefully Lewis and Tom Banton will be back for some of the BWT games which will significantly strengthen the squad in all departments. With the games in such a compressed schedule off the back of a period of inactivity squad depth may be a determining factor. Somerset’s ability to rotate the pace attack is another factor in my optimism.

Having comprehensively beaten the other “G” this week Somerset now turn their attention to Glamorgan . Perennial also rans they picked up significantly last season and were in the hunt for relegation until the end of the season. Their supporters will feel that a fourth placed finish in 2019’s division 2 gives them something to build on and that the BWT is an opportunity to continue their progress.

It is 13 years since the Welsh county visited Taunton for four-day cricket and since that season, when Somerset returned to the top division as champions the fortunes of the two have diverged massively. A repeat of the result in 2007 when Andy Caddick led us to a 299 run victory inside three days would do very nicely. Given the Taunton weather forecast for Monday and Tuesday Somerset may need to complete the job as efficiently as they did back then. 

Selection will be interesting, especially given the four absentees. The pairing of Tom Lammonby and Eddie Byrom at the top of the order indicates to me that this is Jason Kerr’s plan for the Trophy games. He has usually picked his preferred opening pair for the final warm-up (Ireland – 2018, Cardiff MCCU – 2019) allowing Tom Abell to make the No3 position his own this year. The 4,5,6 pick themselves – Hildreth, Bartlett, Davies.

The bowling is the interesting area. With no Jack or Dom Roelof will definitely play and I’d go for him and the twins at 7,8,9. Delightfully all three could, in my view, bat at any of these places so there is real depth to the lower middle order. Josh Davey has to play. He is the unsung star of this side, Mr Reliable, one of those players who just goes about his work, consistently, every day. It must be a joy to be Tom Abell and have such an asset in the side. 

Those of us who were lucky enough to be watching Somerset in the late seventies and early eighties will fondly remember Colin Dredge. The guy who Brian Rose could always turn to and who unfailingly supported Garner and Botham. Dredge, memorably christened the “Demon of Frome” by Anthony Gibson’s late father, Alan, justifiably became a cult hero with the fans. To describe Josh Davey as Colin Dredge Plus does not flatter him in the least, perhaps understates how important a role he plays.

The new “Demon of Frome” ?

With the variety of Lammonby’s left arm seam and the support of Tom Abell the seam attack looks very strong. So, do we need one of Jack Brooks and Nathan Gilchrist or would it be worth picking another all-rounder? For me I suspect they will go with a bowler and it will be Jack Brooks. The depth of seam bowling would allow Somerset to rotate the attack “in game” which, given the compressed nature of this competition is something that any county making a successful run at it will need to do.

Jack Brooks – gets the nod from me

I suspect this may be Somerset’s toughest home game of the group, as I’ve predicted Glamorgan to finish 3rdin the group. They are a bit of an unknown quantity – and their website doesn’t give much away. It appears that they played intra-squad games this week rather than a friendly with another county (as much a geographical thing I suspect). They have some promising home-grown players who will be given a chance and a bunch of seasoned pros who will not be fazed by coming to Taunton.

But, as we saw earlier in the week there is a big gulf between the two divisions and Somerset, weather permitting should win comfortably. But with the forum up and running please feel free to share your thoughts on the likely XI and how the game will turn out.

Whatever happens let’s all be thankful for our health, spare a thought for the carers and those who have fared less well during the last four months and enjoy the cricket.