County Championship Division One, Somerset v Notts, Taunton, July 7thto 10th
The performance this season of Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club has been one that has confounded many cricket fans expectations. Somerset’s closest challengers Essex inflicted an innings defeat on Notts in the last round, matching Somerset’s innings win inside 3 days at Trent Bridge at the start of the season. A game memorable for a huge 4thwicket stand between Tom Abell and George Bartlett who both made hundreds and a fine all-round bowling performance. Notts, with 41 points are currently 33 runs adrift of seventh placed Warwickshire.
Somerset bounced back from their defeat at Chelmsford two weeks ago with an ultimately comprehensive win against Hampshire at Taunton and in the process padded their lead at the top by two points to 15.
The main selection issues will be around the bowling. Will Somerset prepare as surface and back their spin twins to outbowl Notts new overseas signing Ravi Ashwin. If it does Somerset will have to decide whether to retain Timmy G or bring back one of Jack Brooks, Josh Davey, or if fit Craig Overton although Jason Kerr’s comments after the Hampshire game suggest Craig may be given more time despite his inclusion in the squad.
After showing faith in the batting order for the Hampshire game, proving your correspondent totally wrong in the process, it seems that the top six will remain the same, injury permitting. Steven Davies unbeaten 36 in the second innings against Hampshire will probably be enough for him to retain his place, although the option of giving Banton the gloves and bringing in one of the heavy scorers for the seconds last week remains.
What of our opponents? The Incider is deeply indebted to BBC Nottingham’s Dave Bracegirdle for giving us his views on Notts season so far and his thoughts for this game. Dave who commentates on “every ball of every Notts game” has something in common with Marcus Trescothick – he opened the batting with Somerset’s Mark Lathwell in North Devon in the 90s while stationed at Chivenor.
He has also watched Tom Banton’s dad playing for Notts so I’d like to think he has a little affection for our boys despite his East Midlands loyalties and reminded me that Notts still have a West Country presence in the form of Cornwall’s Jake Libby having for many years had Devon’s Chris Read in their ranks.
I jokingly referred to Notts in my pieces around the game at Trent Bridge earlier in the season as the cricketing reverse of Robin Hood – robbing from the poor to give to the rich -with their acquisitions, in the not too distant past, of the two Bens (Slater and Duckett), Joe Clarke, Zak Chappell and Paul Coughlin.
Chappell has not featured in the Championship this year while the unlucky Paul Coughlin (the Trent Bridge Lewis Gregory) who has been plagued by injury since he signed from Durham has managed only one appearance at the start of the season, while Clarke, Slater and Duckett have not provided the weight of runs or consistency all Notts fans would have hoped for averaging 25, 23 and 30 respectively, none have reached 500 championship runs so far this season.
Bracegirdle points us that this number of acquisitions were necessary for a side that, for various reasons, has lost Michael Lumb, Chris Read, Alex Hales, Rikki Wessels and, remarkably, three Taylors, Ross, James and Brendan in the recent past, but as yet their replacements have not filled the big boots left vacant by these stalwarts.
Bracegirdle is impressed that neither Peter Moores or captain Steven Mullaney have shied away from accepting in their comments to the media that Notts haven’t been good enough this season but he also feels that, as with many sides at the wrong end of the table, the luck and decisions have gone against them.
So the big question has to be can they turn things around and if they can what is the potential catalyst for an upturn in fortunes? The arrival of Ravi Ashwin, who bowled 60 overs against Essex (3-162) offers hope as does the welcome arrival for such a strong one-day side as Notts of the Blast.
But after their trip to Taunton Notts face Surrey at Trent Bridge and will surely need something positive from at least one of those games if they are to have hope. They still have to play both Kent and Warwickshire so will hope that their form has improved significantly by the time those games come around. But will probably need one of these two to falter as well.
Bracegirdle wouldn’t be drawn on my tease of Taunton’s Ciderabad reputation but he did offer that Ravi Ashwin will be a handful for the Somerset batsmen. Whether Notts will play a second spinner in the form of Samit Patel or Matt Carter who was early in his career a bit of a Taunton specialist in terms of playing time remains to be seen.
The make-up of the attack may depend on whether Stuart Broad, who bowled 33 overs in Essex’s only innings, is allowed to play by the ECB. Expect the estimable pair of Luke Fletcher and Jake Ball to have plenty of work to do whether Broad plays or not.
Mention of Ball and Fletcher demonstrates what every true cricket fan loves about Notts. They have so many fine county cricketers who have either received little or no international recognition. Of the current side, in addition to Ball and Fletcher, captain Steven Mullaney, Samit Patel, Jake Libby and Chris Nash are all in this category.
So it remains a complete mystery as to why a side coached by Peter Moores, the man Bracegirdle describes as the best in the world, and with such a good mixture of top level experienced county pros and young stars is sitting where they are in the table. Surely a change in fortunes is around the corner, let’s just hope it is not until after Wednesday!
As far as Somerset are concerned Bracegirdle was only prepared to go as far as saying he thinks this could be Somerset’s year, suggesting that the One-Day Cup win in May might be what brakes the hoodoo of so many runners-up finishes in recent years and allows Somerset to go on to greater things.
Jack Brooks is in Dave’s opinion a shrewd signing and he has a lot of time for Tom Abell who like us he sees maturing as a leader with every game. Asked about Banton he reserved judgement having only seen him bat once in the one-day cup semi-final earlier in the year, an innings which in Bracegirdle’s opinion Notts did not bowl terribly well at Somerset’s young star. Let’s hope he gets a good long look at Tom over the next four days!
Dave Bracegirdle will be joining Anthony Gibson on commentary this week. You can follow Dave on twitter @bracecricket