At this time of the season is that the games come thick and fast thanks to the ECB’s desire the shoehorn the vast majority of the championship season into April, the last week of August and September. Whether that is a good thing for a Somerset side still struggling to come to terms with the dramatic events of Taunton and, at the time of writing this (Saturday evening) still none the wiser about the deliberations of the pitch inspectors.
But, with finals day a week away we need Tom Abell and the boys to show all the powers of unity, focus and desire that have served them so well so far this season against Hampshire in their 12th Championship game of the season.
Hampshire showed their powers of recovery with a win in two-and-a-bit days last week at Worcester by 114 runs. The game was, like at Taunton, a bowler dominated low-scoring draw. The difference that 24 wickets fell on the second day! This much needed win for James Vince’s boys came off the back of an innings defeat at Chelmsford the week before, and was built around the resurgent bowling of Kyle Abbott (6-39 in Worcestershire’s second innings including a hattrick late on day 2) ably supported by Dale Steyn and Fidel Edwards.
Hampshire are still nowhere near safe from the drop to division two that they have flirted with on a regular basis in recent seasons. They life fifth with 3 wins from their 11 games and 114 points. Lancashire are 7 points below Hampshire having played a game more and Yorkshire a further point behind, having also played 11.
With the Roses match this week in Leeds Hampshire will be aware that anything less than a win will leave them in a still perilous position with both the protagonists from Headingley still to face.
So Somerset, irrespective of all the other things going on around them face a tough task. Not only do Hampshire have a strong seam attack but James Vince, who needs only two runs for his 1,000 for the season, will be keen to follow up his match-saving double hundred at Taunton in May to give the England selectors another nudge.
Vince’s unbeaten 201 at Taunton frustrated Somerset who had looked strong favourites to win at the County Ground in May after bowling Hampshire out for 231 and recovering from 134-5 to reach 506. James Hildreth top scored with 184, Craig Overton made 80 and Dom Bess 92. This was the game where Jack Leach picked up the injury that deprived him of a place in the England side for the first test against Pakistan and gave Dom Bess his debut.
This will be the last chance Somerset fans get to see Jimmy Adams who is retiring at the end of the season. Sam Northeast, who was treated so appallingly by (some of) his former county’s fans at Lords earlier in the season, has struggled for form since return from his broken finger in May.
Somerset may find themselves being opposed by an American born winner of an Australian reality TV show. Honestly. Hampshire’s young all-rounder, Ian Holland was born in Wisconsin in the north of the USA the son of an ex-pat Brit. He moved to Australia as a child and got his big cricketing break when he won “Cricket Superstar” and got his chance with Victoria. Holland made his debut for Hampshire in 2016 thanks to his dual nationality.
Somerset have a number of selection questions mainly around the bowling. I expect the top 7 to remain unchanged providing Lewis’ groin is able to get through these 4 days and be ready to lead the white ball side on Saturday. You would hope the Overton twins are able to play to counter Hampshire seam bowling strength. With Jack Leach a virtual certainty that leaves one remaining bowling spot between Dom, Timmy G and Josh Davey.
At the risk of repeating myself, winning games in Division One is hard and Somerset will need a good portion of luck to go with the qualities they have displayed consistently this season to see them to a victory that would send them to Birmingham in the best possible spirits.