The two best teams in the country will be playing at Lord’s this week in the Bob Willis Trophy final, according to Somerset head coach Jason Kerr.
The West Country side take on a familiar foe in Essex – the county that pipped Somerset to their first County Championship title 12 months ago.
A five-day showpiece final awaits for the two sides, both of whom were in imperious form with the red ball during the truncated season.
Somerset won four of their five matches, with the draw against Warwickshire looking certain to be another win but for rain on the final day. Essex also won four and drew one in the South Group and while the results were slightly less comprehensive than those of their forthcoming opponents on paper, the performances were no less eye-catching.
But Kerr is confident his side has enough fire power, especially from their fearsome seam attack, to take the Bob Willis Trophy back to Taunton.
“The best two teams in the country have reached the Bob Willis Trophy final and if we continue to play the brand of cricket we produced in the group stage of the competition we can come out on top,” he said.
“As things stand, Essex are number one red ball team and we are number two. It would be great to reverse those standings and that is the aim.”
Somerset stalwart James Hildreth may miss the game through injury, but Kerr is not deterred by the possible need to field one of his squad’s younger players as a replacement. Already this season, George Bartlett and Tom Lammonby have shown their exceptional promise with the bat and 18-year-old Will Smeed might make his First Class debut after impressing in the Vitality Blast.
Kerr added: “I believe we have improved on our skills from last season, not least through the emergence of some really exciting youngsters and I am really looking forward to the game.
“The prospect of seeing how they perform against a side as good as Essex with a trophy at stake is incredibly exciting for me as a coach. We will take a squad of 13 to Lord's and make a final selection on Wednesday morning.”
Essex also come to Lord’s with a bowling attack that has fired on all cylinders so far. Spinner Simon Harmer was the leading wicket-taker in the group stage with 34, including match figures of 14/131 in their win over Essex in Round 2, while Jamie Porter picked up 21 wickets at a shade under 19-runs-apiece.
And Tom Westley’s side go into the match with a decent record against Somerset in recent years, losing just one of their last six encounters in the County Championship and winning three.
Captain Westley doesn’t believe those statistics will be relevant when it comes to the Bob Willis Trophy final, though, with the neutral venue set to provide an even contest between the teams.
“What has happened in the past has happened and this is a new game,” he said. “They are going to be desperate to beat us, having been on the losing end the last few years. But the fact is, we know that if we play to the best of our ability, it’s been enough to beat them in the past. But this is a one-off at a neutral venue, so anything can happen.”
He added: “[Somerset] are a fantastic red-ball side – as are we – so I think it’s going to be a good showpiece. It’s nice that it’s going to be at a neutral venue, and over five days. Hopefully the best team will win. Fingers crossed that will be Essex.
“It’s been challenging for batsmen at both teams’ home grounds: they have produced a lot of results wickets at Taunton and we’ve had a lot of results wickets at Chelmsford. By all accounts the wicket at Lord’s is going to be one of the Test-match wickets so it should be a better wicket for batsmen.
“But just because the wicket’s better, it doesn’t give you a divine right to score runs. Both batting units are going to have to knuckle down and try and produce big first-innings scores.”
The Bob Willis Trophy final will be staged in association with Prostate Cancer UK to help raise awareness and support for the charity’s significant work. Fans can text BOB to 70004 to donate £10 to Prostate Cancer UK or visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/bobwillis