The county season starts on Saturday when all 18 counties play out their opening match of the Bob Willis Trophy, and with just five group fixtures each there is already a real desire to pick up big wins for all the sides involved.
There are three matches in each group and although the international action forms the TV coverage, most of the counties are committing to streaming these games either on their websites or their YouTube channel so we can still keep up with them all.
The 18 counties are all competing in this tournament and have been split into three geographical groups – North, Central and South. Each team will play the other five counties in their group once with the two group winners with the most points progressing to the final at Lord’s at the end of September. As with the County Championship teams get 16 points for a win but eight for a draw, up from normal due to the potential for weather to intervene. First innings last a maximum of 120 overs with the usual set of bonus points available in the first 110 of them. A new ball can only be taken after 90 overs. If the final is drawn the team who leads after the first innings will win the title.
There are three matches in the North Group but not all the teams slated to be at home have home advantage. Derbyshire take on Nottinghamshire in one of them but have had to move the match to Trent Bridge because their ground is being used by the England women. Durham host Yorkshire in probably the pick of the three matches in the group. The other match sees Lancashire hosting Leicestershire but with Old Trafford preparing for the Test next week this one is being played at New Road in Worcester.
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Somerset were the favourites to win this tournament going into it and they will look to justify that billing when they take on a Glamorgan side who have a lot to prove without some key players. Warwickshire are also missing a couple of players and they will look to overcome Northamptonshire at Edgbaston despite that. The other match in this group sees an underrated Gloucestershire side taking on a Worcestershire team who disappointed last season, so have plenty to prove off the back of that.
There are three matches in the South Group as well where it is rivalry week with all three matches being local derbies. County champions Essex play host to Kent in the only all-Division One clash at Chelmsford while down at Hove a Sussex side who are missing some big players host a Hampshire team who are in the same boat. The other match comes from The Oval where supporters were expected to be allowed in for the clash between Surrey and Middlesex, but we now know that isn’t going to be the case.
I’m not going to go too mad on the first week of the season. Most teams have only had a two day match to prepare for the season and a lot of those were rain affected. England have taken more than 30 players out of the system as well so there is going to be a lot of youth blooded over the next couple of weeks so it doesn’t feel right to go wading in currently. There is one bet which I can’t ignore though which comes in the London derby at The Oval.
Surrey are missing an entire starting XI of players for their match against Middlesex. England’s Test squad has Rory Burns, Sam Curran, Ben Foakes and Ollie Pope while their ODI squad has accounted for Jason Roy, Tom Curran and Reece Topley. Hashim Amla and Morne Morkel haven’t yet made it into the UK while Jade Dernbach and Gus Atkinson are both coming back from injury. This is a very young looking Surrey side doing battle here. Middlesex have named some youth of their own but it is their bowling attack which stands out to me. Miguel Cummins, Toby Roland-Jones, Tom Helm, Tim Murtagh and James Harris is a very strong artillery of seam bowlers and with enough batting to complement them I’ll take Middlesex to come out on top here.
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