International Recognition

It has been a tough few days for Somerset’s players and supporters. But we move on and today there was the wonderful news that Lewis Gregory (albeit apparently as a standby for James Anderson) and Jack Leach have both been called into the 13 man squad to play Ireland next week and the “pre-Ashes camp” the following week. Thoroughly deserved in both cases.

Lewis’ availability to lead the T20 side is not yet clear but even if he is allowed to play this weekend he will, if selected by England, not be available for the next couple of weeks of the Blast. No doubt Tom Abell will lead the side in his absence. Leach of course has not been part of the T20 side although I’d like to anticipate a world where that changes very soon.

Lewis Gregory has been outstanding with bat and ball for Somerset this season. Following on from last winter’s England Lions tour, which he captained, his choice to reprise that role this week was entirely justified. He leads the PCA MVP rankings at present. Jack Leach who has by all accounts been the pick of the Lions bowlers in the Australian second innings finished with figures of 28.5-5-109-5. 

Jack Leach – pick of the England Lions bowlers on Tuesday

There is an eternal paradox here in that players, from whichever county, get noticed if they are performing well for that county. The county club has had the benefit of those performances but then has a hole to fill when those players are called up for England Duty.

For many counties this is a perennial problem, Yorkshire have been without Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Adil Rashid since early May and are unlikely to see much of them again this season. Hampshire lost James Vince and Liam Dawson for the same period and while they will return to their county any day now Hampshire’s championship challenge has faded in their absence. And Surrey, perhaps worst hit will be without Jason Roy, Rory Burns, Ben Foakes and Sam Curran.

If Somerset are to succeed they need to attract and retain the best players, something which they won’t be able to do if those players see us as a club that does not want its players representing England. As supporters we need to understand that.

My Dad believed for the whole of his life that the England selectors barely knew where Somerset was let alone how to get to the County Ground. There was some element of truth in that in the pre-Botham era where a Somerset player probably had to perform at Lord’s, The Oval, Headingley or Old Trafford to get noticed.

But no longer. The consistent performances of the county in the last few years and the ongoing production line of fine cricketers from the academy is getting attention from Ed Smith. In the last year and a half Craig Overton, Dome Bess and Jack Leach have all made England debuts. A number that would have been unthinkable ten years ago. And there may be more to come with Tom Banton and Jamie Overton to the fore and George Bartlett, when he rediscovers his class not far behind. And if Tom Abell is not a future England captain …….

In the short term the T20 side will be weakened but Lewis’ absence will give an opportunity to one of the many youngsters on the fringes, Ben Green and Lewis Goldsworthy come immediately to mind. We didn’t know until the start of this season just how good Tom Banton is and we won’t know about Ben or Lewis until they are given a run in the side. They like Banton could be fixtures by the start of next season.

Every Somerset supporter should swell with pride at this England selection, wish both Lewis and Jack well and revel in seeing the next wave of Academy graduates coming into the first team. This is the next phase of Somerset’s development and it is a very exciting one.

While I am at it I’d like to deal with the question that has been rolling around Somerset cricket these last few days like a thunderstorm in the Vale of Taunton. At its heart is what it means to be a Somerset supporter. I have a very simple view, born probably out of the fact that I was brought up as a Somerset fan long long before Social Media was a thing.

In that, much simpler era, discussions about the team’s fortunes or a particular players merits took place in the office at the pub or in the ground out of the consciousness of the players (although occasionally players were on the wrong end of supporters comments at the County Ground). And that was all fine, we are all entitled to our opinion and long may that continue.

But now it is all too easy after a poor display by the team, a bad shot, dropped catch or couple of poor overs to jump on Twitter or Facebook and vent one’s spleen. And to me that is a complete no no. 

It is clear to me that the players are all too aware of the criticism. Some deal with it better than others. But they should not be subjected to it. How would you feel if a work colleague or customer jumped on Twitter to tell the world what an unflattering view you had of your day’s work?

Tom Abell and his team are also trying their hearts out to win this thing, this big shiny end of September thing that we all crave. That’s hard enough in itself. To paraphrase JFK’s much played speech this week around the 50thanniversary of the moon landing,we choose to do this things not because it is easy because it is hard.As supporters we need to do exactly what the word means – support. And that is not just turning the County Ground into a fortress for the rest of the season but also holding back and counting to ten when a player doesn’t perform or the team has a setback.

I don’t want to preach, but I believe that we all have an influence for the rest of what so far has been a fabulous season.

Diary Time

Sometime around this time last season I started writing a diary of the “run-in” of Somerset’s cricket season. It was in large part a cathartic exercise, Somerset supporters are you see a tortured breed.

I’ve decided to start the diary now in the most unpromising circumstances, Somerset have just lost, no been thumped by Yorkshire in Leeds today and the lead we had at the top of the Championship has evaporated to the extent that Somerset now trail Essex, who won today, by 4 points.

The Championship has four games to go but it takes a break until 18th August as the first phase of the Vitality Blast takes over.

My feelings as I write this a few hours after the inevitable defeat was confirmed are not too down. While I am worried that our lead has gone we still have our destiny in our own hands with the leaders due to come to Taunton for the last game of the season.

