At last it is here!
The 2020 county cricket season has been a long time coming but on Saturday, it starts.
For the Bob Willis Trophy, counties have been split into three groups; and the two group winners with the most points will qualify for the final, to be played at the beginning of October.
Warwickshire and Northants start their first Central Group match on Saturday at Edgbaston. Sadly, changes to lockdown rules mean that plans for up to 2500 spectators to be allowed in on each of the first two days have had to be abandoned.
There will be no repeat of the feelings of joy that everyone had at being able to watch live cricket again on Tuesday, when 800 spectators watched the Warwickshire v Worcestershire warm up game. As for the players, at least they will be able to take the field. Warwickshire Sport Director Paul Farbrace has said, during the lockdown period, players have realised just how much they love the game of cricket.
At least the match, like others in the competition, will be live-streamed via county websites.
Without wishing to pour further cold water on proceedings, it has to be said that neither Warwickshire nor Northamptonshire will be amongst the favourites to finish in the top two across the groups and thus qualify for the final.
Warwickshire struggled last year to retain their top flight status in the County Championship. Only the ineptitude of Notts saved them. To be fair, the Bears suffered a horrendous run of injuries to their pace bowlers that left them scrambling around for bargain basement loan players. Now, according to bowling coach “Pop” Welch, everyone is fit and “we have got six, seven, eight seamers who could all play against Northamptonshire.” Hopefully, by Saturday morning, he will know more precisely how many he has and who will make the final team.
The Bears look as though they will have to get used to seeing little of Dom Sibley now that he is established in the England team. Rob Yates is lined up to partner new captain Will Rhodes at the top of the order.
There is a bonus in the form of the return of a fully fit Ian Bell, who missed the whole of last season through injury. If he can continue the form he has shown in the warm up games, that should provide a real treat for the on-screen spectators. They will also have a chance to see two great stalwarts for the Club, Jeetan Patel and Tim Ambrose, both of whom are retiring at the end of the season.
Northants, promoted from Division Two of the Championship last year, may well regard the Bob Willis Trophy as an opportunity to test out their squad in advance of next year’s return (hopefully) to Championship cricket. Head coach David Ripley says: “We want to be competitive but we’re definitely viewing it as a squad competition.”
Captain Adam Rossington has a fair amount of batting at his disposal, especially with the return to fitness of South African born opening batsman Ricardo Visconcelos.
The bowling is now being overseen by ex-Gloucestershire seamer Chris Liddle. It’s in the seam department that they look strongest, with Ben Sanderson and Brett Hutton to the fore. By contrast, Old Mother Hubbard would recognise the state of the Northants spin cupboard, which looks worryingly bare.
That is where Northants are likely to struggle to compete, especially if the home Club decide to produce a pitch giving a little help to Jeetan Patel’s off spin. Rob Keogh’s Championship wickets in 2019 cost him over 60 runs apiece.
For Warwickshire, Jeetan Patel has been the go-to performer for the best part of a decade; the perfect overseas player. But, as he enters the last couple of months of his career, we may as well get used to looking elsewhere for the Bears’ key man.
Last year, ex-Gloucestershire seam bowler Liam Norwell managed only four matches on either side of injury. But he impressed enough to suggest that he has a vital role to play in the bowling attack, if only he can stay fit. Apparently, he recently had a back spasm caused by lifting his recently born child out of the cot, which doesn’t augur too well.
For Northants, Adam Rossington carries the triple responsibilities of captaining the side, keeping wicket and scoring middle order runs. He performed brilliantly in all three respects last year. The Club were bottom of the table when he took over the leadership, and he steered them to promotion whilst scoring almost 800 runs at an average of 46.
Warwickshire will be without their England men, Dom Sibley and Chris Woakes. But as well as the return of Ian Bell, they will be undoubtedly strengthened by the signing of Yorkshire all rounder Tim Bresnan. Add in Patel and Ambrose, and they form the experienced core of the team who can support the development of the younger players such as Henry Brookes and Matt Lamb.
Warwickshire Squad: tbc
Northants, like their opponents, are pretty well free of injury problems. They also have a decent mix of youth and experience in their squad. In addition to Rossington, ex-captain Alex Wakely, last season signing Gareth Berg and all-rounder Luke Procter represent a solid backbone to the team.
Northants Squad: Adam Rossington (c), Nathan Buck, Josh Cobb, Ben Curran, Emilio Gay, Brandon Glover, Rob Keogh, Luke Procter, Ben Sanderson, Charlie Thurston, Ricardo Vasconcelos, Jack White, Saif Zaib
Weather and Conditions
The forecast is for four dry days, though there is a slight threat of rain on the final day.
As for the pitch, groundsman Gary Barwell and his team normally produce a good surface and they certainly have had plenty of time to get it right.
Date: 1-4 August 2020
Time: 11.00 am
Odds (SkyBet): Warwickshire 4/6, Northants 6/5