There was further good news emanating from the Cooper Associates County Ground this week with Somerset announcing that Director of Cricket Matt Maynard has signed an extension to his current deal and will stay at Taunton until at least the end of the 2019 season. This contract extension will offer the team and club stability at a crucial time.
Maynard’s two years at Somerset have been a rollercoaster to say the least, but there is no doubting that the team he is nurturing is very exciting – mixed with a fine blend of experience and youth – and lately showing the mental steel and physical determination to win sessions and ultimately matches.
To analyse his performance you have to fully review what Maynard has had to contend with at Somerset since signing in for the 2015 season. No sooner had he arrived then he suffered the double whammy of Nick Compton departing for Middlesex followed quickly by the news that Craig Kieswetter would miss the season following his horrific eye injury. This injury ultimately lead to Kiessy’s permanent retirement of course, so Maynard had lost an almost guaranteed 1,000 runs in the four day stuff and our most dangerous one day batsman.
You have to say the team that had the swagger of one that felt it could win every game under Brian Rose until 2012 now looked deflated after two years of Dave Nosworthy. I am sure Maynard had some fractured ego’s to rebuild in those early days.
And this reflected in the worst possible start for Maynard; three defeats in the first three Championship games had the doubters chirping but, most worrying of all, the third of these losses was an innings defeat to expected cannon fodder Worcestershire. The bets were off regarding the New Road team’s chances of survival and at this stage it looked like Somerset would join them in Division Two.
But a comfortable, if unexpected, win at Nottinghamshire straight after started a recovery that saw the team win four games in total and the return of 183 points handed a sixth place finish and was a fairly comfortable 22 points above relegation.
In 2016 the team has been a revelation under the captaincy of Chris Rogers. Going into the last day still in with a chance of becoming County Champs for the first time speaks volumes about the progress Maynard has engineered. The first game would have been a defeat for Somerset but for the Durham rain after two days. And they say these things even themselves out but certain victories against Yorkshire, Warwickshire and Lancashire were all undone by the weather to ridicule that notion. If just one of those draws was a win Somerset would have been the Champions. Fact.
Much will depend of who Maynard names as skipper for 2017 and his choice of overseas player but the team is in excellent shape already for an assault on the title with so many youngsters progressing further this past season.
The same for the 50-over trophy with the team playing some excellent Cricket in his two seasons. Rain hindered things early in 2015 before the team finished strongly and the run in 2016 had us all dreaming of a Lords final. But that wasn’t to be. This time anyway.
But Maynard doesn’t need me to tell him he has challenges going into next season. The form in the T20 tournaments have been woeful with Somerset finishing bottom of the Southern group in 2016, only finishing one place higher in 2015. Somerset supporters do not turn out in their vast numbers to watch some of the limp-wristed Cricket thrown up in Maynard’s two seasons. We can bemoan the loss of both Kieswetter or Buttler all we like, but the team played like one with no real game plan, no obvious finisher in the team that could force a win and were simply not clinical enough as a team.
With a shorter format for 2017 much will depend again on who Maynard brings in but the arrival of Steven Davies will go some way to replacing the explosive Kiessy at the top of the order. Maynard is a shrewd thinker and a much cleverer man than me and he will know what is needed to make Somerset a dominant force in the short format again. As they say the only way is up.
So I am delighted Maynard is showing his commitment to the cause and staying on a bit longer. I recall being in the Press Box for the last home game of 2014 against Middlesex at Taunton a few days after it was announced that Nosworthy was leaving Somerset. Esteemed Cricket writer George Dobell was there and he asked the small audience present who Somerset fans wanted as the new DoC. I simply offered that I wanted someone who understood what it was to be Somerset as I didn’t think Nos did. With Matt Maynard I believe we have a man that does, and that, for me, is incredibly important.