2019 – The Talking Points So Far

For the last few years, Somerset have alternated between harrowing relegation battles and thrilling title fights in the County Championship. In 2013, 2015 and 2017, we were nearly relegated each time. In the intervening years, we finished second. There are many ways to describe how it feels to be a Somerset fan, but ‘relaxing’ is certainly not one of them.

By this tenuous logic, we’re due another brush with the drop this season, but the way Somerset have started the season is that of title challengers, not relegation candidates. Two games is clearly a very small sample size, but boy it’s not hard to be encouraged by our performances so far.

I was at days 2 and 3 (effectively days 1 and 2) of the opening game against Kent and we started sloppily, with several batsmen failing to capitalise on starts as Somerset fell to an under-par 171 all out. After a difficult start with the ball that evening, we couldn’t have begun the season much worse.

In the end the bowlers did well to keep the deficit to 38 runs but a top order collapse left Somerset 32 for 4, still 6 runs behind, and at this stage few would have bet on us beating Kent for only the second time in 15 matches across all formats.

This Somerset team fights extremely hard though. We’ve had our fair share of crazy close matches over the last few years and they know better than anyone that no game is over until the winning run is scored or the final wicket is taken. Tom Abell, Steve Davies, Craig Overton and Jack Brooks all chipped in with scores of 28 to 39, while George Bartlett was the star of the show with 63.

Once we had Kent 1 for 2 in the second over the win was pretty much a formality. Somerset, in the end, blew a newly promoted side out of the water like a top team should.

Onto Notts, where Somerset bowled out a good batting line-up for just 263, before another top order collapse left us 36 for 3 at the conclusion of day 1.

But Abell and Bartlett, who are clearly both in excellent form, both scored centuries as Somerset reached 403 all out and maximum batting points.

Abell has had a good start to his career but he hasn’t yet had a totally run-laden season which puts him on the England radar. Don’t be surprised if 2019 changes that.

Bartlett is less advanced in his career but he already has two first-class centuries and has now sealed his place in the Championship side for the foreseeable future. I will be watching his progress with interest.

I attended day 3 at Trent Bridge, and after a wicketless three quarters of an hour, Somerset proceeded to blow Notts away. The two Jacks, Leach and Brooks, shared all ten wickets as their good-on-paper batting line-up folded to 126 all out and an innings loss. It was Somerset’s seventh win in a row against Notts in the County Championship.

Jack Brooks has made a good start to his Somerset career

The ball wasn’t turning much but Leach was able to use flight, guile and angles to take Notts apart in his first competitive bowl of the season. He is a huge asset for us.

Brooks will be happy to take 4 wickets having been a little expensive at times so far. However, he is going to be an asset to the side with his attacking lines and lengths and is clearly already a well-liked and passionate member of the squad.

We do need more runs from our top order, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see James Hildreth drop back to number 4 if he doesn’t start scoring runs soon. I am also not sure that we are utilising Azhar Ali in the best possible way if he opens. I doubt any decisions on this issue will be taken for a couple more 4-day matches, though.

It is bowlers that win you Championships, though, and the ones who have played have started the season on fire. Plus, with Jamie Overton still to return from injury and options like Dom Bess and Tim Groenewald in reserve, we *might* have the best attack in the country…

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It is a bit of a shame that after such a strong start in the Championship, we must now turn our attention to the Royal London One-Day Cup. However, we are usually competitive in 50-over cricket, and while the competition is always a bit of a lottery, there is no reason we can’t go far with confidence high.

The team selection does have a few questions surrounding it. Johann Myburgh has retired, leaving a vacancy at the top of the order. Or are there two vacancies, with Steve Davies having underperformed in the format for us? He has just 186 List A runs at an average of 13 across his two seasons at Somerset, after all.

In the event I think we will start with Davies at the top of the order. There are several options for the other opener’s spot – Peter Trego, Abell, even Gregory if we want to be funky – but I think I would go with Azhar Ali. He will be a foil to Davies’ (theoretical at times!) fast scoring as well as keeping a right hand-left hand combination at the top. It would also allow Trego, James Hildreth and Abell to bat at their favoured positions of 3, 4 and 5 respectively.

I’d then go with Tom Banton at six, who is yet to show his talent at the top level but earns his spot. With the form he’s in, Bartlett is also a potential option somewhere in the top 6 or so. Gregory and Roelof van der Merwe would then bat at 7 and 8.

The bottom 3 is flexible, and I expect bowlers to be rotated. The first-choice three will likely be the Overtons plus either Leach or Dom Bess, both of whom will be desperate to play one-day cricket this season having been largely absent from it over the last three years. Jack Brooks will be an option too (although he hasn’t played a List A game since 2016), as will Max Waller, Paul van Meekeren, Josh Davey and Tim Groenewald.

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Speaking of 50-over cricket, the ECB Managing Director of County Cricket, Gordon Hollins, recently said in an interview that the RLODC will from next year be a ‘development competition’, to be played at the same time as The Hundred.

This has caused outcry from county fans, bemoaning that the tournament will consist of a bunch of youngsters playing a Second XI competition with no value.

While I despise The Hundred, I have a couple points to make here: 1. It’s been known for a while that this would probably be the case, hasn’t it? Something had to give, and the 50-over competition was the only option, really (well, the only real option is to scrap The Hundred…). 2. I think the ‘development competition’ line has been taken a little literally. Nowhere has it been said that older players will be prevented from playing in it, which is how I believe the statement has been interpreted. It just means that more youngsters will get chances to play. It will be 1.5 XI cricket, I think.

I’m not trying to justify the move; I just think the comments have been interpreted a little incorrectly. Of course, there is still time for the ECB to do something ridiculous like impose an age limit of 23 on next year’s RLODC, but nowhere has it yet been said that only youngsters will be allowed to play.

Let’s all flock to next season’s 50-over cricket and show the ECB what we’d rather watch.

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Jos Buttler might be coming back to Somerset next year.

Yes, with England and IPL commitments he won’t be available to play for us much, as many have so wisely observed.

But it just feels right for him to be a Somerset player, you know? Assuming George Dobell is correct (and he usually is), I, for one, absolutely cannot wait for him to wear a Somerset shirt again.

It will be a nice bonus after we win the County Championship.