There is little doubting that Brian Rose, the former Somerset captain and Director of Cricket, knows a good player when he sees one. His record shows that during his time as leader at Taunton he was responsible for introducing many good players, and even some great players, into the cider county’s ranks.
But when Rose announced the signing of Alfonso Thomas for the 2008 season there was little obvious reaction from the Somerset Cricket loving fraternity apart from those claiming to be in the know. There were no street parties, firework displays or people sounding their car horns in delight at the recruitment of a player who had been brought to the county under the rather controversial Kolpak ruling. That is not to say he wasn’t very good, not at all. Thomas, who was 31 years old at the time, boasted a good first class career in his native South Africa and had spent the latter part of 2007 playing nine matches for Warwickshire, their fourth overseas player in that season alone, including four appearances in the county championship.
Earlier that same year, on February 2nd to be precise, Thomas had enjoyed some international recognition and played a solitary T20i game for his homeland when South Africa entertained Pakistan in Johannesburg. He had a decent game opening the bowling with Shaun Pollack and claiming the wickets of Nazir, danger man Afradi and Haider for only 25 runs in his four overs as the Proteas cruised to a ten wicket win.
But Rose saw something he liked in Thomas and offered him a one year contract. He told the club’s website: “I watched him twice when I was out in South Africa and was impressed with what I saw.”
He added: “He is very highly rated and has a great record. Alfonso will be a great addition and will really strengthen the Somerset squad.”
And indeed he did.
Alfonso played his first game in Somerset colours against Surrey at Whitgift School in Croydon on 30th May 2008 taking three wickets and scoring a duck! He is now enjoying his seventh season as a Somerset player. His career has certainly reaped the benefits of playing for a high profile Somerset team that has been competing for trophies since his arrival. His reputation in the limited over formats has seen him play all around the world with some success, winning domestic trophies in the 20-over format in Australia and Bangladesh, and also play in the Indian Premier League with Pune Warriors against the very best players in the world.
He is Somerset’s leading all-time wicket taker in T20 Cricket with 112, some 60 more than the number two in the list, Max Waller. His 33 wickets in the 2010 season are the most by a Somerset bowler in a single season in the short form of the game. He led the county in the memorable Champions League campaign in India in 2011 in the absence of Marcus Trescothick with Somerset making the semi-finals losing a close contest to Mumbai Knights.
It is a surprise he has never added to that solitary international appearance even considering the quality available to the South African selectors.
But Alfonso Thomas is not just a one day player. He has played 150 first class games taking 492 wickets with a best bowling of 7 for 54. Prior to this season Thommo had taken 221 wickets in the four day game for Somerset with a best bowling of 6 for 60, which he has achieved twice. In 2010 he took 49 championship wickets at 24.53 as Somerset finished joint top of the top tier of the championship with Nottinghamshire, who ultimately claimed the trophy based on winning one more game than Somerset.
And there is no sign of Thomas’s star fading. Yet! In the LV=CC in 2014 Thomas has led Somerset’s line brilliantly despite claiming to be playing through the pain barrier suffering from back and shoulder problems. And it is in the longer format that Alfonso made the headlines in Somerset’s home game against Sussex. His 5 for 40 in Sussex’s second innings that helped fire Somerset to victory and to the top of the table was impressive enough. When he snared his fifth victim, Luke Wright, who was caught by his captain Trescothick in the slips, his tally for the season with only half the fixtures completed moved to 27 and his total Somerset haul in this format to 248.
The home victory against Sussex will, of course, be remembered for the dramatic way Thomas took his wickets. The south coast side had moved to 33 for 0 in their second innings and four wickets in four balls for Thomas and one for his partner-in-crime, Peter Trego, reduced Sussex to their knees at 33 for 5. This was the first time a Somerset player had ever taken 4-in-4 and Thomas joins an elite club of players to take a hat-trick for Somerset that includes exulted company like Garner, Wellard, White, Robson and Trescothick (yes, the same one!!)
For me Alfonso Thomas remains the best and most important player that Brian Rose ever brought to Somerset, a tribute indeed considering the other true greats that Rosey signed. Forget those that came in to play a few weeks of T20 Cricket on big contracts – even though the likes of Pollard and Van Der Merwe will always be popular with Somerset fans – but Rose’s finest list of signings boasts the likes of Justin Langer, Charl Willoughby and current player Peter Trego all of whom could justifiably lay claim to being Somerset legends. Langer changed the whole mentality at the County Ground in his three seasons as captain. Willoughby bowled fast and accurately like his life depended on it and Trego is a genuine crowd favourite – great hitter of the ball, magnificent fielder and experienced medium pace bowler. Any one of these players could be regarded as Rose’s finest.
Thomas has carved out a reputation for bowling when the going is tough and is a perfect role model for the young contingent of fast bowlers at Taunton. And he is a useful batsman too, as his 38 against Sussex demonstrated when Somerset were struggling to get back into the match.
Thomas has yet to win silverware with Somerset and I doubt anyone would cheer more than the man born on 9th February 1977 in Cape Town if a trophy is secured come September. Although born on foreign soil Alfonso Thomas is as Somerset these days as scrumpy cider. He is also starting to believe that this season could be a special one for his adopted county and he doesn’t forget the defining moment in his career.
Speaking to George Dobell after his record breaking feats grabbed the headlines, he said: “This could be the year, I’m starting to believe. Taunton is home now for me and my family don’t want to go anywhere.
“That was the first hat-trick of my professional career and has to be right up with the highlights. But yes, the turning point of my career came when a man called Brian Rose showed belief in me. I love Somerset.”
And Somerset – the club, players and supporters – love you too Alfonso!
So is Alfonso Thomas the best signing that Brian Rose made for Somerset? Do you think that tag should be handed to the players I mentioned previously? Or are you a fan of Zander De Bruyn or did you think Omari Banks was under-rated? What about Stefan Jones or Abdur Rehman? Players must have played for Somerset in the championship to be considered.
Have your say below but keep it clean and relevant. All posts will be moderated and the best ones published. Thanks.