After 10 days of heady excitement at the County Ground, with the carnival atmosphere that surrounded the arrival of Chris Gayle for this year’s T20 competition, Somerset return to championship action tomorrow.
The morning after celebrating last night’s eight-wicket victory against Hampshire in the NatWest T20 Blast, Somerset left their West Indian talisman behind today to make the journey north-east to Chester-le-Street where they will face a Durham side currently riding high in Division One.
Durham currently lie in second place in the LV=County Championship table, just four points behind leaders Middlesex. The north-east side have won four of their six games so far this season, while Somerset have won just one of the five they have played, with a draw and three defeats, and languish second from bottom, albeit with a game in hand.
They will need to reverse recent history between the two sides if they are to come away with a victory in four days’ time. Durham are unbeaten in their last 12 home games against Somerset (won three, drawn nine).
The Cidermen will take comfort from the progress they have made since the three consecutive defeats with which they started their season and which included a loss to tomorrow’s opponents in the opening Championship game of the season. They won away in dramatic style at Trent Bridge against Nottinghamshire in mid-May and then dominated reigning champions Yorkshire for key spells of their encounter at Taunton before the match petered out into a tame draw on a flat wicket.
Conditions are likely to offer far more assistance to the bowlers over the next four days however. The last seven championship matches at the Emirates Durham ICG have all produced a result, six home wins and an away victory for Warwickshire in July last year.
As a result, Lewis Gregory – who took 5-99 in Durham’s first innings in April – comes back into the side after being rested for the game with Yorkshire. Both Overton brothers, Craig and Jamie, are also included along with Tim Groenewald in a 12-man squad, while Alfonso Thomas sits out the game as part of Director of Cricket Matt Maynard’s policy to rotate his pacemen.
James Hildreth who just missed out on making 1,000 first class runs by the end of May in the game against Yorkshire said: “We feel we have been chasing it a little bit in the championship where we had a poor start, but now we have turned things around a little bit and we are playing some good cricket. A couple of the other guys are also starting to hit some good form with the bat which is pleasing.
“However Durham have had a good start to their season and are going to be tough. Conditions can be tough up there and will favour their bowlers, but we feel that we are now going in the right direction in the championship.”
Somerset made an excellent start to their home game against Durham in April. Johann Myburgh scored 118, before the first of a series of batting collapses which so badly hindered the club’s progress over the next few weeks.
The architect of that initial collapse was the evergreen Durham skipper Paul Collingwood who took 5-57 and followed it with a century for good measure when his side batted. Scott Borthwick fell agonisingly short of a century in Durham’s first innings on 94 and then brought up a second half-century in the second innings before Durham recorded a five-wicket win.
Somerset will again need to contend with one of the most effective new-ball pairings in the domestic game this week – Graeme Onions and Chris Rushworth in their own back yard. Rushworth picked up six wickets in Somerset’s second innings at Taunton and already has 39 first-class wickets to his name this season. In total, the Sunderland-born bowler has taken 98 championship wickets since the start of 2014.
Durham will of course be missing England duo Ben Stokes and Mark Wood, but have plenty of strength in depth and are likely to present a tough test of Somerset’s resolve this week.
Hildreth, who scored a first-innings 53 against Durham in April, spoke about missing out on the milestone of reaching 1,000 runs by the end of May. He said: “I certainly wasn’t thinking of a 1,000 runs in May when the season started! It was nice to get up close to it but the way the game against Yorkshire panned out it was never going to happen.”
He added: “As a batsman you try to get as many runs as you can every season because that is what you are judged on. However ultimately you want to win games of cricket and for Somerset to be pushing towards the top of the table so if I can get runs and we do that then that’s my goal.”
Craig Overton who heads the Somerset bowling averages with 13 wickets at 21.54 and is second in the batting with an average of 34.75 said: “I like going to play up there because I played there once and got a few wickets so hopefully I can do the same this time round and we can produce the form we did last time and get another win.”
“I have been going alright lately so hope I can keep that going for the rest of the season.”
Jamie Overton who made his one-day debut at the Emirate ICG a few years back and who enjoyed success both batting and bowling in the last home game said: “It will be nice to be bowling with the red ball again it does a little bit more than the white one so it’s always nice to get that back in your hand.
“Durham is usually a bowler friendly wicket so hopefully if I play then I can get a few wickets. I always find it tough going there because I prefer a bit more pace on the ball so I will try to get my basics right and take a few wickets.
The Overtons have been bowling in tandem in the recent game with Yorkshire about which Craig said: “It’s always nice for us to bowl together and we both enjoy it and it seems to work well so let’s hope we can both stay fit and keep it going!”
The North Devon pair also shared a last wicket partnership of 74 against Yorkshire.
“It’s always fun batting with Jamie. He says he wants to go up the order, and as long as he doesn’t go above me that’s fine so hopefully we can score a lot more runs together.”
Craig added: “We know we didn’t get off to a good start, but you can’t reflect on the past, we have to look forward and Durham is a tough place to go and win but hopefully we can continue with our form and get another good result up there.”
Captain Marcus Trescothick said: “Winning up at Notts and then a good performance against Yorkshire here has given us a bit of a boost in our confidence.
“After a few T20 games we have to get our heads back into red ball pretty quickly against Durham who are flying high at the moment.”
The skipper added: “When we met down here we let the game slip after the opening day so if we can keep on improving on what we have achieved in our last couple of matches then hopefully we will see a different game.”
Durham Head coach Jon Lewis spoke about his concerns about the side’s recent batting performances: “Our best batting seems to come in the second innings where you don’t get the points unfortunately.
“It’s helped us win a couple of games, some excellent fourth innings run chases, but we’re not getting the first innings scores to get us the batting points and we need to address that. It looks a decent pitch so hopefully this week we will do.”
Somerset squad: (from) Marcus Trescothick (capt), Tom Abell, Jim Allenby, Alex Barrow (wkt), Tom Cooper, Lewis Gregory, Tim Groenewald, James Hildreth, Johann Myburgh, Craig Overton, Jamie Overton and Pete Trego.
Durham squad (from) Paul Collingwood (capt), Mark Stoneman, Keaton Jennings, Scott Borthwick, Michael Richardson (wkt), Calum MacLeod, Gordon Muchall, John Hastings, Usman Arshad, Chris Rushworth, Graham Onions, Ryan Pringle, Paul Coughlin and Gavin Main.
- Alfonso Thomas helped keep himself match fit ahead of two vital T20 matches this coming weekend by taking 2-37 in 10 overs for club side Taunton Deane CC against Bridgwater today at the Convent Field.