At the end of my interview with Lee Cooper a few weeks back, I asked him if he was happy with the cricket structure at Somerset. His response was leading: “It is prudent to review the playing structure when the team are losing”, he said. “In fact it is prudent to review the playing structure when the team are winning, but especially when we are losing and we are losing too many games for my liking. So I will be carrying out a full review.”
With those words I surmised that Matt Maynard’s three-year tenure as Director of Cricket may soon be coming to an end, despite him having two years left on his contract.
True to his word Mr Cooper did indeed carry out his forensic review and, as a result, Maynard has left Somerset for pastures new on what appears to be amicable terms, and the club will replace him with at least two new men, splitting the Director of Cricket and head coach duties.
It was a tenure that started in September 2014 and instantly carried an amount of hope and expectation. Such hopes were no doubt exaggerated after two years of underachievement under Dave Nosworthy, but Maynard came with a big reputation having been successful coaching at his native Glamorgan and in New Zealand. And he was, of course, part of the England coaching team that won the Ashes in 2005.
So it certainly appeared that Somerset had the right man for the job.
To be fair to him he had to overcome some initial issues immediately as Nick Compton headed back to Middlesex and Craig Kieswetter was ruled out for the whole of the 2015 season. Both would prove to be huge losses to the playing resource. And this was made worse when Kiessy announced his retirement from the game midway through Matt’s first season at Taunton and, it is fair to say, he has never been suitably replaced.
And two of Maynard’s earliest decisions would prove controversial. He removed Dave Houghton as batting coach despite the former Zimbabwean Test cricketer having a positive impact on the team in what was his only full season at Taunton. With him gone Somerset lost the first three Championship games of 2015 under Maynard with the third of these an embarrassing innings’ defeat at Worcestershire. The New Road side were expected to be cannon fodder in the top flight, and this proved to be the case, and many Somerset fans were predicting relegation already.
And Maynard signed his former Glamorgan skipper Jim Allenby on a four-year deal with Craig Meschede heading in the opposite direction to Cardiff, initially on loan for the season. Allenby eventually became the one day captain and led the team well at times, most significantly to the semi-final of the Royal London One Day Cup last season. But – fairly or unfairly – Jim was never exactly a crowd favourite and even today there are those that suggest loudly that the club should have stuck with Meschede. Allenby has since been released after three years.
But after that aforementioned horror show at Worcester the side showed their temperamental side going to Nottingham and coming away with an impressive 133 run win before a draw with champions Yorkshire. Consecutive wins at Durham and the return fixture against Notts dispelled some of these initial fears as the team settled under their new boss.
It was in the twenty over format that Kieswetter’s loss was most felt, despite enjoying the presence of Chris Gayle for a few games in 2015 and 2016. Maynard’s team finished second bottom in his first season before falling one place lower in 2016. Not the form expected or accepted by our army of supporters. Somerset did progress in 2017, making the quarter-finals, but the team lacked the conviction of the side that made Finals Day for four consecutive seasons from 2009. At times – too many times – during Maynard’s reign the team played like one without a game plan.
The highlight of Maynard’s time here was undoubtedly coming so close to winning a first-ever county championship title in 2016. This will live long in the memory.
On a personal level I interviewed Matt three times and spoke to him a couple of times more. He was always approachable, polite and spoke confidently and enthusiastically. You could tell he had huge desire to do well at Taunton and appeared to get what it is to be Somerset. And he was always accommodating when promoting the club in the county with charity and media opportunities.
He is a decent man. I like him. I respect him.
But something has gone awry during the 2017 season and I don’t claim to know what that is. Players have looked flat whilst fielding or walking around the ground. There wasn’t the buzz or enthusiasm we associate with players wearing the wyvern. They played some poor cricket; the batting a consistent let down throughout, and in some games appeared to just accept defeat. Maynard himself confessed that his side looked “resigned to relegation” during and after a 179-run defeat to Essex in August. Team selections have left many of us scratching our heads and there seemed to be a growing gap between fans and players with Peter Trego – yes crowd favourite Peter Trego – feeling the need to use social media to air his frustrations about perceived abuse. This last issue was not Maynard’s fault, of course, but does highlight how strange the atmosphere at Taunton has been for the past few months, until that exciting end of season ‘great escape’.
So I think it is the best decision that Maynard moves on and Somerset concentrate on getting the right men in place for 2018. Maynard worked hard and leaves with his head held high. He will have little trouble finding suitable employment in the future with his knowledge and experience but may opt for some time out to recharge his batteries first.
Whatever the case I wish him well and thank him for his time here. Good luck Matt.