Somerset County Cricket Club has announced that Dave Nosworthy is to leave the club at the end of the season by mutual consent. Incider writer Jeremy Blackmore looks back at the Nosworthy era and examines the pluses and minuses of a disappointing two years.
When Dave Nosworthy was appointed Director of Cricket at Somerset in December 2012 he was an unknown quantity at Taunton.
But his credentials in domestic cricket in his native South Africa and New Zealand were impressive and fans sent him their best wishes, despite many hoping the club could have managed to lure Justin Langer back to Taunton in a management role.
Nosworthy inherited a club which was competitive in all three formats of the game. Somerset had reached the T20 final three years running – as well as winning the title in 2005 – and twice secured a place in the CB40 final. The club had also finished runners-up in the coveted county championship on two occasions. All this under the tutelage of the much-respected and much-loved Brian Rose.
With Rose stepping down in September of that year, the club stated publicly that their priority was to appoint someone who would help them cross the finishing line and rid the county of its perennial ‘bridesmaids’ tag.
In Dave Nosworthy, the club clearly felt they had found their man, Vic Marks branding him an “outstanding candidate”.
By the end of Nosworthy’s first season in charge though, the club appeared to have taken several steps backward. Somerset were struggling for survival at the foot of Division One in the championship, had failed to qualify for T20 Finals Day for the first time in five years and missed out of a place in the 40-over cup final following a miserable performance in the semi-final at Trent Bridge. To compound the supporters’ misery, it was about to lose one of its favourite sons and rising stars, Jos Buttler, to a rival county.
The abiding memory of the summer of 2013 was a series of batting collapses. But perhaps the nadir came with a two-day innings defeat to Sussex at Horsham when Somerset were bundled out for just 76 and 108.
There were some successes such as the emphatic win over Middlesex at Lord’s in late August. But even then, Nosworthy was clearly feeling the pressure, answering my cheery “congratulations on the result” – as my son approached him for his autograph after the game – with a curt “was that good enough for you?”
Amid the lack of success on the field, Nosworthy continued to tweet a series of platitudes throughout the summer of 2013. No doubt good, motivational messages in themselves, but against a backdrop of failures on the field, he appeared – outwardly – to be increasingly detached and failing to address the issues the fans had real concern about.
Clearly stung by the comments he received on Twitter (“social media bit back” he said later in the club yearbook), Nosworthy tweeted that he was not a magician and could only work with “what he’d got.” If that puzzled supporters who’d seen the same group of players challenge in all three competitions for the previous few years, it was perhaps fair to delay judgment until he had had a second year in charge and really had time to make his own mark on the club.
Making his mark
He did this by making some significant backroom changes during the off-season, moving well-respected first-team coach Andy Hurry to take on the new role of high-performance director, running the Academy and the Second XI. Meanwhile former Academy head Jason Kerr took on the new role of bowling coach. Coach of the relegated Derbyshire, the former Zimbabwean Test captain Dave Houghton joined the club as dedicated batting coach.
While some saw this as simply re-arranging the proverbial furniture, it was the kind of positive move which former Somerset and England fast bowler Andy Caddick had been calling for some time, even if Somerset weren’t making use of some of the former legends on their own back-doorstep.
Early Championship success
In the championship, the changes seemed to benefit Somerset as 2014 got underway. Perhaps battle hardened after the relegation scrap the previous autumn, Somerset started the new championship season a grittier, more determined side, who bounced back after periods of adversity in early games, showing a mettle that had been lacking at times the previous year. We certainly looked like a side that was much harder to beat and held our own against last year’s top two Durham and Yorkshire in our opening two games.
Lewis Gregory and Craig Overton in particular started to emerge as real talents, testament to all the work that Jason Kerr was putting in with them behind the scenes. And the new season saw a rejuvenation among some of the senior players too. Marcus Trescothick scored his first century in 18 months, setting up Somerset’s first victory of the summer away at Hove, and followed it with three more tons, including a really positive, blistering innings to set up victory over Durham.
Alfonso Thomas – 48 wickets in the season so far – took four wickets in four balls against Sussex and everything seemed possible. For a long time, Somerset were the only undefeated county in the first division and topped the table by the midway point, winning four games. It was a positive start, even if some cause for concern remained beneath the surface – notably a worrying lack of runs from some of the middle order, often masked by lower-order contributions from Gregory and Overton.
Limited overs woes
In the limited overs stuff though, Somerset were, at times, woeful. A side that had been one of the most entertaining and competitive in the T20 format over the past 10 years struggled throughout its campaign, with no apparent strategy in place. They relied too heavily on Craig Kieswetter who was called on to fulfil the roles of a pinch hitter, a batsman who could occupy the crease and a finisher. He did so valiantly, averaging almost 50 during the competition. But when he suffered a horrendous injury mid-season the club felt his absence in more ways than one.
