Bob Willis Trophy: Shortened red-ball competition named after ex-England captain

Only three players – James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Ian Botham – have taken more Test wickets for England than Bob Willis

All 18 first-class counties will compete in a shortened red-ball tournament named in honour of Bob Willis, the ECB has confirmed.

A majority of counties voted to play both red-ball and white-ball cricket when the season resumes on 1 August.

Some had hoped to play white-ball cricket only, but the ECB says all counties will take part in both.

The truncated T20 Blast will begin on 27 August, although a full fixture schedule is yet to be announced.

Neil Snowball, the ECB’s managing director of county cricket, said: “The enforced break due to Covid-19 has provided a challenging period for the county game, during which time the 18 first-class counties have been united with a common goal to get back to our core function of playing cricket.

“The commitment of the chairs and chief executives of the first-class counties to work together to achieve that ambition has been resolute, and we will remain in close discussion as we continue to assess risk factors that need to be mitigated in order to ensure the safety and welfare of their players, coaches and staff.

“We are all delighted that agreement has been reached across the game and we are now in a position to look forward to and prepare for a new men’s domestic season starting on 1 August.”

‘Great gesture’

Before Friday’s announcement, Lancashire cricket director Paul Allott had said naming this year’s abridged red-ball competition after Willis, who died in December aged 70, would be a fitting tribute to the legendary England fast bowler and former captain.

“What a great gesture it would be,” he said. “Bob was always championing a truncated county season with a final involved in it as well.

“It might fit both poignantly and be in the right way he would have wanted.”

Allott, who made his England Test debut alongside Botham and Willis during the famous 1981 Ashes series, then worked alongside the pair in his later career as a commentator.

“He may have come across as a bit of a curmudgeon on the TV and he cultivated that persona quite beautifully, actually,” said Allott. “But there was nobody more delighted if England did well or if players performed well.

“It would be great and wonderful recognition for Bob, who was a champion of the game in every aspect. He was an attempted reformer of the game.

“He was part of the Cricket Reform Group in the early 2000s. I remember he and I sat on the boundary edge in India 40 years ago trying to devise a method and a structure for county cricket to make it more productive both for players and for England.

“That would be streamlining the County Championship and getting one-day cricket in blocks so that you could concentrate on each format. It never quite came to fruition. But for Bob to have a tournament named after him would be very fitting.”

Willis took 325 wickets in 90 Tests between 1971 and 1984.

He made 170 first-class appearances in county cricket for Surrey (1969- 1971) and Warwickshire (1972-1984) and took a total of 449 wickets, including 353 for the Bears, who he captained for four years.

Lancashire hope to play at Liverpool

The decision to play both red-ball and white-ball cricket in the two-month window available when the delayed season starts on 1 August was passed on a majority vote by the 18 English first-class counties on Monday.

A five-day final at Lord’s may be played at the end of September to decide the winner of the red-ball tournament.

Allott also revealed that, with Old Trafford in use as a bio-secure venue for England’s international matches until mid-September, Lancashire intend to play their red-ball games at Aigburth, Liverpool.

“We are hopeful we can set Liverpool up to be our home venue,” said Allott.

Liverpool was a successful home venue for three quarters of the 2011 season when, with Old Trafford under reconstruction, Lancashire won their first outright County Championship for 77 years.

BBC News