Royal London One Day Cup Preview – White Ball Lottery

Somerset enter this 50-over campaign off the back of a mixed white ball season in 2018. A dominant group T20 campaign ending in real disappointment on finals day. In the 50-over format failure to qualify for the knock out, despite beating eventual winners Hampshire away in the last group game, was a big disappointment. With the experience of last year Somerset should be aiming for, at the very least, a home play-off spot that a second place finish would give them. 

I am old enough to remember the introduction of the Benson and Hedges Cup in the early seventies. The group stages were played before the championship got underway in late April. My recollections seem to be of these games being played in cold dreary conditions and that Somerset would fail to qualify for the quarter finals because they always lost to “Proctershire”.

The competition was 55 overs with four groups, the top two qualified for the quarter finals and the final was played at Lords in July. To make up 5 teams in each group the combined universities and minor counties north and south were included. I certainly recall watching Somerset play Minor counties at Torquay and am pretty sure on at least one occasion that was deemed a home game for Somerset! The Benson & Hedges Cup was seen as the fourth competition in those days partly because of it being the newest and partly because 60 overs was seen as the standard one-day format.

I say all this as a prelude to this year’s Royal London One Day Cup competition as, if the ECB have their way, this will be the last season where this competition will have real relevance for the counties. But it promises to be a great competition this year partly because of its unpredictability and partly because I expect some of the England World Cup squad to play at least some part.

The format is the same as last year with teams in each group (north and south) playing each other once. The winners of the group will qualify directly for the semi-final while the second and third placed teams will face off in north v south play-offs to decide the other semi-finalists.  The group stages will be completed by the end of the first week of May with the finalists decided the following week.

The format places a significant premium on winning the group which should ensure games right up to the end of the group stage have relevance although, in the last couple of years, the group winners have not had a good record of reaching the final. While red ball status is not wholly relevant the fact that the south group contains five division one teams and both last year’s finalists makes it significantly stronger than its northern counterpart.

Nottinghamshire are everyone’s favourites to come out on top of the north division but I expect Lancashire, Worcestershire and Yorkshire to run them close. Lancashire with Glen Maxwell available for at least the group stage should be particularly strong.

In the south I wonder if last year’s Lord’s pair of Hampshire and Kent will be as strong as in 2018. Hampshire are in transition and their batting looks a little frail while Kent will miss Denly, Billings and Henry. Expect both sides to be significantly different from last season’s final line-ups. Surrey have underperformed in white ball cricket in the last couple of seasons and it seems to me that the off-season signings are aimed as much at improving that record as strengthening to retain the Championship.

Somerset have a large number of imponderables which will make the first selection very interesting. They will be a forced change at the top of the order with Mybs retirement and the assumption seems to be that Azhar will open, but will Somerset persist with Steven Davies at the top of the order given his relatively poor returns over the last two years? Other likely openers are Peter Trego and Tom Banton. 

The spinners are also a bit of a conundrum. If we assume that Roela is an automatic choice where does that leave Dom Bess and Jack Leach? Will either of them play? And if not will they seek a loan move just for this competition?

Jack Brooks is also interesting. He has openly said that he has come to Taunton hoping to play all formats but we know he is an attacking bowler and can “go for a few”. With Lewis and Jamie Overton likely to start and potentially two spinners that leaves one place between the “ferret” Timmy G, Josh Davey and Craig Overton with Tom Abell as the extra bowling option all good sides need.

Of the Division 2 sides Gloucs, Glamorgan and Middlesex may struggle but Sussex are a formidable one day side and will, I think, be challenging for top spot. Essex also look like a potential force in the white ball this year so I anticipate three from four of Somerset, Sussex, Surrey and Essex. 

The weather could also be a factor, last season’s competition was blessed with the start of the hot late spring early summer but this year we are starting a couple of weeks earlier and even with the forecast for the next week we can’t take anything for granted. Some games are likely to be decided by the toss and there is every chance qualification becomes a bit of a lottery!  

So in summary, Somerset are more than capable of progressing to the knock out, but hoping to top the group may be a little optimistic. I am going to set the target of second or better in the group as par. And of course we have Kent in the opener on Friday and you know how that goes when a white ball is involved!