Somerset have played wonderful cricket this season. They have won the one-day cup, the county equivalent in format to the World Cup to follow on from last season’s runners up finish in the championship to go with their appearance at T20 finals day.

This is a young homegrown side led by a young Tauntonian captain. It is a team that Somerset supporters are very proud of and feel as close to as any in my 50 years of supporting our marvellous club. As well as the captain Tom Abell, who is surely a future England captain, there are the Overton twins Craig and Jamie, big tall strong fast bowlers and capable bats, Jack Leach the left arm spinner who hails from my old club Taunton Deane, George Bartlett, Tom Banton – another future star in the making and the current England Lions captain Lewis Gregory. And there are more coming through, soon.

At the other end of the scale there is the legend that is Marcus Trescothick, the man who has opened the batting for over half of the 50 years I have been a Somerset supporter. Tres has decided to retire at the end of this season and if there is a cricketing God surely He will want such a distinguished career end fittingly with the first Somerset Championship.

September’s Unfinished Business

Specsavers County Championship Division One, Headingley, Leeds – Somerset 196 (J Overton 52* K Maharaj 7-52) and 251 (Banton 63, Abell 53) lost to Yorkshire 520 All Out (Balance 111, Kohler-Cadmore 102, Brook 101, Bess 4-130) by an innings and 73 runs.

“Comprehensively Outplayed”

Not my words, those of captain Tom Abell in his post-match interview. And it pretty much sums it up.

Every Somerset supporter would have started the day with the hope, however slim, that Somerset could pull of the improbable and escape with a draw. Within 11 overs of the resumption both Tom Banton and Dom Bess were dismissed along with nightwatchman Tim Groenewald and all hope was gone. Even if defeat could not have been avoided the hope was that Banton and Bess, two of our brightest young stars could play career defining innings on the last day.

Although the Overton twins, demonstrates the application of a simple yet effective method, resisted for a short while after Steven Davies had gone it was all over shortly before lunch. Somerset emerge with just the solitary bowling point from a chastening defeat.

The Yorkshire sages had opined before the game that their side hadn’t been at their best so far this season. The certainly were in this game. Somerset by contrast were not. The measure of this team will be how they react from here, an evaluation complicated by the fact that we won’t see red ball action for over a month.

Jason Kerr’s comments after the game should give all Somerset fans cause for optimism. Stressing that while no longer leading we are still very well placed in the championship and that spirits, despite this defeat are high in the squad. Somerset had a similar blip in the middle of the 50-over cup group stages and we know where that ended, a collective experience that should stand us all in good stead.

With Essex wrapping up victory over Warwickshire they are now the leaders by 4 points with 4 to play. Yorkshire have got themselves back to the fringes of contention 34 points adrift of Somerset. They will need to win all four of their remaining games (including the trip to Taunton) to have any chance.

The remaining fixtures are:

Essex:               Kent (a) Warwickshire (a) Surrey (h) Somerset (a)

Somerset:         Warwickshire (a) Yorkshire (h) Hampshire (a) Essex (h)  

Yorkshire:         Notts (h) Somerset (a) Kent (h) Warwickshire (a) 

There has, paradoxically been a surge of support for the team on social media over the last few days, pleasing to see and I am sure something the players will appreciate. This is I think evidence of the deep affection for and pride in this team from the supporters. Long may it continue.

It is also pleasing to see the positive and supportive response from a large number of Somerset supporters to the lazy media narrative that Somerset badly missing Lewis Gregory and Jack Leach. While there is no doubt that they were both missed in Leeds, any side would miss two such superb cricketers. But that is not the point. Somerset has developed an academy system that is the envy of most other counties. The purpose of that academy is to produce talent in all formats for the Somerset first team and beyond. Somerset have been the beneficiary of the consistent high-quality performance of Gregory and Leach and it is gratifying to see that talent being recognized at a higher level.

Yorkshire rarely see Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow or Adil Rashid, Hampshire have been without James Vince and Liam Dawson since mid-May, Lancashire will not see James Anderson again this season. It is one of the side-effects of success at county level and one I hope we will have to come to terms with as a club.

But all that is in the future, we have a T20 competition to win and that starts, with barely time to breathe, on Thursday in Cardiff. That campaign will dominate until 18thAugust with the trip to Birmingham. Hopefully by the time the championship returns we will be anticipating a T20 quarter-final.  

Beyond that, when we get into September it is fair to say Taunton is going to be the place to be for the remaining two championship games. We need to make the CACG a formidable environment for both Yorkshire and Essex. We have some unfinished business with both.


Still Fighting

Specsavers County Championship Division One, Headingley, Leeds – Somerset 196 (J Overton 52* K Maharaj 7-52) and 159-4 (Banton 58*, Abell 53) trail Yorkshire 520 All Out (Balance 111, Kohler-Cadmore 102, Brook 101, Bess 4-130) by 165 runs with 6 wickets remaining.

After a chastening first two days which saw Somerset staring at the unpleasant prospect of an innings defeat there was some real fight on day 3 from firstly the lower order in the first innings and then from the captain, Azhar Ali and Tom Banton in the second.

Many lesser teams would have capitulated from the position Somerset began the day in so while the odds remain very much in favour of Yorkshire wrapping up a win tomorrow the chances of them being made to bat again have significantly increased.

