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Worcester Review: “The Title is Heading to The Oval – Reasons to be Cheerful!”

Don’t panic, I’ve not lost all sense of reason with six matches to go, I’m just quoting CricInfo who went on to say, “but then it has looked that way for a while.”. But while the cricket writers as ever are ignoring what is happening in the South-West, something which there is every reason to believe may be premature.

For those of you like me who have been longing for a bit of red-ball cricket the last four days have been a sheer joy. Every game had something to commend it and several could be in the running for game of the season. What a shame we have to wait almost a month for more of the same.

Of course Somerset’s win at Worcester late into the final day is responsible for a large element of the feel-good factor but there were many examples of why the Championship is such a great competition and why we as devoted supporters of our counties must do everything we can to ensure the competition isn’t further damaged by the powers that be.

Daryl Mitchel tweeted late on Wednesday that his team was comprehensively outplayed in every department. That is undoubtedly true and while Surrey’s maximum point demolition of Notts increased the gap at the top to 34 points there is plenty for those of us of a maroon and black persuasion to be excited about.

Somerset dominated pretty much every session, the only exception being the last afternoon, when nerves were a twitching for a while. The intensity with which Somerset played throughout was something that Worcestershire, despite the admirable efforts of Moeen with the ball and Alex Milton with the bat, could not cope with.

Azhar Ali looks like a quality replacement for Matt Renshaw. He clearly has a hunger for runs as evidenced by his disappointment when he was eventually dismissed in the second innings. 125 is clearly not enough to satisfy his desire for big runs. Marcus is back as good as ever, Jamie Overton looks a frightening prospect for opposition batsmen and Josh Davey continues the happy knack of taking important wickets.

With the ability to rotate the seamers that Jamie and Josh have now given us and with potentially four spin options there is every reason to believe that Somerset should be able to out bowl their opponents in most circumstances.

The management faces some challenges, not least in dealing with the potential Buttler-Kieswetter reprise with Jack and Dom.  And ensuring that all the top order are contributing but Somerset are in a much stronger position that they have been for many years.

The bizarre recall of Adil Rashid to the test squad will surely give extra motivation to the Somerset spin twins when they are back in four-day action and while it is frustrating to see them both overlooked Somerset folk will hope that England’s loss is the cider county’s gain in the remainder of the season.

Make no bones about it this is as good a Somerset squad as I have seen in my lifetime.

But is that going to be enough to catch Surrey? The Oval juggernaut rolled through Trent Bridge in comprehensive fashion leading many commentators to as good as give them the title already. There is certainly strong evidence to suggest that Somerset are the only realistic challengers and they cannot afford to slip up before the two meet at Taunton in the penultimate round of fixtures.

However Surrey still have to play Essex twice and they aren’t going to allow their title out of their grasp without a fight, and they have to play three games at The Oval which as we head into the second half of the season in the current weather may prove to be a challenging surface to take 20 opposition wickets.

Notts defeat seems to end their realistic title aspirations and I wouldn’t be surprised if a team which has punched above its weight so far this season slips away into the relegation dogfight along with Worcestershire, Hampshire and Lancashire.

Which leaves Yorkshire to consider. They are clearly an enigmatic side who at their best, and reinforced with their England contingent are a match for anyone. But they are also capable of being downright filthy as they were at The Oval and Taunton earlier in the season.

There is something special about this Somerset team which leads me to believe that they are better equipped to deal with adversity and pull for each other. Surrey haven’t been tested yet and the cricket gods may decide to throw them a few slings and arrows to see if they are worthy champions-elect. It will be interesting to see how they respond.

It all points to the game at Taunton in September being pivotal but don’t be surprised if it goes to the last round yet again.

Meanwhile, in Division Two it has got very interesting all of a sudden. Middlesex beat leaders Warwickshire and Leicestershire beat Kent so with the fast-improving Jason Gillespie inspired Sussex demolishing Glamorgan 17 points cover the top 4 places.

I for one can’t wait until red-ball cricket returns next month.