- Who are you, where do you live and how long have you supported Somerset?
I’m Simon, I live in Weston-super-Mare, and I’ve supported Somerset for the best part of 35 years. My enthusiasm for the club began as a child when my grandfather would pick me up from school and take me along to the annual festival in Weston’s Clarence Park, which would usually include one or two first class games and a limited overs fixture.
I didn’t find it too easy as a child of the 1980s to follow Somerset in depth at that time, but my interest grew in the 1990s; the emergence of talents like Marcus Trescothick, Mark Lathwell, Andy Caddick and Matt Bulbeck, alongside established names (including my favourite of the era Graham Rose) created a team I remember fondly. The fact that Lathwell and Bulbeck’s talents weren’t fully realised still saddens me today.
- Overall how do you feel Somerset performed in 2018?
Superbly in the four day game, about par in Twenty20, and poorly in 50 overs. Of course, this is all relative to expectations, and the truth probably lies somewhere in between.
If I’m honest, I feared the worst in the championship last season. The promoted sides looked pretty strong, and the season before had felt a struggle. I feared a relegation battle, and wasn’t at all convinced it’d be a season with a happy ending.
How relieved and thrilled I was to be wrong. The team performed admirably almost from the outset. I think Cameron Bancroft’s ban proved a massive blessing in disguise – he always felt a risky overseas signing, and the switch instead to Matt Renshaw proved a masterstroke. His early season performances lifted the whole side and were, in my opinion, instrumental to giving the team the confidence to go on and mount a sustained title challenge.
He was not alone, though. Tom Abell showed a marked lift in performance on the previous year (can we now term him a genuine all-rounder? Perhaps…), Jamie Overton’s improved fitness record saw him achieve greater consistency, James Hildreth reliably did what James Hildreth does, and Lewis Gregory once again shone across all formats.
In most years, Somerset would’ve been champions with a performance like that. Coming second to an undeniably impressive (but still hated) Surrey is no shame.
The one day cup performances were an enigma; on paper, we should be challenging in that format, and it’s hard to pinpoint quite how it all went so wrong. However, the Twenty20 showing was very strong, and Lewis Gregory’s quarter final onslaught was the season’s champagne moment for me. Jerome Taylor was another astute and effective signing, and one which nearly proved the missing ingredient – but I would again expect us to be in the mix in this format in 2019.
- Who was your stand-out performer on the field during the season?
Taylor and Renshaw were great signings who had a big impact in a short time, and James Hildreth excelled as ever… but Lewis Gregory shades it for me in recognition of his contribution in all formats. Some formidable limited overs batting, bowling consistency in all forms, and finally putting pen to paper on a new contract too. Losing Lewis would’ve been a massive blow and a damaging statement about the direction of the club – now we can look forward to him being a vital part of a maturing Somerset team in the seasons ahead.
- What will be your stand-out memory of last season and why?
There’s a real feeling of what might have been about last season, and that memory will endure. I’m a glass-half-empty kinda guy, so I fear that despite the many superb individual and collective performances witnessed throughout the season, it’ll be that thumping championship defeat at Surrey which takes longest to shake.
I felt so optimistic going into that fixture, so the defeat – and crucially the manner of it, the loathsome opposition, and that crushing innings winning margin – was so deflating, it will sadly be an enduring memory of the season.
- Are you happy with our preparations building up to 2019 (recruitment, preseason, etc.)
Pre-season seems solid. It’s always good to see some of the younger players getting some valuable experience overseas, and Somerset players’ inclusion in both the England Test set-up and the MCC side are all positives.
From a recruitment perspective, though, I’d say it’s been a mixed close season. Jack Brooks could – assuming he can maintain standards at nearly 35 – potentially prove a brilliant signing. Our bowling attack was already our key strength, and signing a bowler with title-winning experience and the capability of running through a top order is a really positive addition to an outstanding unit.
