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Rikki Clarke insists Surrey are motivated despite lack of fans against Middlesex

Clarke wants Surrey, who were due to welcome 2,500 fans into Kia Oval this weekend, to honour Bob Willis by winning the competition named after him.

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Spectators were able to watch a friendly between Surrey and Middlesex earlier in July, but will not be present for the Bob Willis Trophy opener on Saturday (John Walton/PA)

Spectators were able to watch a friendly between Surrey and Middlesex earlier in July, but will not be present for the Bob Willis Trophy opener on Saturday (John Walton/PA)

Spectators were able to watch a friendly between Surrey and Middlesex earlier in July, but will not be present for the Bob Willis Trophy opener on Saturday (John Walton/PA)

Surrey’s motivation ahead of Saturday’s Bob Willis Trophy opener against Middlesex remains high according to vice-captain Rikki Clarke despite plans to welcome spectators into the Kia Oval being cut short.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed on Friday afternoon that the return of fans on a pilot basis to sporting events had to be scrapped.

The Kia Oval and Warwickshire’s Edgbaston home hosted spectators for friendlies earlier in July and both were set to welcome back supporters this weekend.

“It is obviously disappointing we can’t get the crowds in over the next couple of days, but we are here to do a job and be professional,” Clarke said.

“We still have supporters out there who will be watching and wanting us to do well. We have trained and prepared incredibly well so we will be taking every game seriously and trying to win the two trophies up for grabs.”

Clarke, who will lead Surrey with captain Rory Burns away on England duty, had admitted the prospect of welcoming 2,500 people into the Kia Oval had given everyone at the club a boost.

He added: “Having the pilot session during the friendly against Middlesex the other day, it was nice to get back in front of a crowd.

“Then the opportunity for the next couple of days with 2,500 people coming in was very exciting. It is devastating news but the health and safety of the public is more important.”

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Surrey were crowned County Championship winners two seasons ago (David Davies/PA)

Surrey were crowned County Championship winners two seasons ago (David Davies/PA)

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Surrey were crowned County Championship winners two seasons ago (David Davies/PA)

Surrey are eager to start the inaugural Bob Willis Trophy positively, with the 2018 County Championship winners placed in the South Group.

England great Willis died in December and started his career at the Kia Oval before he went on to make his international debut after an impressive 1970 season with the county.

“First and foremost Bob Willis will always go down as a legend of the game,” Clarke said.

“He was a really nice guy and very approachable so he had that side of him where he could be very professional with work, but he could also be a lot of fun to be around.

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Bob Willis, right, was a successful cricketer for England before he transitioned into the media side of the game (Rui Vieira/PA)

Bob Willis, right, was a successful cricketer for England before he transitioned into the media side of the game (Rui Vieira/PA)

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Bob Willis, right, was a successful cricketer for England before he transitioned into the media side of the game (Rui Vieira/PA)

“His whole career from Surrey to Warwickshire and England, to name the trophy after him is only fitting. Fingers crossed we can do him justice and hold that Bob Willis Trophy at the end of the season.”

Clarke played two Tests and 20 one-day internationals for England between 2003 and 2006 and will most likely be without several key players for this shortened and improvised alternative to the usual domestic campaign.

Burns, Ollie Pope, Sam Curran and Ben Foakes are away on red-ball duty for their country while Jason Roy, Tom Curran and Reece Topley are part of the ongoing Royal London ODI series with Ireland.

It provides opportunities for younger members of Surrey’s group and with the Bob Willis Trophy becoming a regionalised competition, they will get to encounter a local derby to begin with.

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Rikki Clarke, 38, is into his second spell with Surrey and made his first-class debut in 2002 (Adam Davy/PA)

Rikki Clarke, 38, is into his second spell with Surrey and made his first-class debut in 2002 (Adam Davy/PA)

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Rikki Clarke, 38, is into his second spell with Surrey and made his first-class debut in 2002 (Adam Davy/PA)

“To lead the side again is is a massive privilege,” Clarke added.

“It is exciting times to get back and play some competitive cricket. It is a little bit of a different format to what we’ve been used to with Division One and Division Two.

“There will be a few sides we haven’t seen in four-day cricket for a little period of time, but with that comes local rivalries and there is no better feeling than to start off with our local rivals from across the river.”

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