If there’s one certainty in a busy county season, there’s always another match just around the corner. Ideal, if like Somerset, you’ve just suffered a setback and want the opportunity to get your season back on track as soon as possible.
After the disappointment of Friday night’s narrow defeat in their opening NatWest T20 Blast fixture against Sussex, Somerset return to four-day cricket today (Sunday) where they’ll be hoping to build on the momentum and confidence created by last week’s first Championship win of the season away at Trent Bridge.
After beating Nottinghamshire, fancied by some pundits as candidates for this year’s Championship title, Somerset this week host Yorkshire, last year’s champions and the bookies’ favourites to lift the LV=County Championship trophy again come September.
Like last week’s opponents, Yorkshire are replete with players with international experience. Even without the injured Ryan Sidebottom, they boast a formidable seam bowling line-up of Bresnan, Plunkett, Patterson and Brooks, with the spin of Adil Rashid and big-hitting Australian Glenn Maxwell.
Somerset withstood Yorkshire’s attack in last season’s corresponding fixture at Taunton, making 530-9 declared in their only innings in a drawn game, with Johann Myburgh top scoring with 91 on debut and Chris Jones, Lewis Gregory, James Hildreth and Craig Kieswetter also making half-centuries, Craig Meschede finishing 45 not out.
This year, for a variety of reasons, Somerset find themselves without Kieswetter, Jones and Meschede as well as Nick Compton and Alviro Petersen. Those have proven big shoes to fill and the Yorkshire attack will provide a real test for a batting line-up which has shown a propensity to collapse from positions of strength this summer.
But for all their star quality, Yorkshire have something to prove this week. They currently lie in fourth place after four games, having won two and drawn two and will be targeting a return to the top of the table, a place which is currently occupied by Middlesex, with Durham in second, although both have played one more match than Yorkshire.
For Somerset, there were lots of genuine ‘positives’ to take from Trent Bridge. The team can take heart from the resilience and fight they showed throughout three days, particularly the remarkable turnarounds late on days one and three.
Marcus Trescothick rightly identified lower order runs as the difference between the two sides, but the match was also notable for a much more disciplined bowling performance which ultimately produced a dramatic victory on the third evening by 133 runs.
The Somerset squad for the fixture against Yorkshire is perhaps the first real evidence this season of Matt Maynard’s stated policy of rotating his bowlers to ensure they stay fresh and last the summer without injury.
Lewis Gregory, without doubt the pick of Somerset’s bowlers over the course of the season so far – and usually the first name on the team sheet – will sit this game out, while Alfonso Thomas returns after missing the game against Nottinghamshire.
Craig Overton, who was rested for last night’s T20 game against Sussex – and how Somerset could have done with his batting in that game – returns alongside brother Jamie. Those hoping to see the twins bowling in tandem again could get their wish this week.
Abdur Rehman, who has yet to make his mark for the club this year, sat out the Nottinghamshire game given the extreme greenness of the pitch and the overhead conditions, but is included in the 13-man squad for this week’s match with Yorkshire.
Somerset made a deliberate decision against Nottinghamshire to bat deep, with Alex Barrow coming in at number nine. The reshaped batting order worked well, with Jim Allenby making his first Championship half-century for Somerset, Craig Overton blasting 55 off just 31 balls and Barrow and Pete Trego making useful runs.
It was in direct contrast to last night’s T20 Blast game where Sohail Tanvir came in as high as number six.
Somerset will be pleased that most of the batting order have now made runs, but now need them to start to string together a series of decent partnerships each innings rather than one or two we’ve typically seen so far this year. The fragile nature of the club’s batting was again all too clearly on display in Friday night’s T20 game when they lost five wickets for 18 runs in four overs.
Netherlands international Tom Cooper will be feeling under particular pressure to record a score this week after failing to register a half-century so far this Championship season and clearly struggling with the seaming ball in English spring conditions. His 47 against Durham is a sign of what he’s capable of however, and fans will be hoping to see him strike form this week.
Looking back at last week’s win against Nottinghamshire, Allenby said: “It’s no secret that we needed a positive result which is what we got. Probably more importantly, however was the way we played which was more in the style that we are wanting to play.
“The three losses hurt us but the manner in which we lost was even more disappointing so to have gone up to Trent Bridge and played one of the toughest games we are going to have all the year and play in the manner that we did was exceptionally pleasing. For that to turn into a win as well just capped it off for us. That win gives us just a bit more confidence and belief in our game plan that we are now going to have to follow for the rest of the year.”
Talking about his own performance the all-rounder said: “It was nice to do well personally and the game that I had in Nottingham was what I expect of myself every time I play. I have been really disappointed by my start and the manner and style I have played isn’t my natural way. To go up to Trent Bridge and have played more naturally, and for Marcus to give me a really good crack with the ball while it was still seaming and swinging was really nice because it really was a good bowling pitch.
“It was nice to be able to show him that I am capable of getting important wickets.
“Yes, it was a good game for me, but it is no more than I expect of myself and I know what I am capable of so that sort of game should be the norm rather than the exception for me for the rest of the season.”
Talking about performances Allenby said: “There has been some good input from the younger players all through the year, in fact it has been some of us older guys who haven’t really performed as we should.
“Lewis Gregory has had a great season, Craig Overton had an unbelievable game at Notts to get 50 off 30 balls and six or seven wickets for the game.
“However it really was an all-round performance and twice in the game four bowlers had all got two wickets each. In our first innings of 300 or so for the highest score to only be 60, most people got at least 20 or 30 so we spread it out. Even though Marcus didn’t get any runs, his catches in the second innings were something else.
“He took one of the best catches I have ever seen for an ‘old bloke’ and it was really nice to see how happy he was just to contribute in that way and his captaincy this week was first class. I’m sure he will have enjoyed the fact that he got so much right this week, despite his pair that we keep on telling him about!”
The victory was also Matt Maynard’s first taste of success since he took over as Director of Cricket at Somerset last autumn. “Yorkshire are a very tough side,” he said. “They have proven that since they came back into Division One. They are always hard to beat because they have got all of the bases covered with experienced seam bowlers, the likes of Bresnan, Plunkett, Brooks and Patterson, and they have got a good spinner in Rashid. They are strong in the batting as well.
“Like every game, this is going to be a challenge to us, but we have a lot of confidence from the last game and we have also got a huge amount of talent here.”
Regarding the team Matt said: “It will be great to see Alfonso Thomas back in the squad and playing along with Jamie Overton who has proven his fitness for the Seconds this week where he picked up five wickets, so it should be an excellent game.”
Somerset squad: Marcus Trescothick (captain), Tom Abell, Jim Allenby, Alex Barrow, Tom Cooper, Tim Groenewald, James Hildreth, Johann Myburgh, Craig Overton, Jamie Overton, Abdur Rehman, Alfonso Thomas and Peter Trego.
Yorkshire squad: Jonathan Bairstow (wicketkeeper), Tim Bresnan, Jack Brooks, Andrew Gale (captain), Jack Leaning, Alex Lees, Glenn Maxwell, Steve Patterson, Liam Plunkett, Richard Pyrah, Adil Rashid, Will Rhodes.