Bob Willis Trophy talking points: a welcome return for county cricket

Bob Willis Trophy talking points: a welcome return for county cricket

Ball one: Hampshire’s bowlers shrivel as Salt gets among them

Making a decent fist of it at the top of the England order are a couple of what you might call “Him again?” players. Rory Burns and Dominic Sibley built their cases for Test cricket by being there or thereabouts in the county game for a few years. Though not exactly swivel-pulling their first balls in Test cricket for four, both now look set for a decent run in the side.

Two cricketers who fall into the “Him again?” category delivered the first victory in the Bob Willis Trophy, Sussex getting home in less than three days at Hove. Phil Salt, who plays white-ball cricket all over the world and red ball-cricket in England with no diminution in facility, made 68 and 80, the two highest scores in the match, comprising more than 22% of the runs scored off the bat. Ollie Robinson’s 34.1-12-65-8 did the job with the ball, as Hampshire were dismissed twice for 150 or so.

Both men were called up for England’s extended early season training squad, but were released back to Sussex. If they continue to get mentions in dispatches, they should make sure their phones are on over the next few weeks – they might be the next “Him again?” selections.

Ball two: Essex have more than one way to win

Essex’s victory over Kent told us something that we all knew – no county wins more matches from dicey positions than the Chelmsford Massive. After Heino Kuhn’s 140 and a couple of wickets for Darren Stevens, senior pro Ryan ten Doeschate found himself at the crease with half his side back in the pavilion, 243 runs in arrears. With a bit of help from Adam Wheater and Simon Harmer, he kept the first innings deficit below 100 – and you can imagine the talk in this “winningest” of dressing rooms. Cue Jamie Porter and Sam Cook to knock the top off the Kent innings and Simon Harmer to clear up the tail – 202 required.

Alastair Cook was looking for a partner and found one in debutant Feroze Khushi, another local lad, but they were both gone when Wheater had only No 10, Sam Cook, for company with 31 still to get. They got them – of course, they got them.

Ball three: Samit hits the sweet spot, but result is a bitter pill

In common with most of his Nottinghamshire teammates, Samit Patel endured a miserable 2019, his form only returning with some late-season runs and wickets while he was on loan at Glamorgan. I can only imagine his reaction when his captain, Steve Mullaney, welcomed him home with the words, “Sam – you’re doing eight” – with 26 first class hundreds under his capacious belt, that’s enough to make anyone choke on their Mars Bar. But Patel “did a Stuart Broad” and channelled any feeling of rejection into motivation; quickfire knocks of 63 and 80 were just what the side needed when their fragile confidence might have led to two under-par innings totals.

But if Notts (the reverse Essex) learned anything during their nightmare 2019 season, it’s how to lose matches and Derbyshire fashioned their biggest ever run chase to get up to 365 with a ball to spare, Fynn Hudson-Prentice the hero with an undefeated 91. But, oh Nottinghamshire.

Ball four: Ackermann backs his men and delivers the win

With just five matches to play and the two top points-scorers among group winners to progress to the final, victories matter more than ever this summer. We should see some positive cricket and that’s what long-suffering Leicestershire fans got from their captain.

Lancashire’s XI were as green as any who have turned out for the Red Rose, but they had clawed their way to a second innings total of 236 off 109 overs, leaving just 15 for Colin Ackermann’s men to muster the 150 runs needed for the win. The skipper led from the front with 73 off 41 (no white-ball cricket restrictions remember) supported by 25 off 23 from first-innings centurion Ben Slater and a 33 off 18 blitz from Harry Dearden. Let’s hope that attitude is a sign of things to come.

Ball five: Middlesex cash in as Surrey’s batting fades away

The London derby started with disappointment for Surrey fans who had their spam sandwiches already packed before the government pulled the plug on crowds at sports events. It finished in disappointment too, a lame surrender of the last five wickets for four runs in seven overs sending the spoils across the Thames. Sure Surrey were under-strength, but seven visiting bowlers took wickets to ensure that Nick Gubbins’ 192 and 60 were not in vain.

Surrey have a lot of talented young players but, with regular first-team players away with England squads, they will need to show that indefinable alchemy that converts such quality into the hard currencies of runs and wickets.

Ball six: Well played, everyone, well played

In this summer like none other, we did not know if we would have any domestic cricket, what it would look like or even if it would be a welcome distraction or an ill-judged sideshow. Cricket is bigger than that – even its socially distanced, one-man-and-a-dog version (a format that’s far more popular than the lazy stereotyping would have you believe). The organisers used their skills and imagination to come up with a viable format and the players have given their all.

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