Cricket is back and Yorkshire CCC have their eyes on silverware - Chris Waters

THERE were those who thought that this day would never come, that the prospect of any county cricket this season was as remote as the coronavirus magically disappearing into thin air of its own accord.

Headingley. Illustration: Graeme Bandeira

But at 11am today – the great British weather permitting – the cricketers of Yorkshire and Durham will take to the field in Chester-le-Street for their opening match in the Bob Willis Trophy.

The only disappointment is that there will be no spectators present due to the restrictions concerning mass gatherings.

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Plans for so-called “spectator pilots” this weekend at The Oval and at Edgbaston, where up to 2,500 spectators were due to have been permitted to attend today and tomorrow the games between Surrey and Middlesex and Warwickshire and Northamptonshire respectively, were cancelled yesterday by the government following a rise in virus cases. These restrictions will remain in force until August 15, the date Yorkshire have been targeting to join the pilots themselves by welcoming spectators to their first home match against Derbyshire.

Yorkshire & Lancashire have a regular drink and Covid-19 sanitisation break during play behind closed doors at Headingley earlier this month. Picture by Allan McKenzie/

For now, county members can watch via live stream, as well as keep tabs in the usual way through the media. Cricket behind closed doors is clearly better than no cricket at all, and just to have reached this stage is a major triumph.

From the England and Wales Cricket Board and the county administrators, through to the directors of cricket, coaches and players, it has been a Herculean effort by all concerned.

The upshot is this one-off Bob Willis Trophy, which is being played in place of the County Championship and has seen the 18 first-class counties split into three regionalised groups of six, with each team playing five four-day matches followed by a five-day final between the two group winners with the most points.

The T20 Blast will start on August 27, the fixtures yet to be finalised due to the evolving situation concerning potential crowds. This will be played on the same regionalised basis, with each team playing 10 games prior to the knockout stages.

WAITING GAME: Yorkshire's Matthew Waite is congratulated on dismissing Lancashire's Rob Jones during their behind-closed-doors friendly at Headingley earlier this month. Picture by Allan McKenzie/

It promises to be intriguing, if nothing else, with the fixtures coming thick and fast and the season set to tip into early October. Had it gone on much longer, they could have asked Father Christmas to present the trophies.

The Bob Willis Trophy – named after the former England captain, who died last December – features more health and safety protocols than you could shake a herd of reindeer at, plus one or two tweaks to the usual four-day playing conditions.

These are primarily designed to mitigate the risk of injury to fast bowlers – significant given the long lay-off caused by Covid-19 and the fact that the first four rounds of games take place on successive Saturdays.

There will be a minimum of 90 overs per day as opposed to 96, each county’s first innings can last no longer than 120 overs, the follow-on will increase from 150 to 200 runs and there will be a new ball after 90 rather than 80 overs.

Yorkshire first-team coach, Andrew Gale. Picture by Allan McKenzie/

In addition to easing the burden on pacemen, it will hopefully encourage more spinners -–plus more positive cricket per se helped by the abolition this year of promotion and relegation.

With counties not having to look over their shoulders at the dreaded drop, there is carte blanche to have a crack at silverware with no adverse consequences; teams can afford to be daring, enterprising and aggressive.

On paper, that oft-referenced yet palpably meaningless commodity, Yorkshire, a Division One county, have an excellent chance. They are in a group with four Championship Second Division clubs – Durham, Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire – and another in Lancashire who are newly promoted.

Three of their five matches are at home – against Derbyshire, Lancashire and Leicestershire – and they have one of the largest squads in the land.

The feeling pre-Covid was that Yorkshire had assembled a potentially Championship-winning group – albeit one that included overseas players whose contracts have since been necessarily cancelled – and they should be strong challengers in the Trophy, too.

The T20 Blast has never been Yorkshire’s forte; they have never won the competition and only twice reached Finals Day in its 17-year history.

The format is unpredictable, however, and Yorkshire have dynamism and diversity in their ranks now waiting to be harnessed into consistent results.

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