Flying Under The Radar?

Time, before the 50-over cup takes control of the schedule for the next month, to reflect on the first two weeks of action in the championship. Time to draw some real encouragement for Somerset fans.

Pleasingly only one team has a 100% record after playing two games and for Somerset the manner of both victories gives great encouragement. The come from behind win against Kent showed the character and resilience of the team while the success over Notts was, apart from a short part of the final session of the third day, a totally dominant one.

The two wins have been secured without any meaningful contribution from the top 3 and all the bowlers have played their part. Two academy products at opposite ends of the first team scale, the skipper and George Bartlett have made the telling batting contributions in both games. All the bowlers have performed with Jack Brooks delivering in the second innings at Trent Bridge.

And Jack Leach seems to have improved significantly since late last year. To take 6-36 in arctic conditions on an April pitch bodes very well for the rest of the season. There seemed to me to be a greater degree of confidence and belief in his bowling on Saturday. Perhaps he now agrees with those of us that he is the best finger spinner in England and is using that confidence when he bowls. 

A big plus to the selectors as well, their decision to include Bartlett against Kent proved pivotal as did the introduction of Leach in place of Byrom at Nottingham.

Speaking of Brooks, I was pleased that he said post-match that they were not happy with either Notts total or the rate at which they scored in the first innings on Thursday. When you have won by an innings within 8 sessions that sort of comment gives me great encouragement. 

Lewis Gregory has been stellar with bat and ball. It seems to me that he has confidence in his body this season after his back issues and he has carried the late season all round form of 2018 into the start of the season. Gregory’s performances have attracted the attention of the wider cricket media who are already debating the Ashes line up but Somerset’s performances have so far gone under a lot of people’s radar despite being top of the table with a 100% record.

Elsewhere it has been a pretty mixed bag with Yorkshire perhaps emerging with greatest credit so far. After a creditable draw at Trent Bridge in round when where Joe Root and Garry Balance batted out the bulk of the last day the routed Hampshire, who had equally convincingly beaten Essex in round one. 

In the battle of the newbies Kent chased down a target this time albeit only 133 but after an early Sean Dickson dismissal (again) Zak Crawley, who’s aggregate in this game was 153, and our own Matt Renshaw saw them home by 8 wickets.

The Cricket Paper dubbed Surrey’s game against Essex at the Oval the “Battle of the Big Two”. Nice. But Essex did not wilt in the face of Surrey’s customary sizeable first innings of 395 and actually had a lead of 53 after they had batted. When Surrey lost two wickets early on the last day to be effectively 18-2 it seemed like there was a chance for Essex but Rory Burns and Ollie Pope saw them safe as the game petered out into a tame draw.

The other dynamic of the first two rounds is the apparently more strict application of the over rate regulations. Notts were deducted a point and Surrey had to do bowl one over very quickly to ensure they didn’t. I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes a thing this season especially where a team wins by an innings but is unable to claw back it’s slow over rate in the first innings.

Bonus points are likely to be as important as ever this season so Somerset’s maximum batting points thanks to Lewis and Josh’s Friday afternoon heroics contrasting with Surrey’s failure to pick up their fifth is a small positive in Somerset’s favour.

Remember the next round of the championship in mid-May will see Surrey come to Taunton.

Division 2 looks like being a lot of fun this year. Of the favoured teams Middlesex have got off to the worst start while Worcestershire have won their only game, and picked up maximum points as well. The early pace-setters, Derbyshire and Leicestershire probably won’t stay there but with Sussex losing their opener and Middlesex being off the early pace the chance for a “lesser-light” to steal the third promotion spot intrigues me.

The debate about Ashes places seem a little premature to me given there seven rounds of championship cricket between now and the World Cup final. It seems at present that Ed Smith could easily pick two middle orders but the top three causes concern. Wouldn’t it be great if Haseeb Hameed could maintain his early season form?

Despite his early season runs Garry Balance doesn’t convince me. I can’t get away from the trouble he had facing the twins at Leeds late last season. Joe Clarke looked the real deal until; he faced Jack Leach and James Vince’s move up the order hasn’t gone well so far. It will be interesting to see who stakes a claim when the Championship resumes in May.

