Home is where the heart is. That’s what they say anyhow. And for most of us there is at least a modicum of truth in those words.
So to up sticks and leave is one of the hardest challenges known to man (and woman!). But that’s the exact test Somerset starlet Ryan Davies faced a little more than a year ago. At the tender age of 18 the young wicketkeeper had a choice to make; sign a new deal at Kent, and remain surrounded by his loved ones in Canterbury and at his childhood club, or pack his bags, hop on a train and start a new life in the West Country.
A no brainer you would think. Think again!
Despite having only a handful first class appearances to his name, Davies had been given a taste of first team action he was chomping at the bit for more. With both England one-day starlet Sam Billings and Adam Rouse ahead of him in the pecking order, the teenager knew his first team opportunities would be limited.
So when Somerset boss Matthew Maynard picked up the phone there was only one place Davies wanted to be:
“It all happened so quickly,” he admitted. “Matthew Maynard got in touch with me and explained that he knew that I was out of contract and that he wanted me to come to Taunton.
“It all went from there really. There was an offer on the table from Kent but I felt for the sake of my own career that Somerset was where I needed to go. I knew that there would be limited opportunities in the first team for me at Kent.
“I had heard about Craig Kieswetter’s injury and also knew Somerset had recently lost Jos Buttler. I came down to Taunton knowing that I was competing for the number one spot and had a chance of getting it – that swayed it really.”
Last winter saw a straight fight between Davies and fellow gloveman Alex Barrow for the right to take up a place behind the stumps come the start of April. And it was Davies who won that battle, making his debut for the wyvern’s opening county championship clash.
Batting down the order and with a reputation as a stroke maker, the right-hander endured a disappointing start to life with his new county. Some said he was too flashy. Others that he lacked the temperament to make it. Many seemed to lose sight of the fact that they were judging a teenager in the middle of a massive period of change.
The talent was there for all to see and to write him off after so few opportunities is perhaps typical of how sport is viewed in this country. But Maynard stuck by his man and reaped the rewards come the second half of the season. Davies remained unperturbed throughout and kept working hard behind the scenes to improve.
And the teenager enjoyed the fruits of his labours with a much more productive close to the campaign. Reflecting back on his first season in the Taunton the youngster admitted that his lack of early season form was worrying, but he was always confident the tide would turn:
“I think the first half of the championship year was always going to be very difficult,” he admitted. “I wasn’t expecting too much from myself and always said that first year was going to be a steep learning curve.
“I needed to try and work out what to do to succeed at this level and I thought that over the second half of the season it showed.
“I was pretty stubborn with my morning routine in the first half of the season – I never faced any bowlers or side arms on the morning of the game.
“But I tinkered around with that and ended up working in the nets on the morning of games. That really helped.”
Unlike a few that have donned the gloves of the past few years, the ex-Kent man is what a purist would describe as a proper wicketkeeper. His predecessors have enjoyed varying degrees of success.
Buttler and Kieswetter being obvious examples of those who have gone on to bigger and better things, but equally the pressure of having to take up perch behind the poles may have had an adverse effect on others.
But in Davies Somerset appear to have finally found someone capable of holding his own both behind the stumps and in front of them. And he freely admitted that he relishes the chance to show off his glove work to anyone prepared to watch:
“Standing up is what I enjoy the most – ask any keeper and they will say the same,” he explained. “You are always in the game and anything can happen. It was the one thing I loved the chance to show off.
“Leachy was pretty difficult to keep to this year, especially at home, and Standing up to Jim (Allenby) and Timmy (Groenewald) were challenges, but ones that I really enjoyed.”
While Davies spends the winter back with his parents, some of his teammates are enjoying well-earned time representing their countries at various levels. Craig Overton and Jack Leach are away with the England Lions and Jamie Overton will take part in the EPP Elite Performance programme once fit again. With a flourishing youth set up that guides players through every stage of their careers, it is little wonder that English cricket is on the up.
The future also looks bright for Somerset with the likes of Lewis Gregory and Tom Abell now well established in the first team, and Dom Bess enjoying a breakthrough season last year.
And the young keeper was genuinely excited about the potential for him and his teammates once they all come into their own, pointing to Leach as a prime example of just what can be achieved:
“We are a young team and am sure that we will come back even stronger from last year,” he stated. “Sometimes in t20 games we played one good half but didn’t play the other half well. We didn’t play the full game in the way that we know we can play.
“It is disappointing but we will learn from that and go again. We just have to find out what works for us. Leachy is a fine example of someone who has worked his socks off and it shows what one good year can do.
“We have to follow up on that and believe that we can kick on. We will do that and see where we are at the end of the season – hopefully we will have tied up the Championship before the final day!”