But as I said, our bowling was already a strength, and our batting line-up still looks to me at least one high-quality player light. We can all hope for another strong twilight season from Tres, and Hildy is as close to a safe bet as it gets… but for me, doubts linger about the rest of the top order. Steven Davies has yet to truly convince in Somerset colours, Tom Abell’s had as many mediocre seasons as positive ones, and is Azhar Ali the calibre of overseas signing we should be targeting? I’m not so sure.
Beyond them, we are looking at Banton, Byrom, Bartlett and Green, and while there’s undoubtedly some talent there, it’s a callow bunch and I’m not convinced that quartet can contribute the volume of runs prerequisite in any title challenge.
- How do you think we will perform in 2019:
- Specsavers County Championship
Can Surrey be caught? Nope, probably not. I think our best hope is for a rainy summer with truncated matches and low-scoring matches. While Surrey’s strength lies in amassing huge totals and grinding out opposing batsmen, I can see our matches featuring far fewer runs – and in a low-scoring match where teams struggle to pass 200 runs per innings, I can see our bowling options being enough to see off most other top flight teams.
A strong start, and vastly improved showing in the head-to-heads with Surrey, will both be essential if we’re going to challenge.
- Royal London One Day Cup
Johann Myburgh’s retirement presents a limited overs batting opportunity to someone, and how we fill that could go a long way to dictating how we fare. Could Tom Banton or Ben Green step up and make the role their own? Could someone like Lewis Gregory shift up the order to open? With Pete Trego, Davies and Hildreth fixtures in the top order there are runs in the team, but at least one and probably two new heads are going to have to make a name for themselves.
- NatWest T20 Blast
Potential winners. Another year of finals day experience will help the likes of Lewis and the Overtons, and Max Waller is a hugely dependable option in this format. With Roloef and Taylor also available, our T20 bowling is as good as anyone’s… but in a recurring theme, I question whether the top order has enough runs to propel us all the way. However, if we can answer that question positively, then the trophy beckons.
- Who do you expect to be our most important player in 2019?
Tom Abell. I say this with the caveat that, for all his captaincy nous and improved all-round showing in 2018, I am yet to be convinced he can contribute the quantity of runs we need from him. However, if he can continue the progress shown last year, develop his own ability to bat long and deep, maintain his sharp decision-making and bring through a couple of quality youngsters into the batting line-up, then he’ll have done his job well – and a strong season could lie ahead.
- Who is the young player you think can develop into a key player in the new season?
Tom Banton. There are a few up-and-coming talents who’ll be looking to grow their influence on the team this season, but he’s definitely the one I think can go furthest.
He had a disappointing introduction to the first XI at the tail end of last season, but he was not alone in struggling in those matches, and a decent run in the side from the off this time around can be the making of him. Looking around at his competition within the squad, I don’t see any reason why he can’t emerge as a fixture – and a force – in all formats.
- Are you looking forward to watching Somerset under floodlights?
I think the floodlights are a really positive move, but one I’m unlikely to see firsthand. I’ll hope to get along for a day or two’s play, but I’m far more likely to attend championship fixtures than limited overs.
- In general what is your main hope for the 2019 season for Somerset?
OK, jettisoning my glass-half-full approach for just one minute, I’d like 2019 to see Marcus Trescothick rip up a whole host more Somerset batting records, before hitting the championship-winning runs in the season’s final Taunton fixture against Essex in September.
I’d like to see Jack Leach establish himself as a world class international spinner, Jamie Overton to stay fit and flourish, and Dominic Bess to return to the form of 2017.
I’d like Tom Banton and Ben Green to prove themselves valuable additions to the first XI, Azhar Ali to show my misgivings about his calibre to be misplaced, and Lewis Gregory to clinch the T20 title with a hat-trick that includes Gareth Batty, Jade Dernbach and Tom Curran, before cartwheeling around the ground in a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan ‘Who’s the peasant now?’