The Vitality Blast t20 begins on Thursday, in its last proper season before the dreaded, horrific, Hundred is forced down cricket fans throats by the ECB in their attempt to do something no successful business has done before: appeal to a new market by deliberately isolating the vast majority of your current one.
Somerset start with two away games at Glamorgan (Thursday 18th) and Kent (Saturday 20th) before opening their home campaign against Hampshire on Friday 26th. You can be sure that our team will be incredibly exciting to watch this year and, given the success in the Royal London One Day Cup and us reaching Finals Day last year, I’m hoping this successful feeling will transfer over.
At the top of the order, Pakistan opener Babar Azam will be coming in off the back of a strong World Cup and as the number one t20 Batsman in the world (according to the ICC). Alongside Tom Banton, who has been the emerging star of this season as a result of his performances not only in the 50 Over Cup but in the County Championship as well, we will have one of, if not the, strongest opening pair in the competition – an area that has not been a beacon of consistency and strength over the years.
Pete Trego and James Hildreth will be back in their regular slots of 3 and 4 respectively, with both hopefully continuing to do the role they have consistently done for Somerset over the years. Trego will continue the aggression of the openers, and Hildreth will adapt as the game requires, most likely being the anchor for the rest of the aggressors to bat around.
The most interesting position in the batting line up for me is number 5. The post was held by Tom Abell consistently last season, but given his indifferent form with the bat this season (under 30 in both the County Championship and the 50 Over Cup) I can foresee a situation where his position in the t20 side (led instead by Lewis Gregory) is not certain. And given Steve Davies is unlikely to open, he could be an experienced option to come in down the order, whilst younger batsmen like George Bartlett may be considered too.
Not only is he captain of the side, but Lewis Gregory is the outstanding player this season too, with his form across formats seeing him be rewarded with captaining the England Lions. Number 6 in the t20 side is perfect for him as well – away from the fluidity that’s found in most t20 batting orders today, his strike rate is exceptional, meaning he can start quickly to add a good score to the total if he comes in later on.
Roleof van der Merwe is incredibly consistent for Somerset in the limited over formats, and although he is not often the Man of the Match candidate, last season saw him have the second highest strike rate, and the second lowest (of the regular bowlers) economy.
The bowling department is the most interesting for Somerset, given there is a large number of top-quality bowlers available for Gregory and Kerr to choose from. The obvious two to play are clear: Jerome Taylor as the overseas player will not be sat in the dugout, and Max Waller is one of the most underrated leg spinners in the domestic t20 game.
An interesting side note will be what happens with Jack Leach – having expressed a desire to play the limited overs format, if he isn’t selected for England in the Ashes will he, like Bess, go out on loan?
The last two bowling slots is where the greatest competition will be found, as the Overton’s, Groenewald, Brooks, Davey will be competing for them, as well as those with an outside chance such as Paul van Meekeren. The two to start for me would be Jamie Overton and Jack Brooks. The former was the leading wicket-taker in the competition for the Cidermen last year, and as the quickest Somerset bowler brings something different to the attack. Brooks was one of Yorkshire’s leading wicket takers last season, but crucially his economy was under 8, an impressive feat for a quick bowler in t20 cricket.
It’s a strong team then, and hopefully they can put in the performances to match in the opening two games – firstly in the derby against Glamorgan, and then against Kent, who always seem to beat us.
Alex’s t20 XI to play Glamorgan: Babar Azam, Tom Banton, Pete Trego, James Hildreth, Steve Davies (wk), Lewis Gregory, Roelof van der Merwe, Jamie Overton, Jack Brooks, Jerome Taylor, Max Waller.