Somerset enter the second half of their LV=County Championship campaign this weekend with a four-day fixture against Sussex at Taunton. In a special feature, Dan Kingdom assesses the four-day form of the Somerset squad so far this season and provides his own mid-term report.
After three consecutive losses to open the season, Somerset fans were worried. New signings were having little effect, batting collapses were all too frequent and the bowling attack suffered from a lack of penetration. The lowest of the low points was the embarrassingly poor innings defeat to Worcestershire. A victory against Notts and a credible draw with Yorkshire followed, but after losing to Durham from a good position it appeared to many that Somerset were caught on a slippery slope that led to Division Two.
But a come-from-behind win at home to Notts and an utterly dominant dismantling of Hampshire has dramatically turned Somerset’s County Championship season around, and suddenly the cider county are closer to second-top than second-bottom. It must be said that many of the cracks shown early in the season are still present, but many have been sealed up for good as opposed to just taped over.
Take Tom Abell, who has settled into his opening spot maturely after an ordinary start to the season. Take Tim Groenewald, who lacked penetration early on but appears now to be a top-quality Division One bowler. Take Marcus Trescothick, who suffered from a shocking run of form, perhaps feeling the stress of leading an under-performing side, and has come back well with important innings against Notts and Hampshire.
But the resurgence has been a team effort. At a members’ Q&A, Director of Cricket Matt Maynard stated his belief that the problems had been caused by catastrophic sessions here and there undoing previous good work. In the second half of the home Notts match and away Hampshire game, those poor sessions were eliminated and resulted in wins for Somerset.
Matt Maynard’s policy of rotating the bowlers is producing good results. It ensures that the quicks are well-rested and will hopefully mean that they can all get through the season without picking up any major injuries. Somerset’s attack is bursting with quality and variation; Alfonso Thomas provides consistency, Tim Groenewald swing, Craig Overton seam movement and bounce, Jamie Overton pace and bounce and Lewis Gregory a bit of everything. The first three have been pivotal in Somerset’s resurgence.
Batting in four-day cricket is all about partnerships, and early in the season Somerset simply weren’t producing enough big ones. But recently batsmen have displayed application and more ability to build big scores. Surprisingly, no Somerset batsman has hit a century since the second game of the season (only three have been scored overall), but it’s the number of fifties that’s telling.
Another factor that cannot be understated is the arrival of Michael Bates. His reliability with the gloves gives bowlers confidence and it looks like he’s given the whole dressing room a lift. A longer-term contract could be in store for him if he can put together a few big innings with the bat.
Marcus Trescothick: 6.5/10 (8 matches, 527 runs @ 32.93)
It is obvious that the Somerset captain, who turns 40 this year, is well beyond the peak of his powers; he often looks uncomfortable early on and his strokeplay is more limited than in the past. Despite this, he remains an important player in this Somerset line-up, having taken several athletic slip catches and lying second in the run-scoring charts this season. A significant portion of those runs came against Middlesex, when he made 140 and 76, before a slump in form which ended when he scored a valuable 65 in a partnership of 129 with Tom Abell to get the successful run-chase at home to Notts off to an excellent start. He then scored 53 against Hampshire in tough conditions on the first morning to set up another Somerset victory. Write him off at your peril.
Tom Abell: 7/10 (6 matches, 376 runs @ 41.77, 1 wicket @ 11.00)
After scoring 95 on debut last season and averaging 42 from four matches, big things have been expected of Tom Abell this year. His early season appearances were limited as he completed his exams at Exeter University, this time in an opener’s role having batted at four last season. Perhaps naturally, in a new position he struggled – although he has opened regularly in club cricket – but he was persevered with. He repaid the faith with a mature 76 not out at home to Notts, carrying his bat while others failed, and an important 72 in the second innings to help set up victory. He scored a further 88 in the first innings against Hampshire and then remained not out second time around as Somerset completed their second win in a row. If this form continues he could be on for 1000 runs this season. He fully deserves the four-year contract he was awarded last month.
Johann Myburgh: 6/10 (7 matches, 381 runs @ 31.75, 3 wickets @ 36.33)
Johann Myburgh has continued in a similar vein this season, with solid, intermittent contributions at the top of the order with minimal fuss. He isn’t Somerset’s best batsman but he’s the kind of player who you don’t appreciate until he’s gone. He started the season with first Championship century for Somerset, against Durham, and later top-scored in the reverse fixture before being one of several contributors to the defeat of Notts at Taunton. His bowling is useful and fielding athletic as ever; hopefully success at the top of the t20 order can spur him on for the second half of the four-day season.
