County Championship 2016 by Alex Simpson

Tension. Unbearable tension. This was the emotion felt by all Somerset fans as they watched Day Four of Middlesex vs. Yorkshire, knowing a draw would be needed for the Cidermen to finally lay their hands on that trophy, and hoist it aloft. It’s never happened in 141 years, yet there was the underlying feeling – was this to be our year? In the morning, it looked like it might be. Middlesex were in a rut batting and weren’t progressing fast enough. Yet, following a discussion between the two captains, a total was agreed on, and Middlesex went on to win.

As Toby Roland-Jones dismissed Ryan Sidebottom to get his hat-trick, 10 wickets in the match, and secure his side the County Championship, I went numb with shock. Have we really missed out again? Once again Runners Up? Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Yet this feeling subsided, and what emerged from that was a feeling of pride. I felt pride at what the side had achieved. Tipped for relegation by some, we proved them wrong and given our all to win the county championship. And with a young squad, the future is most certainly looking bright.

I recall the grumblings felt by Somerset fans after recent years of relegation scraps – there’s too many “imports” in the team, not enough home grown representation, and I agreed with them. Now though, we have a side full of talent from the academy – something to latch on to, be proud of. In Marcus Trescothick and Tom Abell, we have a collision of the old and the new. One, a veteran whose service to his county and openness with his mental health battles has made him one of the most respected players currently in the game, and maybe of all time. In Tom Abell we have a young prospect, who’s improving all the time, and has shown the strengths required to be a successful opener, whilst also epitomising what’s good about this young crop of players – he’s personable, gets on well with the support, and will give his all for the team.

At four, we have one of the greatest ever batsman in English Cricket history never to get a call up – James Hildreth. His century against Notts, on one leg, hobbling around the crease, unable to move his feet, yet persisting due to his desire to help the team, will go down in folklore. It was second on Cricinfo’s moments of the county championship season[1], where it was described by David Hopps as “one of the most defiant Championship centuries in history.” Another typifying moment of the fight show this season, this by a man already a Somerset legend – and he’s only 32.

Although he’s 35, it seems this was the season Pete Trego matured with the bat. Coming in at 6, with an inconsistent tail behind him, he understood the significance of his role in the batting line up, and played it to perfection. Over 1000 County Championship runs for the first time, a century against Lancashire that beat his previous highest first class score, and a seniority and maturity shown on the pitch that has made him a lot of supporter’s nomination for captain next season.

The bowling department was where there was the most amount of progression for the home grown talent: Craig Overton and Lewis Gregory’s statistics might suggest they were below on last year’s performance levels (based on wickets taken), but this year has seen their all-round game develop. They have had to work on pitches that haven’t suited their style (especially at home), and the injury to Jamie Overton, who was having a highly impressive season before injury, meant they were required to have far more of the attack and play more often, than expected. And they have come through the season showing the development all fans want to see – especially Craig, whose maiden FC century might have been more suited to the shorter formats, yet provides encouragement as it shows he is acting on his potential to be a bowling all-rounder.

spin-twinsNow, it’s time to praise two of the most unlikely of Somerset superstars: the former Sainsbury’s trolley boy, and a 19 year old from Sidmouth. Or Jack Leach and Dom Bess. For the former, this season has been unbelievable, having taken 65 CC wickets to finish second in the Division One wicket taking stakes. He showed he was able to deal with the pressure of having to take the wickets at home on a spinning deck, and away from home was able to take wickets and provide support for the seamers in equal measure. Although it was disappointing he did not get selected to go to Bangladesh, he is a real talent, and someone who will be important in shaping the club’s future. Especially if he continues with his last wicket heroics! And if he does become England’s number one? Well, Dom Bess isn’t looking like a bad replacement either – 13 wickets in his first two CC games at 10.46 isn’t a bad way to start your career! I have not managed to see him bowl, but from what I have heard, and from watching him in post-play interviews, he seems to be a calm, sensible individual, and one who I’m sure the club will be looking to nurture.

That diatribe shows how important the home grown talent is – yet it would be completely wrong of me to ignore the contributions of others. Jim Allenby has come under much criticism in his time at Somerset, especially after an altercation with one supporter on Twitter, but from my short interactions with him, he strikes me as a decent bloke who just blew his fuse after a bit of stick. His contributions this season though with both bat and ball have been important – five 50s have stopped early collapses, and his 21 wickets @ 28, going at 2.45 an over, has brought control and experience (along with Tim Groenewald) to our inexperienced bowling line up.

Timmy G finished second in our CC wicket taking list (with 37), and his experience was crucial to the side as mentioned before. Captain Chris Rogers, in the interview I conducted with him, described him as “ fantastic”, adding “he leads from the front… he’s almost dragged a few of the other guys with him, and I see him talking to the other bowlers, telling them what he thinks needs to be done, and that’s fantastic to have.” Johann Myburgh may have only played in three CC games, yet his century and two fifties help him top the averages chart, and also helped Somerset beat Notts at Trent Bridge.

Dutch all-rounder Roelof van der Merwe had a poor start to the season, but when he returned to the side, becoming Leach’s partner in spin, he became a significant figure in the side, with his fielding, bowling (22 wickets at 27.9) and occasionally his batting – his 102* alongside Craig Overton broke the eighth wicket partnership previously held by a certain IVA Richards and IT Botham. This was later overtaken by Trego and Ryan Davies. The young wicket keeper had a mixed start to the season, with his keeping impressing and his batting less so. However, he ended the season well, making his highest FC score of 86 against Lancashire, and another 50 in the final game against Notts.

Chris “Buck” Rogers. Thank you. That is what I offer you following the announcement of your retirement. Thank you so much for helping this club develop – the influence you have had on the squad is obvious, and the lasting legacy I think your short tenure as captain will have should be enormous. This squad has got so much potential, but your captaincy has helped mould it in the right way, by showing how important the will to fight is, and it’s much better to risk losing going for the win rather than to just play safe for the draw. When I interviewed you, I asked you about the iconic Australian players who featured for Somerset – I believe that in your solitary season at the club, you may have added your name to that list, as the club’s fortunes appear to have been changed completely, from relegation candidates to title-challengers.

Finally, I would like to give praise to Matt Maynard. I have publically apologised to him on twitter having called for him to go following another disastrous t20 game, but this season’s County Championship form has seen Maynard, in my opinion, prove why he is highly rated in the game, and he has shown himself as able to address deficiencies when they occur, such as a massive improvement in fielding from a poor start to the season.

Although we didn’t get the title wanted, I really enjoyed the past season. The change in momentum in the side has been massive, and if we can recruit well in the summer, there’s no reason why we cannot challenge for the County Championship once again, and improve significantly in the one day formats.

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Thanks to Somerset County Sports for their support again this season.