Worcestershire away: opportunity knocks for Somerset

Somerset’s staccato championship season re-emerges on Sunday with the trip to New Road for the return of the opening game of the season, an 83 run win in April which was memorable for the batting of Matt Renshaw and James Hildreth and a solid all-round bowling performance.

It’s a return to red-ball cricket that can’t come too soon for me especially as opportunity knocks at the top of the table. While Somerset play bottom of the table Surrey travel to Notts, intriguingly the top two meeting for the third time in the last four rounds of matches in a row, as the fixture computer has permed Somerset, Surrey and Notts to face each other since the start of June.

Spirits will be buoyed in the Somerset camp with, the great news about Lewis Gregory’s new contract a saga that has rumbled on for most of the season.  It was on the Sunday of the Worcestershire game that rumours about Lewis’ future broke so let’s hope that the removal of the uncertainty is a good omen.

Lewis’ new contract and the anticipated benefits for him of playing with a clear mind is not the only good news. The shrewd signing of Azhar Ali has all Somerset fans licking their lips while Marcus looks ready to return to open with him. (I’d love to research how many opening partners Marcus has had in his Somerset career – one for the dark winter’s night maybe?). Hopefully, the break will have given Jack Leach, who had a run out this week for the Lions will be back to his best after a run of poor luck in May and June. He certainly has the incentive with test places up for grabs.

Meanwhile, Dom Bess, who was also on Lions duty at New Road this week, will have benefited from the break which he needed after the whirlwind of his test debut which unsurprisingly seemed to affect his form when he returned to Taunton. Neither Jack or Dom saw much action – a total of 24 overs in a seam dominated game – but they will both have benefitted from getting such good practice.

I said in an article last month that the team that adapts best to this phase of the season, with its switches between T20 and 4-day cricket, would be a strong challenger come September. So it is to be hoped that the members of the squad involved in both formats will be able to adjust in the 24 hours between the Glamorgan game in the Blast and the 4-day game will do just that. (Don’t worry I’m not heading off on a scheduling tangent!)

Worcestershire have had a good start to the Blast, before Friday they sat joint top of the north group with four wins out of five, adding to their reputation as a very good white ball side. But in 4-day cricket, the story is completely different. Bottom, 14 points adrift and with only one win so far over fellow strugglers Lancashire.

With the admirable skipper, Joe Leach, out for the season, the hosts will be even more reliable with the ball on Ed Barnard, who was their standout performer at Taunton in April while with the bat the seemingly timeless Daryl Mitchell and Joe Clarke are the cornerstones. Performing well against these three in the one-on-one battles will be crucial as beyond that the hosts lack both quality and experience in Division 1.

So, all in all, it bodes well for Somerset as they head into a crucial 8th game of the season. A game which, given the defeat at Guildford, is one a team chasing the title, and I very much believe we are, cannot afford to slip-up in.

With Notts hosting Surrey at Trent Bridge a victory at Worcester would see Somerset makeup ground on one and possibly both of our the top two. But, few would argue that on the evidence so far Surrey are by far the greater threat while we also have a game in hand over Notts.  So I’ll be sneakily rooting for Steven Mullaney’s boys over the next few days.

Go well boys.