Take Two

Bob Willis Trophy Central Group, Northamptonshire v Somerset, Northampton, August 8 – 11 2020

If the second round of the Bob Willis Trophy has can come up with as much excitement as the first round did, we are in for a treat over the next four days. If Somerset can win as well as they did last weekend, with perhaps lest first day nerves, that would do us all nicely.

The competition is at much too early a stage to allow us to draw any firm conclusions about the relative merits of the sides, but last weekend’s games gave us some interesting things to think about for all teams.

Specifically for the Central Group Worcestershire indicated that they may be on the way back up again after two terrible seasons in red ball in 2018 and 2019 while tomorrow’s opponents hinted that their second place in division two 2019 may not have been a one-off. That judgement though is based solely around an amazing last five sessions of the game when Charlie Thurston, Adam Rossington and Luke Proctor’s combined 343 runs from 5, 7 and 8 in the order earned them a draw from a most improbable position on the third day.

But that extraordinary late resistance papered over a vulnerable top order which was 70-5 in the first innings and 148-5 in the second. And all this on a “road” at Edgbaston. So Somerset’s bowlers should have no fears for the power of the opposition’s batting this weekend. Having demonstrated they were easily too much for Glamorgan and with the addition of Lewis Gregory who has escaped from England’s powder blue bio-bubble confidence should be high.

Gregory’s return means that one of the bowlers will have to drop out with, for me Jack Brooks the most likely. Hard to say the least as Brooks contribution last weekend was crucial but tellingly that was with the bat not the ball where the twins and Josh Davey were far more effective.

Jamie Overton, assuming he has not been loaned to Surrey between me writing this and the start of the game, will return to the ground where he spent a brief period on loan last season. A loan period which, reading between the lines, sowed the seeds of his decision not to renew his contract at Taunton. But no one can fault the younger Overton’s commitment last week when he was as hostile as anything on the county circuit.

Lewis’ return would add a different dimension to the Somerset attack and although he, ridiculously, didn’t get a game for England last weekend he should be full of confidence. The ability of Tom Abell to rotate such a powerful attack and build pressure will be something the Northamptonshire batsmen will not have experienced for some time and, in some instances, never. We saw against Glamorgan that division two batsmen have no answer to the questions Craig, Josh and Jamie asked. Throw in Gregory and the conundrum becomes even harder. 

Coming Back – Lewis Gregory is set to return

One plea, in my continuing campaign to get the skipper to bowl more. Tom, use yourself as an option in each session as you have the happy knack of picking up wickets and, if the batsmen think you are just a change bowler and relax they will soon be disabused of that impression and probably back in the pavilion.

The batting selection complicated by Tom Banton’s return may be resolved if George Bartlett has not recovered from being hit on the helmet on Saturday with the number 5 position, which probably suits Tom well in this format at this stage of his career, is available.

Tom Banton, well suited to slot in at 5

If George is fit the likely change would be for Abell to move up to open meaning either Byrom or Lammonby will miss out. Harsh on both of them, especially Lammonby who shaped well in his first game. As far as Byrom is concerned he is at the stage of his career where he needs to regularly build on the 20s he is getting. The talent is there but it needs to convert into weight of runs now.

With Steven Davies, who is in comfortably in the best form of his Somerset career at 6 and Lewis at 7 the batting will be stronger than last week and, you would hope, build something substantial in the first innings.

I’m confident. I suspect the surface at Wantage Road will suit this Somerset side and I’m looking for a three-day win. After two rounds we will be in a much better position to assess this fascinating competition but in the Central Group I expect both Somerset and Worcestershire (who host Glamorgan) to have tow-from-two by Tuesday. Warwickshire will be rueing their missed opportunities last weekend and will know they have to win in Bristol to keep pace. 

Elsewhere wins for Yorkshire at Trent Bridge, Sussex at Canterbury and Essex at Chelmsford seem the most likely positive results.