It appeared that Nosworthy had failed to plan properly for the campaign and the team seemed short of answers when Kieswetter or Trego fell early. The personable and canny Dirk Nannes had some good spells with the ball, but many felt recruiting an additional batsman would have been a wiser investment.
In the inaugural season of the Royal London One Day Cup, despite a wonderful, emphatic victory over Durham, Somerset were erratic. Often brilliant – making short work of Warwickshire and Middlesex away from home – but often failing to seize the initiative and missing out on key moments that would have helped them progress to the quarter finals.
Despite this, the Somerset faithful turned out in force to support their team. There was a full house for each of the home games and healthy crowds for the 50-over contests. But, used as they are to disappointment, the Somerset membership expects their side to compete and to not qualify for the knock-out stages in either competition was a huge blow.
Amid the one-day stuff, a disappointing defeat to Warwickshire in mid-August fatally dented any remaining hopes of challenging for the championship. It was not the way many had seen the season going.
Tom Abell apart, the batting performances against Warwickshire – while not of 2013 proportions – resembled a capitulation. Watching the final day of the game was like watching a different championship side to the one which had competed so well in the first two thirds of the summer. Defeats in the one-day campaigns have clearly left a scar. Somerset need to bounce back – hard – against basement club Northamptonshire over the next week and reassert their authority.
Time for change
It is time to seek fresh ideas, fresh thinking. For someone new to move the club forward. And with Nosworthy saying today that it was “now right for me to return home with my family for a number of personal and business reasons and for me to redirect my own personal energies and ambitions”, clearly the time is right for him too, regardless of reports linking him to the vacant Sri Lankan post, which he has denied.
There have been pluses. Somerset have been much tougher in the championship this year for a start – at least for most of the season.
And Nosworthy was right to cite the emergence of some of the younger players who have flourished this season. Craig Overton made the England Lions squad in August and played all games in the triangular series with the New Zealand and Sri Lanka A teams. Lewis Gregory was unlucky to miss out on a place in that Lions squad, but did make the shortlist for LVCC= Breakthrough of the year award, a mark of the impact he has made with bat and ball and the impression he is making in the wider game. He surely will be in one of the Lions squads this winter.
But, while others like Tom Abell and James Regan have made great strides through the Seconds, others like Jamie Overton seemed to go backwards, although it’s good to hear Jamie was back in his old rhythm for Devon the other day. Chris Jones had a couple of decent games for the first XI but struggled to hold down a place with Myburgh and Petersen available and has now left the first-class game altogether – a huge loss. There are rumours that James Burke is about to sign with Surrey, while others like Craig Meschede remain in the Seconds unable to get a run in the senior side.
Failing to qualify the ‘final straw’
Nosworthy spoke better through the media and club website this year, encouraging his charges, celebrating their achievements, but not afraid to say so when results clearly weren’t good enough in the limited overs campaigns.
But he failed to engage with fans in the same way that Rose did – even allowing for the clear advantage Brian had of being well known at the club from his playing days.
Somerset is a club which attracts a devoted and fiercely loyal fan base, which cares deeply about their club and expects success. That passion from the members and supporters was something which Nos didn’t always appear to appreciate – nor at times the playing culture at the club, which as Arul Suppiah (who admitted he was surprised at the decision) told BBC Radio Somerset last night, involves playing “with a big heart”.
While he – perhaps sensibly – stayed off social media during 2014, he was much less visible around the County Ground than his predecessor and failed to endear himself to spectators.
That would not have mattered though, had he brought the results the fans so desired.
Ultimately, he was a man who was brought in to win trophies, to get Somerset over the proverbial finishing line. Failing to qualify for the knock-out stage of either limited overs competition this year was clearly the final straw.
He is a coach who has had success before. And no doubt will again. We wish him well in his future endeavours.
Somerset Chief Executive Guy Lavender told the club website:
“Both the Club and Dave have mutually agreed that it is in the best interests of Somerset County Cricket Club to part company at the end of this season. Dave will leave with our thanks for all he has done and our best wishes for the future”.
“We still have a critical part of the season remaining with Dave in charge and all of our immediate efforts are focused on beating Northamptonshire in our LV County Championship match which commences on Sunday. The process of recruiting Dave’s successor is underway and an announcement will be made in due course”.
Dave Nosworthy told the website:
“I believe the time is now right for me to return home with my family for a number of personal and business reasons and for me to redirect my own personal energies and ambitions. With me being the type of character to always put the Club and the team first, I believe I have done as much as I can and that the time is now right to step aside.
“There have been highs and lows, and some tough decisions to have been made along the way, but what has been most pleasing to me has been the emergence of some of the younger players who have flourished and have really come through in recent months. I have personally learnt a lot over the last two years about people and cricket, and look forward to taking this knowledge and these experiences along with me in to the future. Lastly, I’ve really enjoyed my time at the Club and it will always have a special place in my heart. I would like to thank the Club, the players, the members and staff for allowing me to be part of Somerset and for your patience and help along the way.”