Somerset’s white-ball form: explaining the inexplicable by Matt Roller

In the past two seasons, minor changes to the rules in 50-over cricket have had an important impact on the game, and have separated the format from Twenty20 cricket much more in terms of teams’ gameplans.

In 2015, rule changes were introduced that resulted in the scrapping of the Batting Powerplay, and also the increase in the number of fielders permitted outside the 30-yard circle in the last ten overs from four to five.

Whilst these may seem like subtle changes, they have had a real impact on 50-over domestic cricket in England, and there has been a slight tactical shift that has favoured Somerset in 2016.

Whereas two seasons ago scores of 350 or more were by no means uncommon in the One-Day Cup, Somerset have won the four uninterrupted games in which they have batted first with an average score of 268, and have passed 300 on only one occasion.

Indeed, it has been a matter of accumulation for most of our batsmen in this season’s competition, rather than expensive shots and boundary-hitting. Only two of the players to have passed 100 tournament runs for the Cidermen have done so at a strike-rate of 100 or more – Johann Myburgh and Roelof van der Merwe – which seems unusual given how much talk of power-hitting there is in one-day cricket worldwide.

However, the easiest explanation for Somerset’s batting efforts being so much better in the One-Day Cup than in the T20 Blast this season is that the personnel find it easier to score runs when they have time in the middle to get themselves in.

Peter Trego’s batting record in the respective formats epitomises the reasons for the varying success of Somerset’s white-ball sides.

In the T20 Blast this season, the man from Weston-super-Mare made a disappointing 257 runs at 19.77, and scored his runs at an unsustainably high strike-rate of 158.64. Conversely, in the One-Day Cup, the 35-year-old has 253 runs at 36.14, with a strike rate of 91.01.

Clearly, Trego has benefitted from the fact he can spend time at the crease in the 50-over game. As one of the handful of senior players in the Somerset white-ball side, he will have felt pressure on him to score white-ball runs in the past two seasons, particularly since the enforced retirement of Craig Kieswetter and Marcus Trescothick’s decision to focus on red-ball cricket.

However, whilst that pressure has negatively affected his T20 performances – his stats suggest that he is a batsman looking to score too many runs too early in his innings – it has made him step up in the One-Day Cup, when he has been able to “anchor” the innings from number three or four as he puts it.

It is intriguing that Trego uses that word to describe his role this summer. A few seasons ago, it would have been almost inconceivable that the destructive right-hander could view himself as an “anchor” – he is known across the county circuit as someone who takes the game away from the opposition with a rapid innings. But the rule changes, coupled with the all-rounder’s decision to focus on his technique and become a “proper batsman”, as he revealed after the Middlesex Championship game at Lord’s, have seen him rein in his overly-aggressive instincts in 50-over cricket, and turn into a batsman who wins matches with big knocks.

Another reason that the rule changes have suited Somerset is that the presence of a ‘finisher’ in the side has become less important.

Two years ago, the final fifteen overs of 50-over cricket were a glorified slog-fest. Most teams left their batting powerplay (when three fielders were allowed to be boundary-riders) until overs 36-40, and then took advantage of their momentum by accelerating in the final ten overs, in which four fielders were allowed outside the 30-yard circle.

However, since the departure of Jos Buttler to Lancashire in 2013, Somerset were not suited by these regulations. The lack of a ‘finisher’, or a batsman who could take advantage of the fielding restrictions, saw many List A innings fade away towards the back end, or the side relying on players in the side as bowlers playing their shots.

Thus, the change in regulations to mean that an extra man is allowed outside the ring in the final ten overs means that it is much more common for a side to score at a steady run-rate throughout their fifty overs. In our recent fixture at the Ageas Bowl, for example, Somerset scored at a steady five runs per over consistently throughout the innings, and ended up being able to defend their 250.

The final reason for the disparity between Somerset’s Twenty20 and One-Day Cup campaigns is the bowling attack.

Somerset’s attack in T20 this year horribly underperformed. Only three bowlers – Josh Davey, Max Waller and Roelof van der Merwe – emerged with any credit to their name, and Davey only played four of the fourteen group games.

Indeed, the side’s fast bowlers – the Overton twins, Lewis Gregory, Tim Groenewald, Yasir Arafat and Paul van Meekeren – all leaked runs like it was going out of fashion, with four of those men finishing the group stage with an economy rate over ten.

However, in the One-Day Cup it has been a different story. Jamie Overton has been the only bowler in the squad to concede over a run a ball, and the fact that the seamers have had less pressure put on them by fast-scoring opposition batsmen has definitely been a contributing factor.

Many times in the Blast campaign, fans saw young bowlers being thrown off their length by opposition batsmen scoring boundaries, with the natural instinct seemingly being to bang the ball in short in response to a big shot. However, in the One-Day Cup, the slightly less aggressive instincts of opposition batsmen on account of the overs they have to bat have let the inexperienced attack settle into their rhythm, and the result has been a much-improved set of economy rates.

Finally on the bowling front, whereas skipper Jim Allenby didn’t trust the medium-pace of either himself or Peter Trego, presumably fearing the small boundaries at Taunton in particular, in the Twenty20 games, the pair have got through 57 overs between them in the 50-over fixtures.

And whilst they have picked up only six wickets between them, a combined economy rate of 4.89 shows that the canny cutters and consistent lengths of the pair have been extremely effective thus far.

Somerset blew away a spirited Worcestershire side in the quarter-final, one which featured several players who have the potential ability to take the game away from the opposition and get into the bowlers’ heads – the likes of Joe Clarke, Ross Whiteley and Moeen Ali.

Warwickshire away will be a different proposition altogether and it will be vital that Allenby uses his captaincy nous to work out how to avoid the sort of mental collapse that Somerset have, at times, suffered from this season.

But the cider county will take confidence from their impressive showings in 50-over cricket this season, and in front of a massive crowd, will be well placed to take the game to the Midlanders in the quest for a first Lords final for five years.