The majority of the media have already awarded the championship to Surrey. The prevailing logic seems to be that a 32 point deficit is insurmountable when the leaders are from London. I suspect a good few cricket writers and the majority of sports journalists would struggle to name the team in second place. But Somerset’s players and supporters retain an optimism that they can bridge this gap and make a real challenge.
There are a number of factors that impact on a title challenge and one of the most important is when you play teams. If Somerset could have chosen a time to play their next opponents they couldn’t have done much better than this week. Surrey meanwhile face a Notts side stung by the trouncing dealt out to them by Hampshire who will be looking to make a statement of intent.
Yorkshire are a club that seem to be almost perpetually in turmoil. I started watching Somerset in 1970, the year before Brian Close arrived, seemingly disenchanted with the political infighting and the behaviour of one G Boycott. I remember wondering if Close had chosen Somerset on the basis that it was as far away from Yorkshire as it was possible to get.
The years when, under Jason Gillespie, Yorkshire reeled off titles now seem long gone as a string of players leave Headingley for various reasons. Alex Lees has already driven up the A1 to join Durham, Liam Plunkett has decided to join the evil empire and don a brown cap and Adil Rashid is being linked with a move away. And Somerset has announced that Jack Brooks will join the cider county at the end of the current season.
So to say it is not a harmonious dressing room is probably a bit of an understatement, but Somerset cannot afford the sort of complacency, for even a session, of the kind that afflicted them on day 3 against Essex. It appeared to me in the way Somerset batted on that third day that they thought that the game was already won. I must admit I did and was more than happy with the target set Essex just before tea so understand the players mindset. But we know enough about Messrs. Hurry, Kerr and Abell that they will ensure that complacency does not creep in. Yorkshire can expect a ruthless test from their visitors.
The main injury concern for Somerset is Lewis Gregory who was unable to bowl on the final day at Taunton. I am writing this before the rescheduled Blast quarter-final which we all hope Lewis will be fit to play in, but it may be that he is rested from the four-day exertions whether or not he plays on Monday. Somerset are fortunate that both Timmy G and Craig O should be available for Wednesday if Lewis isn’t.
It is quite possible that both will play, although that would be a big call given that both will be playing their first 4 day games for a good while, as Somerset may decide Dom Bess who seems desperately short of form and confidence, is not required. Tom Abell and Azhar Ali may find that they need to do more bowling than they did last week. A left field selection would be to ask Peter Trego to bat at 8 and contribute with the ball.
The batting line up will probably be unchanged although Eddie Byrom could do with converting his habitual 20s and 30s into something more substantive. Especially with both Tom Banton and George Bartlett waiting in the wings.
Yorkshire, despite all their woes have a strong side which should not be underestimated. A top four of the evergreen Adam Lyth, the highly promising Harry Brook, Kane Williamson who is one of the top 3 or 4 in the world and Garry Ballance is as strong as any in the division. Jonathan Tattersall (there’s a proper Yorkshire name) has made the keeper-batsman’s role his own this season in all formats and the bowling attack remains strong bolstered by the recent addition of Josh Poysden from Warwickshire).
Somerset then should be confident but wary. A wounded Yorkshire may show reserves of fight but this alone will not be enough against a motivated title-chasing Somerset if the visitors can get ahead in the game early then their hosts may struggle. And in such a scenario one thing is for certain, the locals won’t be happy.
Somerset fans should keep an eye on all the games in Division One as they all have significance for the title run in. Essex, who have still to play Surrey twice face a Hampshire side without James Vince. Somerset’s next opponents Lancashire host the team immediately above them Worcestershire who are experiencing a mini revival. Defeat for Lancashire, given that they are already 10 points adrift and have played a game more, will mean that they will travel to Taunton next week with relegation a virtual certainty, again, hopefully a case of Somerset playing the right team at the right time?