Murali Vijay is set to make his debut for second-placed Somerset against third-placed Yorkshire at the Cooper Associates County Ground starting Tuesday, with his new team keen to avenge an innings defeat in the reverse fixture in Leeds in July.
But more than that the title-chasing home team are in the hunt for points sitting just two behind Essex who occupy the top spot. Yorkshire are some 35 points adrift of Somerset and you have to say it would take a dramatic collapse from either or both of the top two for Yorkshire to complete a successful title charge this season.
The signing of Vijay appears to be a major coup for Somerset given the stage of the season and having lost the services of Azhar Ali to Pakistan duty. A regular member of the Indian test team he has scored twelve test hundreds and fifteen fifties in 61 test matches amassing just short of 4,000 runs in total. He has a highest score of 167 and averages 38.28 with the bat.
All being well this will be the first of three games that Vijay plays for Somerset this season, with an away game at Hampshire to follow next week before Essex visit Taunton for the season finale – a game that could decide who wins the County Championship this season. In an ironic twist Vijay played three games for Essex in 2018 scoring 320 runs at an impressive 64.6.
Vijay goes into a 13-man squad that is without England internationals Jack Leach and Craig Overton. Tom Abell will captain the side of course and there is a welcome return for Lewis Gregory. Jack Brooks – who joined Somerset from the Tykes during the winter – and Dom Bess, who has played for Yorkshire on loan this season in the Championship and Vitality Blast, are also in the pack and may play. Tom Banton, George Bartlett, Josh Davey, Steve Davies, Tim Groenewald, James Hildreth, Jamie Overton, and Roelof van der Merwe, who has just signed a new two-year contract with Somerset, make up the rest of the squad.
Captain Abell is clearly delighted to have Vijay in the dressing room for these crucial three rounds of games describing him as “an international class batsman” and saying that “he’s fitted in to the dressing room seamlessly. He brings experience and knowledge which will be hugely important in the run-in.”
Yorkshire batsman Tom Kohler-Cadmore believes the pressure is on the home team and his side can play without fear, saying: “We’re in with a chance, which is nice. But we’re not the ones under pressure. It’s going to be hard to win the title, no doubt. We’re underdogs. This is a bit of a free hit.
“There’s pressure on Essex and Somerset. But even if we win and they both lose, they’d still have 15 points or so on us.
“If we can put a big performance in and win, we’ll still be in the hunt with Kent and Warwickshire to play. Two more wins there, and you never know.
“The main thing is just doing what we’ve done all season – back our processes and stay calm. If we do, we’ll win the game.”
The Tykes have brought a 14-man squad to the south west and will be led by Steven Patterson with Jonny Tattersall donning the gloves. Gary Balance, Tim Bresnan, Harry Brook, Ben Coad, Will Fraine, Matthew Fisher, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Jack Leaning, Adam Lyth, Keshav Maharaj, Duanne Olivier and Jack Shutt make up the rest of the pack.
It would be no exaggeration to say that these three games could be the most important in Somerset’s history. With the top two so close, and with everything to play for, both sides will be keen to accumulate as many bonus points as possible and it may well be this area that determines who will be crowned champions. With the September weather set to be inclement it is not likely to be anywhere near perfect batting conditions so runs are not likely to be free-flowing.
Regardless of league places this will be a tough game for Somerset as the Tykes are always tough opponents. It will be a time for clear minds and no faint hearts. But play to our potential and it is a game Somerset can win.
Let’s get behind the boys!