When England were cast aside mercilessly in the quarter-final of the last World Cup in March 2011 in Colombo, a game where hosts Sri Lanka chased down England’s 229 for 6 with consummate ease in just 39.3 overs, the Sky Sports pundits and Cricket analysts set about casting their opinions as to why the national team could fall so short in the 50-over format of the game. This is the recognised format of the official World Cup and therefore the format to crown World Champions. The general consensus of opinion was that not having a domestic 50-over tournament was hardly conducive to creating a competitive national side.
In August 2009 the ECB announced that there would be no 50-over domestic tournament in 2010 opting instead for a return to 40-over Cricket. They were fully aware there would be World Cup campaigns in 2011 and 2015. They claimed this decision was vindicated by spectator feedback despite a poll conducted by the Professional Cricketers Association claiming 83% of their membership voted that domestic one day Cricket should mirror the international stuff. The decision was purely commercial and not based on Cricket arguments and what was hypocritical of the post mortem carried out by the pundits employed by Sky Sports after the Sri Lanka thrashing was that their organisation were at the forefront of enforcing the move to the 40-over format, no doubt heavily influenced by dwindling television audiences for the domestic 50-over game.
I can see why there is a real supporter interest for 40-over Cricket on a Sunday. The format has history and, for those of us old enough to remember, the old Sunday League was the T20 for our generation. Full houses and fun Cricket for the whole family. In the past few seasons 40-over Cricket on a Sunday has been supporter friendly too. The 12:45pm starts meaning one could rise from our slumber at our leisure, walk the dogs, negotiate a hearty breakfast, read the papers and still help purchase the weekly provisions before dropping into the County Ground at midday for 5-6 hours of sunshine, cider and sixes. The 10:30am and 11:00am starts on Sunday’s have therefore been a shock to the system and possible obstacle to many.
So heading into 2014, Somerset, like many other counties I suspect, entered the newly formed Royal London One Day Cup with an amount of trepidation no doubt influenced by the factors above and wondering if players could adapt to the extended overs to produce viewer friendly and exciting Cricket that would draw the crowds.
The ECB were no doubt hoping so and we would, of course, have to wait and see.
If Somerset were concerned that the product would be a step down from the 40-over game then they need not have worried as there was some great moments from the start. The first game was a real Sunday feast as Durham rolled into town two days after Somerset’s interest in the T20 competition had ended prematurely. The crowd was treated to a vintage knock of 113 by the great Paul Collingwood as the visitors posted 311 for 7. Somerset baulked in their reply losing Tres, Compo and Tregs cheaply and were 21 for 3. A minor recovery followed but two more wickets fell and the home team were uncomfortably sat at 106 for 5. This brought together Hildreth, as fine a stroke-maker as you will find on the county circuit although inconsistent, and Gregory, a contender for Somerset’s player of the year. Their stand of 209 undefeated will sit in the memories of those that witnessed it for a long time as Somerset passed the target with 20 balls to spare. For young Gregory it was a first century although not likely to be his last.
However the next two games would have major ramifications for Somerset and their inability to qualify for the next round. What makes Cricket so special is that often, on reflection, the very small details can be the difference between success and failure. A dropped catch, a silly run out, a dodgy decision and, in this case, a total of three more runs in the 2 games against Notts at Trent Bridge and a home game against Kent would, and should, have put 4 points in the bag. Instead Somerset had to settle for just 1 point from a tied game in Nottingham, a game that Somerset threw away quite frankly. Chasing 261 Tres & Compo put on 125 for the first wicket to give the cider county a fabulous foundation to win the game but lost wickets in quick succession put us on the back foot. A scrambled single on the last ball meant we would leave the East Midlands with something at least.
Against Kent the dreaded Duckworth/Lewis Method would first come to the fore and it would be this “science” that would have Somerset fans scratching their heads before the campaign came to an end. Kent batted brilliantly led by their two Sam’s – Northeast and Billings – who both left town with a ton as Kent posted 383 in 50 overs. This was a run rate of 7.66 per over. A slight rain delay meant the D/L came into effect setting Somerset a revised target of 374 in 48 overs at a rate of 7.8 per over. No I don’t understand that either! At 263 for 8 the game looked over but it merely prompted another “I was there” spectacle as the great Alfonso and Groeners smacked 103 between them to set up an amazing finale as Somerset fell just two runs short of an amazing win.
Somerset had 3 points from a possible 6 but it should have been a full house.
