Lancashire start on the road as they compete for the Bob Willis Trophy
Mark Chilton has hailed the creation of the ‘very meaningful’ Bob Willis Trophy.
Lancashire’s performance director and assistant coach, currently standing in for head coach Glen Chapple while he is on England duty, believes the best-case scenario has been achieved with the late summer schedule.
The ECB has today released the fixtures for the four-day Bob Willis Trophy, starting on Saturday August 1, and Lancashire will travel to face Leicestershire to start their North Group campaign.
The Red Rose county have three away games and two at home - one at Emirates Old Trafford and the other at Liverpool.
They face Durham at Emirates Riverside (August 8), before hosting Nottinghamshire at Old Trafford (August 15).
Lancashire then travel to Emerald Headingley to face arch-rivals Yorkshire (August 22) before rounding off the group stage against Derbyshire at Liverpool (September 6).
The two best group winners from the North, South and Central groups will qualify for the five-day final, potentially at Lord’s at the end of September or start of October. Both the venue and date are to be confirmed.
Chilton, a 2011 County Championship winner with Lancashire, said: “It’s great the ECB have managed to bring together a very meaningful four-day competition.
“Given the time we have, it’s something really to play for.
“Five four-day games and a (potential) five-day final at Lord’s is absolutely fantastic.”
There have been logistical challenges up and down the country regarding the scheduling of games, with the Vitality Blast schedule to be released at a later date.
Lancashire are playing three four-day away games and two at home as their Old Trafford home is being used as a bio-secure venue for England’s internationals.
Also, earlier this month, it wasn’t definite that all counties would take part in the Bob Willis Trophy given the challenges Coronavirus has thrown up.
Chilton said: “I’m not sure of all the financial and logistical reasons why some counties were wary about committing to four-day cricket.
“But, purely from a cricketing point of view, I think it’s important that all 18 of us are taking part.
“And I’m sure that now they’ve agreed to play, everyone is looking at it like we are, ‘Let’s attack this and try to get to the final’.
“A five-day county final at Lord’s which has never been played before would be quite an event.”
On Lancashire’s venues, Chilton went on: “Really, everyone is just happy to be playing no matter where the games are.
“It doesn’t matter where we stay, whether we can go out for food at night or not. I don’t think anyone is worried about any of that.
“We understand the logistical challenges the staff at Lancashire are facing operationally.
“To do what they are doing at Old Trafford whilst trying to get things ready for us to host home games is a big ask. People are doing some extraordinary hours to make it happen.
“There’s no worry from our point of view that we’re playing three away and two at home.
“We were almost resigned to that anyway, if not playing four away and maybe all five.
“To have two home games is a bonus and fantastic, and we are just happy to have an opportunity to play.”
Lancashire started a two-day friendly fixture against Yorkshire at Headingley today - the only regular Division One counties in the North Group.
Does that mean they will be the favourites to top the group?
“I haven’t given it a huge amount of thought if I’m honest,” added Chilton.
“I would definitely never underestimate any team which Peter Moores (Nottinghamshire’s former Lancashire coach) is running. We all know the mark of him.
“Going off the previous season, Yorkshire had a decent Division One campaign and weren’t miles off challenging for the title and we were very strong in Division Two.
“In my view, we were very well placed to challenge in Division One this year as a result of that.
“Notts had a disappointing year, but they’ve still got a very talented group of players and a great coach. So I would expect them to be very competitive.
“Where we might have the edge over a couple of counties is that we’ve had a bit longer lead in time, and I’m hopeful that will stand us in good stead and we can hit the ground running.”
Lancashire’s director of cricket, Paul Allott, added: “We were insistent that meaningful red ball cricket was at the top of our priorities for this summer and so we are overwhelmingly pleased to have a competition that finishes with a five-day final at Lord’s.
“Bob was not only a close friend but a visionary for the game and it’s fitting that we’ll be competing for a trophy named in his honour.
“It will be a physically demanding period, with five First-Class games in six weeks, but the players have been looking strong in the lead up to the season with the help of our excellent sport science and medical team.
“We will be going all out to win the competition and bring some joy to our members after what has been a difficult period for everyone.”