The Bob Willis Trophy final, to be contested at Lord’s starting on Wednesday, has been given extra validity by the presence of Essex and Somerset. Jason Kerr, Somerset’s first-team coach, sums the situation up neatly: “The best two teams in the country have reached the final. As things stand, Essex are the number one red-ball team and we are number two. It would be great to reverse those standings and that is the aim.”

At the end of last summer there was an unofficial Championship decider at Taunton, ruined by autumnal rain, which ensured Essex could secure the draw they needed to win the title for the second time in three years. This year the forecast is far from perfect but it is better than in 2019 and there are five days set aside for a match that will attract great attention in Chelmsford and Taunton but also among those plotting the domestic schedule for 2021 and beyond. Is an official final to decide the winners of the Championship a good idea? Perhaps we will have a better idea by Sunday evening.

Kerr has seen the forecast too. “I think at this time of year you’re likely to get interruptions for bad light or inclement weather so the volume of cricket played over the five days may very well be similar to that of a four-day game anyway. This is a really exciting opportunity. There are 16 other counties who would love to be there.”

Both sides dominated their regional groups in matches that did not produce vast quantities of runs. Both kept bowling their opponents out rapidly. For Essex the off-spinner Simon Harmer took 34 wickets in five matches, while Jamie Porter collected 18; for Somerset Craig Overton, clearly enhanced by his time in the England bubble, took 28 and Josh Davey 24. Jamie Overton snaffled 15 very quickly but to the dismay of some of the locals he is now a Surrey player, while Dom Bess is heading for Yorkshire.

Essex’s batting looks stronger and certainly more experienced, especially since Somerset’s James Hildreth has been struggling with a hamstring injury recently. Both sides have been dependent on left-handed opening batsmen during their short campaign. Alastair Cook decorates Lord’s once more and he has been Essex’s leading run-scorer. Less familiar and 15 years younger is Tom Lammonby, who has been opening the batting for Somerset, a position he had previously occupied only in club cricket in Exeter. Lammonby played for England Under-19s, batting down the order, but he has hit two centuries this summer as an opener, carrying his bat against Worcestershire in his last outing.

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He exemplifies one of the benefits of delivering some red-ball cricket this season via the Bob Willis Trophy even if no one has been able to watch live. Without this competition Lammonby would be bracketed as another promising youngster. Now he seems almost certain to start the 2021 season as Somerset’s first-choice opening batsman. But first there is this one-off Lord’s final. Victory for Somerset would be very satisfying given their perennial Cinderella role but it would not change the fact they have never won the Championship.

source: theguardian.com

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