HEAD coach Anthony McGrath is delighted the Bob Willis Trophy fixtures present Essex with three of their five games in the one-off, red-ball mini-series at 'Fortress Chelmsford'.

The double champions of 2019 kick-off the truncated season with back-to-back home games, starting when they entertain Kent at The Cloudfm County Ground on Saturday, followed by the visits of Surrey a week later and Middlesex in the final Southern Group match in early September.

“To have three of the games at home, given that we won all seven in the Championship here last year, will suit our attack, especially when you’ve got Simon Harmer and the seamers,” said McGrath.

“We weren’t sure which way it would go with an odd number of matches, so we’re happy with our lot.

"I think you’d prefer to be around your home surroundings rather then going away in the first couple of games.

“Hopefully with us having been practising at Chelmsford for the last three weeks, it will give us a little bit of one up on the opposition.

“But given the circumstances, we’re just fortunate we’ve got some cricket; a few months ago we didn’t think we’d have anything.

"Everyone is excited to get going on Saturday and we don’t really mind where we’re playing as long as there’s some cricket.”

The Bob Willis Trophy – named in memory of the former England captain who died in December – replaces the Specsavers County Championship as the four-day format for this summer.

It is split into three regions - North, South and Central - with the two group winners with the most points advancing to a final over five days, starting on October 1.

This unprecedented season will be augmented by ten Vitality Blast T20 group games from August 27 – the five home, five away fixtures will be announced in due course – with both competitions set to be played behind closed doors.

“I feel very sad for the fans,” admitted McGrath.

"It’s their club as well.

"We want fans to be able to come and enjoy it and create an atmosphere; that’s what we all play for.

“It’s going to be surreal without fans.

"We’ve chatted about it during practice days and told the players ‘have a look around. This is what it’s going to be like on a match day’.

"We’ve been trying to get their heads around it.

"But, as I say, we’re just happy to be playing this season and we’ll put up with it.

“It’s a shame for the cricket-lovers but we want them to be safe.

"However, if there is a way to tune in, whether that’s on a radio or via our live streaming service on the website, hopefully they can get their cricket fix that way.

"Fingers crossed by next season we’ll be back to normal and the crowds can return.”

There is a certain irony that Kent should be Essex’s first competitive opponents since they also provide the opposition for the two-day pre-season friendly which was due to start at Canterbury yesterday.

“These type of coincidences tend to happen, don’t they?” said McGrath.

“But it doesn’t really matter; it’s just more practice.

"We’re going to take a squad of 14 to 15 to Kent and we’ve agreed that, weather permitting, we’ll bat one day, they’ll bat the other.

"We’ll try and get as many players on the field and rotate, so bowlers can have a bowl and batters can have a bat.

"Then we’ll see how the guys are before the final selection of the XI a few days later.”

The Bob Willis Trophy campaign also includes back-to-back trips to Sussex, first to face the eponymous county at Hove, then on to Arundel to meet Hampshire at their temporary base while the Ageas Bowl provides a bio-secure environment for England matches.

The ECB also confirmed on Friday morning that a regionalised women's domestic competition will be played this summer, featuring the eight teams from the new Women's Elite Domestic Structure.