Bob Willis Trophy preview: part two

It’s the evening before the county season starts, and the squads have been announced. That means I can tell you which teams have the best chance of success.

Here’s a unique preview – data driven, based on each player’s red ball performances in the last four years. Most previews name a couple of stars, “one to watch”, and throw in some juicy facts and interviews. Redballdata.com sadly has none of this.

So how can I help you? Without the Test and overseas players, we’ll see lots of talent emerge from the 2nd XI. You and I may not know the names, but I’ve rated those players. The database uses the last four years’ data for Test, county, and 2nd XI Cricket, adjusted for difficulty. For each group, I’ve ranked teams in order of strength, and below the commentary you can zoom into each squad to see the individual rankings.

The North Group

Lancashire (Favourites): Have the bowling to force results. Livingstone, Vilas are two of the best batsmen in county cricket.
Yorkshire: Challengers, can they win their first game without the ODI players? Will Olivier come to the party? So far he hasn’t shone in the County game. Excellent top order, but will they miss Bresnan’s batting?
Durham: Raine & Rushworth are an effective pair. Deep batting line up covers the lack of stars. Having four home games helps. I’ve put a couple of pounds on Durham at 33-1 (Ladbrokes), if that sort of thing is of interest to you.
Notts: Best batting in the division: I’m baffled at how that unit struggled so badly last year. Worried about the bowling, especially if Fletcher is out for a while. Ball can’t do it on his own. Mullaney might bowl a lot this year, which is no bad thing.
Derbyshire: Hard to see this very raw attack winning the group. Batting’s not too bad mind (Godleman, Reece, du Plooy).
Leicestershire: On paper the weakest team. Maybe one of the younger bowlers will surprise us, otherwise 20 wickets is a tall order. Competitive top three batsmen (Azad, Slater, Ackermann) but not much after that.

The Central Group

Somerset (Favourites): Best attack of the 18 counties. Should win the weakest division.
Warwickshire: Will the batsmen let down the bowlers? Much depends on the ageing Bell, Bresnan and Patel. Better reserves than most.
Worcestershire: A couple of batsmen light. Moeen Ali and Ed Barnard are fine all rounders which help balance the side out. Banana skin vs Gloucestershire first up as Worcestershire won’t have Ali (England duty).
Northants: About three bowlers light. Can Sanderson repeat the magic of 2019 (60 wkts at 20)? If not, “definitely viewing it as a squad competition” might make for some weak teams by late August.
Gloucestershire: This campaign may be an awkward reminder that overseas talent is needed for Gloucestershire to survive in Division 1 next year. Dent and Higgins are clearly talented, but there are stronger squads out there.
Glamorgan: Cooke will need to deliver for Glamorgan to get enough runs on the board. The injury to Timm van der Gugten is unfortunate – Glamorgan are the weakest attack in the Central Division without him. This year could be valuable experience for the core of a fine future team- Selman (age 24), Carlson (22), Douthwaite (23), Carey (23), Bull (25).

The South Group

Essex (Favourites) are good. The best team in a tough league. Expect Harmer to deliver with the ball, supported by Porter & Cook. Sir A. N. Cook is the best batsman on show in county cricket.
Surrey … Imagine what they could do at full strength. Can hardly blame them if this year is a struggle. Adding Jamie Overton helps, an unexpected development.
Middlesex are my kind of team – enough batting and bowling to compete, maybe slightly under the radar. Lack of spin options may be exposed in their three away matches, if groundsmen play their cards right.
Hampshire: Ditto. No Abbott. No Edwards. Need to get through the games without the ODI players (Vince & Dawson), and see what happens. Mason Crane has an opportunity – there’s lots of right handers out there.
Kent: May do OK against Hampshire and Sussex’s attacks. The other three sides will take some withstanding though. Could do with Denly making an appearance.
Always up against it, Sussex have given a chance to lesser known players this year. A shame. Not sure where Wiese, Wells, Bopara and Beer are. I’ll give anyone sitting this tournament out the benefit of the doubt: I’m not playing cricket in a pandemic, so can’t expect them to.

Anyone can win. Don’t expect it to be the best team – it’s only a five match series. The bookmakers know this – there are 11 teams with more than a five percent chance of winning, yet no team has a greater than fifteen percent chance.

Tomorrow I’ll be following Durham-Yorkshire. A Durham win would make the North group so much more interesting.

Before you go, here are some trends we might see this year:

  • 0fers – there are bowlers that just aren’t ready for this level. They’ll go wicketless, and heap pressure onto captain and opening bowlers. Canny batsmen will get after them.
  • Clusters of wickets – inevitable when the standard is this variable.
  • The league won’t be won by stars – it’ll be won by the deepest batting lineups, and the bowling attacks that never let up. Hence Lancashire, Yorkshire, Somerset, Essex being favoured. Many won’t see it that way – they’ll talk of centuries and five-fors, but it’ll be “Not Collapsing” and “9-2-30-1” wot won it.

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