Somerset t20 Blast review: “Progress, but not there yet”

After two years of failure in the t20 Blast – in which they finished 8th and 9th, winning just seven out of 25 completed games – Somerset made progress this year, scraping through to the quarter-finals on net run rate before falling to an expert Notts side.

It was an unusual South Group – a number of no results and the lack of any particularly strong or weak teams meant the table was very tight, with just six points separating top and bottom. Somerset finished fourth, but could conceivably have finished first or ninth if one or two small things had worked in their favour or against it.

At first their campaign looked to be going the same way as the previous two seasons after dismal collapses against Surrey and Essex, but three wins in a row – two against Middlesex and one against Hampshire – put Somerset right in contention.

After that they were inconsistent, almost alternating between winning and losing before sneaking into the knockout stages with a comprehensive victory over Hampshire. Somerset put up a good fight in the quarter-final but ultimately Notts were too strong and showed that the cider county still have a way to go before they can be a real t20 force again.

But improvements were made. Somerset’s overall run rate was 9.12, compared to 8.23 in 2016 and 8.67 in 2015. Simply, after those first two poor games, plenty of batsmen put their hand up and scored runs. Lewis Gregory had a good spell opening the batting, while his partner Steve Davies made a few powerful starts. James Hildreth and Johann Myburgh made vital contributions, too, finishing as the side’s two leading run-scorers. Corey Anderson was excellent in the four games he played.

The problem was that batsmen scored runs at different times – too often, nobody was able to push on and make that match-winning score. Sometimes, as against Glamorgan, a big score was made – Myburgh made a brilliant 87 – but there was a lack of support and they were unable to get over the line. They weren’t consistent enough, and a few batsmen, notably Jim Allenby, Steve Davies and Peter Trego, won’t be entirely satisfied with their seasons.

Somerset’s bowling, to be frank, was terrible at times in 2015 and 2016; often the attack seemed to have no idea how to take wickets and conceded plenty of runs. In 2017, however, the bowlers had a bit more nous, reflected in going at 8.63 per over compared to 8.86 and 8.89 in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

Craig Overton made the most marked improvement, taking 15 wickets with an economy of 8.54; last season he took just 2 wickets with an economy of 10.23. Max Waller and Roelof van der Merwe were their usual reliable selves, while Paul van Meekeren bowled well when given the opportunity and should get more games in next season’s competition.

With Dom Bess and Jack Leach sure to get opportunities in t20 at some point, Somerset are well-stocked in the spin department, but they perhaps need one more quick bowler to make this a top-class attack. This could be an option for one of next season’s overseas players.

And it was a lack of overseas players this season that led to Somerset’s downfall. The team is good, but it’s a few players away from being a top-class side. And the obvious source of players is overseas.

It’s been a much talked-about subject among Somerset fans – this year Anderson was signed for the entirety of the competition, with Dean Elgar available for the last three matches of the group stage and potentially the knockouts. That left a gaping hole for the first 11 games where they didn’t have a second overseas player. Matt Maynard stated on Twitter that no one was available who was good enough; and he said before the season that he wants a settled side throughout, unlike last year where Chris Gayle played five games then left a gaping hole. That’s fair enough but having someone for at least some of those 11 games, who would later be available for the knockouts, would have helped.

And in the end Anderson played just four games anyway due to injury, so the side wasn’t settled at all (injuries to Myburgh and Davies, and the loss of form of Trego, also contributed to this – only once did Somerset play the same XI for two matches in a row). It’s not easy to sign quality overseas players, and Somerset of course can’t be solely blamed for the situation, but it’s needed to give us an edge.

The batting order felt unsettled, too, with Allenby, Myburgh and Trego all moving up and down the order. Batting order changes are obviously needed in t20 to adapt to the match situation, but the alterations felt excessive at times. Role clarity is important.

With Allenby confirming that he’s off, and Myburgh, Waller and Leask rumoured to be leaving too, Somerset’s t20 side will have a different look next year. It goes without saying that two overseas players will be needed to make us competitive – I’d be looking to sign an opening batsman and a lower-order all-rounder. Domestic signings could always happen but that’s unpredictable at this stage – it may be that young guns like Tom Abell, Ben Green, Tim Rouse and George Bartlett will need to make the step up.

So to end here’s a rough prediction of what next year’s first-choice t20 team could look like:

1 Overseas opener?

2 S Davies

3 Trego

4 Hildreth

5 Domestic batsman?

6 Overseas all-rounder?

7 van der Merwe

8 C Overton

9 Bess

10 Groenewald

11 van Meekeren