On a morning when the weather was absolutely awful it was somewhat of a surprise to struggle so hard to get a parking space at the Cooper Associates County Ground. It was hammering it down and freezing cold to boot. OK there was an event in the Colin Atkinson Pavilion, which would offer one explanation for the number of vehicles. And it is the festive season – the season to be jolly – so hardened Christmas shoppers were also out in force. And getting in my way. Bah humbug!
I was at the CACG because Somerset County Cricket Club were unveiling a new management team which coincided with the welcome return of Andy Hurry, our former Head Coach. He had left the club back in 2013 to work for the ECB. Under Andy’s guidance Somerset were arguably the best all-round team in the country, capable of playing all formats effectively. We won the second tier of the County Championship and came agonisingly close to a first ever title. We played in Lords finals. We went to T20 finals day four years on the bounce. We had great players who were supremely fit.
Yes we all know we didn’t cross the line and win a cup or two but Somerset were disciplined, positive and confident.
Dare I say it, we were a glamour side who the crowds liked to watch. It was great being a Somerset fan.
I said it at the time and I’ll say it again, it was a terrible decision to let Andy leave.
Andy returns to Somerset as our new Director of Cricket replacing Matt Maynard. He has promoted his old sidekick Jason Kerr to his old role as Head Coach. So will Andy, who has appeared most comfortable in a track suit in the past, still don the training gear or be a suit wearing DoC?
“I will predominantly be wearing a suit”, he admits. “My role will be to ensure I am supporting Jason Kerr so he can have the space and capacity to fulfil his role as Head Coach which is all about performance out there on the field.
“There may be times when I have the space to help out with coaching if he needs additional support. Between us we have got a lot of experience and we work very effectively together and have done since 2006.”
And he thinks there is a lot more that Somerset supporters can expect to see from Jason. “He has huge potential as a coach”, he says. “Every time he has had opportunities at different levels he grows into that role; he works really effectively and steps up again and again. I am really excited by his potential.”
The press conference started with a Q&A session with attending media representatives. An obvious first question was whether he felt the club he was re-joining was in any way different to the one he left three years ago.
“No, there have been some subtle changes which reflects the ambitions of the club”, he insisted. “There are one or two faces, a new Chief Executive. I think there has been some astute signings in the last few years and we have added some real quality in Steve Davies. He has added some class to the changing room.
“It has been interesting for me to walk back into the environment and noticed some things haven’t changed. Most importantly the values and behaviours of the club.
“When I walked in on day one the work ethic of the players, the determination that they are demonstrating already, has been fantastic to observe.”
So was it a total no brainer to come back to Somerset after a highly successful three years with the ECB?
“People are so important to my decision and how passionate people are across the whole region for Somerset County Cricket Club”, he says “But also in this ground; the players, the staff, there’s a real passion to go the extra mile. There’s a strong work ethic and people want to help each other.
“I have come home.”
And home is where the heart is. Thinking back to his old team – one that enthralled the nation – they played with such a swagger. A team that strutted onto the playing field truly believing they could win every single game. And they won quite a few. OK, it always helps when you have high quality players at your disposal; Buttler, Kieswetter, Trescothick in his prime, Trego in his prime and many others. But we have good players at Somerset in 2017. So how does Andy think he can encourage the current squad to play with such swagger, such belief?
“They are a highly talented group”, he proclaims. “And not just the eleven that cross the park, there is real competition for places across the squad. That is a really healthy situation and I think they will draw from the experiences of last season – the character, the fight, resilience, determination at the back end of the season. A number of teams would have fallen away in that situation but they rose above that.
“Now we need to grab hold of that and ensure we have that at the start of the season.
“I have spoken to a lot of the players and there is a real belief that we can build on from last year and can win. So I am confident that going into this year there will be a real swagger. And that will be from the first game. We will be ruthless in our preparation through winter and into preseason so that we play ourselves into positions where we can win games.”
Somerset used the conference to announce that Tom Abell will be captain in the County Championship in 2018, as he did in 2017, but with added responsibility of leading the team in the Royal London One Day Cup. It had been a challenging season for Tom but he can rely on the support of his new boss.
“It’s very easy to make knee jerk, reactive decisions”, Andy says. “I have spoken to a number of people at the club and the character that Tom demonstrated last year, and the learnings and experience he has taken from last year, actually make him a much more informed and capable captain than he was twelve months ago.
“And this probably puts him ahead of some other captains around the country at the moment.
“It was challenging, but at a very tough time he stood up and everyone got behind him.”
It is perhaps pertinent to remember how far Somerset has come since 2006, the year that Andy initially re-joined Somerset as First XI coach to replace England bound Mark Garaway. Particularly in the development of youth players. In those days the club had just one player that had come through the academy with genuine international potential: James Hildreth. Andy headed a team that has transformed how Somerset nurture youth and you could easily forget the names of those players that have come through these days. Captain Tom is one, Craig Overton is playing in the Ashes, we have three players who will play in the u19 World Cup, Dom and Jack are on an England programme, as was Lewis and Jamie. Then there’s Bartlett, Byrom, Rouse. How does Andy reflect on such achievements?
“Incredibly proud. A number of people have contributed in supporting the young players.
“First of all it is about identifying the right players and our identification process has been very effective. The second thing is identifying what the needs of those players are and making sure you create the right environment for players to flourish. And then it’s about giving them experience and exposure to the different levels and the key skill is knowing when to give them that exposure and let them loose.
“The record speaks for itself”, he states. “We are starting now to produce a model that is the envy a number of counties around the country and it is a key focus moving forward. But we won’t rest on our laurels and that is one of the reasons we made the decision to enhance the responsibilities of Steve Snell so he can create the right environment.
The results are there for all to see. So with more and more home grown players representing Somerset will there ever be a day when an entire First XI of players developed within the academy steps out to represent the county?
“That would be fantastic, wouldn’t it?” he says with a smile. “Maybe we would get to nine supported by a high quality, world class overseas in a gap we have identified in our recruitment process? Someone who will come into our environment and add to it.
“But what I am seeing is a real belief that we can work towards, and achieve, that objective.”
Yes it would be fantastic. Welcome home Andy Hurry.