“The Kerr Effect”, Somerset’s bowling in 2014

Kerr4Following on from my previous article on how Dave Houghton impacted Somerset’s batting, I’ve done some calculations to formulate Jason Kerr’s effect on Somerset’s bowling. Kerr previously worked with the 2nd XI and academy, and was promoted to first team bowling coach ahead of the 2014 season as part of a coaching staff reshuffle to try to improve results. These statistics mainly relate to championship cricket.

Ahead of the 2014 season, the general feeling was that we had a good crop of bowlers coming through, with Lewis Gregory, Craig Meschede and Jamie Overton having come on well during 2013. Supported by the experienced pairing of Alfonso Thomas and Steve Kirby, it was felt that Somerset had a good, but maybe not title-winning, bowling attack going into 2014.

In 2013, Somerset’s overall championship bowling average was 31.74 – maybe slightly better than what you’d expect from a side that battled relegation for most of the season (it was probably the batting that was a bigger problem). However, in 2014, while Somerset did finish 6th again, this time it was different – for the first three-quarters of the season the team mounted a serious title challenge. Despite this, Somerset’s overall bowling average actually increased – to 33.62. However, the stats must be delved into further to make sense of this.

In 2013, Somerset’s first innings bowling average was 34.56, and the average conceded in first innings was 330.5. In 2014, those numbers were 30.86 and 298.94 – pretty substantial decreases. It’s the second innings where the problem arises – 2013’s second innings bowling average was surprisingly low at just 26.07, while in 2014 it was 38.18. There are several contributing factors to this – firstly, the pitches at Taunton this year were much flatter than in previous years. In several home games, such as the Lancashire and Middlesex ones, Somerset bowled the line-up out fairly cheaply in the first innings, before struggling in the second to bowl them out again as the pitch flattened out rather than deteriorated. Both these games ended in disappointing draws. Moreover, a couple of Taunton’s early season games – Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire – proved too flat in both innings for both bowling attacks.

Secondly, Somerset didn’t really have a match-winning spinner who was able to bowl teams out on the final day. Sadly, George Dockrell has been fairly average for two seasons now after a breakthrough 2012 season. He averaged 35.76 last season in the championship, while he is third choice spinner in limited over games (and will likely fall further down the pecking order with the re-arrival of Abdur Rehman). Towards the end of the season, Dockrell was dropped from the championship side, and Jack Leach replaced him, but with limited success – he took 8 wickets from 3 games at 35.75. The issue here could be that we don’t have a spin bowling coach (although to be fair, few counties have one). Hopefully the signing of Rehman will, at least in part, rectify this.

A third reason was our lack of a real strike bowler – Jamie Overton was out of sorts for the entire season while Steve Kirby was injured for the first half before retiring in July. Both of these bowlers have the firepower to make a breakthrough if needed when fit and in form. They were missed hugely.

Jamie’s decline this season was a surprise. 2013 was widely regarded to have been a breakthrough year for him, and he earned an England ODI call up for the Australia series at the end of the season (although he didn’t play) and worked with England coaches during the 2013-14 winter. He took 33 wickets from 12 championship games at 33.96 apiece in 2013. He was wayward at times, but he was always fast (occasionally pushing 90mph) and sometimes lethal. However, rather than tighten up during 2014, he seemed to become even more wayward, and took just 10 wickets from 7 games at 70.80 each. It was pretty clear that he had regressed. Now, I may be looking too much into it here, but we have seen what effect being around the England squad can have on especially fast bowlers. Chris Jordan and, especially, Steven Finn, are examples of where bowlers have declined since being in the England squad. I think Jamie could be another example of this. In the game after his ODI call-up in 2013, the umpires removed him from the attack for excessive short-pitched bowling. Next, he worked with England coaches during the winter (then missed a Lions tour to Sri Lanka due to injury). He had a poor 2014, perhaps through trying to bowl too much short stuff. His first-class bowling average before he was called up to the ODI squad was 35.13. His bowling average in games since is 66.38. The Saker Effect?

