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Tom Westley takes pride in ‘massive’ Essex victory as Bob Willis Trophy adds sheen to red-ball legacy

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It may not be a test of endurance to rival the traditional County Championship, but Tom Westley, Essex’s captain, was adamant that his side’s claiming of the inaugural Bob Willis Trophy at Lord’s represented a “massive” achievement for the club, and one which underpinned an era in which they have risen from a period of “mediocrity” in the early 2000s to become the very best red-ball team in the country.

By closing out for a draw on the final day against Somerset, Essex secured their fourth first-class trophy in five seasons, following their promotion from Division Two as champions in 2016, and two County Championship titles in 2017 and 2019.

And though the necessarily low-key celebrations at the end of the contest belied the scale of their latest achievement, Westley insisted that they would treasure the trophy every bit as much as their previous successes, and find a way to do social justice to the achievement as well, in spite of the Covid-19 restrictions currently in place in the UK which limit gatherings to groups of six.

“It’s massive,” Westley said after the trophy presentation at Lord’s. “It may be a one-off trophy, but we were just thinking how special it would be to be the only club in history, potentially, to win the Bob Willis Trophy and play a five-day final at Lord’s.

“Any game of cricket that we play means an awful lot to the club, means an awful lot to the group of lads up in that changing room,” he added. “It’s right up there for me, with the Division One title and the T20 [Blast] last year, definitely.”

For Westley, personally, the achievement had extra significance given that he not only took over the captaincy from Ryan ten Doeschate at the end of last season’s Championship triumph, but that he spent the early part of the year wondering if he and his players would even set foot on a cricket field this summer.

The squad was furloughed in the early part of the year, in keeping with most county teams, and Westley’s major role as skipper in those months proved to be a pastoral one, checking in on his players and making sure they were coping with the invidious circumstances.

“It’s polar opposites,” he said. “From a captaincy side of things, especially during lockdown, it just about getting around the guys as frequently as you can, looking out for their wellbeing and making sure they were in a good space, to now actually having played a tournament and winning is the other end of the spectrum.”

With 172 runs at 19.11 in the six matches, Westley’s contributions have fallen short of his more recent Championship standards. But having chipped in with a crucial 51 in partnership with Alastair Cook in the first innings – a performance that went a long way to securing a decisive first-innings lead – he came good when it mattered, even if his second-innings duck on the final day caused him a tense afternoon in the dressing-room.

“For my first year as captain, it’s been immensely nerve-wracking,” he said. “And a bit frustrating at times because I haven’t played as well as I’d have liked. But it’s just a wonderful feeling now to sit here, having won the Bob Willis Trophy. To be 2019 champions and then to win the Bob Willis Trophy speaks for itself, so I’m immensely proud of the boys, and immensely proud of Essex.

“Internally, it’s been a bit of a train-wreck all day,” he added. “But to be fair, the boys were incredibly calm. They’ve got an unbelievable amount of confidence, based on the success we’ve had in the last few years, and they were pretty chilled. But having become captain, I can sympathise with Tendo now, knowing how nerve-wracking it is when it’s out of your control but all you want is the best for the guys.”

The Bob Willis Trophy itself may be a one-off, but the three-tier format could be here to say, given the changes to the Championship that the ECB is considering for 2021 onwards. Westley insisted he was not against the changes per se, especially given that the two most consistent red-ball teams in the country had made it to the final, but hoped for a bit of meritocracy going forward, to do justice to the very journey that his own county has been on in recent years.

ALSO READ: As it happened – Essex claim Bob Willis Trophy after final-day draw at Lord’s

“It is fitting that the best two red-ball teams over the last few years have played in this final,” he said. “I’m not against the three-tier system, I think it’s proved it’s worked well … but the top sides should be in the top division, because that’s why we play the game.

“I can remember the start of my career at Essex. We played a lot of cricket in Division Two and we had aspirations to get to Division One, and we’ve had that success in the last few years.”

