With two rounds of both the North and South groups of the one-day cup left the top three qualification places are still some way from being decided.
Somerset’s position is pretty clear however, win their remaining two games and they will, by virtue of their superior net run rate, top the group and qualify for the home semi-final berth. The two remaining games are against teams at the opposite ends of the table. First come leaders and last year’s champions, Hampshire and then bottom side Surrey (how good does that sound?).
If Somerset can repeat the two wins against the same opponents last season, including the demolition of Surrey at The Oval, they will be very happy both in terms of the One Day Cup but also putting down markers for imminent Championship games against both opponents at Taunton.
Hampshire have surprised me, I said in my pre-competition piece that I expected them to regress from last season’s performance but if anything they have improved. Tom Alsop is a fine young wicket-keeping / opening batsman. Aiden Markram is full of runs and Liam Dawson is also in superb all-round form. So even without James Vince, who is once again trying to pin down a place in the England side, Somerset will have to be at their best to emerge victorious on Sunday.
Somerset will need to reverse the trend of their last two performances but in one-day cricket, the margins are so fine that it will only take a marginal improvement, a little run of luck and perhaps Hampshire having their first real off day of the competition to see the result we all want.
Sussex and Middlesex are also on 8 points with Somerset and they are the main threats for qualification. Intriguingly the games on Sunday – Sussex v Gloucestershire and Middlesex v Glamorgan are effectively eliminators. A win for Somerset on Sunday combined with victories by Glamorgan and Gloucestershire will see Somerset qualified but still 2 points behind Hampshire and leave the final qualification place to a straight fight between the four.
While it is disappointing to have lost two games on the bounce and fritter away a good part of the net run rate advantage this sort of test will stand Somerset in good stead for, should they qualify, the knockout stages of this competition and also the potential decisive games to come in the Championship.
For the first time this season the selection in the last two games has left Andy Hurry and Jason Kerr open to some second-guessing of their decisions. The wicket at Gloucestershire did not suit the bowling attack chosen and the determination to stick with an unchanged side for Wednesday at Radlett did not help.
Jamie Overton is in my opinion the first name they should be considering for Sunday. Not only is he bowling quickly and with if anything more control but has also scored crucial runs which will help his confidence. Jack Brooks could also be an option with Tim Groenewald the most likely to lose out but personally I would like to see Jack Leach given a go at Taunton. The time has come to see if his red ball skills can translate into the white ball.
My bullish prediction is that Somerset and Hampshire will qualify with the order of that top two being decided on Sunday. As for the other place something pretty unusual will have to happen to pip one of Middlesex or Sussex with my money on the former who appear to be coming into some form.
In the North group Notts and Lancashire currently top the group with 10 points (Notts game with Durham has, as I write this been delayed by rain) with Worcestershire and Durham on 8 points. Looking at the remaining games I suspect that unless Durham are able to complete a victory today the other three will qualify with Notts topping the group.
Given the strength of the likely last six a home semi-final would come in very handy although recent history has seen the perceived advantage of winning the group not fulfilled.
The “quarter-finals” take place next Friday (10thMay) with the winners progressing to the semi-finals on Sunday 12thMay.