Somerset head to the south coast, and the delights of Hove, looking to make it five wins out of five games across two formats and continue their fine start to the 2019 season.
Having won their first two County Championship games, Somerset and their hosts on Wednesday, Sussex, are two of four sides who have won both of their first two games in the southern division of The Royal London One Day Cup. Hampshire and Middlesex are the others and they play each other today (Tuesday 23rd April.)
Sussex are in fine form and will certainly offer a stern test for the cider county. In their opening game they did well to beat Surrey by two wickets with 11 balls to spare. Luke Wright’s 69 was well supported by David Wiese’s unbeaten 92 after Surrey had posted 274 for 9 in their 50 overs.
Then on Sunday – while Somerset were battling out a thriller with Glamorgan in Cardiff – Sussex beat Kent, who were Somerset’s first opponents in this tournament on Good Friday. This time it was Phil Salt, who hit an unbeaten 137 off 106 balls for his maiden List A century, and Harry Finch who powered Sussex to victory at Beckenham. Finch struck 89 off 68 balls in a score of 302 for 3 in just 40 overs, handing the visitors a win by seven wickets with ten overs to spare.
The bowling honours have been shared out over the two games for Sussex, with Mir Hamza claiming four for 43 against Surrey.
So it will be tough for Somerset but let’s not forget we have done well to register two wins too. After thoroughly thrashing Kent in the opener the trip to the Principality was a bit close for comfort as the Welshmen battled back from 41 for 6 to fall just two runs short of Somerset’s 261. There was certainly a huge amount of relief after Roleof van der Merwe enticed Lukas Carey to air one and Azhar Ali took the catch.
What has been most satisfying for me is that the game changing individual performances have come from fairly unexpected sources. Put to one side the ever-reliable James Hildreth’s 67 in Wales, Tom Banton, Craig Overton and Josh Davey have been outstanding in the opening fixtures.
With Johan Myburgh retiring at the end of last season, a space appeared at the top of the order in the one day stuff. Banton was offered the chance against Kent and he accepted the challenge with relish, helping himself to a maiden century in Somerset colours. This boy is an audacious talent, able to combine trickery and imagination with powerful hitting. Say it quietly but there is an air of Jos Buttler about him when he has bat in hand.
His 107 at Taunton was fantastic. But now he will have to learn to cope with the expectation that this innings has created. After scoring 14 in his second game of the season he will be keen to be back in the runs at Hove. He will also have to develop his shot selection. This may sound harsh having played such a great knock, but having clubbed Harry Podmore for a huge six he tried to repeat it and got into a bit of a muddle. He looked disappointed with himself as he strolled off to a standing ovation.
But he will learn. And get better.
It may be a little unfair placing Craig Overton in the ‘unexpected source’ category given his undoubted all-round talents, but he has been excellent in the first two games. His two unbeaten innings’ have generated 107 runs – and include a total of 7x4s and 5x6s – and he has taken eight wickets for only 69 runs. His five for 18 against Kent pretty much destroyed them and he removed Marnus Labuschagne, Kiran Carlson and Marchant de Lange in Wales.
Speaking to me in preseason Craig said he wants to play every game possible for Somerset across all formats. He has certainly made a strong case so far.
For me Josh Davey has emerged to become one of Somerset’s unsung heroes over the past 2-3 seasons. Rarely does a player find themselves released by one county and find an opportunity elsewhere, but Josh has.
After leaving Middlesex in 2013, Davey played Minor Counties cricket with Suffolk, and for club side Clevedon in the West of England Premier League, before being spotted by Andy Hurry and signing his first contract with Somerset.
His rise to first team regular has been gradual. In 2017 Josh played in three Championship matches, scoring 47 in one of those, but his importance to the team rose in 2018 playing in 11 Championship games and claiming 34 wickets at 25.35, with a best of five for 65 against Yorkshire at Headingley. He was rewarded for his efforts with a two-year contract in November last year, which sees him through to the end of the 2020 season.
The Scottish international bowled really well against Glamorgan and his early wickets put the home side on the ropes. He removed Craig Meschede, Charlie Hemphrey and Billy Root without any of them troubling the scorers, and then came back to dismiss Graham Wagg at a vital time. And this after his undefeated 22 helped his side to 261 and set at least a challenging total for Glamorgan to chase.
With two teams in form it looks promising for a good contest in Hove tomorrow – one of the most pleasant grounds in the country. The Somerset bowling unit will have to be disciplined if they are going to keep this dangerous looking batting line up quiet. There’s certainly a few runs in the home team.
The weather forecast suggests it will be a little cooler than over the weekend, with sunny intervals and a fresh breeze. Highs are expected to be 16° with 20% chance of rain in mid-afternoon.
If you are lucky enough to be going, then enjoy!