Westley said that Essex’s triumph was a tribute to a number of senior players, not least Cook and Simon Harmer, whom he acknowledged as “world class” after another stellar haul of 38 wickets at 15.28 in the campaign.

But he paid particular tribute to the head coach, Anthony McGrath, and his predecessor as captain, ten Doeschate, for their roles in transforming the club’s self-image after years of being seen as one of the smaller counties on the circuit.

“We’ve got a very settled side and a formula of winning at Chelmsford, so it was extra pleasing to go to a neutral venue and still come out on top,” he said. “But having been at Essex for a number of years now – and not to take away any credit from previous coaches – Mags has been able to galvanise this side like I’ve never seen Essex through previous years.

“I would attribute a lot of success to him, and the way that Tendo took over the captaincy was a culture shift for us as a club.

“We back our own, and that gives us confidence,” he said. “For a county that was fairly mediocre, if I’m being honest, in Division Two for a number of years, to then to create that belief that we could be the best team, a large portion of credit should go to those guys mentioned.”

As for Essex’s post-match plans, however, Westley was understandably coy.

“Essex being Essex, we’ll give it a good nudge and try somehow to have a few beers,” he said. “Socially distanced, I probably have to say, and see where the evening takes us in groups of six. But it’s one that we’re going to have to tiptoe around, I’m guessing is the correct answer!”



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Rajasthan Royals vs Sunrisers Hyderabad, IPL 2020, Fantasy Pick, team predictions

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Rajasthan Royals vs Sunrisers Hyderabad, Dubai

Pro Tip: Expect both captains, Steven Smith and David Warner, to come good, given they are long due and have shown improved form of late.

Our XI: David Warner, Jonny Bairstow, Steven Smith, Jos Buttler, Manish Pandey, Rahul Tewatia, Mohammad Nabi, Jofra Archer, Rashid Khan, T Natarajan, Kartik Tyagi

Substitutes: Jason Holder, Shreyas Gopal, Ben Stokes, Basil Thampi

Player availability: Kane Williamson is likely to miss this game because of an adductor injury. All other players are available for selection.

NOTE: We might not always be able to tip you off about late injury (or other relevant) updates, so please finalise your team after the toss.

Captain: David Warner

Though Warner hasn’t played a really big innings in the tournament so far, his run tally of 331 runs shows he has been consistent. Also, in three innings against the Royals since 2019, Warner has scored 154 runs at a strike rate of 143.92, including 48 in their previous meeting.

Vice-captain: Steven Smith

Smith has found some form of late, scoring a fifty against the Royal Challengers Bangalore before seeing his team through against the Chennai Super Kings. Though he starts a bit slowly, he is capable of making up for it. Since 2019 in all T20s, Smith has a strike rate of 124.77 in the middle overs, which goes up to 156.19 at the death.

Hot Picks

Jos Buttler: Buttler has now shifted to the middle order for the Royals – thus taking up the job of the finisher – and is fresh off a match-winning 70 not out against the Super Kings. Though his preferred position in the format is at the top, he has a decent record in the middle order too. Buttler has scored 214 runs at an average of 30.57 and a strike rate of 127.38 as a non-opener in the IPL since 2018.

Mohammad Nabi: Nabi bowls four overs every game as well as bats in the top six. His economy rate of 5.10 was the best among all bowlers with ten or more wickets in the recent CPL. In his only game this season – though he had gone wicketless – his economy was just 5.75. That apart, he strikes at 183.92 at the death across all T20s since 2019.

Jonny Bairstow: Since 2019, Bairstow has scored 30-plus on 11 occasions in 19 innings in the IPL. Given Williamson is likely to miss this game, he must take more responsibility and convert his decent starts into a big knock. Two out of his three fifties this season have come at this venue as well.

