County Cricket: Team-by-Team Season Summary
The past few weeks have marked the start of several new sporting seasons - the delayed European football seasons being the prime examples, alongside the NFL over in America. They've also, however, signalled the end of this year's English cricket season, which, in a rather fitting scenario for cricket in this country, came to a conclusion with a rain-affected T20 Blast Finals Day at Edgbaston over the weekend.
The 18 counties have competed in two formats in this unique season. The first was the Bob Willis Trophy, a first-class competition created on a one-off basis for this year to ensure the counties could play at least some first-class cricket this season, named in honour of the late, great fast bowler, while the other was a slightly adapted version of the usual T20 Blast.
Both competitions involved the counties being split into three geographical groups of six, but qualification for the knockout stages differed between the two. Because of time constraints, it wasn't possible to hold semi-finals for the four-day Bob Willis Trophy, so even though there were three group winners, only the top two-ranked teams went straight through to a five-day final held at Lord's. In the case of the T20 Blast, however, there was enough time to hold a full knockout stage, with the top two from each group being joined in the quarter-finals by the two best third-placed teams.
I thought I'd try my hand at a team-by-team review of the season, and give every county a grade for their performance. Thankfully, no algorithms were involved in the writing of this post.
Derbyshire (2nd in BWT group, 6th in T20 group)
A fantastic chase of 365 at Trent Bridge in their first game set the tone for Derbyshire's 'surpass all expectations' campaign in the Bob Willis Trophy. Ultimately, they did fall short of topping the North Group, but they'll have been delighted to finish where they did. They may, however, have over-exerted themselves in the process, as they turned in the lowest points total of any county in the T20 Blast, finishing bottom of the group, and dragging their overall grade down in the process.
Durham (6th in BWT group, 4th in T20 group)
Durham struggled in 2020, failing to record a win in the Bob Willis Trophy and finishing bottom of the North Group. Perhaps a bright spot in the four-day game was opener Alex Lees' 386 runs, scored at 48.25, but it was otherwise a tough season for the boys from the North East. Things were a little better, but not much, in the T20, as they finished in the bottom half of the group in that competition too, with just four wins.
Essex (Winners of BWT, 5th in T20 group)
In his second season as a knight of the realm, Sir Alastair Cook topped the Bob Willis Trophy's run scoring charts with 563 in ten innings, and coupled with Simon Harmer's 38 wickets, Essex sauntered through to the Lord's showpiece, where, courtesy of a higher first-innings total, they managed to see off Somerset. I toyed with bringing their grade down because of their deeply underwhelming defence of their T20 title, where they finished fifth in the group, but it would be harsh to award them anything but an A after their brilliance in the first-class competition.
Glamorgan (6th in BWT group, 5th in T20 group)
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry's motto is "Never Tickle A Sleeping Dragon', and county cricket's only Welsh side were called the Dragons for a while, but I suspect if you tickled this sleeping dragon this year, it would simply roll over and carry on snoring. Glamorgan endured a pretty wretched campaign on both fronts in 2020, recording zero Bob Willis Trophy wins, and only four in the T20, as they finished in the bottom half of the Central Group in both formats.
Gloucestershire (5th in BWT group, SFs in T20)
A first T20 Finals Day in 13 years ended disappointingly for Gloucestershire, as they succumbed to a semi-final defeat to eventual runners-up Surrey. That was a disappointing end to a superb campaign that saw them top the Central Group with seven wins from ten games. Their fortunes in the Bob Willis Trophy, however, were radically different, and not in a good way. They recorded just one win, and although they were unlucky enough to have a match abandoned due to coronavirus-related concerns, by that point it wouldn't have made much difference to the final table anyway.
Hampshire (4th in BWT group, 6th in T20 group)
A tough year for the south-coast county, finishing in the lower half of the South Group in both competitions, with even the arrival of Pakistan's Shaheen Afridi for seven games unable to rescue their T20 campaign. They were really let down by their batting in the Bob Willis Trophy, failing to make a total above 300 all tournament, which pushed them into fourth spot, and a run of six defeats in a row in the T20 put paid to any chance of qualifying in that format either.
Kent (2nd in BWT group, QFs in T20)
Most teams have a format of the game they specialise in, so it takes a special squad to do well in both. Kent ended this shortened season empty-handed, but they still get an A simply because they competed well on both fronts, and partly also for supplying Zak Crawley to England. Second place in the Bob Willis Trophy South Group, coupled with a T20 quarter-final, means Kent can definitely look back on this season with pride, and so too can Daniel Bell-Drummond, the T20's leading run scorer this year.
Lancashire (3rd in BWT group, SFs in T20)
Do I really have to praise them? Fine... Lancashire enjoyed another excellent season in the T20, reaching their fourth Finals Day of the last seven, and if Matt Parkinson isn't given an extended run in the England one-day setup in the very near future, I will be having words. It took an excellent side in eventual champions Nottinghamshire to knock them out at the penultimate stage. They didn't do badly in the Bob Willis Trophy either, finishing safely in the middle of the pack, although it might sting that they finished below rivals Yorkshire. Yes! I shoehorned that in!
