After the group phase of this year’s Vitality Blast Somersethad proved themselves to be the best in the country at this form of cricket. Many on Twitter (especially in a county in the very south east!) saw this as a bold statement, but I’m prepared to argue that the facts stand firmly behind that opinion. The bookies agreed with me with Somerset being installed by most as favourites to win the competition as we head into the quarter finals.
Somerset confirmed this ”seeding” with an eventually comfortable win over last year’s champions Notts in a pulsating and by far the best of the 4 quarter-final on Monday.
Of course, frustratingly, being the best at anything is never a guarantee of success. Even more so in Twenty Twenty but I suspect if you asked most cricket fans which team they’d least like to face in a one-off T20 game Somerset would come out on top. Unless of course you are a Kent supporter, but we’ve dealt with that elsewhere and it is too painful to go back to again. For now.
The (currently) shortest form of the domestic cricket season is a funny beast. Loved by some, despised by others. But whatever your standpoint (and I continue to remain mildly agnostic) you can’t argue that are boys in maroon and black (with a nifty splash of yellow) have done us proud so far and given us all a lot of fun.
I started writing this article before the final round of group games (Somerset’s season as far as the group phase is concerned is done) for the simple reason that I honestly don’t think the final placing in the group changes anything. A campaign built around a seven-game winning streak with 10 wins and four defeats (2 of those in rain reduced games where the loss of the toss effectively meant the loss of the game) demonstrated a consistency across fourteen games which no other team can match.
Victories were achieved in a wide range of fashions. Setting big totals and defending them, chasing challenging targets and restricting opponents batting first and then decimating their bowling. A target of 200 holds no fears for this side, a fact that puts huge pressure on the opponents before we even start. Most gratifyingly this is a team in the truest sense of the word. Lewis Gregory, seemingly rejuvenated by the resolution of his contract issues, has led from the front with bat and ball and every other member of the squad has contributed.
When we were planning this piece Steve Jennings and I were knocking around the idea of doing player ratings. But do you know what, I think that would be a pretty meaningless and divisive exercise as this has been a collective effort in its truest sense. It would be hard to argue that, as a team, Somerset merit anything less than a 9 out of 10.
That is not to say there haven’t been a few negatives along the way. The debate about the lack of consistency from the openers won’t go away and many believe Roleof is batting too low at 8. But compared to our opponents that is nit picking in the extreme. Of course there is room for improvement but the lessons appear to be being learned from game to game with significant effect.
The bowlers have, certainly in the second phase of the competition, been very good. Max Waller of course has been the standout but the introduction of Jerome Taylor after a shaky opening at The Oval has been a significant factor. Jamie Overton has been a revelation and Lewis and RVdM their usual steady selves.
The out cricket has been really really good. I defy anyone to displace Jamie from first and second place in the catch of the season competition and the likes of Tom Abell, Max Waller and the skipper are up with the very best.
But, if you are trying to identify what has made the difference this season I’d point you in two directions. The sheer will to win this team possesses perhaps most evident in the last over win at Sussex and the number of different match-winners we have had so far.
Finals day is of course a complete lottery with so many factors potentially impacting on the outcome. All any team can do is get there and see what happens. But Somerset can head to Edgbaston to play Sussex in very good heart knowing they have a team equipped to deal with whatever the shortest form throws at them.
The big picture, and there needs to be one given the ECB’s current designs on the domestic game, is that the competition is in very good health. Going into the last round of the group games only Durham, were guaranteed a home quarter-final while the 5th place team in the north and 6th placed team in the south all had hopes of reaching the quarter finals.
While there of the four quarter-finals were pretty uninspiring affairs we’ve ended up with the top teams in the respective divisions making it through together with 3rd placed Lancashire who won at Canterbury 4th placed Sussex who win at the Riverside. Two team’s from the north and two from the south and a guaranteed north-south final sounds like an enticing prospect.
So the line-up for the finals day is:
Somerset v Sussex
Lancashire v Worcestershire
I’m hoping we face Lancashire in the final a repeat of our 2005 victory and a chance to face Jos would be a nice way to end this year’s campaign.