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Spinners thriving in Bob Willis Trophy but Notts' winless run continues

Plus Sussex's struggles, the Overton twins' feat and Blast captaincy announcements

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Amar Virdi gives a thumbs-up, Surrey v Middlesex, Kia Oval, Bob Willis Trophy, August 3, 2020

Amar Virdi is among the young English spinners thriving in the Bob Willis Trophy  •  Getty Images

It would be easy to assume that spinners have been getting more of a go than normal in the Bob Willis Trophy, with baking-hot temperatures around the country this week and the season starting on dry August pitches rather than April's green mambas.
But surprisingly, it has been business as normal for the most part, with almost exactly the same percentage of overs being bowled by spinners this season as last. That said, there are more English spinners in action, with Jeetan Patel, R Ashwin and Keshav Maharaj all contributing significantly to the number of spin overs in the 2019 County Championship.
In terms of results, though, there are positive signs in the first two rounds of games. Averages for both spinners and seamers have dipped, but the drop has been more substantial among spinners.
Simon Harmer is unsurprisingly leading the pack, with 20 wickets at 13.80, but out of the 13 spinners with five or more wickets so far in the BWT, Samit Patel is the only other who is above the age of 25. All except Harmer are England-qualified or on the path towards that status.
Sussex became the first team since Warwickshire in 1977 to lose a first-class county match while taking only one wicket (excluding forfeitures, declarations after one ball, and single-innings games), and head coach Jason Gillespie was understandably frustrated.
"We're very disappointed with our performance," he told BBC Sussex. "Full marks to Kent - they played the game very well. From a batting point of view, particularly in the first innings, we had a lot of starts - a lot of batsmen did the hard work, got through tough periods, and didn't capitalise.
"If we're completely honest with ourselves, we were well below par with the ball. Our lines and lengths just weren't quite there, and we just gifted them too many runs. They made it hard for us, but we weren't bowling enough good deliveries to challenge their defence and we paid the price."
While Gillespie could rightly feel irritated to have lost Ollie Robinson with almost no notice, called up to the England Test bubble on the morning of the match, it was noticeable just how many players they opted not to pick.
Laurie Evans was loaned to Surrey this week, while Luke Wells, Danny Briggs and Will Beer were all left out. With Ravi Bopara, Luke Wright and Tymal Mills all focused on white-ball cricket, Chris Jordan injured, and Jofra Archer with England, their 'absentee XI' would easily be strong enough to knock over the side that played this week.
As mentioned in this column last week, Somerset have clung onto Craig Overton but his days playing with twin brother are numbered, with Jamie moving to Surrey at the end of the season.
But they are making hay while the sun shines, with 14 wickets between them and a half-century each in Somerset's two-day demolition job at Wantage Road. According to Test Match Special's Andrew Samson, it was only the second time in first-class history that twins had both scored a fifty and taken four wickets in an innings, some 69 years after Alec and Eric Bedser achieved the feat for Surrey against Glamorgan in 1951.
Yorkshire awarded David Willey with the T20 captaincy last winter, when it was assumed that he would be available for the whole Blast after England had seemingly moved on from him.
But after his player-of-the-series comeback effort in the ODIs against Ireland, he is likely to miss most of the tournament, meaning Tom Kohler-Cadmore will resume captaincy duties having filled in last season.
Gloucestershire find themselves with something of a leadership void following Michael Klinger's departure - he has captained all of their Blast matches since 2015, when Ian Cockbain stood in for two games. With club captain Chris Dent lacking T20 experience - he has not played in the Blast since 2016 - they have instead gone with Jack 'The Power' Taylor as this year's skipper.
Counties hope to find out soon if their Pakistani overseas signings will be able to play in the Blast following their international commitments in England.
Shaheen Afridi (Hampshire) and Babar Azam (Somerset) are the two players whose contracts are yet to be cancelled, after Surrey and Northants voided deals with Shadab Khan and Faheem Ashraf respectively. Nottinghamshire may also look to re-sign Imad Wasim, who played seven games for them last year, if he is available.
It would have been ludicrous to suggest in June 2018 after they rolled over county champions Essex at Chelmsford that Nottinghamshire would not win a single one of their next 24 first-class fixtures, but that is the situation they find themselves in after slumping to 97 all out against Yorkshire this week.
"Obviously there was some poor shots and some good bowling," reflected Steven Mullaney. "You know that Yorkshire are going to come at you and if you give them half a sniff you know they are a good team. [It was] not good enough on our part.
"Everyone knows what the results have been like in four-day cricket. The positives are we've given ourselves two chances to win two games, we've just not been able to see it home in the fourth innings. Yorkshire played better than us in crucial moments, which is what it's all about really."
A look back at the scorecard from their last win does prove the point that Notts are a team in transition. Jake Libby, Billy Root, Riki Wessels and Matt Milnes have all left the club since then, while Ross Taylor was the overseas player and Harry Gurney has retired from red-ball cricket.
There were some positives this week, with Zak Chappell taking his first wickets since joining from Leicestershire and Tom Moores making a brilliant first-innings hundred, but Ben Duckett and Joe Clarke are yet to make a half-century between them this season.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98