Both Essex and Somerset dropped out of the T20 Blast Group stage on Sunday, but both are currently in the 90s when it comes to red ball points and chasing a one-off, Bob Willis style hundred at the Home of Cricket to seal the inaugural trophy this week.
The two vastly superior red ball sides of recent years do battle once again in the final match of the County season, though of course this has not been any ordinary season.
Though a massively disappointing year, in that fans have not been able to enjoy matches live from the grounds and Sky cricket are still not at Lords this week, this five day finale still gives the two counties and all those related to Bob Willis, the recognition he and they deserve.
It is worth delaying further talk on the two sides to briefly, but crucially, acknowledge the work Lauren Clark, Bob’s widow, has done with Prostate Cancer UK to raise vital funds and to encourage men at any risk of prostate cancer to visit their GP.
One in eight men in the UK are affected by it, and it is truly quite fabulous that the ECB have teamed up with the charity to cover the empty Lords with their branding and give regular encouragements to text ‘Bob’ to 7004 to give £10 to this very important cause.
Bob would have particularly enjoyed watching Somerset’s fine pace attack, who have accrued 94 wickets this season. After the controversy surrounding Somerset’s spin-friendly pitch, dubbed ‘Ciderabad’ in recent years, they were docked 24 points (12 suspended for two years), but home spin has taken just one red ball wicket at the Cooper Associates County Ground this year.
Last season’s finale saw the counties’ two best spinners Jack Leach and Simon Harmer thrive, but this one will more likely be defined by Davey, Overton et al vs Porter, Cook et al.
Craig Overton has 28 wickets at 10.71 in the competition, having seen his twin brother leave for Surrey in recent weeks. Scot Josh Davey has 24 at 10.12.
Sam Cook has 12 at 15.5, with Jamie Porter taking 21 at 18.81, Harmer inevitably is Essex’s top wicket-taker with 34 at 13.71.
Throw Aaron Beard and the evergreen (though now very part-time) golden arm of Ryan ten Doeschate into the mix, and face them off with Jack Brooks and Lewis Gregory, and you have seam attacks even the late Bob Willis would be hard-pushed to criticise.
One crucial side note; in the event of a drawn final, the county that leads on first Innings will be deemed the winner, as long as there are two fully-completed first innings. If that doesn’t happen – well, they’ll ensure it happens with a two-day dry weekend and two gun bowling attacks).
It might seem totally daft to ignore the leading wicket-taker of recent years in County Cricket for Essex’s key man, but the seam bowlers will be most crucial in this fixture. So I’m going to ignore them as well, for Essex have a Knight in their ranks.
Sir Alastair Nathan Cook won the title, grinding out a draw for Essex in the quite frankly bonkers finale at Taunton last September. Yes it is a team game, but when Somerset were whittling through the suddenly nervy Essex line-up at ease, one man stood firm. In an actioned-packed final afternoon (dry at least above ground, after days of rain), Cook scored 53* and 30* when Essex were 141 AO and 45-1 with Somerset’s three twirlers ripping through them.
He might be getting on a bit on the age front, but this man supposedly never sweats, and his calm, experienced presence at the top of the order, plus the fact that he has scored more test runs for England than anyone else, means even a Somerset attack in the form of their lives will have a tinge of worry bowling to him.
As with Essex really, and as the clichés go, it really has been a team effort from Somerset this year. But red ball skipper (and white ball whilst Lewis Gregory was in England’s bubble) Tom Abell has seriously ‘lead from the front’- to use another great cricketing cliché. Officially the club’s second-best fielder in the club, after Max Waller pipped him in Steve Snell’s fielding masterclass on YouTube (and Waller doesn’t play red ball anyway), he leads by example in every aspect of the game.
Although averaging less with the bat than Tom Lammonby, Steve Davies and George Bartlett in the Bob Willis Trophy, 352 runs sees him lead the red ball run scoring charts for his county. What can only be seen as further proof as to how well those before him have bowled, is that he has only bowled himself 14.2 overs in the five games so far. Three wickets at 13.33 does not say much, but we all saw how vastly improved Abell was with the ball last season.
Although, remarkably, Essex scored fewer batting points than any side in the top three of the three groups (6), they have, on paper, one of the best batting sides in the country – and far more experience than a Hildreth-less Somerset. They will likely see off Somerset’s openers better than the five sides Somerset have played this year – only Worcestershire managed to once reach 200 against Somerset – and thus require further bowling from Abell.
James Hildreth is still out with the hamstring injury he sustained being run out in the T20 Blast last month. Tom Banton has opted to travel out to the UAE to represent Kolkata Night Riders in the IPL before this game, and of course Dom Bess and Jamie Overton have left the club.
Somerset squad: Tom Abell (c), George Bartlett, Dom Bess, Jack Brooks, Eddie Byrom, Josh Davey, Steve Davies (wk), Ben Green, Lewis Gregory, Tom Lammonby, Jack Leach, Craig Overton, Roelof van der Merwe
Essex have question marks over Nick Browne and Adam Wheater, who have both missed recent matches, though the latter is seemingly much more likely to play than the former. Varun Chopra is a more than adequate replacement who would probably walk straight into Somerset’s top six but he did not even make the 13.
Ben Allison would be expected to be left out, but the other final person to be ommitted could be a tough call. If Browne is fit, he’d have to play, possibly over Khushi.
Essex squad: Alastair Cook, Paul Walter, Tom Westley (c), Dan Lawrence, Ryan ten Doeschate, Feroze Khushi, Adam Wheater (wk), Simon Harmer, Jamie Porter, Sam Cook, Aaron Beard, Ben Allison, Nick Browne
Weather and Conditions
Inescapably, as it seems when these two do battle in a decider, there is rain forecast at Lord’s all of Wednesday-Friday. Although it is forecast to be getting better as the week goes on. Perhaps all of the cricketing world could be off work, ready to watch some kind of YouTube stream for a weekend decider. Good job they have extended this match to five days, even with the quality wicket-takers dominating the batsmen in both line-ups.
Date: 23rd-27th Sep (yes 5 days!)
Odds (SkyBet): Somerset 1/1, Essex 4/5