James Hildreth: 8.5/10 (8 matches, 730 runs @ 52.14)
Having consistently underachieved for the last few seasons, James Hildreth has been somewhat of a revelation in 2015. He began with a fifty against Durham, followed it up with 187 and 86 at home to Middlesex then top-scored in both innings at Worcester. Since then he has fallen away slightly, but still hit 82 against Yorkshire and a valuable 76 away to Hampshire. In a season of below-par Somerset batting, he has been a shining light and a reassuringly solid presence at the crease. He needs to convert more of his fifties into centuries but has already passed the milestone of 1,000 first class runs this season, coming extremely close to achieving the feat by the end of May.
Tom Cooper: 3/10 (7 matches, 256 runs @ 19.69)
It has been a torrid time for Tom Cooper, effectively signed as Nick Compton’s replacement on an EU passport. Batting at three, the signs were good when he hit a century and a fifty in a Lancashire friendly, then a solid 47 on the first day against Durham. But his returns quickly declined, including a golden duck against Middlesex and single-figure scores at Trent Bridge. When he appeared on the verge of being dropped, he bought himself time with 99 at five against Yorkshire on a flat deck. But further failures against Durham and Notts meant the axe was brought down and he found himself out of the side for the Hampshire game to allow an extra seamer to play. His problem appears to be that he often tries to do too much, too early, and often tries shots he wouldn’t usually play. He remains in the t20 side; good returns in that format and for the 2nd XI will now likely be needed if he is to return to the four-day team.
Jim Allenby: 5/10 (8 matches, 293 runs @ 20.92, 10 wickets @ 35.00)
Signed on a three-year contract in the winter, Jim Allenby hasn’t made the best start to his Somerset career in four-day cricket. Doubts linger over whether he and Peter Trego can fit in the same side, but Allenby did contribute important innings in both of the wins against Notts. In the Taunton victory, he and Trego put on 116 to put Somerset in sight of the target. Allenby’s bowling has not been particularly potent, but he can point to an economy rate of 2.34 – by far the lowest of the front-line bowlers – as an area where he has been effective. However, compared to his championship stats last season with Glamorgan, he is significantly underachieving overall – he needs to start making bigger contributions in the second half of the season.
Peter Trego: 6/10 (8 matches, 361 runs @ 25.78, 16 wickets @ 34.81)
Peter Trego is another who appears to be beyond the peak of his powers, but he remains a valuable member of this Somerset side. His crucial 79 in the run-chase at home to Notts has been the highlight of his season, while he continues to pick up vital wickets. However, with plenty of young all-rounders at the club and Craig Meschede likely to return next year, could his shelf-life as a four-day player be nearing its end?
Alex Barrow: 2/10 (6 matches, 120 runs @ 13.33, 12 catches, 0 stumpings)
With Craig Kieswetter injured (now retired) and a run in the side guaranteed, this was always going to be a big season for Alex Barrow. Having steadily improved over the last two years, Maynard chose not to sign a replacement from outside and kept faith in the young ‘keeper. But that faith quickly wavered with four single-figure scores from three matches and he was demoted to nine in the order. He scored valuable twenties against Notts, but when his keeping took a turn for the worse against Durham Matt Maynard brought in Michael Bates on a one-month deal to replace Barrow behind the stumps. With James Regan waiting in the wings, it appears that Barrow needs big runs for the 2nd XI in order to force his way back into the first team.
Michael Bates: 6/10 (2 matches, 29 runs @ 14.50, 5 catches, 0 stumpings)
With Alex Barrow in poor form with bat and gloves and James Regan lacking match practice, ex-Hampshire ‘keeper Michael Bates has been signed on a short-term deal. He is generally regarded as one of the best wicket-keepers in the country, but his batting has been a problem for him throughout his career. In his two Championship matches for Somerset things have largely gone that way, but he held his nerve for a vital 14 not out to help haul Somerset over the line at home to Notts. He played in the victory over his former employer too; with his arrival coinciding with those back-to-back wins, it appears he has contributed to dressing room morale and given bowlers more confidence by providing a safe pair of hands behind the stumps.
