How do you solve a problem like a ‘keeper? – by Sam Dalling

A lean spell so far with the bat, but Alex Barrow has kept tidily. Photograph by Alexander Davidson
A lean spell so far with the bat, but Alex Barrow has kept tidily. Photograph by Alexander Davidson

Sam Dalling casts his eye over the wicket-keeping situation at Somerset CCC and considers the options for a key role in the side.

Cast your minds back a couple of years.

Somerset had at their disposal two of the most exciting young wicket keeping talents in the country.

You might say there weren’t many sides in the world boasting a pair of such distinguished batter-keepers in their ranks.

Fast forward two years and the powers that be at the County Ground find themselves with an altogether different conundrum on their hands.

Jos wearing the gloves in a match for Somerset
Jos wearing the gloves in a match for Somerset

There’s little point rehashing old ground. The Jos v Craig debate has been done to death and in any case is now irrelevant. Somerset picked Kieswetter. England picked Buttler.

Now the latter is a West Country boy and his presence in TA1 is sorely missed.  However, to say his appearances in county colours over the next few years could be limited is an understatement.

After all the Jos, much to the pride of the whole of Somserset, now finds himself as England’s incumbent gloveman in all three formats of the game.

A gut-wrenching decision no doubt, but if all had gone to plan it could have turned out to be a shrewd move.

But then disaster struck.

In a Championship match last July a sharp David Willey bouncer flawed honourary cider guzzler Kieswetter.

Craig Kieswetter is expected to miss the whole of the 2015 season following his eye injury
Craig Kieswetter is expected to miss the whole of the 2015 season following his eye injury

The scars and bruising may have long since healed but the lasting damage could yet turn out to be terminal to the 27-year-old’s cricketing career.

Everyone in the Westcountry has everything crossed that the 71-cap England international will be able to take up his place behind the stumps in the not too distant future.

In the meantime though newly appointed head-coach Matt Maynard has some head scratching to do.

The man currently in possession of the gloves is Alex Barrow. Since Buttler’s departure in the winter of 2013 the 22-year-old has been putting in the hard yards behind the season in attempt to try and bring his keeping up to the requisite standard.

Perhaps not what the purist would term a ‘natural’ keeper, Baz’s performances behind the stumps have been acceptable at the very least.

But it is with bat in hand where the right-hander’s troubles lie.

Somerset's wicket-keeping options Alex Barrow and James Regan
Somerset’s wicket-keeping options Alex Barrow and James Regan

An opener by trade Barrow has spent much of his time in the middle order and with limited success.

In 56 first class knocks to date, the man from Bath has passed 50 on just four occasions, failing to record three figures.

Now no one wants to write of an academy graduate at such a fledgling stage of his career.

However, if you live by the mantra ‘if you’re good enough, your old enough’ then youth should not bring with it immunity from criticism.

The simple fact of the matter is if you’re looking to carve out a career as a top six batsman 20 runs a knock doesn’t cut the mustard.

A side will rarely avoid relegation, let alone challenge for honours, if their top order are not making significant contributions.

In the interest of fairness it is worth pointing out that Barrow is not the only one not pulling his weight in the current side.

And in his defence 2014 was his best year in Somerset colours with an average of 43 much more respectable – albeit over a relatively short sample of just four games.

But his six Championship innings to date this summer have yielded a miserly 62 runs.

Without a serious upturn in form and fortune the pressure on the shoulders of the form England U19 man will continue to mount.

The keeper v batter contest is a debate for another day but if you’ve got a lad in there averaging just 20 then you might as well be giving an outstanding gloveman a go.

Michael Bates – released by Hampshire last year at the expense of Adam Wheater – is one name that springs to mind.

A new signing at this stage though seems unlikely and Barrow’s saviour could be a lack of viable alternatives.

James Regan
James Regan

The only other out-and-out ‘keeper on Somerset’s books is the untried James Regan. Like both Buttler and Barrow before him the right-hander is a King’s College graduate. Unlike his school contemporaries though it would appear that ‘keeping has always been his occupation.

The right-hander made his first class debut for the county back in 2012 against Cardiff MCCU but didn’t get a knock. Up until now though that remains his solitary appearance in first team colours.

In the meantime the 20-year-old has had to be content with turning out for the 2nd XI and local outfit Taunton St Andrews on a Saturday. And Regan has proven himself to be a top-notch performer at that level.

In 2014 he helped himself to 736 runs in 2nd XI cricket at an average of 46, in addition to claiming 23 victims behind the stumps. The youngster was also named as the West of England Premier League player of the season after racking up 682 runs – including two centuries – at an average of over 50 to help the Saints preserve their top-flight status.

Now in his fourth season as a pro at the County Ground, this week’s clash with a touring New Zealand outfit would surely have been the perfect time to give Regan the opportunity to shine.

Throwing fresh talent in at the deep end can sometimes pay dividends, with those that are untried often playing without the burden of pressure on their shoulders.

But that didn’t happen and one can’t help but question whether those in power really believe he has what it takes to carve out a career at the top level.

If they do then surely he can expect to see some first team action in the coming months.

The harsh truth is that as it stands prevent Messrs Maynard and Trescothick are not presented with a standout option gloves wise.

Marcus Trescothick receives the ball while keeping wicket during a friendly T20 against Gloucestershire earlier this season. Photo by Alexander Davidson
Marcus Trescothick receives the ball while keeping wicket during a friendly T20 against Gloucestershire earlier this season.
Photo by Alexander Davidson

Indeed the latter has even been sighted donning the gloves himself, sparking rumours that he is being considered to take up position behind the stumps in the one-day stuff this year.

Granted the skipper is technically a former international keeper, but the fact that such an option is even being considered tells you all you need to know about the current situation.

You’d be hard pushed to find a single Somerset follower in the land who wouldn’t desperately love for young Barrow to come good.

Who knows in a few years time the club may be facing Buttler-Kieswetter gate mark two.

But for the moment it is clear that something has to give, or indeed someone has to start giving.