Apologies to Messrs Wolstenholme and Coleman for the title of this piece, but it needs to be said. Despite what many would have us believe the County Championship is not done and dusted and Somerset are still very much a relevant part of the discussion. Admittedly Surrey have a significant advantage and are clear favourites but anyone who considers it all done is being extremely premature. For a number of reasons.
Somerset are 32 points adrift in second place with 5 wins from 9 and 141 points to the leader’s 7 wins and 173 points. But, it needs to be remembered that winning a 4-day division one game is not that easy and there is no guarantee that both of these teams will keep up the pace they have set which has created significant separation from the rest.
If you need further evidence, consider the round of Championship games. The top two were pushed all the way, deep into the final day before eventually winning by the narrowest of margins. In the leader’s case by 6 runs against the team now 10 points adrift at the foot of the table. In fact the margin was even finer than the facts show. If Will Jacks had not plucked that on-drive out of the air then Lancashire would have needed just 2 runs for victory.
Consider also that the bottom two at the start of the round handed out serious beatings to two teams who I expected at the very least to be comfortably mid-table. And all that assumes that the weather does not interfere in the remaining fixtures. While it is trite to say there are no easy games in the top division it is true and doubly so as we head into the last third of the season with just 18 points covering 5 teams in the relegation battle.
It irks me more than a little to see the media handing the title to Surrey already. Not just as a supporter of the team chasing them but as a cricket lover who wants every issue every season to go to the last day. Paradoxically I was gladdened by the social media reaction from Surrey fans who, joyous in their narrow win, are already celebrating the title. Yes, Surrey are a very good side with international quality and depth in all departments, but they aren’t unbeatable.
Somerset also demonstrated again yesterday, as they did in their last home championship game against Notts and through a substantial part of the T20 group stage that they are a whole that is greater than the sum of their parts. Credit to Tom Abell, Jason Kerr and Andy Hurry who have in their first season together created a powerful unity in the squad.
Then there is another factor, international call-ups. Hampshire will be a different prospect without James Vince as would Surrey if, as I believe is long overdue, Rory Burns got the England call. Don’t be surprised if he is selected for the final test on his home ground which would affect his availability for a significant part of the run-in. On the flip side, delighted as we all are of Jack Leach, and knowing how much he deserves to resume his rightful place as England’s premier spinner, we would all prefer that elevation to wait until the winter tours!
And finally there is the small matter of the penultimate round of games which sees Surrey visit Taunton. While a win in that game alone would not be enough, given the current points difference, to put Somerset above Surrey it is not beyond the realms of possibility that that gap could have closed and the winner will be top going into the final round. What a tantalising prospect!
So, in conclusion there is still a lot of cricket to be played and a lot of factors that will determine where the title rests. Somerset appear to be heading to Leeds at the perfect time as Yorkshire are doing what they do best and threatening to implode. Surrey meanwhile host a Notts who we hope will be out of the Blast by next week and realise that they need to up their game to ensure survival. And let’s not forget Essex who produced a fightback worthy of the reigning champions at Taunton this week. Despite the sad comments of a small minority of their supporters who seemed to think that a pitch on which they were at one stage 171-1 on day 4 was unfit for purpose. Essex have to play Surrey twice and I suspect they have found something in themselves in the last few days which will give them renewed confidence for the rest of the season.
There is one thing for certain. Somerset will get every last ounce from its players and supporters over the next 5 weeks.