Lewis Gregory: 6/10 (6 matches, 23 wickets @ 33.86, 162 runs @ 16.20)
Somerset fans’ player of the season for 2014 Lewis Gregory picked up where he left off with a five-wicket haul against Durham and a further eight in the match versus Middlesex, but since then he has appeared wayward, taking just ten wickets in four games subsequently. After being rested for the game against Yorkshire, the nadir came against Durham, when he contributed to the opposition’s recovery from 101 for 6 to 314 all out. He was dropped for the home Notts game, but took two wickets against Hampshire while still leaking runs. After his England call-up earlier in the season, there is a feeling that he may be trying to bowl too fast. Furthermore, he has only made starts with the bat after averaging almost 30 in 2014.
Craig Overton: 8/10 (5 matches, 28 wickets @ 15.78, 169 runs @ 28.16)
After a breakthrough 2014, Craig Overton has gone from strength to strength this season. He has picked up wickets in every innings in which he has bowled, the highlight being twin four-fors against Hampshire. He also took six against Yorkshire and seven each away to Notts and Durham. He has continued to show off his batting ability too, including 31 against Yorkshire in a partnership 76 with twin Jamie and 55 vital runs in the first innings at Trent Bridge to haul Somerset to a respectable first-innings total. He was rewarded for his efforts with a call-up to England’s ODI squad to face New Zealand.
Jamie Overton: 4/10 (3 matches, 6 wickets @ 43.16, 82 runs @ 27.33)
After a breakthrough 2013, we saw Jamie Overton regress the following year after call-ups to England’s senior and Lions squads. Blessed with extreme pace and an at times unplayable short ball, it is easy to understand the national side’s interest in him. This year he has had limited opportunities in four-day cricket but is showing signs of returning to his old self. After lunch on day two against Durham, he was very unlucky to go wicketless in a spell which made Paul Collingwood and Paul Mustard look like novices. He brought Scott Borthwick to his knees in another hostile spell on day three, before picking up three wickets in the first innings against Middlesex. It was his injury on the third evening which arguably lost Somerset that match as the Londoners chased down 402 on the final day. He has also made claims to be called an allrounder like his twin Craig; his 50 from 19 balls against Yorkshire was nothing short of sensational.
Tim Groenewald: 7/10 (5 matches, 22 wickets @ 28.63, 86 runs @ 8.60)
After fears early on that he may not be cut out for Division One cricket, Tim Groenewald took nine wickets followed by 47 runs (including five sixes) in the New Zealand tour match. He was able to take this form into Championship cricket with six wickets apiece in each of the Notts games and the Yorkshire match. He won’t be a world beater but he swings the ball and will be a valuable player for the cider county in all formats for the remainder of this season.
Alfonso Thomas: 7.5/10 (4 matches, 18 wickets @ 22.77, 25 runs @ 8.33)
Despite indifferent returns in t20, Alfonso Thomas remains a force in four-day cricket for Somerset. After missing the start of the season through injury, he shook off any rustiness quickly with four wickets at Worcester. His five-for in the first innings at home to Notts may not have looked important at the time, but he helped to restrict the opposition to 410 from 266 for 2. More wickets at Southampton followed. Thomas has always been a warrior and there is plenty of fight left in him yet.
Abdur Rehman: 2/10 (5 matches, 8 wickets @ 61.87, 127 runs @ 25.40)
Having taken 27 County Championship wickets in a short spell in 2012, Abdur Rehman was signed for the entirety of 2015 with the promise that he would whittle teams out when conditions are unhelpful and reduce them to rubble when the pitch is turning. But it hasn’t gone to plan at all. With pitches not suiting spin, the slow left armer has taken just 8 wickets from 5 matches (including 4 in one game) and saw himself dropped from the side for Trent Bridge before being de-registered to allow for Chris Gayle in t20s. During that time he worked on some technical problems, and the signs were there in the Notts and Hampshire games that he might just be returning to his best. But the club’s management cannot escape the fact that he has been a wasted overseas player so far; a batsman or pace bowler would have been much more useful in early season conditions. The one highlight of his season was three fours in four balls to complete the victory at home to Notts.
Do you agree with Dan’s assessment of the Somerset squad so far this season? Let us have your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photographs by Alexander Davidson and Steve Jennings.