And it could have been so much better. 

Jamie Overton and Tim Groenewald showed either side of lunch in a stand that was worth 44 what could be done with real application and a little luck. Their alliance created the possibility, which seemed remote when James Hildreth and Dom Bess went cheaply in the first session, of picking up a batting bonus point. But it was not to be as Jack Brooks was unable to hang around long enough to get the additional 4 runs needed. 

Jamie Overton had come in at the fall of his brothers wicket when Somerset were 103-7 and his contribution of watchfulness and controlled aggression saw him pass 50 off 69 balls which included 3 sixes and 5 fours. 

Following on the openers took Somerset to tea at 79-0, Abell looking particularly fluent. But just as we were all hoping the bar could bat out the day to give Somerset real hope of pulling off an unlikely draw Matthew Fisher got Azhar lbw to one that was perhaps going over. James Hildreth followed virtually straight away the result of an rush of blood against the South African spinner which he will not be pleased with. 89-0 had become 94-2.

Abell was beginning to really look set passing his 50 off 100 balls with 11 fours when Fisher, bowling a beautiful line and length and moving the ball both ways induced a nick to wicketkeeper Tattersall. Tom was crestfallen and dragged himself away from the centre. The captain had played superbly in the most difficult situation and deserved a big hundred for his efforts but it was not to be. He can however console himself that he is looking back to his very best. I confidently expect that someone is going to be on the receiving end of a “big one” from the skipper before the season is out. 

George Bartlett is having a torrid time at the moment and while form is temporary and we all know his class is permanent it is hard to watch. 43 balls for 5 runs accrued for Somerset’s number 5 his difficulties accentuated by Banton who was beginning to flow at the other end.

It was no surprise when George became Maharaj’s second victim, 148-4. But Timmy G joined Tom Banton and they saw Somerset through to the close. Groenewald doing exactly what he couldn’t as night watchman last Monday occupying the crease for 20 minutes, facing 20 balls and ending 0*.

At the other end Banton after a slightly edgy start, justifiable in the circumstances, was beginning to purr. 58 off 75 balls in 96 minutes with 9 fours demonstrates how well he played.

It is going to really hard tomorrow, and even the most wildly optimistic Somerset fan would hesitate to before even thinking of that possibility but as Jamie Overton reminded us in his post day’s comments Steve Davies, Dom Bess, Craig Overton and Jack Brooks all have first class hundreds!

But Somerset are still alive in this game, still fighting and know that if they can string a couple of partnerships together in the first half of the day the psychological balance will begin to shift away from Yorkshire. For creating that possibility Somerset’s players deserve a great deal of praise. Irrespective of the outcome tomorrow they have shown that they are worthy of staying right in this title race until the end.


Rallying Cry

Specsavers County Championship Division One, Headingley, Leeds – Somerset 76-4 trail Yorkshire 520 All Out (Balance 111, Kohler-Cadmore 102, Brook 101, Bess 4-130)

This has been as hard two days for Somerset’s players and supporters as we’ve had for a long time. Somerset, who in the recent past have had an excellent record in Yorkshire are facing the very real prospect of their second defeat of the season.

But, while Yorkshire have been excellent in this game so far, Somerset in truth haven’t been that far behind. Throughout the 5 sessions of the hosts first innings the bowlers kept running in, the fielders chased after and threw themselves at everything to save a run here, a couple there. 

The one area where I am sure Somerset’s players will be disappointed is their catching. More chances were put down in this innings than I can remember for a long time. While those chances did not in isolation affect the total Yorkshire reached it was hard on the bowlers who had to strive tirelessly to get anything out of an unresponsive surface.

By the time Harry Brook was superbly caught right on the line at long off by Azhar Ali Somerset had bowled 160 over and 1 ball and in all that time no wides and only one no-ball accrued. 

Somerset’s first target was to bat 31 overs to the close. Conditions were glorious overhead, the sort of weather you wish for when batting at Headingley and the pitch was placid. The demise to 49-4 is therefore as hard to explain as it was to watch.

Yorkshire’s bowlers were fresh, Somerset’s batsmen significantly less so, both mentally and physically and there was lift and bounce with the new ball. Tom Abell got a beauty from Matthew Fisher, Azhar looked fragile taking 29 balls over his 4, Tom Banton was caught behind neither forward or back to the left-armer and George Bartlett played a shot he will not remember fondly.

James Hildreth batted with few alarms and looked as calm and classy as only James Hildreth can, and Steven Davies gutsed it out through to the close. It wasn’t pretty on Davies part, but he takes great credit for the work he put in after such a long stint with the gloves.

James Hildreth, crucial role ahead on day 3

This has, so far been a season for the ages. One trophy in the cabinet already and well in contention in the Championship. Despite winning 7 of our first 9 games we haven’t been able to shake Essex off and may after this round find ourselves in second place if Essex complete the victory at Chelmsford which looks highly likely. But let’s be honest no Somerset supporter thought this thing that we are trying to achieve would be easy, that’s not the Somerset way.

I was thinking yesterday afternoon what I would be saying to my Dad if he was still around to have our usual post-play chat. Always one to have his cup half empty he would no doubt be seeing the worst and would need reminding that in all his years of supporting Somerset we’ve never made it easy for ourselves. Think of all the near misses in the 70s, the September weekend in 78, the two losing C&G cup finals at the start of this century and the numerous runners-up finished in the last 10 year.

