Somerset’s Pre-Season, Part One

Cup Half Empty? Cup Half Full?

Abell shines bright, Bess stakes his claim for one-day place

Pre-seasons are funny things. It is universally true that pre-season form is no indication of a side’s potential for the coming season. 

Somerset had a really good pre-season in 2017 which was the prelude to a last match fight to avoid relegation. In 2018 the reverse was true, primarily due to weather disruption and that season panned out pretty well. But all of us are, let’s face it desperate for some cricket and so we see the first pre-season games as something to get excited about.

I am not going to try to extract too much from Somerset’s first four 50 over games which have taken place over the last week, but it is good to have some action at last albeit with minimal coverage and in distant Abu Dhabi.

Your take on the first four games will almost certainly depend on whether you are a cup half-full or half-empty kind of person. While Somerset concluded the white-ball section of their pre-season in Abu Dhabi with a P4 W2 L2 record, there is much to be positive about in the last week’s actions and a couple of reasons to be concerned. 

The first two games saw comprehensive victories over Worcestershire and Essex when Somerset were fielding close to the anticipated first-choice XI. Defeat to Warwickshire in a, would you believe, rain-affected game and then to a much stronger combined Essex and Warwickshire XI on Sunday should not dent morale too much.

The 132-run victory over Worcestershire saw both George Bartlett and Eddie Byrom make significant contributions with the bat and Jack Brooks and Josh Davey both take 3 wickets.

The 3-wicket win over Essex was even more encouraging with wickets evenly spread amongst the bowlers before a recovery from 122-5 led by a Tom Abell century and Dom Bess’ 40 saw the chase completed with 3 wickets and 14 balls to spare.

Tom Abell led the way again the following day with 65 as Somerset amassed a respectable 274 with Steven Davies and Eddie Byrom both making significant contributions. 

Disappointingly Somerset’s bowlers could only take 4 wickets in the rain-affected chase by Warwickshire. A pattern that was repeated on Sunday as a Combined XI chased down 294 to win for the loss of only 3 wickets.

What is encouraging is that Tom Abell looks to have hit prime form already and that Eddie Byrom and George Bartlett, who Somerset could do with having strong seasons at the top of the order, have both had several confidence-boosting knocks.

Another huge positive is that Dom Bess has made contributions with bat and ball in every game. Bess’ ability to deliver to his 2017 and early 2018 standards in the coming season would be a huge boost to Somerset’s chances in all three formats. 

Even more importantly from an individual point of view, Bess is someone whose potential loss to the county through lack of opportunities is a significant concern. We are all still scarred from the Kieswetter / Buttler situation that resulted in Somerset, from having two England wicketkeepers to none, a situation that took several seasons to resolve.

Bess needs playing time in the first XI to feel assured he has a future at Somerset. With the way the fixtures are structured this season with the 50-over competition coming, Benson & Hedges Cup like early, Bess’ best hope of this is to secure a place in the one-day side for the group phase of that competition.

His performances with both bat and ball suggest that this is a real possibility meaning that even, as seems likely Jack Leach will be the spinner of choice for the first two championship games, Bess will be prominent in Hurry, Kerr and Abell’s thoughts toward the end of April. I for one dearly want that to happen.

Of course it should not be forgotten that Bess is slated to play against Surrey in Abu Dhabi in a four-day game starting at the end of this week. A strong all-round performance wouldn’t do any harm even if it would give the selectors a (nice) selection headache.

The cup half-empty perspective will undoubtedly focus on the bowlers. It is clearly ridiculous and way too early to be concerned about the lack of penetration they have shown in conditions that, even with Friday’s rain, are unlikely to be experienced until mid-summer at the earliest. 

Early season performances do not detract from the potency of an attack that comprises two Overtons, Lewis Gregory, Jack Brooks, Josh Davey (who has in his usual quiet way had an impressive time in Abu Dhabi) and Jack Leach.

The composition and performance of the bowling attack for the 3-day friendly against Warwickshire starting on Tuesday will be of great interest.