ALL 18 First-Class Counties are set to be in action when the red-ball competition begins on Saturday 1 August, with Somerset taking on Glamorgan at the Cooper Associates County Ground first up. Somerset will also face Gloucestershire in Taunton, starting on Saturday, August 22.
Somerset are waiting to hear from the ECB Cricket Disciplinary Committee whether a 12-point penalty imposed last September, due to come into force at the start of this summer’s County Championship, will apply for the new competition.
The Bob Willis Trophy will hold first-class status, but is a separate competition from the County Championship, and will comprise three regionalised groups, consisting of six counties per group.
Somerset will play five group-stage matches – one against each county in the group – and the two group winners with the most points set to progress to a five-day final.
Western Storm will also be returning to action, as a special edition women’s domestic 50-over competition will be staged, featuring the eight new teams in the women’s elite domestic structure.
The competition will also be regionalised, into two groups of four teams, with the group winners meeting in a final. The staging of this competition reflects the ECB’s commitment to continue the journey to professionalise the domestic game for women.
Fixtures for the women’s domestic competition are set to be announced alongside confirmation of the full schedule for the Vitality Blast next month. The Vitality Blast will commence on 27 August.
Somerset Director of Cricket Andy Hurry said: “There is enormous excitement about playing competitive cricket again. Some of the teams in our group we last met in four-day cricket back in 2007 when we were in the Second Division of the Championship.
“We would have been playing Gloucestershire anyway this season following their promotion and we are delighted to be welcoming them to Taunton for a match that will create enormous interest.
“That applies to the competition as a whole and we will go all out to win it. People will be talking cricket again once it gets underway and that is fantastic for the game as a whole.”
The domestic competitions will be staged under strict health and safety protocols with the Bob Willis Trophy also set to feature ECB Board-approved changes to playing conditions to help ensure the wellbeing of players, most significantly fast bowlers, following the long lay-off due to COVID-19.
The playing conditions have been put in place following extensive medical research and in collaboration with the First-Class Counties and the Professional Cricketers’ Association, and include:
- A reduction from a minimum of 96 overs to a minimum of 90 overs in a day’s play.
- Each county’s first innings of a match can last no longer than 120 overs
- The follow-on will increase from 150 to 200 runs
- The new ball will be available after 90 overs rather than 80 overs
Performance Cricket Committee Chair, Sir Andrew Strauss, said: “For all fans of the county game, it is fantastic news that domestic cricket will get underway at the start of August.
“It goes without saying that everyone wants to see competitive red and white ball cricket but in these unprecedented times it is crucially important that we recognise that the fitness and wellbeing of players is the top priority after a long lay-off period.
“Following appropriate medical consideration these measures have been put in place for the Bob Willis Trophy to help to protect players from the risk of long-term injury and any impact that could have on their careers.”
Bob Willis’ name will adorn the one-off men’s red-ball tournament after his former England team-mate, and close friend, Sir Ian Botham proposed the idea as a tribute following his death in December last year at the age of 70.
Willis claimed a then record 325 wickets, from 90 Test caps, during an international career which was highlighted by his fierce determination – most significantly against Australia at Emerald Headingley in 1981 – and an endearing persona than won him admirers across the world.