Somerset Looking to Blast Off

Somerset will look to return to winning ways in the Vitality Blast when they face old foes Surrey at The Cooper Associates County Ground on Friday evening having lost three consecutive games in highly-disappointing fashion.

The Royal London One Day cup winners would have gone into this campaign in good spirits and looking to go further than last season where they made finals day for the first time in four seasons, before being well beaten by Sussex. But last season’s team has been upgraded this campaign with the exciting arrival of Babar Azam – fresh from a fabulous World Cup for Pakistan – and the emergence of Tom Banton. Jerome Taylor also returned to the south west after impressing in 2018 and there was always going to be healthy competition for places in all departments.

And it all started well with a convincing win in Cardiff – a ground where Somerset have been indifferent in previous years. Captain Lewis Gregory won the toss and put Glamorgan in and they flew out of the traps thanks to Lawler, Lloyd and Ingram. But a miserly four overs for only seventeen runs from Roelof van der Merwe pegged the home side back as he also added the scalps of Lawlor and Cooke.

But Glamorgan would have been happy with their haul of 180 for five. In reply Banton and Babar got Somerset off to a great start putting on 98 before the latter was out for 34 after 8.5 overs. Banton (64 off 34 balls) was in precocious form entertaining everyone with some ludicrous stroke play that included five fours and five sixes. After he was out at the half way point James Hildreth and Pete Trego took the reins and guided their team home at a canter with eight wickets and a whole two overs left in reserve. It was a highly impressive win that left the Welshmen a little shell-shocked.

But young Banton clearly enjoyed himself, telling the official website: “When you’re out there you just focus on the moment and the ball that’s coming at you and I just try and hit it out of the park really.” Good for you lad.

Tom Banton

A trip to Canterbury followed, but there is nothing indifferent about Somerset’s form on this ground in this competition in recent seasons as we historically lose! With Lewis on England duty Tom Abell took the captaincy and Tom Lammonby was handed his senior debut for a game which was shown on live TV. The old nemesis Kent won the toss and decided to bat but slipped to 7 for two. But Robinson and Drake managed to drag their team out of a hole and to a decent total of 165 for nine but it still looked like Somerset’s game to win but – being blunt – were never in serious contention.

If anything the game showed Somerset’s reliance on the opening pair to get a good start but this time Banton (28) was not timing the ball as well as he normally would, so could not muster the portfolio of outlandish shots of the previous game, and Babar fell for just 7. From then on it was just a case of some poor shot selection and decision-making, combined with some impressive bowling from the home team and Somerset fell 41 runs short.

Skipper on the night Tom Abell was honest in his assessment, telling the official site: “Batting wise, I thought we got off to a decent start in the powerplay but then lost six for 20 and you’re not going to win many games batting like that through the middle.

“I think Imran mixed his pace up pretty well against us, but equally we’ll look at ourselves as batters and say that we didn’t execute our plans well enough. Everyone will back their skills and game plans, but ultimately it comes down to execution and we got it wrong tonight.”

After the game the BBC’s Anthony Gibson tweeted that the difference between the two sides on the night was the bowling describing Somerset’s as “all over the place,” and this prompted a response from Max Waller who, it would appear, felt his team had kept Kent below par on such a small pitch.

The first home game of the campaign saw winless Hampshire welcomed to Taunton, the team Somerset beat to win the RLODC. The south coast side had game one abandoned without a ball bowled and suffered defeats to Kent and at Sussex, so were very keen to get a first win.

Somerset had Lewis Gregory back as skipper after he had been released to play by England but it was his counterpart, James Vince, who won the toss and asked the home team to bat in front of a sell-out crowd of 7,400.

This time Banton lasted just six balls and Somerset were only 30 for one at the end of the powerplay and had progressed to 65 for one at the halfway point. But Babar started to get going and treated his new supporters to a brilliant undefeated 95 from 61 balls that included nine fours and three sixes. His team reached 172 for three – helped by 24 scored from the last two overs – and this was a fair recovery from such a humble start.

In reply Hampshire lost three vital wickets in the powerplay – Roussow, Vince and the always dangerous Northeast – and, from a viewing point of view, it always looked comfortable for the cider county.  A Donald and Dawson partnership steadied things but with six overs to go the visitors needed 77 so it was Somerset well-and-truly in the driving seat.

The 17th over proved decisive as Fuller struck Taylor for three sixes and a four generating 24 runs in all. Hampshire suddenly became favourites needing just 18 off the last two overs and they achieved this in nine balls with four wickets in the bag.

Summing the game up the Somerset County Gazette said Somerset had “snatched defeat from the jaws of victory” and they weren’t wrong. It was a bitter pill to swallow.

Head Coach Jason Kerr was honest but, to his credit, wouldn’t blame individual players, saying: “It was not a case of things going wrong. That’s T20 cricket. One over and one batsman can take games away from you…..

“I’m not going to stand here and criticise individual mistakes from players who have been brilliant for us this season. There were more positives to come out of the game than negatives for me.”

For game four Sussex were the visitors and it would be their Aussie debutant Alex Carey who would grab the headlines. The wicket keeper struck seven fours and four sixes in a 48-ball 78 as his team reached 184 for eight. Lewis took three for 30 from his four overs and Max one for 27.

Babar and Banton gave Somerset a solid start, scoring 49 off the first six overs and 85 without loss at the halfway stage. Hopes were high with one supporter stood near me declaring the game would be won after 16 overs. Ambitious? Maybe, but possible the way these two were batting. Banton brought up his fifty after 11.3 overs (51, including six fours and one six) but was out next ball, and Babar was brilliant again with his 83 runs including ten fours and two sixes. But, with wickets in hand, it was somewhat disappointing that no-one really tried to put bat to ball and chase the runs needed and Somerset fell woefully behind the rate. With one over to go 23 were needed and the home team fell short by 13 runs.

After the game Lewis admitted his team need to talk things through to put right the wrongs, telling the Somerset County Gazette: “We now have five days to prepare for Surrey here on Friday, which is clearly now a very big game for us. We need to have a few discussions and put things right quickly.”

A quick look at the table and Somerset sit second-bottom with two points ahead of Glamorgan who have one. Kent top the table with maximum points from three games played. Our next opponents, Surrey, sit one point ahead of Somerset, also winning just the once so far but have a slight advantage having tied with Sussex on Friday evening. Kent and Surrey meet at The Kia Oval this evening (Tuesday).

Surrey started their campaign with a crushing defeat by 52 runs at Essex Eagles, before another defeat at home to Middlesex by 37 runs. Then came their solitary victory to date against a hapless Glamorgan who they bowled out for just 44 defending 141.

With ten games to go it would be utterly ridiculous to write off our chances of progressing. But Lewis Gregory is quite right and the next game is huge for Somerset. Trips to Middlesex, Essex and Hampshire follow before the home game against Kent, who have somewhat enjoyed playing us in recent years. Regardless of their indifferent form to date Surrey are packed with class and will be up for the battle. No doubting that and our game plan will need to be spot on. And executed.

Tom Lammonby

I expect Jason to name the same side that played Sussex as he clearly drew a lot of positives despite the defeat. Jamie Overton was very expensive in the first two games but his pace maybe considered to put the frighteners on Surrey. But that would be tough on young Lammonby who has performed well, if unspectacular. It could be argued that Tom should bowl his full allocation this time.

We will have to see.

Weather is forecast to be 24° and partly cloudy and there will be another full house to back our team. Let’s hope they deliver.