After the first phase of the Championship things really couldn’t have gone much better for Somerset. Top of Division One a 100% record, ground gained on our rivals and the national press pretty much ignoring us, long may it continue!

A Poignant Coincidence

We didn’t plan it but the last three days have turned out to be especially poignant for us.

On Saturday we were at Trent Bridge to watch the third day of Somerset’s County Championship match with Nottinghamshire. Play was scheduled to last the full day but surprisingly, delightfully, ruthlessly Somerset completed an innings victory in mid-afternoon.

At just after 3pm (note the time) we left Trent Bridge and, in my case, was buzzing from the excitement of the win and the anticipation of another tilt at that elusive first championship. Nottingham Forest (the cricket club’s very near neighbours) had just kicked off their championship game with Blackburn Rovers.

It struck me that exactly 30 years ago on this very Saturday at exactly this time Forest had kicked off their FA Cup semi final at Hillsborough against Liverpool. The euphoria of Somerset’s win was punctured with the thought of those 96 people who like us that day and many days since went to support their team and never returned to their families. 96 people who travelled with joy in their hearts in anticipation of seeing their team reach another FA Cup Final on a bright April day just like the one we were experiencing.

From euphoria to a deep sadness that whenever I stop to think about it brings me to tears. But how more profound was the emotional transformation those fans experienced on 15th April 1989.

We set off on our way home but then found out that our planned route across country to Stoke and then picking up the M6 northbound was subject to long delays, so we decided to head up the M1 instead. That route would take us off the motorway at Sheffield and across the Peak District.

Neither of us had ever been to Hillsborough but it seemed like the opportunity presented to us should not be passed up. We parked in Leppings Lane, walked round to the memorial, left some flowers and walked back to the car. We didn’t need to speak, were both struggling to fight back the tears, both filled with a sadness that cannot be expressed in words, the sort of sadness that affects you physically as well as mentally.

Today at 3.06, standing at the memorial now at the foot of the huge new main stand at Anfield, as the city of Liverpool fell silent, I reflected again on my feelings on Saturday afternoon. And then I thought of those 96, of the unimaginable suffering and pain 30 years ago today, of their families, the loved ones to who they never returned.

So whoever you support, whatever sport you follow, please take a moment today to remember 96 fellow sports fans and count yourself lucky each and every time you go to support your team for what you experience.

Jacks Ace Notts

Specsavers County Championship Division One, Trent Bridge, Nottingham Day 3 – Notts 263 all out (Gregory 6-68) and 126 all out (Leach 6-36, Brooks 4-22) Somerset 403 all out (Bartlett 133, Abell 101) Somerset win by an innings and 14 runs

Somerset will end the opening phase of the Championship with a perfect two from two record and a probable lead of 20 points at the top of the division. While it is very early days the rest of the division will be sitting up and taking notice. There is a long way to go and there will be many tough overs, hours, sessions to be dealt with but you can do no more than win two out of two at this stage.

Apart from the middle of the last session on day one Somerset dominated this game from the start to finish in a complete all-round display. Nottinghamshire were, to use a football analogy, left chasing shadows by a side which on this form will be serious title contenders.

If last week’s win at Kent had been about a sheer will to win despite not performing anywhere near their best, this was a virtually perfect performance. Maximum points from a win achieved by an innings inside eight sessions does not flatter this Somerset performance. This was a game where the home side appeared to be going through the motions and one demonstrating technical excellence and desire. 

Two Jack Brooks wickets at the end of day 2 had given Somerset a virtually unassailable position in this game overnight but when play resumed on Saturday morning, on a wicket that had become palpably easier to bat on through day two, Somerset could have reasonably expected a day of hard work was ahead of them.

The first hour played out in bitterly cold conditions that made the Somerset fielders reaching in their pockets for their hand warmers after every ball resemble some in a checkout queue desperately fumbling for their change, saw Notts overnight pair bat with few alarms against the Somerset seamers.

Ben Slater looks a disciplined and well-ordered batsman while night watchman Luke Fletcher played to his limitations with sense as they added 41 in 18 overs in just over an hour. The four Somerset seamers had slowed the scoring rate almost to a trickle, the 50 partnership took 21 overs despite the fast outfield and very short boundary on the Fox Road side of the ground. 

