Friday night’s defeat against Gloucestershire has left Somerset’s t20 campaign in a bit of disarray. Qualification now looks an uphill task with the cider men almost certainly needing to win four of the five remaining games to stand any chance of going through to the quarter-final stages. Next up for Somerset is Kent – also struggling in this year’s tournament having progressed through the group stages last year – a team that has beaten Somerset in the last five games the two teams have played.
It all seems a million miles from a few years back when Somerset’s team was the envy of the other seventeen counties, when qualification seemed inevitable and supporters expected their day out at Final’s Day. The following article was written for the Weston Mercury and was published in issue dated 23rd June 2016 after Chris Gayle’s last game for Somerset.
It was good that Chris Gayle ended his second spell at the Cooper Associates County Ground by scoring a fifty in a Somerset victory against Hampshire last Sunday. It was highly unlikely that Gayle would emulate the amazing achievements of his time in 2015 when he plundered 328 runs in just three innings – and he was not out in two of those – but his presence seemed to raise his team-mates and Somerset won three of the five games he played in!
While Gayle’s five innings this term may have appeared less spectacular he still gave the club’s supporters some enjoyable moments with a few hefty blows. On Sunday he managed to put a Shahid Afridi delivery into the middle of the St James Street car park and not hit a single car!
Despite his controversies in the national press Gayle has been good for Somerset on and off the pitch and it appears that the great West Indian has enjoyed being a Somerset player too. He would always be welcome back at Taunton, and I am sure he would accept any approach to return, but the burning question for Somerset’s hierarchy is would any investment in Gayle be more wisely spent elsewhere? There is a talented squad developing at Taunton, and the young players are getting better and more experienced with every game, but there is a feeling among supporters that the team is still well short of the one of a few years back that competed in every competition and made T20 Final’s Day for four consecutive seasons.
The names from that team trip off the tongue – Trescothick (in his prime), Trego, Pollard, Buttler – but the one player that Somerset have never replaced for T20 is Craig Kieswetter, who retired prematurely from the game last season. Somerset could rely on Kiessy to provide a solid base at the start of the innings in pretty much every game and he could adapt to any situation, whether forcing the pace or holding one end. In 2014 his ten innings generated 549 runs. Somerset tend to chop and change their opening batters and bringing in the great Jamaican for 5-6 games hardly offers stability.
One domestic player Somerset should be looking at is Kent’s young skipper Sam Northeast, who scored a brilliant century at Taunton in 2014 – the same game where Gayle smacked 151 not out. He would be an immediate replacement for Kiessy and the sort of player that would bring fireworks at the top of the innings to excite supporters. He has England ambitions and he may feel these can be better achieved at Taunton than at cash-strapped Kent?
Of course I am not suggesting signing a player of Northeast’s ability is easy: the player has to want the move and be available at the right price. But a decent contract and the prospect of batting at Taunton may attract the talented youngster?
Failing that a replacement for Gayle may be closer to home. I felt uncomfortable watching James Hildreth carrying the drinks against Hampshire as he is arguably our best batsman in all formats. Alongside Gayle, Hildy is one of only five players to score a T20 century in Somerset colours (against the Welsh Dragons in 2012) and I would certainly consider him opening in T20 cricket. He has all the shots and, like Kieswetter, can combine attacking play with solid defence. Send him out with the pre-requisite to last all 20 overs and bring back 50-60 runs while the big hitters hit out at the other end.
Look out for more articles in the Weston Mercury newspaper every Thursday.