Essex enjoy ‘special’ end to ‘challenging’ year with Bob Willis Trophy triumph

Essex stood tall as a reassuring constant at the conclusion of a unique first-class county season, claiming the first, and probably last, Bob Willis Trophy at Lord’s.

The Chelmsford side were unable to defend their championship title when it was scrubbed from the calendar by the coronavirus pandemic, but they were triumphant again in the shortened stand-in competition.

Having come through the regional conference phase with typical style, they ousted rivals Somerset in a drawn five-day final at the home of cricket, earning the silverware on runs scored in the first innings.

Chasing 237 to win on the final day they got as far as 179 for six before time ran out, leaving their 36-run lead from the first half of the match as the decisive factor.

They have now been the country’s top red-ball side in three of the last four seasons, not to mention Vitality Blast winners in 2019’s double-winning campaign.

For Tom Westley it was a perfect way to wrap up a strange few months which saw 16 of the 18 first-class counties furlough their playing staff at the height of the health crisis.

“It’s hard to put into words how chuffed I am for the boys. It’s been a challenging year and at one stage we weren’t sure if we’d get any cricket in at all,” he said.

“The captaincy side of things during the Covid lockdown was hard, I was just getting round the guys as frequently as I could, making sure they were all right. So, to now have played a tournament and won it, it’s the other end of the spectrum.

“My first year as captain has been nerve-wracking – I was a train wreck (on Sunday) – but it’s a wonderful feeling. I’m incredibly proud. We didn’t know if this would be a one-off tournament, a one-off final, so it’s extra special knowing it may never happen like this again.

“We were thinking how special it would be to be the only club in history to win the Bob Willis Trophy in a five-day final at Lord’s.”

Celebrations, like so much in society at present, are not what they used to be, but Westley was keen to make the best of the occasion when asked about the team’s plans.

“It’s a good question and one we’ll have to tip-toe around, but Essex being Essex we’ll give it a good nudge,” he said.

“We’ll try to have a few beers – socially distanced, I have to say – and we’ll see where the evening takes us in groups of six!”

Opposite number Tom Abell was commiserating with his team-mates after over-seeing yet another near miss for a side who have made a frustrating habit of them.

After huge efforts from youthful centurions Tom Lammonby and Eddie Byrom, as well as an eight-wicket match haul from all-rounder Lewis Gregory, they will surely come again.

“Obviously the overwhelming emotion is disappointment and that emotion is still very raw,” said Abell.

“We experienced coming second to Essex last season and we were desperate for that not to be the case again.

“It adds fuel to the fire but the fire is already burning pretty deep within everyone.”