The arrival of Tres’ fielding pads and the helmets just after noon signalled the imminent introduction of Jack Leach. A change which brought an immediate reward with the last ball of his first over. Slater after two and a quarter hours and 90 balls of resolute resistance inexplicably skipped down the wicket attempting something uncharacteristically belligerent down the ground. Leach saw what was happening held the ball back a touch and sent it slightly wider and Steven Davies calmly effected the stumping.

At four overs intervals Leach struck again, first removing Joe Clarke for 2 and then Luke Fletcher in contrasting dismissals. Clarke was deceived for pace by a ball which knocked out his off stumps and Fletcher, like his overnight partner, had a rush of blood and was very well caught by Craig Overton running round to deep extra cover. 66-2 had become 81-5 in the space of 8 overs.

Skipper Steven Mullaney and Samit Patel survived until lunch in not entirely convincing fashion adding only 7 runs in 7 overs with their side still 52 runs short of requiring Somerset to bat again. The 7 overs immediately after lunch were a little more profitable for the Notts pair, adding 9 runs before the Leach/Davies combination struck again this time a lightning fast piece of work by the keeper down the leg side accounting for Mullaney who, lingering at the crease far too long after being given out, before reluctantly dragging himself toward the pavilion. Mullaney’s 16 had taken 51 balls.

Tom Moores joined Patel and they took the score to “Nelson” before Patel was the victim of a stunning catch at short leg by Trescothick diving forward full length to take the catch just off the ground. 

From 111-7 there was no way back for the home side but the swiftness of the application of the coup-de-grace was impressively clinical. First Luke Wood was trapped neither forward or back lbw by Jack Brooks without scoring, in the following over Patel was adjudged lbw to Leach and next ball Broad was superbly held by Azhar running and then diving in at long leg to give Brooks his fourth wicket. 

The Notts batsman had no answer to Leach who looked every inch the Test bowler he now is. Jack for his part seemed brimming with confidence perhaps now believing he is the master of such situations not the shy apprentice from Taunton Deane.

The over-riding impression of this third day performance was that Somerset are a tightly knit and well organised team. Every wicket was celebrated with joy, not in a way that was intended to embarrass or humiliate the opposition rather an expression of the collective will being fulfilled and an appreciation of the individual technical excellence that had achieved that particular breakthrough.

I am going to conclude this piece by sharing my feelings from today watching Tom Abell and his side. The passion and determination displayed today made me feel proud beyond description. Each wicket made me want to be there in the huddle laughing and hugging and bursting with euphoria. Every dismissal seemed like a step along a route that has been meticulously planned to reach the Promised Land. #WeAreSomerset #DaretoDream  

Bartlett and Abell Send Somerset Top

Day 2, Specsavers County Championship Division One, Trent Bridge, Notts 263 all out (Gregory 6-68) and 25-2 Somerset 403 all out (Bartlett 133, Abell 101) 

Somerset lead by 115 runs. 

I know quoting yourself is considered bad form but who cares. Last evening I wrote, “If Abell and Bartlett can get through the first hour there is every prospect that Somerset will be able to eke out a first innings lead, if one of them can go on to make a telling contribution and the rest can bat around that the prospects are bright for a match winning lead.”  

It is not exaggerating to say that Somerset’s performance went way beyond my hopes let alone expectations on day two at Trent Bridge with the overnight pair adding 223 before they were separated midway through the afternoon. 

Needing a good first hour to build on the stabilisation they started on Thursday evening, Tom Abell and George Bartlett batted with few alarms to move the score on to 130-3 off 44 overs by noon with Abell on 45, and Bartlett on 38. Stuart Broad’s initial 5 over spell was dealt with comfortably with the pair appearing to grow in confidence over by over.

It seemed that batting was an easier proposition on the second morning, perhaps an indication that some of the pace and life had left the surface? Perhaps a sign that Somerset’s young pair were growing into their task and the Notts bowlers beginning to lose belief?

Mullaney rang the changes but the second hour proved equally fruitless for the home bowlers as Tom and George, perhaps a little more watchfully added another 44 to round the session off neatly at 100-0 and leave Somerset on 174-3. Both Abell (59) and Bartlett (66) had passed the game’s highest score, Chris Nash’s 58, in the process.