An area where Somerset have struggled over the last few seasons is polishing off the tail, and this was no different in 2014. Somerset’s bowling average against the bottom five wickets (that is too say bowling average after the fall of the fifth wicket) was 31.80. This was an increase from the previous season, where that figure was 26.35. Again, this was an area where a fit and firing Kirby and/or Jamie Overton would have been effective. More positively, against the top five wickets, Somerset averaged 34.97 – a decrease from 2013’s 36.31. But, if you look at the stats, this means that the team found it only marginally easier to bowl at the bottom five wickets than the top five last season.

Thommo2There were a couple of final problem areas with the team’s bowling performance. Firstly, it was pretty clear that the attack was tiring towards the end of the season because results declined and players such as Craig Overton and Alfonso Thomas, who had had good seasons until then, began to tail off. The statistics back up this view – the bowling average in the first half of the season was 30.02. In the final eight games, it was 37.26. Another stat can be used here to demonstrate this point – Somerset’s bowling average against the bottom five wickets in the first half of the season was 22.41, while in the second half it was 36.69. Against the top five in the first half, the average was 35.80, while in the second half it was 37.67. Therefore in the first half of the season, the attack was able to dismiss the bottom five much quicker than the top five, while in the second half, as the bowlers tired, they struggled against both the top and bottom five.

It was not surprising that the attack was fatigued as it was difficult to rotate bowlers – Kirby was injured, Adam Dibble was considered unfit for parts of the season, Jamie was out of sorts and Craig Meschede was poor in the early games he played (averaging 55.28). Thomas, Gregory and Craig Overton were overly relied upon.

Secondly, dropped catches were an issue throughout the season. While it is difficult to quantify, it certainly felt like there more missed opportunities than usual which could have changed games had they been taken. An example was the first day at home to Warwickshire – five chances were dropped, three of which were very catchable. It is possible that had Somerset held on to all their catches, the table would have looked very different. The decline in fielding was not altogether surprising, after specialist fielding coach Chris Taylor left the club ahead of the season and was not replaced. It is possible that his wages funded in part the employment of Dave Houghton, who was a success – showing it is a difficult balance to strike.

The tone of this article may sound negative, but there were definitely positives. Alfonso Thomas was his reliable self and the individual highlight of the season was no doubt his 4 wickets in 4 balls at home to Sussex. Lewis Gregory was voted as fans’ player of the season, partly due to his excellent championship bowling performance where he took 43 wickets in 9 games at 26.06 each. Craig Overton had a breakthrough year despite tailing off towards the end, while Peter Trego took 49 wickets, 7 of which came in an innings away to the champions, Yorkshire.

Looking ahead to next season, the bowling attack should only improve. Hopefully 2014 was merely a blip on Jamie’s part and he will return fit and firing – he would be like a new signing if he does. Hopefully Lewis Gregory and Craig Overton can continue their sublime progress, while Adam Dibble and the arrival of Tim Groenewald can add depth and the potential for rotation. The arrival of Abdur Rehman will add real star quality to the attack, but he will need the runs to bowl at. He could be the missing link in the area of bowling teams out on the final day, even if the pitches remain flat (and hopefully they will be less so next year). A final issue that I would urge Matt Maynard to address is the lack of a fielding coach – as the old saying goes, catches win matches.

I know that many fans want Somerset to sign another fast bowler for next season, but I’m not completely sure if he need one now that we have Rehman. Gregory and at least one of the Overtons will fill two spaces of the bowling attack, while we certainly have enough bowlers who could fill the third spot (with Trego and Jim Allenby as the allrounders). The batting line-up is probably the area where we need a signing more, because as it stands I’m not sure if our prospective line-up will score enough runs for Rehman and the rest of the bowlers to bowl at. In an ideal world, Marcus Trescothick and James Hildreth will fire, Tom Abell will continue his progress, Rehman will be do what Saeed Ajmal did for Worcestershire this season (without the chucking part!), Gregory will continue his progress and Jamie will return to his best. But they are a lot of ifs. Personally, I think we could challenge for the title next year, but winning it will be unlikely with so many other good teams around.

