Surrey will take on Middlesex at the Kia Oval while Essex faces Kent at Chelmsford in the first round of newly-designed Bob Willis Trophy which will get underway on August 1. All competitions will be staged under strict health-and-safety protocols, with the ECB changing a lot of playing conditions.
After a four-month delay to the domestic season due to the coronavirus pandemic, England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) have decided to start the domestic competition after the UK government gave them the permission to do so. The shortened league, however, will not be the domain of the normal County Championship, rather be a tribute to late English great Bob Willis.
"To have this year's first-class competition named in Bob's honour is a perfect gesture to a great man who is sorely missed. There has been a strong determination across the game to play men's and women's domestic cricket this summer and the fact that we will owe to the significant work and collaboration across the county network," Harrison said,'' ECB Chief Executive Officer Tom Harrison said in a statement.
As per the announced schedule, Surrey will take on Middlesex at the Kia Oval from August 1 while defending County Champions Essex will square off with Kent at Chelmsford in the first round of matches. The ECB's truncated domestic calendar also has a one-off women's 50-over competition, involving the eight new teams in the women's elite domestic structure. Meanwhile, it has also been announced that the Vitality T20 Blast will get underway on August 27.
"The efforts to deliver a new one-off men's and women's competition, in addition to a shortened Vitality Blast, to meet the unprecedented requirements of playing professional cricket during a pandemic have been remarkable," Harrison added.
In the newly-designed County format, 18 counties will play behind closed doors for which the teams have been split into three groups of six counties - North, Central and South. The five group-stage fixtures are scheduled before a five-day final at Lord's in September. Although this will have the First-Class status, the tournament will be independent of the country's normal County Championship and has been named after a proposal from Willis’ long-standing friend Ian Botham to celebrate the life and legacy of the great pacer.
"As a player there was no better person to turn to in a crisis and as a man there was no one more capable to make you smile and realise the beauty in life. He was an ardent advocate for the longest form of the game and, at a time when all of his great virtues have been needed by us all, I can think of no better person to name this tournament after," Botham said.