If it’s too early to talk about new beginnings so early in the season, Somerset will be hoping four days away from home, in the picturesque setting of Worcestershire’s New Road, will provide the opportunity to kick start their stalled County Championship campaign.
Somerset will encounter a newly-promoted county, with whom they currently share bottom place in the first division. Like Somerset, Worcestershire are also smarting after two opening defeats to their season, including a comprehensive 10-wicket loss to Yorkshire inside three days. Many commentators, who tipped Worcestershire for relegation before the season even started, will see no reason to change their minds.
Somerset Director of Cricket Matt Maynard is far too experienced to be complacent about any opposition, but recognises this is a big game for his side and one which offers Somerset a chance to turn their fortunes around: “We were disappointed with the result of our last game,” he acknowledges. “However I took a lot more positives out of the Middlesex match than the first game (against Durham).”
Maynard has rightly identified lack of runs in the middle order and a propensity to collapse as something which the team needs to put right urgently after losing from first-innings positions of 224 for 2 against Durham and 377-3 against Middlesex.
Somerset were also disappointed at the lack of penetration from their bowling attack on the final day against Middlesex when the visitors successfully chased down 402 to win, the third highest ever run chase to win at the County Ground. Lewis Gregory apart, the rest of the attack looked less than threatening after Jamie Overton pulled out early in the second innings with a heel injury.
A return to first-team action for Craig Overton and Alfonso Thomas over the next four days – both have been added to the squad for the Worcestershire game following their respective recoveries from injury – will therefore help boost the side and add some variety. Of the seam attack who faced Middlesex, Tim Groenewald is rested and Jamie Overton is ruled out following his injury.
Maynard said the team had been very honest with each other after their defeat to Middlesex: “We had a good practice with the players on Friday to go through the last game and where we need to improve.
“I think it’s important also that they guys coming back into the squad (Craig Overton and Alfonso Thomas) are aware of where we fell short against Middlesex and what we need to do to improve. I thought the feedback at our meeting was terrific and there was a nice lot of honesty from the players. They know that we are not far away but there are areas we need to work on such as developing partnerships lower down the order.”
Maynard added: “Lewis Gregory has been absolutely fantastic but he hasn’t quite been backed up by the other bowlers and that’s an area we need to focus on and improve upon.”
Marcus Trescothick was in vintage form with the bat against Middlesex with scores of 140 and 76 and will be hoping for more of the same at New Road.
Trescothick said: “We have got to keep on putting in performances and improving on what we did in the last game. I thought that we did a lot of good things right but we can still get better and improve upon those good things to put ourselves into winning positions.”
The experienced James Hildreth also scored big runs against Middlesex, with a sparking 187 followed by 86 in the second innings. Looking ahead to the trip to Worcester, Hildy said: “The beauty of the season is that the games come thick and fast and although two defeats in our two games is obviously disappointing, Sunday allows us to get back on the horse straight away and put things right.
“We are all excited by this opportunity to turn our fortunes around. I am feeling alright and hitting the ball nicely so I’m hoping to stay in this purple patch and keep scoring runs whilst hopefully contributing to some victories for Somerset. There are a few things we need to look at and bowling sides out twice is a big area for us and obviously getting those late order runs to get us past 550 to put pressure on the opposition.”
All rounder Peter Trego played a number of Second XI matches for Worcestershire a few seasons ago and is looking forward to returning to New Road: “With two disappointing results behind us we need to get back on the bike quickly,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for us to go to a ground which has been good to us from a results point of view in the past. Personally I have got some fond memories of playing there and of successes with Somerset so hopefully we can make some new ones on Sunday.”
The last time that the two sides met was at the end of the 2012 season at Taunton when Somerset won to relegate Worcestershire to Division Two, from where they gained promotion at the end of last season.
That game was particularly notable for an incredible display of spin bowling by Abdur Rehman who claimed a career best return of 9-65 in the first innings, followed by 5-36 in the second, to give him match figures of 14-101.
The Pakistani Test bowler is back at Somerset this season and while he no doubt continues to give Worcestershire’s batsmen sleepless nights, he will be personally disappointed to have only taken three wickets at 76.66 in two games so far in 2015. He would dearly like to repeat his match winning feat this time around as he explained: “In the last game against Middlesex I got a few wickets and got back into my rhythm so I will be trying to go to Worcester, get more wickets and bowl well for my team.”
Johann Myburgh’s wife has had their first baby, so he comes back into the squad in place of Tom Abell who has returned to complete his studies at Exeter University. Myburgh has had an excellent start to 2015 with hundreds against Durham and Durham MCCU and will be hoping to carry that form into this week.
The only other change to the squad is the addition of left arm spinner George Dockrell for the first time this season. Fellow spinner Jack Leach was preferred for the opening first-class match against Durham MCCU and was also included in the squad for the opening game with Durham, although he did not play.
Dockrell has enjoyed success with the Seconds this year, notably in the innings defeat against Hampshire, where he took 4-32 and smashed 132 off just 93 balls with 21 fours and two sixes to help his side complete an innings win over their Hampshire counterparts.
After this match, Lewis Gregory and George Dockrell will depart to meet up with their respective England and Ireland national teams ahead of the one-off one-day international at Malahide, Dublin, next Friday 8 May.
The Somerset squad for this game is: Marcus Trescothick (capt) Jim Allenby, Alex Barrow, Tom Cooper, George Dockrell, Lewis Gregory, James Hildreth, Johann Myburgh, Craig Overton, Abdur Rehman, Alfonso Thomas and Peter Trego.
Worcestershire squad: Mitchell, Oliver, Fell, Gidman, Kervezee, Whiteley, Cox, Leach, Senanayake, Shantry, Morris, Barnard.