Essex Gear Up For 'once In A Career' Bob Willis Trophy Final > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more
Cricket news - Essex gear up for 'once in a career' Bob Willis Trophy final
Ahead of the Bob Willis Trophy Final at Lord's, Essex's younger players have been asking Alastair Cook for some advice. Cook played 161 Test matches for England but for many of Essex's current squad, the game against Somerset will be the first five-day match they have ever played in. "We were all chatting to Cooky, asking him what the secret is to that extra day," fast-bowler Sam Cook jokes.
Like much of this season, the finale to the red-ball part of the county summer will be like nothing either team have experienced before. Normally, the County Championship is won by whichever team finishes top of the Division One table. Unlike the Sheffield Shield in Australia, the winner is not decided by a final. However, with the first four months of the season scuppered because of COVID-19, there was no time to fit in the traditional Championship season and the ECB had to devise another format.
They arranged a shortened first-class competition, named after Willis, the former England fast-bowler, who passed away last December. The BWT consisted of three groups of six with each county playing five matches and the top two teams in terms of points scored across the three groups qualifying for a one-off, five-day final at Lord's. Essex and Somerset both topped their groups with four wins and a draw from their five matches and are set to face off in what Cook recognises is a potentially unique experience.
"We did mention it when we qualified, it's a once in a career game," Cook says. "Playing a five day final at Lord's is something that, unless the format changes drastically, that we are not going to experience again. We've been completely focused on qualifying for that final. Everyone knows how big the occasion is going to be even without fans. From a personal point of view I'm incredibly excited to get out there and hopefully win a final at Lords.
"For players with aspirations to play for England, it's a great experience too. People might think it's only one extra day but in terms of the way you go about structuring the game and the decisions we take, it probably will make quite a big difference. It's going to be an interesting experience and hopefully something I'll get to do again one day."
The match will be a re-run of sorts of the final game of last year's Championship campaign when Essex travelled to Taunton. If Somerset won that match, they would claim their maiden title but if Essex could avoid defeat, they would win their second Championship in three years. In the end, Essex just secured the draw they needed on a sporting surface having received some help from the weather during the four days of the game.
That the two sides are fighting it out again for the first-class trophy this year is no surprise, then. They are quite clearly the best two red-ball teams in the country at present.
Cook thinks Essex might have the edge in one respect, however. He believes that coming out on the right side of that do or die game last year will give them confidence that they can triumph this time too. "The game in Taunton last year, to scrap and pull through that as we did, we will take a lot of confidence from," he says. "I think the pitch will be a bit more neutral but I think those high pressure games that we've been in in the last few years and pulled through will certainly give us confidence.
"I think having the amount of experience we've got in the dressing room helps with that. The young players that have come in, we've experienced that as well so I think we're in a really good place going into the final. We know if we put in a strong performance we'll pull through on the right side of the result."
Like Somerset, Essex's run to Lord's has been driven in large part by the success of their bowling attack. They have five bowlers averaging less than 20, including Cook, while Simon Harmer, the off-spinner, has taken a remarkable 34 wickets at 13.70 in the five games. "He's just a genius," Cook says. "There's no doubt in my mind that he's right up there as one of the best off-spinners, if not the best off-spinner, in the world.
"You're so used to him doing well that you take him for granted at times. We had to take a second when he took the 14 in the match the other week [against Surrey]. We were like no we need to realise how special that sort of thing is sometimes because he's just done it so often, for us it kind of becomes natural. We are incredibly lucky to have him in our dressing room."
Since his Essex debut in 2017, Cook has established himself as one of the brightest young bowlers on the county circuit. His new-ball partnership with Jamie Porter was a key ingredient in last season's Championship victory and his development was rewarded last winter when he was called up to the England Lions while playing club cricket in Australia. Cook has performed well once again this summer, taking 12 wickets at 15.50.
"I have felt in good rhythm," he says. "In the games I've played I think I've bowled nicely and I think as a unit we're getting stronger every year. We're building one of the best bowling units in the country and I think we've done that over a number of seasons now. As a group we're only getting better. We've used our squad well this year too so everyone is feeling pretty fresh."
That freshness might come in useful if the game makes it to a fifth day. If it does, it will be a totally new experience for most, if not all, of the Essex players. In truth, the whole occasion - a behind closed doors final at Lord's in the middle of a global pandemic - will be different. It is something Essex are happy to embrace in all respects but one. After all, they don't want their recent domination of domestic first-class cricket to change. They simply want that to continue on as before.
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