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Durham coach James Franklin backs Bob Willis Trophy

Durham coach James Franklin backs Bob Willis Trophy
Durham coach James Franklin backs Bob Willis Trophy

Durham coach James Franklin has given his backing for the Bob Willis Trophy to become a permanent fixture in the county cricket calendar following its successful inaugural season.

The pandemic forced the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) into action to ensure that a semblance of the 2020 season was saved. The new competition replaced the County Championship, splitting the 18 counties into three groups of six separated geographically.

Durham faced off against First Division sides Yorkshire and Lancashire as well Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire in the North Group.

Although his side failed to record a victory from their five matches, and finished bottom of the standings, Franklin was full of praise for the set-up of the competition and believes that it would benefit all parties in the game if it became a permanent part of the cricketing schedule.

“I loved the Bob Willis Trophy format,” he said. “I’m an advocate of it, but it’s not necessarily the view of Durham Cricket. I enjoyed the conference system and playing against teams that we weren’t expecting to play against.

“We played against some First Division sides and we came up short, but it was a good test for us to have. Let’s see what happens because there are decisions being made about what next season is going to look like.

“I would like to see a system where you would be able to refresh the conferences every year. It would give good stimulation to players, coaches and the spectators. If all the counties in the country have the opportunity to start at an even keel and have the opportunity to go on and win a County Championship by having an amazing year – the best team will no doubt win that as we’ve seen

"I can’t see why you wouldn’t want to have that system.

“I think in years gone by it has become a bit stale, especially if you’ve been stuck in the Second Division playing the same teams over and over again. I think there’s an opportunity to change the conferences to give the players stimulation of playing new players and at new grounds.

"We’ve got some players in our team that have never played at some county grounds, which I find amazing. How could playing against different teams not be exciting for everyone involved?”

Durham struggles in the Bob Willis Trophy were partly due to the fact they were forced to play the campaign without overseas star Cameron Bancroft due to the pandemic. The Australian made a significant impact in the 2019 season as captain and his batting performances before being called up for Ashes in the second half of the term.

Franklin has admitted that he would like to see Bancroft back at Emirates Riverside in 2021, with the opener having the option to make a return to the county for next season.

He added: “There’s water to go under the bridge in terms of Bancroft’s return. As I understand it, he does have first refusal on next year. There’s no doubt when he was here he had a massive impact on the club – not only from a cricket point of view, but also a leadership standpoint when he was captain.

"He brought a refreshing energy with him. Cameron will be starting his season soon in Australia so we’ll have to see what happens there.”

However, Durham have ensured their batting ranks will be bolstered next term no matter the outcome of Bancroft’s decision with the signing of Scott Borthwick.

The 30-year-old became the third player in as many years to return to the North East, following in the footsteps of Ben Raine and Paul Coughlin, having ended a four-season tenure with Surrey.

“It’s massive for the club,” Franklin said. “He’s a Durham boy and he’s gone down to Surrey and done well there. It’s a big boost for us as a playing squad to be getting back a local lad and a proven performer. Scott’s at a good age where he can keep cracking on and providing performances for Durham Cricket for years to come.

“All three lads wanted to come back to the club. Ben was the first then Paul followed and now we’ve got Scott across the line as well. Their skill set also matches what we’re looking for from our team.

"It has a little bit of romance about it as well, with those North East boys travelling afar and then still wanting to come back and play for their home county.”