The Royal London One Day Cup at the Half-Way Point
Just over a week into this year’s 50 over competition – time to reflect.
Somerset’s progress while not entirely serene has seen them bat first in each of their games and win all four.
After opening with a 264-run demolition of last season’s beaten finalists Kent, a sweet and all-to-rare win in recent times in white ball cricket, Easter Sunday saw a nerve wracking 2-run win in Cardiff which had Somerset supporters all around the world experiencing the full gamut of emotions before a collective explosion of joy as Azhar Ali held on to a juggling catch at mid-off. I’ll own up to shattering the tranquillity of Centre Parcs in Penrith!
Sussex, also unbeaten after their first two games, were expected to provide a much sterner challenge on Wednesday at Hove but again Somerset showed considerable nous when batting to reach 283-8 on a used and slightly two-paced pitch. Although the weather brought an early end Somerset had taken a stranglehold on the game reducing Sussex to 62-4.
Essex won what seemed to me a crucial toss after a two-hour delay but Somerset’s thirty somethings Azhar Ali and Peter Trego added 207 in 27 overs as the Cider Men reached 353-5 in 39 overs. Essex’s bowling was well below par but that shouldn’t detract from another superb batting performance.
With rain constantly interrupting the Essex reply the game descended into the farce of the players coming back on with Essex requiring 109 in 5 overs. In conditions that no one should have been asked to bowl or field in the game was played out for the benefit of the Sky cameras. Somerset eventually won by 36 runs under the DLS system.
Encouragingly in the two games where the batting failed to reach its full potential the totals amassed have been sufficient simply because the bowling and out-cricket has been superb. Craig Overton has looked international class, Josh Davey has continued to be his unobtrusive effective self and Lewis Gregory has provided a strong supporting role.
The schedule dictates that while Somerset’s next four fixtures are likely to prove more of a test (Glamorgan and Kent have still to register a win) they sit nicely top of the table substantially ahead of the only other unbeaten team in the group, Hampshire, on net run rate.
There have been plenty of selection talking points so far, the inclusion of Azhar and Tom Banton to open thus leaving no place for Steven Davies, the initial selection of Dom Bess and the subsequent disappointment of him being left out, and the omission so far of Jack Brooks and Jamie Overton.
With this strength in depth and the undoubted desire of those not playing to force their way into this squad there has to be cause for optimism. Having said in my preview piece that Somerset should aim to qualify for the knock stage their progress so far means that anything short of topping the group will now be a disappointment. High standards indeed.
While the competition opened in glorious weather over the long Easter weekend and we were treated to some pretty spectacular cricket and while the weather has had some say in the last couple of days with a no result and nine Duckworth Lewis Stern decisions. But this does not seem to have curtailed the scoring with Notts exceeding 400 for the second Friday running.
Elsewhere in the South, Hampshire, who I thought in my preview would struggle to match last season’s trophy winning campaign, are four from four. Their trip to Taunton next Sunday is looking to be the pivotal fixture in deciding the group winner as only Middlesex have 3 wins. Kent and Glamorgan are both winless while Surrey and Essex only have one win. It looks like a case of three from the five of Somerset, Hampshire, Middlesex, Sussex (who have only played 3) and Gloucestershire. A win for Somerset on Sunday in Bristol would make Gloucestershire’s task pretty difficult.
In the North things are much tighter. Notts unsurprisingly are leading the way, a progress based almost entirely on their batting providing totals which their bowlers can defend but perhaps surprisingly their bowlers have been well below par so far. Worcestershire and Durham both have three wins. Yorkshire who have incredibly had two ties this week have four points the same as their Red Rose rivals. Derbyshire who were on the other side of today’s tie have 5 points.
Nothants and Leicestershire who only have one win from five and Warwickshire who have yet to record a win are effectively out already.
I still have a sneaking feeling that Worcestershire may top the group with Notts also qualifying. With Durham hosting Derbyshire on Sunday that would make it hard for the loser to qualify but who out of the winners of that game, Lancashire and Yorkshire join them is anyone’s guess.
Remember the group winners qualify automatically for a home semi-final. The second and third placed teams play each other to determine who goes on to fill the other semi-final berths. So there is every incentive for Somerset, Hampshire, Notts and Worcestershire to keep up the pressure.
Turning back to Somerset to conclude, while I often find the Sky coverage difficult to watch, this evening’s watching served to confirm that the wider cricket media are beginning to sit up and take notice what is happening in Taunton. Yes it is early in the season, yes there is a long way to go, but Somerset are impressing those with far less interest in or desire for Somerset to win.
That sort of narrative creates an aura which helps to make the team that much more formidable on match days. The fact that Sky’s pundits were universally of the view that Somerset as a club and its supporters deserve to lift some silverware was equally pleasing to hear.