At Somerset’s Media Day Steve sat down with Somerset’s captains for 2018 and talked about their hopes for the season ahead.
One of the most exciting things about going into this new season for me is the youthful captaincy team. Continuing to lead Somerset in the assault on the County Championship will be the incredibly likeable and extremely talented Tom Abell, and the 24-year-old will also take the reins for the Royal London campaign too.
Joining Tom to captain the T20 side will be the equally as likeable and talented Lewis Gregory who starts a first season as a Somerset skipper but he has, of course, led the team in games in the past. So has 25-year-old Lewis truly taken on board this new commitment and following in the footsteps of so many great names that have led the cider county?
“Not really at the moment,” he says with a big smile on his face. “It feels surreal. When I was first asked I was very excited and then you realise you have six months to wait until you are actually in charge. We will be deep into our summer by then.
“And hopefully Tommy and the boys would have gained some momentum and then we can ride that wave and carry it on.
“But it is a huge honour to have my name up there with some of the greatest players ever to play for Somerset and hopefully I will do myself proud and put some victories on the board with my lads and come up with some silverware.”
Somerset fans have been spoiled over the years watching some great one-day teams, from the days of Botham, Richards and Garner through to watching Kieswetter, Buttler and the great Alfonso. Back in the early part of this decade you could excuse Somerset fans for buying their tickets for T20 Finals Day before the season started – and many did – because it seemed nailed on that we would qualify. The class of 2010, ‘11 and ‘12 had great swagger and played fearless cricket but that has disappeared over the past few seasons. So how will the new captain help his team to reach new heights?
“I think that’s hard one because we had a lot of world class players back then,” he says. “But we’ve got some brilliant players now of course, but it’s all about momentum. I want to go out there and the lads play with freedom, be carefree and show what they can do on the world stage. And that is the attitude I want to bring. There’ll be no shackles just go out and be the player you want to be.
“We will be attacking, we will be aggressive and I think that is the type of T20 cricket to play if you want to be successful.
“We have the ability to be that good again and, once again, I think it’s that word momentum, especially in one-day cricket when you get on those big runs where you win 4, 5, 6 games in a row. But it’s all about the performance on the day. I think we have a really good chance to qualify and we have the talent to do that.”
There are few greater things than a T20 night at Taunton when the sun is shining, the drinks are flowing and the crowd are in good voice. How much of a part does the new captain think the Taunton crowd will play?
“A massive part,” he says emphatically. “The support we get here is fantastic, not only the T20 crowds, the 50-over stuff and County Championship crowds are amazing. We play away at other grounds and you just don’t get that support anywhere else. So to be here on Friday nights or Sunday afternoons, it is amazing to see the atmosphere they create. It gives you that extra 5% to go out and perform.”
For Tom this will be his second season leading Somerset. The first was not always easy going with Somerset making a poor start to the campaign and the captain enduring a horrendous loss of form, which resulted in him undergoing a self-imposed exile in an attempt to regain some confidence. With the season nearly upon what steps have been taken to ensure a better start in 2018 than previous campaign?
“We spoke about the first game being the Ireland fixture which we just finished,” Tom says. “And you look at this time of year and the expectations and what you hope to achieve and I think it’s easy to get carried away. As a team our whole build-up has been around making sure that the very first ball is on the money or, if we’re batting, then we are ready as a batting unit and deliver our skills. Because, obviously, we didn’t have a great start last year and we were playing catch up cricket.”
Somerset had played themselves into such a weak position that relegation to the second tier looked an absolute banker with the team needing at least three wins out of the last four games. Some supporters – myself included – simply could not see a team playing that badly and erratically to win any of those games. But, just as we were bracing ourselves to long forgotten trips to Leicester and Bristol, the team came good at just the right time and the great escape followed. How does Tom recall this?
“Cricket’s a funny game because we really struggled through the first half of the season,” he confesses. “But, as Lewis alluded to, momentum is a big thing. We really came together as a team, which we had to at that point because with four games to go we needed to win at least three.
“But guys really stepped up and came to the fore which we needed them to but the big thing was coming together as a team. It was a tough situation but we came through it and that is something we are looking to harness going into this year.”
So with a season under his belt, and his inspirational captaincy in that late run, what does Tom think he learnt that he can take into the new campaign?
“There was so much to last season and I don’t think you can ever fully prepare yourself for what you are going to experience out in the middle,” he admits. “But having big influences around me to help me through was brilliant at the start of the season and I learnt a huge amount, particularly tactically. Different plans for different players at certain times in the game – things like that.
“There was a huge team effort to get out of the hole we were in. So I want to take my captaincy and leadership to another level this year. And I still have those guys around me to offer advice.”
But being so young, and with so much experience about, can it be daunting when the older pro’s offer advice, especially when it conflicts with the captain’s thinking?
“Yes definitely,” Lewis says. “But it’s about being strong enough to make decisions for yourself. You have to canvass some players you trust, who have played a lot of cricket because they are the guys you want to help you think about the game, to think differently. If they have a big partnership how can we take a wicket? What can we do to change a game that looks lost? And you still have to make the decision yourself but it’s great to have the options.
“I think the bigger decisions tend to happen in four-day cricket and players must understand that,” Lewis adds. “Even if they want to bowling at certain times then they understand that the captain is making such decisions for the team. And that is a resounding factor.”
Tom agrees: “It can be difficult as every individual is different but man management is a huge part of leadership. I think we have a great squad and everyone is coming at it in the same direction for the best of the team but decisions have to be made.”
For Tom there appears to be added pressure because the vast majority of Somerset supporters view winning the County Championship like as the Holy Grail. So does Tom feel this pressure as captain?
“Of course, but as a team we want to win every game and we pride ourselves on trying to challenge in all competitions and we want to be the best team,” he says. ”But we have to take it game-by-game and with each competition played in blocks we are able to focus on each individual competition.
“But for us the Championship is huge and the amount we invest physically and emotionally in that competition is like none other. We know how big it is for our supporters.”
Lewis also has pressures. Margins in T20 cricket can be tight with games sometimes won or lost on one delivery, a single run, a misfield or a poorly placed decision by the captain. The captain has to be on the ball throughout.
“In all forms of cricket the small things can come together to influence a result and that is something we try to control,” Lewis says. “Over the winter we have worked hard on how we are in the field – the energy and intensity and those team dynamics will come across in all formats.
“But I think the Championship is most testing. That is when things slow down and you need to unlock the opposition. T20 is fast and furious and you have to just run with it.”
Somerset’s plans were knocked by the Bancroft saga of course. Wanting and working to a great start how much did the controversy and the club’s decision not to employ Cameron Bancroft derail the team?
“It’s obviously disappointing when you lose your overseas players,” Tom says. “But we are professional sportsmen and you will go through these situations in your career.
“But we accept the decision and moved on because we have to as there is a new season on the horizon. But we have faith in each other in the squad that whoever comes in will perform.”
And one day after this interview a new player did come in; Matt Renshaw.
We of course wish our young captain’s all the best for the season ahead. And beyond.