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Strict safety protocols in place, England unveils summer fixtures

Strict safety protocols in place, England unveils summer fixtures

<div>The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has confirmed that this summer's shortened domestic season will include a 50-over women's competition in addition to the Bob Willis Trophy and T20 Blast.

The fixtures of the Bob Willis Trophy were released today with all 18 First-Class Counties (FCCs) set to be in action when the one-off red-ball competition begins on August 1.

The Bob Willis Trophy will hold first-class status, but is a separate competition from the County Championship, and will comprise three regionalised groups, consisting of six counties per group, said ECB in a media release.

The FCCs will play five group-stage matches – one against each county in their group – with the two group winners with the most points set to progress to a five-day final to be played at the Lord's.

A special edition women's domestic 50-over competition will also be staged this summer, featuring the eight new teams in the women's elite domestic structure.

The competition will also be regionalised, into two groups of four teams, with the group winners meeting in a final. Fixtures for the women's domestic competition are set to be announced alongside confirmation of the full schedule for the T20 Blast next month. The T20 Blast will commence on August 27.

The ECB further said that the domestic competitions will be staged under strict health and safety protocols with the Bob Willis Trophy also set to feature ECB Board-approved changes to playing conditions to help ensure the wellbeing of players, most significantly fast bowlers, following the long lay-off due to Covid-19.

The playing conditions include:

– A reduction from a minimum of 96 overs to a minimum of 90 overs in a day's play
– Each county's first innings of a match can last no longer than 120 overs
– The follow-on will increase from 150 to 200 runs
– The new ball will be available after 90 overs rather than 80 overs

Bob Willis' name will adorn the one-off men's red-ball tournament after his former England team-mate, and close friend, Sir Ian Botham proposed the idea as a tribute following his death in December last year at the age of 70.

Botham, said: "As a player there was no better person to turn to in a crisis and as a man there was no-one more capable to make you smile and realise the beauty in life.

"He was an ardent advocate for the longest form of the game and, at a time when all of his great virtues have been needed by us all, I can think of no better person to name this tournament after."

ECB Chief Executive Officer Tom Harrison said: "There has been a strong determination across the game to play men's and women's domestic cricket this summer and the fact that we will owe to the significant work and collaboration across the country network.

"The efforts to deliver a new one-off men's and women's competition, in addition to a shortened Vitality Blast, to meet the unprecedented requirements of playing professional cricket during a pandemic have been remarkable.

"It will be a fitting reward for all that work, and for the patience of all county cricket fans, when the first ball is bowled in the Bob Willis Trophy next Saturday," he added.</div>.