The fixtures for the group stage of 2021 LV= Insurance County Championship have been released and there are set to be some mouth watering fixtures next summer as the 18 First-Class Counties battle for two pieces of red-ball silverware.
The leading county will win the County Championship title and will play the second-place team for the Bob Willis Trophy in a showpiece final at Lord’s.
Teams have been placed in three groups based on their performances across the 2019 County Championship and the 2020 Bob Willis Trophy, and this has thrown up some exciting matchups for the opening 10 rounds of the competition.
Here are five games we’re already looking forward to.
Yorkshire v Lancashire - Scarborough, 11 July
What’s not to love about a Roses clash? Two teams, steeped in tradition, going head-to-head for the cross-Pennine bragging rights. And while the two sides will have already played before this fixture starts on 11 July (with the reverse fixture starting on 27 May at Emirates Old Trafford), the prospect of a Scarborough crowd makes this arguably the more mouth-watering tie.
This year’s match in the Bob Willis Trophy ended in a soggy draw as rain allowed just 162 overs, but one of the most exciting things about both sides in recent years is their regular mix of youth and experience within their XIs.
England captain from the 2020 ICC U19 World Cup, George Balderson played all five matches for Lancashire in the Bob Willis Trophy, while his vice-captain George Hill made his First-Class and T20 debuts for Yorkshire this summer.
Former England U19 skipper Harry Brook also played a key part in Yorkshire’s route to the top of the North Group, while Lancashire also gave debuts to the likes of local lads George Burrows, George Lavelle and Tom Hartley this year.
Throw in experienced heads like Dawid Malan, Adam Lyth, Keaton Jennings and Dane Vilas and you’ve got all the ingredients for a seaside classic.
Somerset v Surrey - Cooper Associates County Ground, 13 May
The newly anointed Overton Derby, this clash will see Jamie Overton return to Taunton for the first time since moving from Somerset to Surrey this summer.
Jamie completed his permanent move to the Brown Caps at the end of the season but played on loan for the Oval side towards the end of the campaign.
His brother Craig was the leading seamer in the Bob Willis Trophy, picking up 30 wickets in six matches and an average of just 13.43 and helped propel Somerset to the final.
It will be exciting to see the twins in action on opposite sides for once, not least to see who will bowl the first bouncer to the other and who will succeed first in trying to smash the other out the park.
Warwickshire v Worcestershire - Edgbaston, 6 May
Bears v Pears. The derby that’s fun to watch and to say. And the two sides get an early look at each other in 2021, with their first clash of the summer taking place at Edgbaston on 6 May.
Worcestershire had a phenomenal Bob Willis Trophy campaign, ultimately finishing second to a rampant Somerset in the Central Group.
Their batting was incredible, with Jake Libby topping the group-stage run charts with 498, but Daryl Mitchell (384), Brett d’Oliveira (367) and Tom Fell (336) also tallying well over 300 runs in the five matches.
Warwickshire’s batting displays were a little more hit-and-miss, with 209 runs separating top scorer Will Rhodes (423) and second top scorer Tim Bresnan (214), but in Olly Hannon-Dalby the Bears had one of the competition’s top bowlers.
The seamer took 25 wickets at just shy of 21-apiece and also did a cracking impersonation of the aforementioned Jamie Overton in their match against Somerset.
Warwickshire will be without the newly retired Ian Bell next year, but teenager Dan Mousley will be battling for a regular role in the side after scoring 149 runs in his three innings this summer.
The reverse fixture starts on 11 July at Blackfinch New Road - the last round of the group stages.
Kent v Sussex - Beckenham, 11 July
It may not be the fiercest of local rivalries, but there will be a few scores to settle in this clash next summer.
Canterbury was not a happy hunting ground for Sussex in the Bob Willis Trophy, so the South Coast side may be rather pleased to see the 2021 fixture being played at Beckenham instead.
The 2020 clash started well, with Jason Gillespie’s side scoring 332 in the first innings but it went a bit downhill from there.
Jordan Cox and Daniel Bell-Drummond added 107 for the first Kent wicket, before Cox and Jack Leaning rewrote the record books with an unbeaten stand of 423, with both players recording double centuries.
Had they not been forced to declare after 120 overs, as per the Bob Willis Trophy rules, they could well have batted out the remaining three days of the match without losing their wickets.
Having declared at 530/1, Kent then bowled out the visitors for 173 to win by an innings and 25 runs – a result massaged slightly by a 60-run final-wicket partnership between Stuart Meaker and Mitch Clayden.
The reverse fixture starts on 13 May at the 1st Central County Ground, Hove.
Bob Willis Trophy Final - Lord's, 27 September
This summer’s tournament was such a hit the Bob Willis Trophy will remain up for grabs again in 2021, with the top two red-ball teams in the country set to compete at Lord’s for the title.
Despite rain meaning the five-day final in September ended in a draw, the match was a great spectacle, albeit one that no spectators could watch in person.
Sir Alastair Cook further cemented his legend status with a season-high 172 in Essex’s first innings which took him top of the competition run-scoring charts and also ultimately helped Essex win the title against Somerset.
While it was Essex’s more experienced players who shone with the bat, it was a couple of Somerset youngsters who reached three figures – 23-year old Eddie Byrom notched up a ton in the first innings, while in the second 20-year-old Tom Lammonby scored his third century of the campaign having only made his debut six weeks previously.
One of the teams competing in next year’s final will already have the County Championship to their name, so the question will be whether they can win both in the same year?