NatWest T20 Blast Post Mortem

Kiessy was the star man!

Somerset’s T20 campaign has finished prematurely with the club unable to progress beyond the group stages for the first time in six seasons. The home win against basement side Middlesex on a hot Friday evening in front of another packed County Ground was a great way to finish the T20 season but it was remarkable that Somerset still had a chance to make the quarter-finals had the Gloucestershire v Glamorgan result ended positively for the Bristol team ultimately ending the latter’s involvement. It didn’t and, being brutal, it would have been tough on the Welsh county had it done so.

This was a new dawn for the T20 format in this country. Long gone are the days of a ‘Big Bash’ style short, sharp tournament lasting a few weeks only in the middle of a Championship season. This was the start of Friday night Cricket. A poll of over 30,000 cricket supporters said they wanted a regular pattern to the season and called for T20 games to be played primarily on a Friday night with championship games starting on Sunday. The ECB listened and so far the crowds have justified the decision across the counties and most definitely at Somerset. We’ve got this structure for a few years to come and the counties have invested a lot of money in marketing Friday nights as T20 nights so it is here to stay.

The downside to this new structure, I suppose, is recruiting star overseas players for 20-over cricket. Somerset fans have become accustomed to watching the likes of Kieron Pollard and Albie Morkel in our colours going into battle against equally star names in the opposition ranks when the T20 season lasted a few short weeks. But it is simply not financially possible or operationally feasible for counties to employ the world’s best at premium prices to play once a week (mainly) over a three-month period.

Likewise it could be argued it was easier for players to practice for the T20 campaign previously. Now batsmen, for instance, are finishing a Champo game on a Wednesday and having to “remove their 4-day head” in preparation for big bash cricket instead. Such preparation was arguably easier over the previous shortened period while the 4-day stuff was placed on the back burner. This is the same for all counties, however, and I would say some Somerset batsmen struggled making the adjustment in 2014 while players of other counties didn’t appear to so I think we need to take a look at our preparation and tactics going into next season.

Somerset’s season was very up-and-down. There were some great moments to saviour – beating old foes Hampshire twice is always nice – but losing to Kent twice highlights the inconsistency of a group of players that sometimes played like they didn’t really have a game plan.

A win at Bristol started our campaign with new recruit Dirk Nannes taking four wickets but there followed three consecutive home defeats. Losing at Taunton was a rare event in previous campaigns so 3-in-3 was a major shock and we were always looking down the barrel from then on. With three games left we needed to win all three to ensure further participation. We won one. Enough said.

Craig Kieswetter was our star player and he led the team from the front and the national scoring and six-hitting records for a while. But even he batted at times like he didn’t know whether to hold an end up or take the attack to the bowlers. This wasn’t helped by him losing his captain at the other end in the first 3-9 balls of the Somerset innings for pretty much every game in the first half of the campaign.

Craig was ably supported, at times, by Peter Trego, who gave us a couple of highly memorable knocks too. But if we lost any or all of Kiessy, Tregs and Tres cheaply we really didn’t seem to have a back-up plan.

Losing Kiessy to injury with half-a-dozen or so key games to play proved fatal and no-one else really stepped up to the plate consistently.

DSC_0283Of course the absence of Jos Buttler was always going to be a key factor in our performances in 2014. Looking at previous campaigns Jos coming in at number 5,6 or 7 was a great luxury and he saved us from tricky situations many times while ultimately taking us over the finishing line to win games that looked lost causes. We took this for granted. Now you can’t just go out and grab a replacement for a player of Buttler’s immense talent because such players do not grow on trees but what was confusing was we didn’t seem to be grooming any other player to take on the finisher role. Throughout sporting history team’s have had to adjust to losing inspirational players for various reasons and I personally would have liked to have seen someone like Lewis Gregory or Craig Meschede go in at number 3, as these are players who can hit a ball hard whilst crafting an innings in a variety of situations. And then stick with them, let them develop into the role rather than giving up after a few low scores. This would allow the team to move Tregs down the order to take on the finisher role. It would certainly ease the nerves knowing that we had Tregs in reserve if 2-3 wickets fell quickly.

Marcus Trescothick’s form in the LV=CC in 2014 has been nothing short of brilliant. Four centuries and another handful of big scores justify this claim. But it hasn’t happened in the one day game this season for the club captain. After too many low scores Tres was not considered for selection in T20 and the captaincy handed to Alfonso Thomas but the aforementioned injury to Kiessy prompted a return to the team for Tres and he hit his biggest score of 47 in the final game against Middlesex. But a firm decision has to be made about Tres’s involvement for next season. I would suggest he is advised to concentrate on the four-day stuff in 2015.

Compo relaxCompo came into the team to open the innings to the backdrop of mutterings of him not being able to play the T20 format but he surprised a few and showed he can put bat to ball when needed. He should open with Kiessy in this format next season and, if so, let’s stick with him.

The recruitment of our main overseas player for 2015 is vital. Considering the restrictions discussed previously we need to employ a player who can play all forms effectively. Alviro Petersen has been a decent player for Somerset with some excellent knocks but he is inconsistent. In both seasons with us a call-up to the national side has prompted a woeful run of form. He can play T20 and hit it hard when need be but he is no specialist. Somerset needs a player in the mould of Ryan Ten Doeschate, a big name enforcer in one day cricket who can adapt to the longer format and is not likely to be called away for international duty mid-season. But he is, of course, employed by another county. If Colin Ingram has a good run of form maybe he can become the answer?

As for a second overseas player I thought the signing of Dirk Nannes was a good one. The Australian, who resides in the westcountry apparently, has bowled well for Somerset at times with 1-2 adverse performances thrown in too. There has been some stick dished out on social media mainly because some feel he was not the type of player needed with us crying out for a big-hitting batter. With Alfonso still bowling to a high standard and the signing of Tim Groenewald as another capable death bowler we probably don’t need Dirk in 2015. Whether we can find another name player who lives locally is in doubt so, if not, should we save the money and invest in one of our younger pace bowlers?

Looking at the facts, and parking opinion, the club is in decline in this format of cricket. Somerset were losing finalists in 2009, 2010 and 2011, also making the Champions League semi’s in 2011 too. In 2012 we made Final’s Day for the 4th consecutive year but lost comprehensively in the semi-final to eventual winners Hampshire. In 2013 the club progressed to the QF’s before losing to Surrey in controversial fashion and then onto this season and failure to progress beyond the group stages. You wrap it up in ribbons but it is what it is – a gradual decline – and this needs addressing.

David Nosworthy will be only too aware that the club has failed to make Final’s Day in either of his two seasons in Taunton.

Somerset do not have a god given right to make T20 Final’s Day even if our supporters have become accustomed to our annual day in the sun in recent seasons. But a competitive side in this format is vital to our future operational performance. From 2016 we have a bigger ground to fill and T20 revenues can increase significantly taking the club to a new financial plain.

A successful team on the field can help deliver this and the planning should start now.