There aren’t many silver linings to a global pandemic, but the opportunity to watch some of the best young players getting a good taste of First Class cricket was one of the best things to come out of the disrupted 2020 season.
The Bob Willis Trophy provided the perfect environment for the counties to give their youngsters an extended run of games. The games were very competitive but ultimately the absence of promotion and relegation allowed teams to blood the next generation of talent without fear of losing matches.
And many of the youngsters firmly grasped their opportunities last year meaning they’re in the driving seat to retain their places heading into the 2021 LV= County Championship.
We’ve picked out six players under the age of 25 that we’re excited to see in action this summer.
Tom Lammonby (Somerset)
This first one should come as no surprise, given he was the third highest run-scorer in the Bob Willis Trophy last season, but the way he batted last year you might forget that he’s only 20 years old.
In 11 BWT innings he notched up 459 runs at an average of 51 and scored three centuries. His third ton came at Lord’s in the season-ending BWT Final in which he bounced back from a three-ball duck in the first innings to strike a sublime 116 in the second innings.
The Somerset production line keeps churning out these excellent youngsters and there are even more coming through the system, with the likes of Will Smeed and Lewis Goldsworthy among those who’ll be looking to build on their experiences across the different formats from last season.
George Balderson (Lancashire)
Another England U19 player who made his debut last summer, George Balderson showed his promise with both bat and ball for Lancashire.
Averaging 31 with the bat, Balderson has the ability to bat anywhere in the line-up and his nagging medium-fast seamers will trouble many county batsmen, as shown with his nine scalps last year.
One of his greatest attributes, though, is a calm and wise head on his young shoulders. As captain of England U19s he helped mould a group of diverse personalities into a strong unit. He’s the kind of player you can imagine skippering Lancashire in years to come, but for now he’ll be looking to secure his place in the face of some strong competition.
Amar Virdi (Surrey)
Another positive of the situation we find ourselves in currently, with international teams operating in bubbles, is that the likes of Amar Virdi, Ollie Robinson, Matt Parkinson and James Bracey were able to spend time on the road with the England squad this winter.
And while none of them were selected for games in Sri Lanka and India, they will have had the opportunity to work with the England coaches and players to build their skills and experiences.
Virdi was shown a bit of tough love by his county, Surrey, after injuring his back in 2019, being told to use the opportunity to get in better shape in order to fully make the most of his undoubted talent.
He’s worked hard as well; pictured working out in his garden during lockdown and then hitting the streets to provide meals to those in need through the NishkamSWAT charity.
And it’s seemingly paid off on the field as well, with the off-spinner picking up 22 wickets in the BWT last summer, being included in England’s 55-man training squad for the home internationals in 2020 and then spending time in the subcontinent this winter.
Surrey also boast another promising young spinner in Daniel Moriarty, but Virdi will be hoping to nail down the place of the county’s premier red-ball spinner.
Zak Chappell (Nottinghamshire)
One of the more experienced names on this list, but also possibly the one with the most to prove this season, Zak Chappell will be looking to help improve Nottinghamshire’s fortunes in red-ball cricket this summer.
A tall, quick seamer, Chappell has all the attributes to be a top class county cricketer – with the potential to even take that to the international stage, as a call-up to the England Lions tour of India in 2019 showed. But as he nears his 25th birthday this August it’s consistency that seems to have eluded him so far, especially since making the move to Trent Bridge after showing great promise at Leicestershire.
He’s working with a good pace bowling coach in Kevin Shine now, who was also England’s coach on the Lions tour in which Chappell was the leading wicket-taker in tough conditions. Hopefully the duo will continue to work well and help Chappell improve on his 53 First Class wickets to date.
Jack Haynes (Worcestershire)
An England U19 international and the son of county icon Gavin, Jack Haynes has a fair bit of pressure to live up to expectations. But so far in his short career at Worcestershire the 20-year-old has taken it in his stride.
He’s the kind of player you love to watch bat. He’s developed an excellent technique and has a mature approach to building an innings. He averaged 40 in the BWT last season with a couple of 50s to his name.
His quiet confidence is another great character trait; his First Class debut came for Worcestershire against Australia in 2019, coming to the crease in the second over with his side 0/2 against Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood and scoring a run-a-ball 24 against two of the world’s best bowlers.
Haynes’ father Gavin was a much-loved member of the Worcestershire side in the 90s, and with Jack averaging 40 last summer the youngster could be en route to joining his old man in the hearts of Pears’ fans.