It was interesting to note that Notts, in perhaps a sign of their frustration, resorted to Stuart Broad first seeking rather desperately and clearly in breach of the new regulations to change the ball and then bowling a version of leg theory (round the wicket to a 3-6 field with three on the boundary). Neither proved successful and to further deepen Broad’s despair he appeared to pick up a warning from umpire Gough for running on the wicket.

The afternoon session began with Somerset within 26 runs of their first batting point of the season. I mention this because Hampshire who had been in the field in Southampton for the first four sessions and taken only 5 wickets were just three ahead at the top of the table. Not only were Somerset batting for a first innings lead but also to reach 300 or 350 in the next 51 overs to join or pass Hampshire, albeit temporarily.    

The scoring pace notably quickened after lunch, and the landmarks followed, the 200 partnership in the 71stover with a four from Tom Abell, three balls later Bartlett’s hundred off 156 balls and 12 fours. Two overs later the skipper went to his three figures off 194 balls with 10 fours.

The next landmark was the lead but the fourth wicket pair were unable to achieve that one, Abell going caught behind for 101 with the total on 259-4 and the new ball 5 overs away. Bartlett and Abell had added 223 to take Somerset from a position of some peril to one of parity with their hosts with 6 wickets in hand. 

George Bartlett, chanceless 133

The lead was achieved by virtue of another boundary from Bartlett which also took him to his highest score for Somerset, eclipsing the 110 against Lancashire at Old Trafford last May in the game probably best remembered for Marcus Trescothick’s foot injury.

The second new ball, coming five overs after Abell’s departure could have been a pivotal phase of the game but Davies, who had joined Bartlett saw Somerset comfortably through that spell, bringing up the 87thover 300-4 and by registering Somerset’s 25thpoint of the season, moved them joint top of the nascent Division One table.

At tea Somerset were 309-4, Bartlett 128, Davies 22 having added exactly 50 for the fifth wicket, 135 in the session and 235-1 in the day. From a place of some concern at the start of the day Somerset were in the position of considering the options available to them. Would they choose to bat for the rest of the day and perhaps into the third morning both to build an unassailable lead or would they seek a declaration to give themselves a few overs to bowl on the second evening?

As it turned out the option of a declaration was taken out of Tom’s hands. Davies went to the first ball he faced after tea caught behind off Jake Ball and inexplicably in the following over Bartlett was bowled playing no stroke by Luke Fletcher for 133 off 223 balls with 17 fours in just over 300 minutes. Somerset were reduced to 316-6. An extremely disappointing end for George who had not given a chance since arriving at the crease midway through the final session of day 1 with Somerset 36-3. 

Craig Overton perished quickly but Lewis Gregory was starting to do Lewis Gregory things, in tandem with Josh Davey he set about maximising Somerset’s bonus points. Needing 68 off 13 overs when Overton departed and with Stuart Broad back in the attack Gregory first brought up the 350 just before 5pm and in doing so sent Somerset above Hampshire. 

Gregory was now flowing going from 31 to 47 in one over from the England pace man including sixes off consecutive balls. The 400 was reached with 3 overs to spare before both Gregory, for a run a ball 50 and Davey, an equally valuable 25 off 28 both perished to Broad who wrapped up the Somerset innings by bowling Leach.

Somerset’s lead was 140.

If Stuart Broad is subject to an overs limit by England, he used up 25 of them in this innings taking 5-73, figures that were substantially better before Gregory’s onslaught. The admirable Luke Fletcher finished with 3-66 off 26 overs.

Somerset were left with 11 overs to bowl in gathering gloom and made an almost immediate break though when Duckett was superbly caught by Abell in the covers for 4. It could have been worse for the former Northants opener who was badly dropped by Bartlett off Brooks two overs earlier, a dismissal which would have registered a pair. Brooks then followed up by getting Nash caught behind for a duck to leave Notts on 16-2. Like the Somerset top order on the first day their Notts counterparts were struggling against the new ball.

When bad light (I still don’t understand the floodlights / bad light regulations) halted play early night watchman Luke Wood had accompanied Ben Slater to 25-2, still 115 in arrears.  

