Five great things about Somerset’s 2019 Blast

The Vitality Blast quarter-finals were played out over the weekend and the four sides who chased totals in those games will make up the numbers for the showdown at Trent Bridge on 19th September. It will be a first ever outing at finals day for Derbyshire – who trounced Gloucestershire at Bristol on Saturday night – and they will be joined by Essex, Notts and Worcestershire.

Somerset bowed out of the tournament late August after an exciting but disappointing home defeat against Middlesex. The game pretty much summed up Somerset’s topsy-turvy campaign – one that had some incredible highs and disappointing lows throughout – as the batters posted a highly-impressive 225 but the bowlers once again misfired and failed to defend this total. And some cider county fans were quick to criticise the bowling unit on social media platforms even though some credit should be awarded to Eoin Morgan who batted quite brilliantly to lead his sides run chase.

Somerset lost exactly 50% of their scheduled games this season despite having the two highest run scorers in the tournament in Tom Banton and Babar Azam. A good win at Cardiff kick-started things before three consecutive defeats and it was all very volatile from there on. That final game was a must win but the team fell short.  

So no quarter-final or finals day for Somerset this season but here at The Incider we are glass-half-full people and we like to focus on the positives. So here – in no particular order – are five great things to recall following Somerset’s 2019 campaign and a few words of advice for next season.

  • Tom Abell is a proper T20 player!

There were a few raised eyebrows in certain quarters when Tom Abell was picked for the twenty-over side midway through the 2018 campaign. Known as a batsman with a stout defence and text book technique there was little evidence to suggest Tabes could adapt his game to the slap, bang, wallop of the limited overs formats. But he did, and did so very well, coming into play and keeping the scoreboard ticking over at crucial times as Somerset progressed to finals day last year. He retained his place in 2019 and his game seemed to be developing in front of our very eyes week-by-week as he offered us an array of the many scoops and sweeps he had introduced to his armoury. He scored 354 runs in total including a highly-enjoyable and impressive unbeaten century in that final game against Middlesex. He is now a proper 20-over batsman capable of taking the game to the bowlers. And his fielding has also come on in leaps and bounds with many comparing him to Max Waller – and that’s no mean comparison. His endless energy and enthusiasm prompted eleven catches – the fourth highest in the competition.

Come 2020 Tom will be a crucial part of the team again and will be in the eleven on merit. And he deserves to be. Has any player worked harder to keep improving and developing their skills, even when the chips are down? I doubt it.

  • Somerset’s award-winning live streaming and social media coverage is the envy of the sporting world!

We’ve all done it – booked tickets for a gig, or the theatre, or for a weekend away with the family and then when the fixtures are published you realise it clashes with Hampshire at home. Faced with the unenviable possibility of cancelling the family do (and subsequent divorce), inevitably the cricket takes a back seat. But these days it has never been easier to keep in touch with all things Somerset thanks to Ben Warren’s efforts and the small team around him. So good is he at his job that Somerset’s social media offer was voted ahead of a number of higher profile adversaries including Premier League football clubs. These days you can feel part of the match action wherever you are, and we should remember Somerset has a large support away from the county, both nationally and internationally. The live streaming has been a welcome part of the new way of keeping in touch with county cricket. And it’s free for all fans.

At a time when cricket is being criticised for accepting the Sky dollar – and that failure to provide free-too-air cricket is halting the game’s development to new audiences – Somerset are showing that if you take cricket to the public then the public will watch. The ECB would do well to see what Somerset are doing and do it themselves.

  • Taunton is the best place to watch cricket, especially with the floodlights!

The Cooper Associates County Ground is a great place to watch cricket but don’t take our word for it – ask any visiting supporter and they will confirm what we already knew. And the introduction of the floodlights has added a new dimension to the experience and in 2019 it seemed to go up a level. I’m not sure the lights have added to ticket sales, as we always sold out regularly before, but the atmosphere continues to be the envy of other counties.  Noisy and enthusiastic, Somerset supporters are simply the best and get behind the team no matter what. And on the backs of opposing players too.

