Time for Some Leadership?

In my 48 years of actively following Somerset cricket, there have been very few occasions when I’ve not been happy with the club. The 1979 declaration at Worcester, the 1986 Shepton Mallett AGM that led to the departure of Viv, Joel and Botham are the two that stick most in my mind. I’m afraid to say I’m slightly feeling that way again today. And because I’m trying to build my reputation as a credible writer, I wanted to write something which, for once is not totally pro-SCCC.

The ECB handed down their judgement on Somerset, and more specifically their pitch for last week’s Lancashire game yesterday. I’ve taken the time to think about it and I’ve got to say I’m left feeling mystified. Both by the wording of the ECB’s judgement and by Somerset’s behaviour during this period.  

I am not happy (tell me if I am being harsh) with what I perceive to be the naivety of the Somerset hierarchy. Let me explain. 

There is nothing wrong in a club preparing a pitch to suit its strengths. It has been happening ever since the championship started. The recent changes to the toss regulations are, to my mind a nod in the direction of acceptance that this is an acceptable practice.

But, since the emergence of Jack Leach and, in 2016 Dom Bess, Somerset have been clearly looking to prepare wickets that take spin early in the game. The last game of last season saw a pitch that was adjudged below average and Somerset were handed a “suspended sentence”. It seemed pretty clear that a subsequent transgression would result in a points deduction.

Given all of that. Given that Somerset were in a title race when the Lancashire game started, does it not strike you as a little silly that Somerset risked being so close to the line of the pitch being judged below average? 

In case anyone hadn’t noticed Somerset have a seam attack which is as good as any in the country. And while Lancashire could be argued to be one of the few teams with a pace attack that is close to the Overton twins, Lewis and Josh, I’d back our quartet in an even contest. So why not prepare a quick pitch with plenty of carry? 

And Jack Leach is a high-quality spinner. A pitch with pace and bounce early on but which turns later on days 3 and 4 isn’t one he will be unhappy with.

While the ECB judgement has not imposed a points deduction it leaves the whole position unclear. Their judgement effectively says the pitch was substandard, you breached the terms of the suspended sentence but as you told us you didn’t mean it we’ll forgive you. But don’t do it again.

There may be extenuating circumstances in Somerset’s defence. I have heard that Simon Lee says he lost a day’s preparation time due to rain in the lead up to the game. I was lucky enough in my formative years to assist Cec Buttle, the legendary former groundsman at Taunton, with pitch preparation at Taunton Deane. I’d like to think that a little of his knowledge rubbed off on me, so I hope I’ve got a valid opinion here. So while Somerset may have been unable to fully prepare the pitch they wanted I don’t believe they could have done more to keep on the right side of the law.

I don’t believe that the pitch wasn’t as bad as the lazy narrative of the Allotts, Vaughan’s, Ammons and Howells made out. And of course these elements of the media choose to forget that Taunton is the best one-day pitch in the counrty! I don’t believe it should have been judged as below average and so, in this context, two wrongs make a right in terms of the ECB’s judgement.

And clearly given the events of the last week if the ECB were to sanction Somerset they would have to do the same to a number of other counties. But of course, as we have seen, if you prepare a seamer-friendly pitch that’s OK!

But Somerset have a responsibility now to make sure that they do not get too close to the line for comfort. While it is fun being dubbed Ciderabad I hate being the subject of the snide remarks and jibes aimed against my county. 

The implication that Somerset were attempting to gain an unfair advantage in their pitch preparation hurts. I want my county to win the championship fair and square. I also want our reputation restored, there to be no chance of our glorious name being besmirched. For that to happen we now need leadership from the club’s hierarchy.

I’m planning on being at Days 2 and 3 of the Surrey game next week and I want to see a quick true pitch where we can show that, despite the points gap we are the equal if not better of the champions-elect.