So back to the original point of this article – how did Jason Kerr do in his first year as bowling coach? From the results on the pitch, I would say ok, but with much room for improvement. Gregory and Craig Overton were the main highlights, but Jamie Overton and Meschede regressed. Overall, our championship bowling performance dropped. Furthermore, in the Royal London one-day cup, the bowling was pretty shoddy at times, especially Alfonso Thomas who had a surprisingly poor year in the format, with an economy rate of 6.51. Jack Leach’s progress was a positive though, taking 8 wickets from 6 games with an economy rate of 5.03. In t20s, the bowling too often relied on Dirk Nannes and Thomas having a good game, although Max Waller had possibly his best season yet in the format, with 10 wickets from 12 games at an economy rate of 7.17. There has definitely been some scepticism over whether Kerr wouldn’t have been better suited to continue working with the younger players, especially having helped players such as Gregory, the Overtons and Meschede come through. However, I suggest we give him time to make a real impact. He is held in high regard by the club and knows it inside out. Matt Maynard, it appears, is happy to keep Kerr as bowling coach. However, we will need to see some improvements in the bowling department next season.

Bowlng 2014 – Steve Jennings looks at the facts & figures from each format.

LV=CC

With Steve Kirby injured early in the season then having to retire from the game the pressure was on Alfonso Thomas to lead Somerset’s bowling attack in 2014 and he didn’t let his team down. He topped Somerset’s averages in the long format helping himself to 53 wickets along the way. The highlight, of course, was the four wickets in four balls against Sussex at Taunton as the away team went from 33 for 0 to 33 for 5 in little under two overs.

Alfi was 16th in the national averages taking a wicket in roughly every nine overs on average. He took 5 wickets in an innings three times with a best of 5 for 40.

Young all-rounder Lewis Gregory was second in the club averages and 22nd nationally taking 43 wickets. He managed to grab a wicket every 7.7 overs or 46 deliveries bowled. Lewis achieved his first ever 10-wicket match haul against Northants and claimed his best bowling figures of 6 for 47 in the same game.

Peter Trego also showed his all-rounder abilities taking 49 wickets, just one short of matching his 2012 haul. His average was 34th best nationally. He also enjoyed a 10-wicket match haul against Yorkshire claiming his best ever figures in the same game, 7 for 84.

Craig Overton stepped out of brother Jamie’s shadow in 2014 taking 40 wickets at an average 29.5 every 51 deliveries bowled on average. He was only one of four Somerset bowlers to take five wickets in an innings taking 5 for 63 against Durham.

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RLODC

Jack Leach topped the averages in the 50-over format with his eight wickets costing 32.8.He was 69th nationally.

No Somerset player took five wickets in an innings but Lewis Gregory’s 4 for 48 came closest. He was second in the averages and 71st nationally taking the most wickets along the way, 14 at 33.2.

Tim Groenewald (11) and Alfonso Thomas (10) were the only other Somerset players to take double figures in a disappointing tournament for Somerset’s bowlers.

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T20

Much was expected of new signing and T20 veteran pace bowler Dirk Nannes going into the 2014 season. The Australian, who has also represented the Netherlands internationally, was often singled out by supporters for criticism who maybe thought the club should have invested in a power batter and enforcer to replace the departed Jos Buttler. Whether that is right or wrong Nannes did his job for Somerset taking 24 wickets at 15.5 and topping the clubs averages. He was 21st nationally and took a wicket every 11.4 balls on average. His 5 for 31 was the only five wicket haul all season.

Of the rest only Thomas and Max Waller took ten wickets and more.

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