Somerset have made a fine start to the 2019 season with wins against Kent and Nottinghamshire meaning the side enjoy an early spell at the summit of the top tier of the County Championship. But the next four-day game will not be until 14th May when champions Surrey visit the Cooper Associates County Ground. In the meantime Somerset will play all eight qualifying games in this season’s Royal London One Day Cup starting with a home game against Kent on Friday. Two of the games at Taunton will, of course, be under floodlights.
Two days ahead of the first game, Somerset’s Head Coach Jason Kerr spoke to the press and we caught up with him to ask how preparations were going ahead of the campaign opener.
- TIC: Congratulations on the start to 2019, what has been most satisfying thing for you other than the obvious and points in the bag?
JK: Quite simply the character and the skill that we showed. We have tried to develop a bit more of an edge and steer in our characters and relish the challenge of any opportunities that present themselves. So to see a couple of times in both games we get ourselves into a precarious position but come through it was satisfying for me.
And from a skill level we are always trying to improve, whether that’s Trescothick trying to improve or a younger player by 10-15%. To see the way we have operated, particularly as a bowling and fielding unit, has been outstanding.
- TIC: You can go into the 50-over campaign with a great deal of confidence. But how do you, as head coach, manage the balance of keeping the squad focused and grounded yet confident of their abilities and play with a certain swagger at the same time?
JK: The interesting thing for me is I am very much process driven, and there’s so much you can control and so much can’t. So for me it’s about making sure the guys have practiced and have been prepped and, in many ways, what happens in the middle is what happens. So if the opposition play better than you then fair play.
But we have an environment where we are constantly challenging our behaviours and how we operate and improve our skills, and with that process driven mentality, the rest tends to take care of itself. More often than not.
So the change of format presents a really exciting opportunity for us and the guys can have some fun and freedom out there in the middle.
- TIC: There’s a lot of competition for places in this squad, with pretty much all players wanting to play all formats. But you can only select eleven in any game and there is a likely scenario where we have England internationals not being selected for Somerset. Again, how do you manage this?
JK: As a head coach you want strong competition for places because that raises standards and those that are in the first XI are constantly aware that there are strong cricketers waiting in the wings.
Then as a coach it is about me managing those individuals not in the side and I have to show complete transparency and communicate well because we don’t want those guys to get too frustrated. But you want them to be disappointed so it drives them to be better and force an opportunity.
It’s a challenging approach but everything that myself, Tom and Andy do is for the best interests of the team, and they (the players) are aware that we are putting the team first and what we are trying to achieve as a club. The buy-in from all the players has been outstanding.
- TIC: How will the team look on Friday do you think? Jack Brooks has been highly impressive so far so will he play and will there be a chance for some youngsters to shine this season, Tom Banton for instance?
JK: We’ll pick a final eleven sometime before Friday and, with Johan Myburgh moving on, there is an opportunity so the batting line-up will look slightly different.
From a bowling point of view we have to work out what we have to do to win games, but with the depth we’ve got, we will do that and always put out the best eleven to win games.
- TIC: Last season the Championship and 20-over campaigns were memorable and we did well, but not so in the Royal London. What did you and the side learn from last season and have you gone about things differently for this campaign?
JK: For me we are constantly looking to improve so we have looked at some key areas. I do think that we did underperform in the 50-over comp last year as we were disjointed. We had to make changes due to injuries and had three captains during the campaign as Tom Abell was injured, Lewis missed some games, Tregs captained at times, Josh Davey was out too. In an ideal world in professional sport you have continuity but it doesn’t always work that way. But there were certainly some learnings that we will take into this year’s competition and hopefully rectify a few wrongs.
- TIC: Somerset supporters have been frustrated for a number of season’s as we get close to winning trophies but can’t quite cross the line. And this year expectation appears to be high, and I have been as guilty as anyone else for speaking up our chances. How do you manage this and, in this world of social media, how do you protect the players?
JK: I think that expectation’s there for everyone. At the start of the year all 18 counties have a lot of optimism that this is the year and, again, I’ll go back to what we can control in our environment. We need to make sure our work ethic is on point as we are trying to gain a competitive edge so we can operate in a way that other clubs can’t. And then concentrate on the here and now.
We can’t get caught up in the ‘what ifs’ and where we are going to be in September. The important thing for me is to practice today, and again tomorrow, then on Friday there’s a game so we focus on that and ignore some of the peripheral stuff that’s out there. If I can do that then they have a much better chance of performing.
- TIC: I’ll get straight to the point if I may – can we win the Royal London One Day Cup?
JK: There’s no reason why we can’t. But we’re in the same position as every other county right now and what we have to do right now is get the ball rolling with a game on Friday against Kent.
I’ve seen with a lot of players where they get distracted by what might happen in the future, whether that’s England selection or a second team player going into the first team. And that takes away some focus on performance.
- TIC: Final but very important question, am I allowed to mention the “J” word in light of the rumours over the weekend?
JK: (laughs) Why not? Everyone else has. The interesting thing is the first time I saw it was on Cricinfo. It made me smile but it was news to me.
So there you have it! Thanks to Jason for talking to us and good luck to the team on Friday against Kent and for the whole campaign.