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International Bright Young Things

It has been a tough few days for Somerset’s players and supporters. But we move on and today there was the wonderful news that Lewis Gregory (albeit apparently as a standby for James Anderson) and Jack Leach have both been called into the 13-man squad to play Ireland next week and the “pre-Ashes camp” the following week. Thoroughly deserved in both cases.

Lewis’ availability to lead the T20 side is not yet clear but even if he is allowed to play this weekend he will, if selected by England, not be available for the next couple of weeks of the Blast. No doubt Tom Abell will lead the side in his absence. Leach of course has not been part of the T20 side although I’d like to anticipate a world where that changes very soon.

Lewis Gregory has been outstanding with bat and ball for Somerset this season. Following on from last winter’s England Lions tour, which he captained, his choice to reprise that role this week was entirely justified. He leads the PCA MVP rankings at present. Jack Leach who has by all accounts been the pick of the Lions bowlers in the Australian second innings finished with figures of 28.5-5-109-5.

There is an eternal paradox here in that players, from whichever county, get noticed if they are performing well for that county. The county club has had the benefit of those performances but then has a hole to fill when those players are called up for England duty.

For many counties this is a perennial problem; Yorkshire have been without Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Adil Rashid since early May and are unlikely to see much of them again this season. Hampshire lost James Vince and Liam Dawson for the same period and while they will return to their county any day now Hampshire’s championship challenge has faded in their absence. And Surrey, perhaps worst hit will be without Jason Roy, Rory Burns, Ben Foakes and Sam Curran.

If Somerset are to succeed they need to attract and retain the best players, something which they won’t be able to do if those players see us as a club that does not want its players representing England. As supporters we need to understand that.

My dad believed for the whole of his life that the England selectors barely knew where Somerset was let alone how to get to the County Ground. There was some element of truth in that in the pre-Botham era where a Somerset player probably had to perform at Lord’s, The Oval, Headingley or Old Trafford to get noticed.

But no longer. The consistent performances of the county in the last few years and the ongoing production line of fine cricketers from the academy is getting attention from Ed Smith. In the last year-and-a-half Craig Overton, Dom Bess and Jack Leach have all made England debuts. A number that would have been unthinkable ten years ago. And there may be more to come with Tom Banton and Jamie Overton to the fore and George Bartlett, when he rediscovers his class not far behind. And if Tom Abell is not a future England captain …….

In the short term the T20 side will be weakened but Lewis’ absence will give an opportunity to one of the many youngsters on the fringes, and Ben Green and Lewis Goldsworthy come immediately to mind. We didn’t know until the start of this season just how good Tom Banton is and we won’t know about Ben or Lewis until they are given a run in the side. They, like Banton, could be fixtures by the start of next season.

Is it time for Ben Green?

Every Somerset supporter should swell with pride at this England selection, wish both Lewis and Jack well and revel in seeing the next wave of academy graduates coming into the first team. This is the next phase of Somerset’s development and it is a very exciting one.

While I am at it I’d like to deal with the question that has been rolling around Somerset cricket these last few days like a thunderstorm in the Vale of Taunton. At its heart is what it means to be a Somerset supporter. I have a very simple view, born probably out of the fact that I was brought up as a Somerset fan long before Social Media was a thing.

In that much simpler era, discussions about the team’s fortunes or a particular players merits took place in the office, at the pub or in the ground out of the consciousness of the players (although occasionally players were on the wrong end of supporters comments at the County Ground). And that was all fine, we are all entitled to our opinion and long may that continue.

But now it is all too easy after a poor display by the team, a bad shot, dropped catch or couple of poor overs to jump on Twitter or Facebook and vent one’s spleen. And to me that is a complete no-no.

It is clear to me that the players are all too aware of the criticism. Some deal with it better than others. But they should not be subjected to it. How would you feel if a work colleague or customer jumped on Twitter to tell the world what an unflattering view you had of your day’s work?

Tom Abell and his team are also trying their hearts out to win this thing, this big shiny end of September thing that we all crave. That’s hard enough in itself. To paraphrase JFK’s much played speech this week around the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, we choose to do these things not because it is easy because it is hard. As supporters we need to do exactly what the word means – support. And that is not just turning the County Ground into a fortress for the rest of the season but also holding back and counting to ten when a player doesn’t perform or the team has a setback.

I don’t want to preach, but I believe that we all have an influence for the rest of what so far has been a fabulous season.