The team took to the road for the next two games and gained two deserved victories in the nation’s capital and second city. In the first of those games Somerset simply blew Warwickshire away in Birmingham, posting an imposing 298 in their 50 overs led by Peter Trego’s magnificent 101. Tim Groenewald was pushed up to number 5 following his 52 not out against Kent and he hit another half-century to further stake his all-rounder claims.
The Brummies couldn’t respond and were 181 all out in 40.1 overs. The wickets were shared out evenly in an impressive team display.
At the Home of Cricket for game number five Middlesex batted first and posted 255 for 7 in their innings led by Malan’s 82. Somerset stuttered losing Compo and Tres with only 33 on the board but this only brought Colin Ingram (68) to the crease to join Tregs, who continued his impressive form smacking a second successive hundred. Somerset had 10 balls to spare when they passed the hosts target.
So at this stage Somerset had 7 points from a possible 10 but I will repeat myself and it really should have been a full house. Had it been so I suspect the team would have cruised into the quarter-finals but instead rain, the toss and the ridiculous Duckworth/Lewis Method would have the final say? Somerset did not gain any more points from the last 3 games.
Sussex were welcomed to the County Ground and promptly won the toss and opted to field. Expecting to bat for 50 overs Somerset’s innings was hindered initially by the returning Arafat, who took 5 wickets, and then halted permanently without warning by rain after 33 overs with the total on 193 thanks largely to Ingram’s 72. Duckworth/Lewis decided Sussex needed 189 from their 33 overs at just 5.7 per over. It was never in question as they cruised home with 7 wickets left after just 29 overs. Quite why Sussex’s target appeared so light remains a mystery.
Somerset needed to win one of their last two games. Glamorgan came to Taunton in another rain affected match and it was another game subject to a revised D/L target. This time though Somerset can have few complaints falling well short of Glamorgan’s 289 from 47 overs although the recalculated target of 303 from 47 did have those at the ground and those following on social media boards questioning whether there was actually any science at all in the revisions. In the end Somerset scored just 207 from 40 overs.
And so it all came down to the last game.
Whatever happened Somerset needed to beat winless Surrey at the Oval with defeat meaning definite elimination from the competition. They would have to keep an active eye on proceedings at Nottingham with Notts playing Warwickshire. If Notts did beat the Brummies then Somerset could still qualify if they won and improved their run rate by 0.14 in doing so.
The Oval is a marvellous sporting arena but it is home to the side that most Somerset fans have chosen to hate the most in recent seasons following some rather unsavoury behaviour from Surrey players. Somerset had lost their three previous visits at the ground – including a T20 game against Middlesex who were borrowing their neighbours ground because their own Lords ground was unavailable. Somerset won the toss and fielded.
Surrey batted throughout and posted an imposing 284 for 9 from their 50 overs. Somerset would need to score at 5.7 per over although it had been calculated that passing this target after 44.2 overs (a rate of 6.5) would see the run rate improve enough for the cider county to qualify regardless of happenings at Trent Bridge. Should Somerset play for the win from the full allocation or chance their arm for the win that would guarantee qualification?
Somerset made a good start with Tres and Compo taking the score to 84 before Nick was out for 22. Tregs had a rare failure but the captain was magnificent scoring 80. James Hildreth made 53 but it would be floodlight failure, not rain, which would dampen Somerset’s charge as the players were taken off by the umpire and the visitors lost their way in the middle-order after we had seemed well set. The delay was blamed on a power surge in south London that blew out The Oval floodlights.
With a revised total we had to win the game in 38.2 overs. It looked a lost cause but there was a fabulous cameo from last-pair Alfonso Thomas (17 not out) and Jack Leach (18) as Somerset fell just 7 runs short.
To add to the frustration Notts looked set to lose against Warwickshire but Recordo Gordon, fresh from taking 4 wickets at Taunton to help his team beat Somerset in the Championship, did his best Mark Turner impersonation and went for 18 in the penultimate over to gift Notts a passage into the next phase and Somerset were out.
It had been a campaign that looked set to end in further qualification but instead Somerset finished in 6th place in the group on 7 points. Considering the team had to without the invaluable Craig Kieswetter and seemed to be battling the complexities of the Duckworth/Lewis Method this was a valiant effort. The younger players, most of whom were playing 50-over Cricket for the first time in their career, will have learnt much from the campaign and will be better placed in 2015.
The financial results will be issued in due course and I suspect Somerset will have done fairly well from the four home games although I doubt as well as the previous 40-over campaigns. We will see if the national team benefits from the new format.