The 2020 English summer has seen the domestic schedule take a drastic turn from normality
The usual schedule of county championship games, one day cup competition and then T20 blast was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This paved the way for a new, updated red ball contest for the 2020 season.
With the loss of the inaugural Hundred franchise-based competition the ECB really needed to inject some flavour into a shortened domestic schedule which was going to be without the One Day Cup, as well as having no fans.
The Bob Willis Trophy was born from the ashes of the county championship for one summer only.
Counties are split into three groups based on location, North, South and the central group.
The two teams with the most points will proceed to a Lord’s final to battle it out for what could be the first and only Bob Willis trophy, in a five-day final.
This format is more like the Australian Sheffield Shield, and being a fan of their format, I am loving the prospect of a Lord’s final.
Another similarity between the Bob Willis Trophy and Sheffield Shield is that there are very few, if any, overseas players.
Normally in the County Championship, each team will have a player of note from another country who they have bought in to strengthen their team to be more competitive and win more matches.
This summer has been the opposite, however, as almost all overseas players contracts have been delayed a summer, to 2021 as it would be a waste to bring them over for a shortened season.
The lack of overseas talent has a lasting effect on what kind of cricket can be played by certain counties, this is because they do not have the quality that an overseas player brings to the squad, however this is the same for everyone.
This puts more of a focus on the young players coming up, therefore it puts more emphasis on which counties are producing the best young players to bring depth into the squad, especially with such a hectic red-ball schedule.
The lack of overseas players and some Kolpak players has given the chance for youngsters to step up and thrive in place of more experienced players who come from overseas.
For example, if we look at Hampshire, they are second in the South group and have a great chance to get to Lords for the final.
Hampshire had signed the best off-spinner in world cricket, Nathan Lyon as their overseas player for 2020.
This would have undoubtedly made them better as a team, however, it would have given less opportunity to both Mason Crane, and young off-spinning all-rounder, Felix Organ.
If we look at the repercussions of not having Lyon but having a spin duo of Crane and Organ, it is obvious to see that having these two has been a blessing in disguise.
Crane, who has played one Test Match for England, has 11 wickets from only two matches with an average of just 8.73.
Then looking at Organ’s contribution, seven wickets at only 11.86, including 4-42 which pushed a game in Hampshire’s favour, no wonder they call him golden arm.
Would Lyon have taken 18 wickets in only three games this summer?
Maybe, but we do not know for sure, and Hampshire have not missed much with him not being there, while also developing home-grown talent.
If we look at the other side of this argument, Durham are sitting bottom of the North group. Australian batsman Cameron Bancroft would have been their overseas player, but his contract was delayed a year until 2021.
If we just turn the clocks back a year, we see Bancroft’s impact on the Durham top order.
In 2019, the Attadale native scored more than 700 runs at an average of more than 45 which earned him an Ashes call-up.
As well as batting well, Bancroft was also captain and this year it is obvious Durham are missing both his batting and his leadership skills.
For me, overseas players should only be bought in to strengthen the weakest area of your squad.
This shouldn’t get in the way of developing young players and take opportunities from them but help them progress along and it seems the Bob Willis Trophy without overseas players has turned into an excellent contest to blood and then develop young talent.
It gets a big thumbs up from me.