Division One basement club Northamptonshire arrive in Taunton today (Sunday) for a four-day County Championship game which offers Somerset a chance to look to the future and finish their season in the positive way it began.
Outgoing Director of Cricket Dave Nosworthy has insisted the “side-show” of his departure from the club will not be allowed to get in the way of pressing home advantage over a side which has failed to win a single championship game all summer.
Lying in fourth place with three games to go, Somerset can still mathematically win the championship and the club are actively talking up the importance of beating Northamptonshire to keep themselves in the hunt for that elusive first title.
But with Somerset 35 points behind leaders Yorkshire and 29 points behind Nottinghamshire, most fans are resigned to the fact that the opportunity was lost two weeks ago with a poor display which resulted in defeat to Warwickshire.
The important thing is for the club to put a deeply disappointing couple of months behind them – a period which saw them fail to qualify for the knock-out stages of both the T20 and 50-over competitions.
By playing the positive, yet attritional brand of cricket which took them to the top of the County Championship table by mid-season, Somerset have the chance to end the season on a high, repay the fans for their support during a mixed five months and restore hope and promise ahead of next season.
Then, if results elsewhere do happen to go the right way – and Somerset’s last match of the season is away to Yorkshire at Headingley – then all well and good and we’re there in the mix.
The last time Somerset played Northants at Northampton in July, they emerged victorious on the final afternoon, despite the hosts causing some nervous moments as they came within 52 runs of chasing down a target in excess of 400. That match of course was notable for all the wrong reasons, as Craig Kieswetter sustained a horrendous injury which sent him to hospital and ended his season prematurely.
In that game, Somerset batted first and scored 375, Marcus Trescothick top scoring with 124 and Pete Trego making 77. Lewis Gregory then took six wickets to bowl Northants out for 221. In their second innings, Somerset reached 249-8, Chris Jones scoring 87, before Trescothick declared, setting the home side 404 to win. Despite the visitors reducing Northants to 117-6, the tail wagged prodigiously and the hosts were eventually dismissed for a very respectable 351. Gregory took five more wickets to give him his best ever match figures of 11-122.
There are a few key milestones to look out for on the Somerset side during this match. Marcus Trescothick goes into this match needing just five more runs for 1,000 first-class runs for the summer. His return to championship form this year has been one of the real positives of the season.
While Alfonso Thomas has had mixed limited overs campaigns, his championship form has been superb and he needs just two more wickets to reach 50 for the season. Meanwhile Lewis Gregory who has emerged as a real talent during 2014 is just behind Thomas on 45 wickets.
James Hildreth will be looking to atone for a rash shot which precipitated Somerset’s collapse on the final afternoon against Warwickshire and convert a score into three figures for the first time this summer. Meanwhile Nick Compton, who also played a poor shot to get out against Warwickshire, will no doubt be keen to add to add to his sole century in what for him has been a modest season. While Northants aren’t as poor a side as they’re often portrayed, the next four days does offer both men the chance to play themselves back into form.
In Kieswetter’s continued absence, Alex Barrow will have another chance to impress and stake his claim for a place as a batsman next season when Kiesy is back behind the stumps.
Meanwhile, with Alviro Petersen still out injured following the recent South African Test series, there should be another opportunity for Tom Abell who impressed everyone with an incredibly mature innings of 95 on his first-class debut against Warwickshire. For much of that knock he appeared to be the senior county pro, resolute in defence, playing the bowling on its merits, as his more experienced teammates came and went to a series of reckless shots.
Looking ahead to today’s game Dave Nosworthy told the official club website: “Naturally this home game against Northamptonshire is a massive match for us. Expectations will be high – however it will be crucial for us as a unit to just stick to our basic games plans which have proved successful for us this season in the Championship.
“Alviro Petersen has unfortunately not managed to get through his fitness evaluations, which shall once again give other players further opportunities.
“The ‘side- show’ of my personal news will be put aside as I have made it clear to the players that the team has always come first and before any individual in my book, and that the priority is to remain focussed on the cricket and the teams agendas.”
Nos added: “I have no doubt that we will be up for the match and am looking forward to seeing the different character traits emerge.”
Somerset will choose their final XI from the following squad: Marcus Trescothick*, Tom Abell, Alex Barrow+, Nick Compton, Adam Dibble, George Dockrell , Lewis Gregory, Tim Groenewald, James Hildreth, Jack Leach, Johann Myburgh, Craig Overton, Alfonso Thomas, Pete Trego.