The Bob Willis Trophy gets underway on Saturday, 1 August, with all 18 counties taking to the field in round one of the red-ball competition.
With nine games taking place in each round, and the counties split into three regional groups, the competition promises to throw up some fascinating storylines in the coming weeks. Here's some to look out for in round one.
Youth v experience
With relegation not a concern this summer, it’s thought many counties will use the Bob Willis Trophy to offer competitive first-class cricket to some of the younger members of their squads.
We’ve already seen some of the youngsters pushing for selection in the recent warm-up games; England U19 captain George Balderson looked sharp with the bat for Lancashire, as did fellow teenager Jordan Cox at Kent, while James Taylor was in the wickets on his first appearance for new side Surrey.
But we’ll still see a host of county cricket legends in action as the 18 sides look to claim a place in the final. Sir Alastair Cook will want to bounce back from his duck against Kent at Canterbury this week when the two sides meet at Chelmsford in round one, while 42-year-old Darren Stevens will be doing his utmost to keep the former England captain quiet.
Ian Bell hit a fluent 50 in Warwickshire’s warm-up against Worcestershire as he begins his 21st season with the Bears, and James Hildreth will undoubtedly add to his 17,000 first class runs as he pads up for Somerset once more.
Nice to get abit more time in the middle.. 🐻🏏 pic.twitter.com/myB6rDaq5H— Ian Bell (@Ian_Bell) July 29, 2020
Who’s out the blocks the quickest?
With each county playing just five matches in the group stage of the Bob Willis Trophy, a fast start will be key to claiming one of the two places in the five-day final.
There will undoubtedly still be some rustiness, as players feel their way back after such a prolonged period of inaction and net practice and warm-up matches will never quite replicate competitive cricket.
It will be exciting to see who can score the first century or take the first five-wicket haul in the Bob Willis Trophy, and which teams will set their stalls out early as tournament favourites.
When contracts for the 2020 season were agreed at the tail end of last season, little did the players know they’d have to wait until August to make their debuts for their new counties.
Dawid Malan has tasted a couple of friendlies for new side Yorkshire, having made the move from Middlesex, but should taste his first competitive action against Durham at the weekend.
Tim Bresnan, meanwhile, left Yorkshire in June and was snapped up by Warwickshire soon after. The Ashes-winning former England all-rounder will provide more great experience for the Bears’ squad as well as a good mentor for some of their younger players.
At the other end of the career spectrum, exciting young spinner Hamidullah Qadri will hope to continue his development by challenging for first-team cricket at Kent after moving from Derbyshire. The off-spinner had a stellar U19 World Cup in South Africa in January and the move reunites him with Min Patel, who coaches the England U19 spinners.
One of the great things about the regional groups in the Bob Willis Trophy is the regularity of matches between local rivals.
In round one we’ve got some absolute rippers. In the South region there’s the ‘El Classicoast’ derby between South Coast counties Sussex and Hampshire at the 1st Central County Ground, Hove. The rivalry may be even more intense with Hampshire relocating to Sussex’s outground in Arundel this summer while the Ageas Bowl hosts international cricket.
We’ve also got the London derby as Surrey and Middlesex face off at the Kia Oval, while the East Midlands rivalry between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire will be played out at Trent Bridge.
And out west, Somerset and Glamorgan go head-to-head at the Cooper Associates County Ground for the bragging rights in a rivalry that has produced some memorable moments over the years.