About a year ago I attended a press conference at the Cooper Associates County Ground where Somerset unveiled Chris Rogers’ replacement as club captain for 2017. The man named was, of course, Tom Abell. He was flanked by Director of Cricket Matt Maynard and Chief Executive Guy Lavender.
One year on I am back at the CACG again for a press conference and there have been considerable changes. Neither of the men named above are at the club now and Tom was flanked this time by the returning Andy Hurry, the new DoC, and Jason Kerr who has been promoted to Head Coach. And Lee Cooper is now running the club.
But there will be some continuity as Tom will remain Somerset’s captain in the County Championship in 2018 but will have added responsibility as will lead his charges in the Royal London One Day Cup too. This following a very challenging season for the young skipper, both personally and for his team, but one that ended with him skippering his side quite brilliantly as Somerset pulled off a dramatic escape from what looked like certain relegation to the second tier of county cricket. His decision-making and the way he rallied his troops could not be questioned. He mixed the bowling at crucial times never allowing opposition batsmen to settle. We stayed up and the rest, as they say, is history.
When the going got tough Tom stood up to be counted at a time when more experienced captains would have struggled. But he thinks all involved will be all the better for the experience:
“It was a huge year of learning for me”, he recalls. “As players and as a team we were under no illusions that our backs were against the wall with four or five games to go. But we had nothing to lose; we had got ourselves in that hole and it was up to us to get ourselves out of it.
“We wanted people to play with freedom – the likes of Tres and Hildy – and I thought we really saw the best of those players and Steve Davies who was fantastic. And the bowlers did a fantastic job throughout (the season) and I can’t speak highly enough of them.
“Although the season was hugely disappointing in the Championship, the way we finished gives us huge optimism moving forward because that is what we are capable of even if we didn’t show that in the early part of the season.
“But we’ve got to park that now and move on and make sure we are better for it next season.”
Tom is excited at the season ahead and is looking forward to preseason already and stands in total agreement with his new head coach that a good start is imperative:
“I am very excited” he says. “We have got some great people at the club and the adversity we faced last year as individuals and as a team can be used as a positive.
“But we have started poorly the past few years and are always chasing our tails – even the season where we finished second a couple of years ago we didn’t start that well. So it will be a massive emphasis for us to make sure we are ready for the first game and we are where we need to be.”
But there’s no denying it was all very dark for Tom at one stage. I had a chance meeting with him in Taunton town centre when he was midway through his self-imposed exile so witnessed first-hand how events were getting him down. He looked a bit lost, is that how he felt?
“Of course, I am only human after all”, he says with honesty. “My form was so extreme and there were all these thoughts going through my head, and I took the decision to drop myself, but it was amazing how things happened.
“Adam Hose leaving meant I got an opportunity to get back into the side and I started playing better.
“But I was very low”, he confesses. “I was working away at things in the nets but it wasn’t ticking for me out in the middle. And then one game at Surrey, well things seemed to click that day and I got that score behind me to kick on.”
With all his talent and class, and with youth most definitely on his side, Tom could well be Somerset’s captain for a lot longer yet. I certainly hope so. And he harbours dreams of playing t20 cricket too.
“Absolutely, in the future, but for the time being I am delighted to be captain in the Championship and the one day cup, where we’ve had some success in the past few years so I hope we continue that.
“Being captain of Somerset is phenomenal but I want to be a successful captain. And that is the challenge for me in the next couple of years.”
And who is likely to bet against him? I know I wouldn’t.