Leicestershire (5th in BWT group, QFs in T20)
A first T20 quarter-final in three years was the highlight of the Foxes' season, and they fell by the barest of margins to eventual champions Nottinghamshire, tying the match and losing only by virtue of having scored fewer runs in the powerplay. While that may have been a harsh way to exit, their final position of fifth in the Bob Willis Trophy group certainly wasn't harsh. They were another side to be badly let down by their batting, and only winless Durham finished below them.
Middlesex (3rd in BWT group, 4th in T20 group)
A middling season for Middlesex, with little to shout about, but little to panic about for the Lord's side either. They finished a respectable third in their Bob Willis Trophy group, with their bowling unit securing an excellent 14 bonus points - for context, only three counties out of the whole 18 achieved more. It was a similarly unremarkable yet solid story in the T20 as well, finishing fourth in the group, although they can show off the fact they have Stevie Eskinazi, the T20's second highest run-scorer with 413, in their ranks.
Northamptonshire (4th in BWT group, QFs in T20)
Northamptonshire have somewhat gone off the boil in the T20 in recent years. From a few years ago being one of the best sides in the country in the shortest format and winning the tournament twice in three years, this was their first knockout stage appearance since 2016. Unfortunately, it did end in quite a heavy defeat to Gloucestershire. Bob Willis Trophy-wise, their batting largely deserted them, but they were unlucky with having to abandon a match, actually against Gloucestershire again, due to coronavirus-related concerns, when they had the home side 66-6. They always do well to compete on the budget they have, and they've passed this season.
Nottinghamshire (4th in BWT group, Winners of T20)
I still don't get the conundrum that is Nottinghamshire CCC. They're a force of nature in the T20, they bat down to something like number nine, and they've just won their second title in three years, yet they're really poor in the first-class game. Relegated from Division One without winning a game last year, they again failed to taste victory in the four-day game this season, finishing fourth. However, they got the highest number of batting and bowling points in the North Group, so how do you turn that into victories? You'll have to ask a better man than me, who's just here to give them an A for that brilliant T20 showing.
Somerset (Runners-Up of BWT, 4th in T20)
Oh, Somerset; always the bridesmaid, never the bride. The search for a maiden first-class title goes on for the men from the West Country, as they fell by the barest of margins to Essex in the Bob Willis Trophy final. They did exceptionally well to reach the final, finishing with the highest points total of anyone across the three groups, but ultimately came up just short. They may have been hoping to do better than their fourth-placed finish in the T20, where the loss of Tom Banton to England will have been felt. However, their first-class exploits get them an A for 2020.
Surrey (5th in BWT group, Runners-Up of T20)
With no international cricket at the Oval this year, it fell to the famous old ground's domestic occupants to put on a show, and they powered through the T20, losing just once on their way to their first final in seven years, where they did come up just short against Nottinghamshire. However, even that performance will struggle to make up for a dismal Bob Willis Trophy showing, where their very high-quality squad should have really done better than their fifth-placed finish and solitary win.
Sussex (6th in BWT group, QFs in T20)
I loved having Jason Gillespie at Yorkshire; we barely put a foot wrong while he was in charge. All good things must come to an end, though, and that's now also true for Sussex, as he departs to take up a job in his native Australia. It's a shame, therefore, that the Sharks had a rather displeasing season to finish his tenure. They finished with the joint lowest points total of anyone in the Bob Willis Trophy, and although they did manage to get out of their group in the T20, they were soundly beaten by Lancashire in their quarter final. Not the best conclusion, but I'm sure Sussex fans will join me in wishing 'Dizzy' all the very best in the South Australia job.
Warwickshire (3rd in BWT group, 3rd in T20 group)
Another ground that would have seen thousands upon thousands of spectators flock through the gates in a normal year saw zero in this odd one, which is a shame, because they'd have seen Warwickshire (and Birmingham Bears in the T20) have a pretty good season. Plenty of positives from the Bears as they secured very respectable finishes in both the Bob Willis Trophy and the T20 - as I've said before, that's not easy to do at all. I'd very much like to see Sam Hain given a shot in the England one-day side in the near future too.
Worcestershire (2nd in BWT group, 6th in T20 group)
The Pears' season will be looked at with disappointment, in all honesty, and nowhere will that be more true than in their deeply underwhelming T20 campaign. Back-to-back finals, including one victory in 2018, had belief high. However, they could muster just two wins as they occupied the basement position in the Central Group. Although they fared much better in the Bob Willis Trophy, finishing second, they will be disappointed with their two draws, both of which came as a result of simply not being able to take enough wickets on a flat New Road surface to force victory. Had they been able to bowl their opponents out, they may well have run Somerset a lot closer in the race to Lord's.
Yorkshire (1st in BWT group, 5th in T20 group)
I'll remain neutral... The White Rose were agonisingly unlucky (no, we actually were!) despite some excellent performances in the Bob Willis Trophy; the weather frequently denied them potentially vital points in the race to Lord's, meaning they took the unwanted mantle of being the only group winners not to progress to the final. Standards were somewhat lower in the T20 Blast, however, as just three wins saw them finish quite a way short of the knockout stages, and it's that which pulls their overall grade down.
Well, there we have it. If you support a county, hopefully you're happy with how they did this year, and if not, well... there's always next year. With any luck, we'll all be able to go and watch some cricket in person next year as well.