Essex to Take Stride Forward to Bob Willis Trophy Final

The Bob Willis Trophy is heading into make-or-break territory for teams across the three groups of the tournament, with only two rounds left before the final.

Essex continued their outstanding form in red-ball cricket and have justified their place as pre-tournament favourites, winning their third game on the bounce. A fourth victory in a row in the South Group would all but secure their spot in the final.

Rain across the country prevented the majority of matches from finding a winner. Derbyshire and Yorkshire’s battle for control of the North Group will continue as they played out a draw at Headingley.

Somerset were also denied by the elements, allowing Worcestershire to capitalise and claim top spot in the Central Group. We’re heading for an exciting conclusion to the group stage.

We’ll now look at three of the standout fixtures of the fourth round of the Bob Willis Trophy.

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Yorkshire v Lancashire (North Group)

The Roses contest is always a thrilling one between the two long-standing rivals. However, it takes on central importance in the North Group and Yorkshire’s hopes of reaching the final. Dawid Malan scored a brilliant double century for the White Rose against Derbyshire.

The weather prevented Andrew Gale’s men from forcing the issue, settling for a draw from their clash. It left them two points behind Derbyshire in second place, putting pressure on Yorkshire to earn a positive result from the Roses contest given that their rivals face bottom-of-the-table Durham. The White Rose will have to be at their best on home soil to claim an important victory.

Malan has proven to have been a brilliant signing for the club after only three matches, scoring runs with ease in the middle order. Although they could be without his services for the Roses clash after he was called into the England squad for the T20s alongside Jonny Bairstow, Adil Rashid and David Willey.

Captain Gary Ballance is unlikely to return, while bowlers Ben Coad and Matthew Fisher are also carrying injuries. Yorkshire’s squad is pushed to the brink and it will be a test of their resolve to claim the victory.

Lancashire were skittled by Nottinghamshire in their first innings after toiling in the field for the first two days. Keaton Jennings and Alex Davies prevented a second collapse to hold out for a draw, but their hopes of reaching the final are fading fast.

They need back-to-back victories and hope results elsewhere fall in their favour. Their form has been inconsistent to say the least, but they must take advantage of a potentially weakened Yorkshire side.

Tip: Watch out for the Yorkshire team on gameday. If Malan, Bairstow, Coad and Fisher are good to go back the home side for victory. If not, then the Red Rose are your bet for the win given their experience and health compared to their rivals.

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Worcestershire v Warwickshire (Central Group)

Worcestershire eased their way past Northamptonshire in their last outing to move ahead of Somerset to top the Central Group. Alex Gidman’s side opened the competition by beating Gloucestershire before being held by Glamorgan in their contest.

The Rapids only required three more wickets, but the Welsh outfit held firm to deny them on the final day. In a low-scoring game against Northants, they were ruthless in the second half of the match.

A century from Tom Fell paved the way for the bowlers led by Dillon Pennington and Josh Tongue to close out a 78-run win. For now, Gidman’s men are positioned for a place in the final but will need to maintain their form.

Warwickshire have been extremely poor and were only saved by the elements from a third defeat in a row. After being bowled out for 121 against Somerset, the Bears conceded 412 runs courtesy of outstanding batting from Steve Davies and Jamie Overton.

Jim Troughton’s men were two wickets away from defeat before the rain came to deny Somerset the victory. Warwickshire’s batting has been suspect to say the least. Their hopes of reaching the final of the competition are all but over. Unless there is a dramatic improvement against a quality attack, Worcestershire will earn a simple victory on home soil.

Tip: Back Worcestershire for the win against a weak Bears’ line-up.

Hampshire v Essex (South Group)

Essex proved their championship mettle once again by securing a fine three-wicket win over Sussex on the road. George Garton put them on the back foot with a ferocious spell of fast bowling, claiming his maiden five-wicket haul in first-class cricket. Heading into the second innings with a deficit of 54, the visitors needed something special from their bowlers.

Simon Harmer answered the call as he has done so often in the past. He tore through the Sussex line-up to notch five wickets, bowling Jason Gillespie’s men out for 141. There was still a huge amount for Essex to do to pull off the win, requiring the highest score of the match to emerge with the 16 points.

Garton caused havoc once again with four wickets, but Dan Lawrence scored a brilliant half-century before Paul Walter and Adam Beard knocked off the winning runs. It’s a win that has put them on the brink of securing a berth in the Bob Willis Trophy Final.

Hampshire put themselves in contention by hammering Surrey in their third match. They know that their only way to the final is to beat Essex so another flawless performance is required. Their bowlers were on point to dismiss Surrey for 172 and 74 to win by an innings after notching 298 with the bat.

It will take a special effort to defeat Essex and there’s not a lot of quality to cope with the reigning county champions. American Ian Holland impressed with six wickets, while a hat-trick from James Fuller helped skittle the Lions. Individuals will have to step forward again to knock off Essex and take charge of the South Group.

Tip: Essex look unbeatable and have a line-up stacked with talent. Back them to continue their dominant form and seal a place in the final.

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