Differential Picks

Rahul Tewatia: Tewatia has scored 222 runs at a strike rate of 145.09 and an average of 44.40, both of those being the best among all the Royals batsmen who have faced 75 or more balls. With the ball, he has picked up seven wickets at an economy of 7.38 so far in the tournament.

Kartik Tyagi: Young Tyagi shown great promise with his ability and confidence. He has picked up six wickets in as many games at an economy of 8.56. He bowls both in the powerplay and at the death, which makes his economy impressive.

Alternate Scenarios

  • If Jason Holder plays ahead of Nabi, then bring him into your XI.

  • Manish Pandey has scored two half-centuries in his last two innings against the Royals, including one this season. That makes him an alternate vice-captain choice, especially if the Sunrisers bat second. Smith, on the other hand, has only scored 115 runs in seven innings while chasing this season.



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Pakistan tour on pre-season agenda for Warwickshire

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Pakistan’s reputation as open for business looks set to take another step forward with news that at least a couple of England’s first-class counties are considering the country as an option for their pre-season tours.

Days after ESPNcricinfo revealed that England are considering a short tour to the country in January, it has emerged that Warwickshire are considering visiting Lahore as part of their preparations for the 2021 domestic season.

ALSO READ: ECB confirms plans to undertake first tour of Pakistan in more than 15 years

ESPNcricinfo understands the club have held talks with Pakistan CEO, Wasim Khan, with a view to sending the entire first team squad to the country in March. Wasim, a former Warwickshire player, is believed to have guaranteed good quality training facilities and opposition.

If the tour goes ahead, it seems likely the side will be based at Aitchison College. Two senior Warwickshire players, Will Rhodes, the club captain, and Oliver Hannon-Dalby, went on the MCC’s tour to Pakistan in February, which was also based at Aitchison College. Both enjoyed the experience and have given positive reports about the facilities on offer.

A final decision will not be made until the club are satisfied that the tour is safe in terms of both security and Covid-19. Finances could also be an issue, with the club also understood to be considering the La Manga, in Spain, as a pre-season option.

Either way, the fact that Pakistan is being considered for such visits is a sure sign of progress. England have not visited the country since late 2005 due to security concerns.



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Recent Match Report – South Australia vs Tasmania 3rd Match 2020

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South Australia 195 and 2 for 93 trail Tasmania 8 for 493 dec (Doran 112, Paine 111*, McDermott 90, Wakim 83) by 205 runs

Tim Paine‘s third first-class century pushed Tasmania into a position from where they will hunt a final-day victory against South Australia who are in danger of beginning the Sheffield Shield season with a brace of heavy losses.

They negotiated the final session with what was probably the maximum damage if they were to have genuine hope of escaping with a draw. Jake Weatherald was well caught, low at third slip, and Brad Davis paid the price of shouldering arms against Peter Siddle before Henry Hunt and Travis Head, who had earlier dislocated a finger in the field, saw out the day.

South Australia were already comfortably ahead at the start of the third day and left hander Jake Doran was the first to register three figures with his second Shield hundred.

Paine had waited 13 years to double his century tally when he made a hundred against Western Australia at the WACA last season. He was discomforted for a while here, following a blow on the arm from Wes Agar and was treated to some sustained short-pitched bowling, but his third hundred came from 191 deliveries with a pull off Kane Richardson on a day of remorseless accumulation by South Australia. It set him up nicely for a season that, everyone hopes, will include four Tests against India.

By the time Doran was taken at slip, Lloyd Pope finding a touch of extra bounce from round the wicket to take the top edge, the sixth-wicket stand was worth 153 and it had long-since become a match-saving mission for South Australia.

For the rest of the afternoon Paine was accompanied by Beau Webster and Tom Andrews to further deflate the Redbacks’ attack. Webster looked aghast to be given caught down the leg side and Pope was able to collect a second wicket, but they came at the considerable cost of 203 – the first bowler to concede a double ton in the Shield since 2015.



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