And welcome to the second round of the Bob Willis Trophy. I’m on my way to Durham, after a couple of days on the beautiful Northumberland coast where the swifts are currently boy-racing down the quiet side-street and sky is baby blue. Fingers crossed it stays that way an hour south, at Chester-le-Street.
And what a round last week was! It ticked any box you’d care to scribble on the back of a dog-eared scorecard: giant-killing, almost-last ball thrillers, classy centuries, five wicket hauls, promising debutants, even intermittent sunshine. Live streams almost made up for the fact that no spectators are allowed in the grounds – so much so that outlier Lancashire, who had restricted their stream to members, have now opened it up to everyone.
So to this round: Lancashire drive to Durham where both teams are searching for their first wins of the season. Lancs are bolstered by Richard Gleeson and Liam Livingstone; Brydon Carse returns for Durham. Derbyshire and Leicestershire, hammer of the big boys last time, face off at Grace Road where the pitch is reportedly fast and dry and the outfield a dream. Fynn Hudson-Prentice, who led Derbyshire’s charge against Notts, is out with a minor injury, while Leicestershire’s Aaron Lilley is rested.
Notts return to whatever the opposite of fortress Trent Bridge is, to work for their first red-ball win since June 2018. They are still without Luke Fletcher, and coach Peter Moores was full of praise for senior bowler Jake Ball. Jonny Bairstow returns from England duty to take the gloves for Yorkshire. Warwickshire travel to Bristol, after being unable to bowl out Northamptonshire last week and some costly drops in the slips. They are hampered by the loss of Olly Stone – out for a month with a side-strain picked up in that game – while Gloucestershire are bolstered by the return of George Scott and Ben Charlesworth to the squad after minor injuries.
Northants, who batted extremely well to hold on against Warwickshire in the last round, go to Taunton. Somerset are strengthened by the return of Tom Banton from England duty, but George Bartlett hasn’t recovered from the concussion injury he picked up in the previous match. Craig Overton has signed a new-three year deal with the club; while brother Jamie has spoken about his reasons for wanting to leave: “It’s probably taken me six or seven months to finally decide,” he said. “At times I feel like I’m a little bit down the pecking order here. Going out on loan [to Northants] last year didn’t really help. I want to be playing cricket.”
Worcestershire, fresh from victory against Gloucestershire, host Glamorgan at New Road, where Ed Barnard, Josh Tongue and Jack Haynes have all signed contract extensions. Glamorgan, whose batting looked paper thin against Somerset, make one change to their squad – Timm van der Gugten replaces Ruaidhri Smith, who picked up a hamstring injury last week.
Surrey travel to Chelmsford where last week Essex proved just how difficult they are to beat in a thriller against Kent. Surrey, missing a full XI of first-team players, have named two loanees – Sussex batsman Laurie Evans and Worcestershire seams Adam Finch – in their squad. Jordan Clark is out with a side-strain. Surrey were the last team to beat Essex in a red-ball match at Chelmsford – back in September 2018.
There is pastoral face-off at Canterbury where Kent entertain Sussex. Captain Sam Billings returns from the England bubble but Kent will be without Heino Kuhn whose first child is due imminently. A buoyant Sussex, fresh from victory against Hampshire, are spearheaded by 8-wicket Ollie Robinson.
Middlesex host their first fixture at this season’s home ground, Radlett, where coach Stuart Law names an unchanged squad – meaning no space for Steven Finn. Hampshire add Liam Dawson and Ryan Stevenson to their squad, after a sound thrashing by Sussex.