The great thing about the current format of the Vitality Blast t20 is that when the chips are down the next games come at you fast and furious and a few favourable results can transform any counties campaign, and that is certainly the case with Somerset. Think back to that dark evening of Friday 27th July and that defeat in a farcical 10-over ‘slogathon’ against Surrey. That loss was Somerset’s third in six games having previously beaten Gloucestershire, Middlesex and Glamorgan. Jerome Taylor had made a forgettable debut and all looked bleak. Twitter was awash with negativity and certain players were misfiring – most particularly the opening batting duo of Johan Myburgh and Steve Davies.
But the team has now enjoyed five wins in five and sit proudly at the top of the south group of the Vitality t20 Blast, 3 points ahead of Kent and Glamorgan – who have a game in hand – and Gloucestershire who have played two less.
It all builds to an exciting end to the group stages with three games to go, two of those at Taunton this Friday and Sunday. Somerset can dictate their own destiny with the prize of a home quarter-final well within reach.
Following that Friday fright night in south London two wins in 6 days lifted the spirits as the cider county disposed of Middlesex, in another rain affected game, and then Hampshire by 16 runs. But the same issues applied at the top of the order prompting widespread calls in the local press and on social media for changes to be made. And these concerns were justified as the figures show.
In those first eight games Myburgh scored 129 runs at 16.1. Remove the one outstanding score – 46 at Lords – and seven of these knocks had an average of 11.9.
Davies scored 119 at 14.9 and, if you remove his outstanding score of 60 in the opening game against Gloucester, then his other seven innings’ averaged 8.4.
The highest opening partnership in these games was 39 with next best 27 and, with wickets falling early in every game, Somerset were always playing catch up.
The Somerset management agreed that a change was needed and Steve Davies was replaced by Tom Banton who would partner Myburgh and keep wicket. To be honest Myburgh could easily have been the fall guy here having only scored 10 more runs than his partner. But the cricket management stuck with him – and this was a huge leap of faith – and it has certainly paid off. In the last three wins Mybs has scored 186 runs including one century and one fifty. This is 57 runs more than those first 8 innings’.
In the last three games Somerset have beaten Essex, Sussex and Hampshire. In the Essex game the win was set up by the bowling and it was great to see Taylor bowling well (3 for 28) alongside the vastly improving Jamie Overton (3 for 23). Essex made just 136.
A rejuvenated Mybs led the batting charge scoring a brilliant 103 not out – 82 of these runs in boundaries – alongside his new opening partner, Banton, who helped himself to 29 not out and a 10-wicket win was assured. It was arguably Johan’s finest knock for Somerset and certainly one of the most memorable in recent seasons. He took the attack to Essex who looked clueless in response, so brutal was his hitting.
The good form continued on Sunday at Hove where once again the bowlers set the victory up by reducing Sussex to 169 for 5. There were no outstanding figures as all dug in and kept the pressure on the home team. Myburgh scored 5×4 and 1×6 in a 17-ball 29 to set the team on their way. But, just as it looked like the away team had blown it, up stepped Roleof van der Merwe to hit a quick fire 34 to negotiate victory with three balls left.
And so to Southampton last evening. Again Somerset opted to chase and the bowlers did the business again. Taylor’s 3 for 39, Jamie’s 2 for 21 and Roleof’s miserly 1 for 13 from his four overs reduced Hampshire to 129 and Somerset looked set for an easy win.
It was certainly a totally different type of innings’ from Myburgh who once again produced a man of the match performance. Having struck 7×4 in his first 30 or so runs scored, the unpredictable pitch saw wickets fall as Davies, Trego and Hildreth all fell in single figures. Corey stuck around as Mybs dug in and, helped by Tom Abell, the target was passed with 7 balls remaining. In stark contrast to the Essex knock his undefeated 54 came from 47 deliveries.
And so to the final three games. What is equally as encouraging as the results is the team work ethic and strong spirit of togetherness – just what you would expect from any team ultimately managed by Andy Hurry. The team bats deep and I must pay tribute to Abell who has quietly gone about his business in the middle order with some useful knocks that have stabilised the Somerset innings’. Add to that the captaincy of Lewis Gregory who has been a revelation since signing up for another three years with Somerset.
Myburgh’s sudden return to form has been as welcome as it has been intriguing. Let’s make no bones about it, his form in seven of the first eight games was not at all good enough. Mybs is incredibly popular at Taunton – I am told by the media team he is one of the nicest people you could meet – and he has certainly repaid the loyalty shown to him by Hurry and Jason Kerr. One can only assume the player himself realised that he was drinking at the Last Chance Saloon or was maybe shocked to see his opening partner removed from the side? Whatever the case let us hope this scintillating form continues in the last three games.
These will be three tough games against sides all with an excellent chance of progression. Moneybags Surrey are at Taunton on Friday – with the awesome Finch & Roy opening partnership – and Glamorgan follow on Sunday. To finish off we head to the south east and the side who have been our nemesis for a few seasons now, Kent.
But we are in good shape. With Hurry and Kerr keeping the players grounded and focused we can look forward to three great games in seven days. Bring it on!