Now It Is Our Turn

The debate rages on in the aftermath of the two-day finish at Taunton. The social media warriors and self-promoters have had their say and the supporters of other counties, with their own vested interests have had their say.

Now it is our turn. As it says the clue is in this site’s title. “Independent Somerset CCC’ We are an independent UK-based website which was formed in April 2014. This is a site written by supporters of Somerset County Cricket Club for supporters of Somerset County Cricket Club. Our primary objective is to provide a platform for Somerset supporters to interact and share their views on the club we all love.

Being a Somerset supporter over the last 24 hours has been tough. Not only have we had to face the reality that we have left ourselves with a mountain to climb to win our first ever title, but we have had to see our beloved county’s reputation called into questions by sections of the media and social media.

So when I sat down to write this piece I needed to ask myself why I write for this site. It’s a complex answer but it is I think relevant to understanding what follows so please bear with me.

I was introduced to Somerset cricket in June 1970 by my Dad who in turn had followed the county through his life. He passed on to me the love of both the game of cricket and our beloved club which is, without doubt the greatest gift any father can bestow on his son. Dad lived and breathed Somerset cricket hated us losing, loved us winning but always put the game first wanting to see it played the right way.

Think back to the last day of the 2010 season. I phoned him the minute Notts clinched the title by a point and was surprised that Dad was barely able to speak, the pain of missing out for the umpteenth time in his life evident from the sound of my 81-year-old Dad’s voice. I was disappointed but that one conversation made me realise that to be a Somerset supporter you have to have more than a support of your club. You need to be invested in our identity and understand that quite often we are considered the poor relations (“peasants”) by many.

Dad passed away in the early summer of 2015. He never did see that first title win.

We used to talk or text every evening after the day’s play and his passing left a gaping hole in my life. There were many occasions in that summer of 2015 where I had my phone out and was composing a text when I realised he was no longer around to read it. I’m not ashamed to say that I broke down in tears on a number of such occasions.

So why, you ask, this self-indulgent melancholy? Two reasons. Firstly, I want readers of this site, both Somerset supporters and those of other persuasions to realise what Somerset cricket means to me. Secondly, in writing for this site I am often thinking of Dad and what he would have thought of the events of a particular day.

Turning to the events of the last two days I don’t think Dad would be too impressed. That’s understating it actually, I think he would be really disappointed with Somerset. I’ll cite two historical precedents to support that view. The first, way back in 1953 was Bertie Buse’s ill-fated benefit game at Bath. Buse was a particular favourite of Dad and he made the trip up from Taunton to support him. The game, against Lancashire ironically, finished in a day, Somerset were trounced by an innings and 24 runs, the pitch was in Dad’s opinion unfit for first-class cricket. He felt Buse had been badly let down by the county he served so loyally.

The second was Somerset’s final B&H group game in 1979 when Brian Rose declared after one over on 0-0 and Worcestershire won by 10 wickets. As you will all know the reasoning was to protect Somerset’s net run rate and ensure qualification. Somerset were thrown out of the competition and Dad was deeply saddened by the actions of his county and their captain who he believed had not adhered to the spirit of the game.

So, for those of you who believe this is a site where we are myopic in our support for Somerset I hope the foregoing will convince you that is not the case and that I write this with the underlying principles of wanting to win fairly strongly ingrained in me.

I will start by saying I’m not happy with the media narrative that is attaching itself to Taunton pitches. While it is clearly an exaggeration for effect of the reality there is no doubt that Somerset have been looking to produce wickets to suit their two outstanding young English spinners. There is nothing wrong with this, test teams do it all the time and Notts won county titles back in the 80s by producing pitches that suited Rice and Hadlee and it has been standard practice for many counties ever since.

There is no point denying that this is not a deliberate tactic. Simon Lee and his team produce probably the best one-day pitches in the country so if they wanted to produce a “road” they certainly would. The danger with this approach is that you are treading a fine line with such an approach, a line where the consequences of crossing it are to produce wickets that are potentially unfit.

Let me hasten to add I do not think there was any attempt to produce a “result” pitch on Somerset’s part. Not only do I not believe the people at the top of the club; Andrew Cornish, Andy Hurry and Jason Kerr, would even contemplate such a course of action but also why would Somerset, who need to accumulate batting bonus points, prepare a pitch which removes any possibility of such an outcome.

In addition, and I mean this as no disrespect to Lancashire, Somerset are a better team and are more than capable of beating any other team in the country in a fair contest.

The problem is that the likes of Michael Vaughan set the agenda for the media coverage. Vaughan’s motive and that of a number of others is to grow his social media following and influence. He was not at Taunton but was quick to pass judgement and from that moment the perception was set that this was a raging turner. It is interesting to note that the comments to Vaughan’s most egregious tweet were broadly 2/3rds supporting Somerset / against a points deduction.

Don Topley, former Essex player and now BBC commentator said during a particularly toe-curling piece of commentary today, amongst his fawning to the Surrey commentators Mark Church and Johnny Barron, that what Surrey should be most proud of is that they “haven’t done a Somerset”.

I’m not going to give Topley the privilege of any more space in this article other than to say when the uninformed, biased, anti-Somerset media representatives make such comments we need to stand up for our county. Topley seems entirely happy to be associated with a county who prepared a pitch in mid-Summer that was so lifeless that the teams might as well have shaken hands on a draw before the first ball was bowled. But that is fine. Topley by inference is saying that you can prepare pitches that are too batsmen friendly but not too bowler friendly. What complete nonsense.

As I’ve said on numerous occasions since it was not just the pitch poor batting and some very good bowling were very significant contributory factors. A truth which the likes of Vaughan choose to ignore as it gets in the way of a good social media storm.

I’d urge anyone who hasn’t yet done so to watch Andy Hurry’s post-match interview both to understand the exact position re the potential pitch inspection / sanctions and to see how well led Somerset County Cricket Club is.

So, we find ourselves 43 points behind Surrey. If there is no points deduction both teams have a maximum 72 points available. It is going to take a gargantuan effort by Somerset to overhaul the leads or a calamitous collapse by Surrey. Probably a combination of both!

So, I’ll finish where I started. I am a man of Somerset, life-long proud loyal supporter of my county cricket club and son of my father. I am not myopic and do not believe that everything my county does is right, that it can do no wrong. I want to win the championship so much so I can go and sit with Dad at Taunton crematorium and talk him through it. I want Tom and the boys to win it for him more than I can ever put into words, BUT I do not want to win at all costs and would not want to be part of anything that does. That would be the most hollow of victories.

We may be “peasants”, but we are a proud people from a wonderful county who at the moment are lucky enough to have a team that is as good as any I have ever seen. We have an opening batsman who will in years to come be judged as one of the greatest on the field and one of the most courageous off it and we have a ground which, in these years of modern cricket stadia, is still a pleasure to watch cricket at.

#WeAreSOMERSET and long may it continue.