Norse mythology was based around their concept of the Norns, female beings who rule the destiny of men. The Vikings believed that the Norns watched the efforts of men and took pleasure in weaving the twists and turns of fate and the watching the effect it had on mere mortals. So it shouldn’t be any surprise that Somerset cricket’s fate is being twisted and turned in front of our eyes at this stage of the season.

I was lucky enough to grab a few minutes with Tom Abell at the end of yesterday’s play. You only have to spend a couple of minutes in the company of this most impressive young man to see how much this all means to him and his team. A few minutes where you appreciate how hard they are trying to bring it all home and how much they appreciate our support.

I told Tom, and I am happy to repeat it how proud I am of this team, probably more proud than I have been of any Somerset team in my lifetime, and how much so many of us are investing emotionally to support the team. 

It was clear from my chat with Tom that they know things haven’t gone their way so far at Headingley but that is not for want of trying. Sport is like that. But that’s where we the supporters come in. So this is a plea from my heart to all Somerset supporters, the plea I would be making to my Dad if we were having that conversation. 

Now is the time to redouble our support for Tom and the team, to let them know we are all behind them. I know we can’t bat, bowl or field for them but we can provide a platform of support for them to go out and do so on our behalf. If things don’t work out on a particular day or in a particular game that’s something we have to accept and all pick ourselves up for the next day.

And that commitment from every Somerset supporter begins right now as Somerset batt on day 3 in a bid to get something out of this most unpromising of positions.


I Need to Pinch Myself

I’m not certain when I first listened to cricket commentary on the radio, but I know by the early seventies it was required listening for me whenever I got the chance. Back then it was Arlott, Johnson and co on Test Match Special and to a cricket mad kid from Somerset it was heaven.

Things have changed a lot since then. It seems to me that for many of the modern cohort of TMS commentators it is more about them than the game. There are notable exceptions, Simon Mann and Vic Marks most prominently, people who love the game of cricket as much as I do and let that shine through their words.

A few years ago the BBC won the rights to cover every ball of every game of county cricket (Championship, 50-over and T20) and a whole new world of enjoyment for cricket fans has opened up.

New names have come into my world, superb broadcasters who are also cricket fans and for who the game, and in the majority of cases, their county is the thing. They are too numerous to mention but a TMS crewed by these BBC “Local” commentators would be a thing to behold.

When I was 18 I decided that I wanted to be a journalist. The dream was to one day become a commentator on TMS and The Daily Telegraph cricket correspondent but, it was not to be and a career in accountancy beckoned!

But it hasn’t stopped me listening to cricket commentaries and wondering if I could do that, wondering if I’d ever have the chance, and if I did what it would be like.

I’ve been writing and about and taking photos of cricket on a regular basis now for the Somerset supporters website The Incider for the last two seasons with the desire to build myself a bit of profile as a cricket writer and photographer.

In the last few weeks I’ve been lucky enough to talk to the BBC Nottingham and Yorkshire cricket correspondents as part of my pre-match previews of Somerset’s upcoming games. And from that came the chance today to do my first bit of “radio” thanks to BBC Yorkshire’s Jonathan Doidge.

So if you happened to be tuned into BBC Somerset, BBC Bristol or any of the numerous BBC Yorkshire stations this afternoon you may have heard my debut as I joined Anthony Gibson as his summariser in the afternoon session.

I’m pleased to say I wasn’t nervous, but that had a lot to do with Anthony, Jonathan and the equally wonderful DT (Dave Townsend). And I think I acquitted myself well (well at least I remembered to stop talking as the bowler ran in!) . It certainly gave me a real appreciation of the skill and concentration required and an even greater appreciation of the work that goes in to each sessions commentary.

Dave Townsend and Anthony Gibson look down on play as Somerset take on Yorkshire at Headingley

I just hope I get another crack at it – soon!

But in the meantime thanks again to Jonathan, Dave and Anthony not just for today but for their work every day of the season. And to them and their colleagues Martin Emerson, Dave Bracegirdle, Scott Reade, Kevin Hand, Mark Church and many more – well played sir.

Can they do it? Yes they can

County Championship Division One, Somerset v Hampshire, Taunton Day 2, Hampshire 349 all out (Northeast 101, J Overton 5-70) and 12-1 require another 406 runs to beat Somerset 408 all out (Hildreth 105, Abell 82, Banton 79, Bartlett 68) and 358-8 dec (Ali 79, Banton 70, Abell 58) with 9 second innings wickets remaining

Is there another event in any sport which can cause such angst to players and supporters as the declaration in cricket. Who would like to be in the position Somerset’s Tom Abell found himself in toward the end of Somerset’s third day against Hampshire at Taunton.

Many of the media and in the ground would have wanted Abell to declare earlier, equally many would have wanted Somerset to bat on to the close and declare on their overnight score. In the end I think Tom got it about right, even if Lewis Gregory hadn’t struck in the four over spell Somerset had to bowl at Hampshire, setting 418 in 100 overs in the fourth innings is a big challenge even for a fully fit team. Hampshire are far from that.