After a day that could not have gone any better Somerset must be hoping that a second victory of the season can be achieved on the third day. Notts who were dispirited enough by the Abell / Bartlett partnership were further demoralised by Lewis and Josh’s 8thwicket stand before those two late wickets left them with a mountain to climb. Their character as much as their technical skills will undergo a thorough examination on day 3.

Somerset’s bowlers will be full of confidence, Brooks’ two wickets will do him a world of good after some indifferent performances so far for Somerset and, Leach, who has yet to bowl a ball may have a vital role to play on Saturday. There is still plenty of hard work to be done but Somerset are in a position of strength they would only have dreamed about last evening.

After a day like today there is no was that I am going to dwell on the negatives, but I was surprised reading the comments on social media this morning criticising the top 3 and the dropping of Byrom for Leach. Let’s be clear, a total of exactly 100 runs from the top three after the first three innings of the season isn’t what we hope or expect from three players of such quality and experience. But the fact that Somerset have accrued maximum batting points and put themselves in a very strong position without the top three contributing should be seen as a huge positive. 

It seems harsh on Tom Abell after a wonderful hundred, but George Bartlett is my man of the day. He has in his last two innings made hugely significant runs at times when his side really needed them, a fact that increases their value hugely. 

Familiar Batting Frailties Undermine Superb Bowling Performance

Nottinghamshire v Somerset, Specsavers County Championship Division One, Trent Bridge, Nottingham, Day 1

Nottinghamshire 263 all out (Gregory 6-68), Somerset 74-3 (Broad 2-12)

Looking back a couple of hours after play has ended it strikes me that a lot happened on a day that has advanced this game far more than I expected before play started. 

The fall of crucial wickets of Marcus Trescothick and James Hildreth, both out for 10 in the space of three balls, at a time when it appeared they had survived a tough new ball examination from Stuart Broad and Jake Ball set Somerset’s dominance of the first two and a half sessions of this opening day at Trent Bridge.

Unsurprisingly the toss was uncontested, Somerset electing to bowl first. On what looked to be a good batting wicket you wondered if Tom Abell’s decision was as much to protect his top order as give his bowlers the advantage of using the day 1 conditions. The plan must have been to keep it tight and not allow Notts top order to get away and build pressure.

Both sides made one change. Notts was enforced with Luke Wood coming in for Paul Coughlin who hadn’t recovered from a finger injury against Yorkshire. Somerset’s change was tactical bringing in Leach for Byrom and giving a big vote of confidence to George Bartlett

Somerset got off to a wonderful start. After a Lewis Gregory maiden to open the day Jack Brooks struck with his second ball trapping Duckett LBW. Despite this setback Notts got their innings off to a flying start. After 6 overs they had reached 33-1 Slater 16 off 22, Nash 17 off 12. The pattern for the day was set with every shot that pierced the infield reaching the boundary with 7 fours coming in that first 6 over spell. Jack Brooks was again expensive, his first three overs going for 23. 

The pair added 51 in 9 overs before Josh Davey struck with the last ball of his first over to have Slater caught behind by Steven Davies for 24. Enter last week’s centurion, Joe Clarke who amassed 209 for once out against Yorkshire last week, five balls and two runs later he was gone, also caught behind and also off the last ball of an over, but this time off Lewis Gregory.

Nash, now in the company of his skipper added another 52 for the fourth wicket at a slightly more sedate 3.7 runs an over before Lewis Gregory returned to have the skipper palpably leg before wicket for 26. Nash, who had gone to his fifty just before Mullaney was dismissed had moved on to 58 when a rush of blood saw him caught on the boundary by Jack Leach to leave Notts 119-5. The last over of the session yielded a four and a two to Tom Moores to leave the hosts 125-5 off 30 overs.

Lewis Gregory was the pick of the Somerset attack with 3-32 off 10 overs contrasting with Brooks (57 off 9 overs) which helped helped Notts score at 4 an over despite the control of the other three bowlers. Josh Davey, who picked up the other wicket to fall, was his usual economical self with 1-15 off 6 overs. 

Somerset’s achievement in that one session put into focus by the fact that only 27 wickets fell in the four days of Notts opener against Yorkshire and just 5 wickets were captured on the first day as the hosts reached 324 at the close. 

