At Taunton on the afternoon of Wednesday 23rd September 2015 at approximately 3.25pm Jack Leach nailed Warwickshire veteran Rikki Clarke leg before wicket for 0. The wicket prompted huge celebrations on the pitch and around the County Ground. It gave Somerset’s Leach his 5th victim of the day and was part of an amazing spell of 13 deliveries where the away team imploded, moving from 105 for 1 to 105 for 6. But more crucially this wicket handed the home team a second bowling point to support the five batting bonus points gained when they scored 438.
These seven points were enough for Somerset to secure their top flight status in the County Championship and they would therefore enjoy a 9th season in the higher league after promotion in 2007.
It had already been a good day for Leach. He was unbeaten on 21 at the end of the Somerset innings having enjoyed a last wicket stand of 61 with Jamie Overton who helped himself to 40 crucial runs. Somerset had their own batting collapse in the morning session having started the day on 360 for 5 but lost 4 wickets for only 17 runs to be 377 for 9, still 23 runs adrift of that final batting point when the last two came to the crease.
Retaining their place in the first division of the LV= County Championship is absolutely crucial to Somerset at this moment in time. This is a team in transition with many holes in the squad that need filling, including the acquisition of at least one quality top order batsman, a wicket keeper with batting abilities and maybe an experienced fast-bowler to replace the departing Alfonso Thomas and lead the young and able pacemen already in the ranks.
Recruitment will be key this winter and there is no doubt that, in particular, young domestic players with ambitions to play Test Match cricket are more likely to favour a move to a first division club than one in the second flight. It is rumoured that Somerset have already missed out on one signing when David Willey decided to join Yorkshire for 2016 ahead of the cider county who had, allegedly, offered more money than the Headingley club.
Tom Cooper will not be available to return to Somerset in 2016 due to other commitments and the signing of an overseas player will be vital after Abdur Rehman failed to impress in 2015, his second spell at Somerset.
Matt Maynard no doubt has his plan in place and some conversations may already be at advanced stage. The very popular Roelof van der Merwe has already signed and will be heading back to Somerset for next season after a short but successful spell at the club in 2011 when he played a big part in the cider county making the Champions League semi-final’s. Chris Rogers has been widely tipped to follow him if Middlesex don’t take first option.
It will be interesting to see what Maynard does with the captaincy. Marcus Trescothick has deservedly been handed a one-year extension having enjoyed a prolific few months in the LV= CC but he will not be playing one day cricket so the director of cricket may opt for one club captain who can play all formats. With no obvious candidate currently at the club this would mean recruiting a proven leader.
Hampshire are now odds on to join Worcestershire as the two teams relegated to division 2 after both teams were promoted last season. If so this will be the second season on the trot that the two promoted club’s went straight back down following Lancashire and Northants making an immediate return to the lower league in 2014. Lancashire have actually been promoted or relegated every season since 2012 and they will join moneybags Surrey back in division 1 in 2016.
Division 1 already looks stronger in 2016 than in 2015 increasing the need for Somerset to strengthen the squad with the right players and employ the correct team selections and tactics.
Of course it could be argued that playing in division 1 of the County Championship is not the be-all-and-end-all as there is still one day cricket and both limited overs trophies were won by Lancashire and Gloucestershire in 2015, two clubs playing in division 2. That would have proved little comfort for Somerset had they been joining Worcestershire in the lower league next season.
Onwards and upwards we go! We hope!