Both Tom Alsop, who injured himself in the first session and is severely incapacitated by a hamstring injury, and Joe Weatherley who has turned an ankle fielding on the third day will be unable to bat in their customary style and with Weatherley’s opening partner going for a pair before the close Hampshire’s task is even tougher.

Kyle Abbott fulfilled the emergency opener / night watchman role and survived the 12 balls he faced but no more. He can expect a warm greeting form Jamie Overton tomorrow morning.

But the crux of this game, on a pitch that has been excellent throughout, is likely to be the Somerset spin pair of Jack Leach and Dom Bess. If the can conjure the turn and bounce that Mason Crane, when he landed it in the right place, showed allied to better control Somerset will be optimistic that they can register their 6thwin of the season.

And it is a win which they need to maintain their lead over Essex at the top of the table. Essex’s opponents, the hapless Notts, closed day 3 at Trent Bridge on 100-5 needing another 206 runs to make Essex back again. As near a forgone conclusion as forgone conclusions go. 

We’ve said it before her and we will undoubtedly say it again but tomorrow is likely to be a pivotal day in this season’s campaign.

But Somerset could not be faulted for their performance on day 3. They wrapped up the Hampshire innings in quick time, scored at better that 4.3 runs per over and then picked up a quick wicket before stumps. Anyone walking into the ground before play would have surely settled for that.

The conclusion of the Hampshire first innings was a little bit of 20:20. Twenty minutes of play, twenty runs added with Lewis Gregory getting the wickets of Tom Alsop and Mason Crane. Somerset’s lead was 59. In the process Lewis reached 250 first class wickets for Somerset.

Gregory seems to possess a hunger for runs and wickets at the moment which is fuelling his all-round performances. Having gone without a wicket on Monday he bristled with intent, determined, or so it seemed, to avoid going wicketless in this outing. This desire, and the obvious friendly competition for wickets among the Somerset bowlers will stand the side in good stead as the campaign progresses. 

The rapid conclusion to Hampshire’s first innings set up the prospect of Somerset, if they batted as well as they had on the first day in what were now favourable batting conditions, there was every prospect of a lead of around 300 by tea.

From the outset from of Somerset’s second innings there were encouraging signs of such positive intentions. Tom Abell and Azhar Ali began at a rate of better than a run a ball, a rate of progress which would see the lead reach near 300 by the tea interval. Somerset’s intent in the session up to lunch contrasted markedly with Hampshire who were at best passive in their approach. Anthony Gibson mused that they were already thinking about the final day and the prospect of batting last on this pitch against Jack and Dom.

Whatever it was, Hampshire’s sluggishness assisted Somerset who had, by the end of the first hour of play extended their lead to 90. Hampshire’s new ball pair of Abbott and Edwards were less effective than they had been on the first morning as Somerset rattled along initially at 4 runs and over. That rate of progress increased with the introduction of Mason Crane, his five overs before lunch cost 34 runs, were punctuated with frequent long-hops and full-tosses and numerous false starts in his run up.

It would take an incredibly cold soul to not feel for poor Mason. If he had been one of the protagonists in a boxing fight the referee would have stopped him on the justifiable grounds of avoiding unnecessary punishment. On a wicket that you would expect to provide increasing turn and bounce to his wrist spin he rarely was able to bowl two consecutive balls in the same area.

It was so bad that batting, paradoxically became much harder against him. Uncertainty as to whether he was actually going to complete his run-up and deliver the ball combined with the vagaries of length and line is a challenge all club cricketers are used to but for Somerset’s openers this must have been a very different sort of challenge to what they are used to. 

Somerset’s openers reached 50 in the 12thover and lunched on 110-0 (Azhar 52, Abell 48). Incredibly the first century opening stand for Somerset in the Championship since Tres and Mybs at Trent Bridge in 2016!   

Things became a little tougher in the afternoon session, partly because the wicket changed markedly with seam movement becoming commonplace and partly because Hampshire, and in particular Keith Barker and Fidel Edwards bowled excellent spells. 

This remains a pitch where wickets fall in clusters and James Hildreth rapidly followed Tom Abell further slowing the scoring. Azhar Ali, having batted as well as he has for Somerset looked odds on for a century until a piece of “brainless batting” per the BBC’s Anthony Gibson saw him dismissed for 79. 

But Tom Banton, who looks better every time he walks to the wicket and George Bartlett ensured there was no mid-session collapse and calmly, with increasing confidence saw Somerset to tea on 236-3. Somerset added 126 in the afternoon session of 34 overs, excellent process but slower that the period before lunch.

The future of Somerset’s middle order seems to be in fine hands. Here Banton and Bartlett added 95 in 18 overs taking Somerset’s lead to 319. It took outstanding catches to dismiss both as they looked to accelerate further.

Steven Davies is in need of runs, aware as all of us are that Banton could step up to keep in the longer format as well. He looked out of touch for the majority of his stay at the crease but to his credit gutsed it out for 35 not out, albeit off a less than fluent 60 balls. Lewis Gregory did Lewis Gregory things before perishing, as did Dom Bess and Jamie Overton in a noble search for quick runs.

All that left Timmy G a couple of overs before the declaration to see what he could do. He duly obliged with a six and a four as the lead was extended beyond 400.