If the morning session belonged to Somerset the afternoon was, until the last 15 minutes before tea, most definitely Nottinghamshire’s. They had added 98 for the loss of only Samit Patel’s wicket in 29 overs before two Craig Overton wickets in quick succession pegged them back to 237-8 at the second adjournment.

The not out pair at lunch, Samit Patel and Tom Moores, continued the pattern of regularly peppering the boundary to reach their 50 partnership. Tom Abell aware he badly needed a breakthrough and after an hour the re-introduction of Gregory brought immediate rewards. Patel playing tentatively forward was beaten through the gate by a beauty that took two stumps out of the ground. One of those dismissals you could watch all day on a loop on Twitter

Luke Wood joined Moores and the pair continued the rapid run scoring adding another 46 runs in 13 overs before Moores was out in that all too familiar way for a Notts middle order batsman in the recent past, caught by Trescothick at second slip off Craig Overton.

But if Samit Patel was hoping he would get the nod for dismissal of the day 3 overs after Moores departed, Stuart Broad made his bid for that honour. Broad who has In recent years seen a marked decline in his batting, managed to get bowled middle stump, round his legs, by Overton coming round the wicket.

From 223-6 Somerset completed their bowling task with some efficiency either side of tea thanks to Overton and Gregory. Lewis’ 6-68 barely did him justice after a superb display. He now has 18 first class wicket in under 60 overs this season at an average of 7.8. If there is a better bowler currently in English cricket he must be some performer.

To complete their day’s work satisfactorily Somerset would have hoped to bat out the last 27 overs of the day for the loss of one wicket. After 13 overs, and in the face of some superbly controlled and aggressive bowling from Stuart Broad, my mind ticked around to this being an excellent start. Broad was nearing the end of his spell and both Somerset batsmen were looking increasingly comfortable. 

But those three balls put the game right back into the balance. I’m not going to be critical of either Tres or Hildy, batting in early April is a tough ask at the best of times needing a hell of a lot of skill and a decent slice of luck against most division one bowlers, let alone one as good as Stuart Broad.

With 13 overs remaining in the day there was every possibility that Somerset’s reply could crumble. Notts 263 certainly looked a long way away at that point. But the captain, again batting with control and confidence, saw off Broad in the company of George Bartlett and, slowly restored some calm to the visitors’ dressing room.

The initial objective of reaching the close without further loss was achieved and, with increasing fluency the pair had added 38 to leave Somerset trailing by 189 runs.

Lewis Gregory’s comment after the day’s play that, “the first session tomorrow will be crucial in deciding which way it’s going to go” was spot on. Broad will be back, fresh and determined to extract maximum use of a ball which is still moving off the seam. If Abell and Bartlett can get through the first hour there is every prospect that Somerset will be able to eek out a first innings lead, if one of them can go on to make a telling contribution and the rest can bat around that the prospects are bright for a match winning lead.

But it’s a big ask. Like on Monday at Taunton the way tomorrow develops will tell us a lot about whether this Somerset side has what it takes to mount a title challenge.    

Delicious Selection Difficulties

Waiting in the Wings – England Spinners Jack Leach & Dom Bess

Somerset travel to Nottingham for their second Championship game starting on Thursday with plenty for the management triumvirate of Andy Hurry, Jason Kerr and Tom Abell to think about.

Never has the old adage about not changing a winning team been less relevant to Somerset’s selection for Thursday. Firstly, there is the decision as to whether to play the extra batsman again, secondly there is the composition of the bowling attack and thirdly, if the answer to the first question is no the decision between George Bartlett and Eddie Byrom.

Bartlett, who demonstrated his quality and temperament on Sunday evening and Monday morning may have done enough to edge back ahead of Byrom on the basis that his runs were made in a far more challenging situation and against a far more demanding attack.

The case for including a spinner Is a strong one. Samit Patel, who is no longer the cricketer he was, extracted turn and bounce at Nottingham in the second innings of the game to take three wickets and even with the likelihood, under the current playing conditions, that Somerset won’t be bowling last the case is a strong one.

It might seem like heresy but, if the management is concerned about the fragility of the batting that Dom Bess would get the nod on Thursday allowing Somerset to play four specialist seamers with Bess batting at 7 or 8. But logic suggests Leach will get the nod.

