Opportunity Knocks

It had to happen sometime. Even the most optimistic Somerset supporter wouldn’t have been expecting us to go through the season undefeated. It is undeniably annoying that we had to lose to that lot (I’m not going to dignify our near neighbours any further), and incredibly frustrating that we succumbed yet again to the pitch preparation “issues” that Bristol seems to provide in recent years.

This Somerset team has made a fantastic start but, let’s be honest, we have all been wondering if this is just a case of a great start and there is going to be a correction and a reversion to the mean or if this is just a blip and this team really has what it takes. In many ways, this is the first instance of “opportunity knocks” for this side to show it has what it takes.

So let us take a few moments to reflect on where we are and set Tom Abell’s class of ’19 some challenges.

The first two championship wins indicated that the team has the character to win over the longer form of the game. The first two one day cup wins that we could dominate and we could be resilient. While the wins over Sussex and Essex, both comfortable even without the intervention of DLS, confirmed the all-round depth and quality of the side.

Great sides deal with defeat by accepting it can happen, not allowing it to linger and moving on swiftly. The fact that there is another game on Wednesday is therefore a huge positive from this point of view but, probably not for the last time this season, the trip to Radlett is the most crucial game of the season so far.

A win will indicate that the mentality is right within the squad and that the undoubted superiority of the squad in playing terms is matched by the right attitude. Defeat will start to ask bigger questions ahead of the visit of Hampshire on Sunday.

It was interesting to hear on last Friday’s cricket show Anthony Gibson saying that he felt that in leadership and character this side matches the Brian Rose “Golden Era” side. That team overcame the adversity of the Worcester declaration and subsequent disqualification from that year’s B&H competition to go on and win the other two one day trophies.

I was lucky enough to see most of that season up close. I believe there are two areas where the current side either compares very favourably with 1979 and one where this current side haven’t been presented with a challenge that Rose’s team dealt with so magnificently.

Firstly, Tom Abell has considerably greater strength in depth to call on. The selectors will have a number of tough decisions ahead of the Middlesex and Hampshire games. Dom Bess, Jack Brooks, Steven Davies, Jack Leach and Jamie Overton, are all fine cricketers who have either not featured so far or had minimal involvement. All for different reasons will want to get a piece of the one-day action and with the heavy workload so far for Josh Davey, Lewis Gregory and Craig Overton the opportunity for rotation presents itself.

This was a luxury that Rose did not have and meant that they were unable to sustain a Championship challenge alongside the two one day triumphs. Rose’s side was magnificent on the big one-day occasions but many believe this side has a better chance of success in the longer format which in itself presents a greater challenge to this year’s team. The structure of the season means that the large block of Championship games from mid-May to mid-July are crucial to our title ambitions. The opportunity presents itself to establish a lead which could be unassailable by the time the Blast begins and given our start this must be the overriding objective.

It is only two weeks until a potentially pivotal Championship game at Taunton against Surrey, so consideration has to be given to ensuring Jack, Josh, Lewis, Jack and Craig, who have performed superbly as a bowling unit in the two wins so far, are at their best on the 14th May.

Thirdly we have yet to see a successful run chase this season. That isn’t a criticism as the opportunity hasn’t arisen so far but a nicely paced pursuit of a high target in the 50-over wouldn’t half add to the confidence and aura this team has created so far. I’m thinking of Notts at home in the Championship last year, hard runs in a tough situation on a wearing pitch against a good attack. Middlesex, Hampshire and Surrey twice would provide an ideal opportunity to tick that box.

This was a discipline that Rose’s side had covered in abundance. Of course it helps when you have Sir Viv in the line-up but Rose and Denning invariably provided solid platforms, Roebuck was a master of batting around the more expansive stroke-players and Popplewell, Marks, Breakwell and Taylor could all “finish”. And that’s not even considering Botham’s contributions.

Selection over the next three weeks is going to be both fascinating and very influential. Messrs Hurry and Kerr have as vital a role to play as those delivering the skills. Get it right and not only will we qualify for a one-day final via a home semi but we will bounce into the Surrey game with the best opportunity to inflict a mortal blow on our potential nearest rivals.

Exciting times.