So another last day test for our potential champions. A test which, for the first time this season is in the context of a team breathing increasingly closely down our necks. 

Can they do it? Yes they can. 

The Dom Bess Derby!

Yorkshire v Somerset, County Championship Division One, Headingley, Leeds, July 13thto 16th

Cricket is mad isn’t it. What other sport could conjure a situation where your team announces that one of your players, heading into a crucial game which will have a significant bearing on the title race, will, after this game, be going on loan for a month to the team you are playing.

The lines between Somerset and Yorkshire were already blurred with Jack Brooks having arrived in Taunton over the winter straight from the Broad Acres and with Somerset’s highly talented international off-spinning all-rounder having spent a month on loan in the opposite direction.

But now Bess will in all probability not be on the bus back to Somerset at the end of this game but will be settling into his temporary home for the first ten T20 Blast games. Yorkshire fans won’t know whether to cheer or not for Jack and Dom at the weekend!

I won’t go into any detail here on what I see as the merits of this move as we have already covered it on The Incider ………………. Suffice to say I see only benefits for Both Dom and Somerset.

But before we get into the T20 Blast there is a crucial round of Championship games. One week on, another round of championship matches completed and Somerset and Essex continue to go blow for blow at the top of the Division One table. 

While Somerset’s victory over bottom of the table Nottinghamshire was a case of having to turn the tables in the form of a fine bowling display in the last session of day 2 at Taunton to assert their superiority, Essex led from the front against Yorkshire. At the end of the ninth round of games Somerset’s lead over Essex remained at 15 points.

Somerset will be forced to make two changes with Lewis Gregory and Jack Leach heading to Canterbury to captain / represent England Lions. I suspect both would much rather be 250 odd miles north in the north Leeds suburbs. Let’s not going to dwell on the rights or wrongs of such a meaningless game at such a crucial stage of the championship season or ask why neither Gary Balance or Ben Coad are required in Kent!

Somerset will, as they have all season, to just get on with it. I think that there will be three changes to the bowling department for Saturday with Craig Overton and Jack Brooks coming back in to the side in place of the two “Lions” but I also anticipate Josh Davey, who bowled well in Leeds last season returning for Timmy G.

Brooks has had a relatively light workload recently but don’t be deceived. I suspect Jason Kerr and Andy Hurry are keeping as much of the Headband Warrior in the tank as they can, conscious that his title winning experience will be a huge asset on the field as we get into the final five games. Expect Brooks, fitness permitting, to play the bulk of the remaining games.

For the second week running I am delighted to say that I have had the chance to chat to the BBC’s local commentator. Following hot on the heels of Dave Bracegirdle BBC Yorkshire’s Jonathan Doidge was kind enough to give me some time to talk Bess, Brooks and many other things cricket ahead of this game.

Doidge confirmed my suspicion that Brooks will be welcomed back with open arms by the Yorkshire faithful. His contribution to Yorkshire’s two title winning seasons is widely acknowledged as is his wonderful off-field persona. It will be bittersweet for Yorkshire fans to see Jack again as his departure was greeted with much sadness.

It didn’t take us long to get on to the subject of Jack Brooks’ landlord.  Jonathan was not surprised to hear how much the Somerset faithful love Dom and how highly we value him. Doidge says that Bess fitted in really well in the Yorkshire dressing making a really good impression on and off the field. He will be welcomed back with open arms after this game.

Bess as we all know is desperate to play first team cricket and to get back to international consideration. He used his time at Yorkshire to show that he can contribute with both bat and ball and left nobody at the White Rose in any doubt of his abilities. He, like Brooks, will be relishing his return to Leeds and keen to do well with Bess having the added incentive of a month’s worth of bragging rights in the Vikings dressing room if Somerset can come out on top of this one.

Yorkshire come home after a chastening defeat to Essex. Having won the toss and batted first they passed up the opportunity of taking control of the game making only 208 first time around. From there, and despite a lower order fightback on the third afternoon, Essex were not going to relinquish control of the game and went on to by 8 wickets.

Doidge is happy to admit that Yorkshire were outplayed over the three days at Chelmsford but feels that they did not perform anywhere near their best in that game. In fact Doidge goes on to say that he feels there is only one championship game so far this season where Yorkshire have been at their best, the early season thrashing of Hampshire.

Combine this with rain frustrating them in the home games with both Essex and Hampshire last month and it is easy to imagine a world where Yorkshire, not Essex are Somerset’s closest challengers. 

Yorkshire aren’t the only team who under-performed at Chelmsford recently.  Gratifyingly Somerset have bounced back from that big setback with the two wins at home over Hampshire and Nottinghamshire in the last fortnight.

Make no mistake this is a very good Yorkshire side and one that is more than capable of giving Somerset a severe examination. When you look at the youthful talent they have in Ben Coad, Harry Brook and Will Fraine among others and add in the experience of Adam Lyth and Gary Ballance you know Somerset will have to be at their very best in Leeds. Lyth and Balance are far and away the top run scorers for Yorkshire this season with 622 and 739 runs respectively although Balance has been in a bit of a rut recently. Dismissing these two cheaply is likely to reap huge rewards for Somerset as the rest have been much of a muchness so far this season.

