Somerset starlet Tom Abell has urged his teammates to retain the fighting spirit that embodied Chris Roger’s time at the helm.
Having started the year favourites for the drop, the ex-Australia star’s troops went on the charge in the second half of the season to come within a whisker of a maiden LV County Championship triumph.
After a pedestrian start to the campaign the Cidermen picked up a remarkable five victories in their final seven red ball clashes to turn themselves into title contenders. This run of results left the boys from Taunton in pole position going into the final morning of an enthralling season.
But, just like in 2011 when Lancashire helped themselves to the crown, lightning struck again as Somerset were agonisingly pipped to the post by Middlesex in one of the most thrilling climaxes to a championship campaign on record.
And although accepting that a home defeat to the eventual champions was regarded as pivotal in some quarters, the right-hander was quick to his skipper’s attacking approach:
“That was the biggest thing with Buck, he was always looking to win every single game,” Abell explained. “OK it cost us one game against Middlesex but it won us five or six games.
“We won games that we were second favourites to win and we got there from very average positions.
“Chris always made sure we stayed fighting and didn’t let us drift even if we had a bad session – it was refreshing and made for some seriously exciting games. That is the biggest thing I’ll take forward from this year.”
Elegant and stylish at the crease, Abell is held in high regard by the powers that be at the Cooper Associates County Ground. High calibre openers are hard to come by and the local boy has proven his temperament for the role having carried his bat twice already for his home county.
The Exeter University graduate burst onto the scene in 2014 when he fell agonisingly close to being the first Somerset debutant to make a debut championship hundred since Harold Gimblett in 1935.
Injuries and mixed form meant that the youngster was not at his best during the last campaign, but a strong 2017 could see the opener’s already rising stock propelled even further – the rapid ascent of Haseeb Hameed proving there’s still a place for patience and durability in era dominated by power and innovation.
And the 22-year-old – who was still a twinkle in mother’s eyes when opening partner Marcus Trescothick made his first class bow – admits that he can’t quite get his head around making his way to the middle with the ex-England star:
“It is unbelievable really,” he admitted. “I can’t get enough of having the opportunity of opening the batting with him.
“Being able to walk out onto the pitch following his lead is absolutely awesome.
“He puts in a lot of time with me and having one of the country’s greatest players to be able to learn from incredible for a youngster.
“Opening it is quite an intense part of the game and Tres tries to help me through those tough patches
“I feed off of that big time and hope he keeps playing for as long as possible.”
Since breaking into the Somerset side the top order man has been restricted largely to LV County Championship outings.
And few could argue that the selectors’ faith has not been repaid, with 32 appearances yielding precisely 1600 runs at an average of a shade above 31.
But the man with three first class hundreds to his name is eager to make his mark in the shorter formats of the game.
The young star showed just what his capable of in what was effectively a knock out clash with Sussex in the Royal London one-day competition last season.
With the TV cameras piling on the pressure, Abell kept his head while those around him with significantly more experience lost theirs, helping himself to a maiden list A ton and securing victory for his side.
And the starlet was quick to stress that his desire to develop into the complete player rather than being pigeon holed as a red-ball specialist.
“I am always looking to be the best player I can be in all formats,” he explained.
“I am well aware that at the moment my positon is predominantly opening the batting in championship but I am working hard on my options in one-day cricket.
“This year I’ve had a slightly different role coming in in the middle order so I’ve been working hard on playing against spin.
“That came to fruition a little this summer but I’ve still got a long way to go.
“But it is definitely something I am working on and I feel that I’m improving all the time.”
Despite his tender years Abell is no stranger to success. The right hander was earmarked for stardom from a young age, featuring in the Telegraph as the youngest school boy to reach 1000 runs in a summer, having spent the winter skippering the Taunton School rugby and hockey first teams.
After come through the youth ranks at Gypsy Lane and living just around the corner from the ground the stroke maker has also enjoyed considerable success in the colours of Taunton Cricket Club. Nearly 3000 league runs at an average of over 55 has made him one of the most feared opponents on the club cricket circuit.
And off the back of that he has spent the last two winters trying his hand at the notoriously brutal Australian club game. Turning out for Freemantle the Academy graduate was the side’s leading run scorer in 15/16 with 7 two-day outings yielding no fewer than 402 runs.
The Western Australian outfit – home of Australia stars the Marsh brothers – finished in the middle of the ladder only to miss out in the Grand Final.
Having started the new season in flying form, Abell, who notched up his first three figure score of the season last weekend, hopes to go one better this time around and was quick to sing the praises of the standard of competition he has face in his time down under:
“Generally the competition is very strong and it is a really good standard,” he admitted. “That makes for some great cricket and it is always really competitive.
“You often get state players playing for club sides at weekend which is really healthy and means that you get to play with and against some quality players.
“Naturally being English the Aussies like to get stuck into you but coming out for a second time I was a little more prepared for it. We have a good squad – the strength and depth is fantastic and it is a great club to be at.
“We had a decent year last year finishing 6th in the ladder and are desperately trying to go all the way this year.
Having gained a reputation as the bridesmaids of the county circuit in the late noughties, finishing second in last year’s championship was a bitter pill to swallow for everyone associated with Somerset.
In what must have been a particular agonising day for the playing and coaching staff, all they could do was sit on and watch as events unfolded at Lords.
But despite admitting that the unfolding of events was tough to take Abell believed there were plenty of positives to draw from 2016.
“Everyone was pretty gutted”, he admitted. “We are not completely naive to the fact we have a reputation for coming second but sometimes you can’t dictate circumstances.
“It looked like we were in a bit of position to win but it was taken out of our hands. When you get so close it is pretty devastating but at the same time the feeling was one of huge excitement of what is it come. The way we played the last few games suggest that we can beat the best sides in all conditions.”
The last few years has been a transitional time for the west country boys.
South African David Nosworthy tried and failed to fill the hot seat left by club legend Brian Rose, while the departures of Jos Buttler and Nick Compton, coupled with the freak injury which led to Craig Kieswetter’s premature retirement, have left the county light on established batting talent.
But youth has very much been a focus of Matthew Maynard’s reign and the club is starting to reap the rewards. Alongside Abell himself, the likes of Craig and Jamie Overton, Lewis Gregory, Jack Leach and Dom Bess have all stood up to be counted in the past 18 months.
Add the capture of former Surrey and Worcestershire stumper Steven Davies into the mix and there is a growing sense that something special could be just around the corner in Taunton.
The club can count on one of the finest support bases in the country and Abell was quick to play up the role that the fans have to play:
“The support we get is incredible,” he said. “Even when results haven’t been that healthy the fans always turn up and back us. This has a massive effect on us as players and drives us on.
“It is a family club and opposition players have said to me before how much they enjoy coming to play here. We are hugely grateful for their support and are fully aware that we are very lucky as players to represent a well-supported club.
“As players we are really desperate to win a trophy and give something back.”
This interview was first published in The Cricket Paper and is reproduced here on The Incider with the author’s agreement.