I can’t say I’m too sure about Saturday night cricket – and one or two club cricketers would probably agree – but thousands of fans lapped it up. When it comes to atmosphere the so-called smaller clubs lead the way and the likes of Lords, The Oval and Southampton do not compare to Taunton, Bristol and Chelmsford. No way.

  • Tom Banton will conquer the world!

There are so many superlatives being used to describe Tom Banton when he has bat in his hand. What a season this impressive young man has had. Not since the likes of Kieswetter and Buttler has a young, home grown youngster created such a stir. There won’t be many batsmen in the world who will force Babar Azam to accept a supporting role but young Tom dominated so many of Somerset’s early inning’s that the great Pakistani – widely acknowledged as the best T20 player in the world – could only sit on his handle for long spells and watch and enjoy like the rest of us.

At the start of the season there was no guarantee that Tom would be involved. He had come into the T20 side in 2018 to replace the ineffective Steve Davies and had a couple of decent knocks but nothing more than that. His form in the 50-over stuff earlier this season was also initially inclement after a debut century against Kent in the season opener. But from there he got better and better and starred for Somerset in the Royal London One Day Cup final at Lords in May.

In the Vitality Blast he scored a whopping 549 runs at an average of 42.23, and only his opening partner Babar scored more runs in the entire tournament. He blasted another ton – also against Kent – and helped himself to four fifties too. It has been reported that the England selectors and representatives of the world’s franchises are already watching with interest with some predicting young Tom will play in next season’s IPL. That’s great news as long as it doesn’t impact on his Somerset commitments of course.

And he is scoring runs in the County Championship too. The sky is most definitely the limit for Tom Banton.

  • This group of young players will only get better!

It’s a sign of how talented this group of players are, and the subsequent expectations their combined talent raises, that Somerset supporters are disappointed not to be heading to Finals Day this season. At the very core of this squad are some highly-promising youngsters with years ahead in the game and this team will get better and better. The skipper Lewis Gregory is a rather stately 27 years old. It’s easy to forget that the Overton twins and Tom Abell are only 25 years young as they have been around for what appears to be years. Younger still Bants is just 20, Eddie Byrom 22 and 19 year-old Tom Lammonby enjoyed an extended run in the side in 2019 and would have gained so from his experience playing in front of full houses at Taunton. These players will form the backbone of Somerset’s 20-over team for many years to come. And there are other bright young things readying themselves to join them. It really does auger well for the club.

So rather than reflect on 2019 with disappointment let’s instead view it as another stepping stone in the development of an excellent group of players. The best has yet to come for this lot.

There’s not much Somerset will need to do to prepare for the 2020 campaign regarding the squad as the nucleus of a great side is already in place. Overseas recruitment will be key (as always) and hopefully the incredibly popular Babar Azam will be back to open with Bants but I’m not sure at the time of writing what Pakistan have planned beyond April next year. But the club will need a replacement for Jerome Taylor who simply didn’t cut the mustard in 2019 after an indifferent – and only sometimes impressive – 2018. An international class death bowler would be very welcome.

No disrespect to the coaching team at the Cooper Associates County Ground but the club would do well to employ the services of a full-time bowling coach next season. Heath Streak was employed on a part-time basis but a temporary appointment has not worked well with the club’s pace bowlers often bowling with a lack of discipline and straying wide and short.

Quite why a full-time appointment wasn’t made for 2019 is beyond me. Why the outgoing CEO opted to invest in an unwanted and unnecessary second club shop is baffling, especially as the club already enjoy excellent retail facilities having been served so well by Somerset County Sports for so many years. But that’s another argument for another day.

I don’t know whether there is money available to supplement the coaching structure at Somerset after George Dobell’s article on the ESPN Cricinfo site suggested otherwise but, if not, the club would do well to look to some former players to help out. Stefan Jones and Andrew Caddick remain local to the CACG and both know a thing or two about pace bowling.