Ben Coad leads the way with 33 wickets at a shade under 26 each, Patterson and Olivier follow close behind with 26 and 27 respectively. A measure of the difference between the sides, apart from the gap of 55 points is that Somerset have 6 bowlers with a better average than Coad.

A performance akin to last season would do very nicely.  A fine all round performance with runs from Azhar, James Hildreth, Tom Abell (132*), Steven Davies and Lewis Gregory (twice) was topped off by a superb bowling display on the last day to bowl the Yorkies out for 194 with Lewis and a very very quick Jamie Overton both taking four wickets.

Would a draw be a good result? Absolutely. Even though there is the possibility that this will allow Essex, who “Welcome” improving but still fragile Warwickshire to Chelmsford, the chance to close the gap even further. Doidge certainly believes Yorkshire will give a good account of themselves over the four days and is looking forward with anticipation to the contest.

Those of you like me who have listened extensively to the BBC cricket commentaries since they began covering “every ball of every game” and who like me jump over to another commentary when Somerset’s game has finished will know that Jonathan’s predecessor, the much loved and much missed Dave Callaghan was in addition to being a massive Yorkshire fan a huge cricket fan. 

How Dave would have loved the four days Yorkshire recently spent at Scarborough when they beat Surrey with 10 balls to spare. I was fortunate enough to listen to the closing stages and was on the edge of my seat as the final overs played out. Doidge points to that result as evidence of the typical Yorkshire grit possessed by this side. A characteristic he hopes will be in evidence this weekend.

Doidge does have one potential disappointment going into this game. It seems unlikely he will get the chance to commentate on Marcus Trescothick. Hopefully there is a world where Jonathan gets his wish in early September at Taunton.

Somerset of course have shown equally great powers of determination this season. You only have to look at the Nottinghamshire first innings on Monday to demonstrate that Somerset just keep coming at you. Peter Moores described Somerset after that game as “relentless”. I’ll settle for that thank you! 

Jonathan Doidge will be heading up the BBC’s commentary team at Headingley over the four days starting Saturday and is on Twitter @JonathanDoidge   

Somerset State of Mind

ESPN’s Paul Edwards is one of the finest cricket writers. He is probably one of the finest craftsmen of the English language, writing reports that set your heart soaring with their beauty. If Constable was a cricket writer ……

Edwards is a Lancastrian, living in Southport travelling the country over the summer months to report on first-class cricket but I have a sneaking suspicion that he is a little less than impartial when it comes to this season’s Somerset County Cricket Club.

Listening to Edwards in the lunch interval on the second day of Somerset’s last game against Nottinghamshire and reading his match reports has got me thinking. Edwards sensed something all Somerset supporters are aware of but haven’t verbalised. It is only early July. There are five more games remaining stretched out over the next two and half months. But there is a tension around Somerset supporters that hasn’t been there for as long as I can remember.


As Edwards headlined earlier in the week, Somerset are “The Hunted not the Hunter” this season. Last season and in the other four seasons where they have finished runners-up in the Championship they have been chasing a leader, often close enough to be in with a real shout but ultimately the team ahead of them did not falter so despite a run of excellent results, the title eluded them.

And that is what is different this season. Whisper it but as I write this, ahead of this weekend’s trip to Leeds, it is in Somerset’s hands.

But the current feeling in Taunton is not just situational, it is cultural. Somerset is a county like no other, a county where cricket is the main sport. Where a large proportion of the population either support or actively follow the fortunes of the county side. 

I have been a Somerset supporter for 50 years. My Dad was a Somerset supporter for over 70 year, my grandmother (a mean left arm bowler who inflicted many bruises in back garden games of cricket) followed the team’s fortunes avidly. 

And in all those collective years, we have never won the County Championship.

This current Somerset team has something else, over and above its on field prowess which endears them to us. They are, on the whole, a bunch of local lads, all brought up through our own academy, led by a Tauntonian who is the pride of our town, our county. We can identify with the as they understand what it means to us. Never, in all my years has there been such a strong bond between players and supporters. We want them to win it all, they want to win it for us as much as themselves. 

And then there is Tres. Marcus Trescothick has been playing for Somerset for over half the time I have watched the county. His contribution to Somerset cricket is enormous, we will probably never see his like again in county cricket. A man with the courage to face and dominate the best international bowling attacks but also to be so open with his mental issuers and as a result change the world for many many people.

It is sad that Marcus has not been able to keep his placed at the top of the order for Somerset this season. Not just for sentimental reasons but to give him the opportunity of a farewell tour and for opposing fans to have the opportunity to see him bat one last time. 

I was one of the lucky ones who saw his hundred at Old Trafford last May, an innings truncated by a broken metatarsal which resulted in a lay off until late July. Truth be told he has not been the same batsman since then although he came close in the Championship game at Taunton against Essex last August.

There is a part of all Somerset fans which still believes that there will be one further twist in the Trescothick tale. But then perhaps we are all being a little to romantic there.

Speaking from personal experience I feel a weight of the generations who have gone before me in this title pursuit. My Dad passed away four years ago and one of his greatest regrets was never to see his beloved Somerset win the County Championship. 

So to summarise what it means to all of us Somerset folk let me recount one of the final conversations we had as his health failed him was that he hoped with all his heart I would see Somerset win it all before my time came. 

