12 The Daily Telegraph Wednesday 23 September 2020 *** Sport Cricket Battle-hardened Essex have firepower to claim cup Bob Willis Trophy final tember when Somerset had 12 points deducted. Banton would play now, but he is at the IPL, and justifiably: the experience he gains there could win England a global trophy. Banton is becoming equipped to raise Jos Buttler’s bar as a white-ball hitter. Craig Overton has stepped up to compensate for his twin’s departure, bowling outswing and wobbleseam faster than before. He has been the pace bowler of the competition, with 28 wickets at 10 runs each, conceding a tad under two an over, while Harmer has been the best spinner, with 34 wickets at 13 each. Somerset have two England spinners in their squad, as Dom Bess has yet to leave for Yorkshire, but their seam bowling, led by “Craig-0” has been so dominant that their spinners have not taken a wicket. By Scyld Berry chief cricket writer Everything points to Essex winning the inaugural first-class county final against Somerset today. As the county champions of last year, they are more battle hardened than Somerset, more accustomed to the big time of London and Lord’s. They also have the leading wickettaker of both this season and last in Simon Harmer, and they beat arguably tougher opponents in the South group than Somerset in the Central. Essex, above all, have Alastair Cook to steady any nerves on this unique occasion. The Bob Willis Trophy final might prove to be the only first-class county final there ever is. It was designed to fit into the schedule once county cricket was allowed to return on Aug 1, and it has done so brilliantly. The competition – five qualifying games per county then this five-day final – has been delightful, fresh, delicious, owing to the presence of so many young English cricketers and the enthusiasm of all concerned, who will never take cricket for granted again. Just as it has been an incomplete season, this final will be staged at an incomplete ground because the Edrich and Compton stands are still a building site. But the two counties are being treated to the unused pitch on which the last Ashes Test was played, so it will be as fresh as the players themselves. As Essex have won the county championship eight times, the Bob Willis Trophy would be a mere bauble on their mantlepiece, but for Somerset a victory would help them over a psychological barrier. They used to be “the Cider Men”; they are still “the nearly men”. Somerset have never won the championship, and have finished runners-up six in this century, thrice in the last four years. Realism, however, suggests only one way Somerset can win is by exploiting the 10.30am start times and rolling over Essex cheaply in their first innings. Somerset, being so inexperienced in batting, need early impetus and Cook’s key wicket, otherwise Essex’s deep batting, and the offspin of Harmer, will flatten them. Any first innings lead will also be the tiebreaker in the event of an improbable draw. Although Somerset captain Tom Abell’s assessment that “I personally don’t feel we go into it as underdogs”, looked slightly ambitious when their solitary senior batsman James Hildreth, the one with the experience to counter Harmer, tore a hamstring. Had their T20 batsman Babar Azam, of Pakistan, been eligible, he would have compensated, but regulations forbid someone being parachuted in for the final. Somerset also cannot field Tom Banton or Jamie Overton, who has signed for Surrey. Banton might not have got into the side if Hildreth had been fit: Harmer stitched him up on the notorious Taunton pitch last Septimes Somerset v Essex 10.30am, Lord’s Essex Somerset England v West Indies Derby, 6pm, Sky Sports
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