That would be nice.

“Well, we’ve had worse mornings”

County Championship Division One, Surrey v Somerset, Guildford, Day 4 – Somerset (Bartlett 137) and 153 (Hildreth 64, Dunn 5-43) beat Surrey 231 (Patel 63, Foakes 57, C Overton 5-38, J Overton 3-46) and 164 (Brooks 5-33, Groenewald 3-29) by 102 runs 

(With apologies to Somerset’s official twitter account for the title)

Somerset have taken a huge stride in their pursuit of this season’s county championship. Victory at Woodbridge road, convincingly over last season’s champions has greater significance than the 22 points earned from this game.

As importantly for us all victory was never in doubt after three wickets fell in the first half hour, removing all the anticipated angst and replacing it with an hour of savouring the inevitability of the victory.

Somerset’s victory leaves Surrey, without a win from their 5 games 53 points behind Somerset, who now lead the table by 15 points from Hampshire and with Yorkshire and Essex looking odds on to draw at Headingley a decent way adrift in third and fourth places respectively. Somerset have, for the record won four of their first five games in the championship this season and can reasonably argue that without the intervention of the weather a couple of weeks ago would have beaten Surrey at Taunton too. 

Countless times last season I followed Surrey’s games hoping they would slip up and present the opportunity to Somerset we all craved. Time and time again they found a way to win even when they began the day in a less than promising position. 

I imagine most Hampshire fans would have seen the close of play score last evening and thought there was a very real possibility that they would retain their place atop division one. There were probably a good few supporters of Yorkshire and Essex, who may still both have a significant say in the title race, who similarly hoped for a defeat for Somerset when play began today.

But this Somerset side continue to find ways to delight us and disappoint our rivals much as Surrey did last year. Delight us in a way that seems more than just the pleasure of winning for its own sake but for the very real implications it has for the title race. 

I openly admit that I was more than a little nervous when the final day’s play began. Despite the logic of having runs on the board and the frequent periods when wickets fell in batches there was a sneaking feeling that this excellent game had a twist or two more in store. 

The likelihood was that this would be a game that would run into the afternoon session and give us all another tense day supporting our beloved county. Against all expectations Somerset wrapped up victory half an hour before lunch by 102 runs. Surrey’s second innings subsided after the overnight pair had added a further 19 losing 8 wickets for just 47 runs in 17 overs.

On a day where the overhead conditions were perfect for batting the Somerset seam attack, depleted by the absence of Lewis Gregory and Josh Davey were too much to handle for last year’s champions.  Jack Brooks and Tim Groenewald shared 8 wickets to perfectly complement the twins first innings success. 

When Somerset signed Jack Brooks this was just the sort of match situation they had in mind. Aware that if they were to take the final step onto the top of the podium Brooks’ experience and skills would be vital in tight situations. Returning his first 5 wicket haul Brooks’ timing couldn’t have been better as he led the victory romp. 

I’ve thought for a while that using a night watchman can create more problems than it solves. If they do achieve the primary objective of getting through to the close they rarely survive very long the following morning and, as in situations such as this, the early wicket gives the bowling side momentum. There is also the disruptive effect it often has on the batting order. There are many top-class batsmen who are unsettled by batting out of position. 

Whether this was a factor here I can’t say but after adding 10 to his overnight score Batty gave Somerset the early boost they needed and within the space of 6 more balls from Jack Brooks Elgar and Foakes had gone to reduce them to 120-5. The Surrey batting was clearly unsettled, its heart had been ripped by Brooks who, at this point had 5-29, and the balance of the game had shifted massively in Somerset’s favour.

Scott Borthwick remained at the other end but he went to Tim Groenewald’s first ball of the day leaving Surrey’s pursuit of the majority of the 140 runs they required in the hands of Ryan, Patel, Will Jacks and Rikki Clarke. 

Somerset supporters won’t need reminding that Clarke is firmly in the category occupied by James Hildreth of players who should have played for England but haven’t and he often leaves his best for Somerset. But by noon he was batting with Ryan Patel with 136 runs still required and only the two bowlers left. Groenewald had followed up his dismissal of Borthwick by trapping Jacks lbw for 0 to the last ball of his next over.

The eighth wicket partnership added 22 in 6 overs before Timmy G struck again, removing Clarke to an excellent catch behind. Clarke, so often the thorn in Somerset’s side was gone for 8 and left to reflect on what was probably the turning point of the game when, before lunch on day 1, with Somerset on 35-3 he dropped George Bartlett. 

Ryan Patel promptly deposited Craig Overton out of the ground for 6 but perished to a catch in the gully by his brother for 27 and in Craig’s next over Jack Leach took the winning catch, removing Morkel. Leach, who I expected would play a crucial role, wasn’t required to turn his arm over on the final morning.

Brooks finished with 5-33, Groenewald 3-29 and Overton 2-59.

Somerset will head to Canterbury with confidence brimming while Hampshire face Notts in a game starting on Sunday and Yorkshire head to Guildford hoping to inflict similar damage on the wounded champions. 

While there are issues to be addressed, particularly with the batting, joyfully that debate can wait until another day. This is a day to savour, a day when Somerset have at the very least taken a firm hold on this seasons County Championship.