The composition of the bowling attack will be primarily determined by the overhead conditions which, at the time of writing this (Tuesday) look to be less swing friendly. Lewis, Craig and Jack seem almost certain to play so Josh Davey could miss out but if the pitch is similar to last week’s and he is fit Jamie Overton could come into the reckoning.

What is certain is that Somerset’s bowling will have to work hard to get 20 wickets on a ground where, even in early April, bat dominated a tame draw over 4 days last week.

Trent Bridge has been a pretty happy hunting ground for Somerset this century. The two have faced each other by the banks of the Trent 12 times and Somerset have won 5 and drawn 4 of those. 

The series is bookended by huge Somerset victories. In 2004 Somerset won by 10 wickets after amassing 654-8 declared (Jamie Cox 250) needing 1 run second time around to win. In last season’s final game of the season Somerset won by an innings and 146 runs. That game will be best remembered for Somerset’s pair of hat-tricks, Tom Abell in the first innings was achieved in only 9 balls without conceding a run! In the second it was Craig Overton’s turn reducing Notts from 119-3 to 119-6 on the 3rd morning, all three caught at second slip by Trescothick as Somerset rushed to victory.

Nottinghamshire have completed a significant overhaul of their top order since mid-summer last year with Ben’s Slater and Duckett arriving to open the innings from second division near-neighbours Derbyshire and Northamptonshire respectively. They have also signed Joe Clarke from relegated Worcestershire meaning that only Chris Nash of last season’s top four started in their opener against Yorkshire last week.

Speaking of Clarke he was denied the rare achievement of a century in each innings on debut by an overnight declaration at the start of day four to leave him 97 not out. Let’s hope he is fuming and has used up his full quota of early season runs.

Duckett is the sort of player who can take the game away from you in a session but does not like to be tied down. The bowlers will need the same control they demonstrated for the most part against Kent but if they do Notts’ young tyros will take risks which we hope will be their downfall.

The skipper Steve Mullaney will bat at 5 with Patel, who appears to have wintered very well, and the ever-improving Tom Moores at 6 and 7. Paul Coughlin, another import this time from the North East who is highly rated by many will bat 8 with Stuart Broad is scheduled to play, Luke Fletcher and Jake Ball the probable 9,10 and 11. Another off-season import, Zak Chappell (following Broad from Leicestershire) who did not play against Yorkshire could get the nod though.

Homegrown players in Nottingham are about as common as merry men riding through the glen these days. Their policy, under the hugely respected Mick Newell and Peter Moores has been to unashamedly plunder their poorer neighbours in recent years. Whether you condone such behaviour or support it, there is no doubt that changes needed to be made after last season’s dramatic decline in fortunes which almost led to their relegation. The one issue for Notts in the early part of the season is the relative inexperience of 3 of their top 4 in the first division, which hopefully Somerset’s pace attack can exploit.

The outcome of the game will I believe be decided by the respective contrasting top orders. Somerset possesses bags of experience, but few runs from last weekend while Notts is raw, very aggressive and 391 runs between them against Yorkshire. A draw may still be the favourite if the weather stays fine but Somerset will be hopeful of a repeat of last season’s comprehensive defeat – and a couple of hat-tricks wouldn’t go amiss.

One final thing, for those of us who will be listening to the BBC commentary, Notts possess in Dave Bracegirdle one of the very best around. With the untimely premature passing of Dave Callaghan, Bracegirdle is perhaps the voice of the BBC’s county coverage. Whatever the outcome listening to his description over the course of the next four days will be a pleasure.

Champion Performance?

Lewis Gregory spearheaded Somerset’s demolition of Kent on the final day

Somerset 171 and 243 beat Kent 209 and 131 by 74 runs.

Champions win games like this, behind for most of the game, losing more sessions than they win but convincingly winning the crucial session. Somerset in beating many people’s favourites to go down will not draw huge comfort from their performance over the 3 days but they will from the sheer guts, spirit and will to win they showed to on this final day. 

Somerset led by 138 overnight making the sage deliberations of all of us to as to how many runs were required on the fourth morning meaningless in numerical terms. But the psychological impact of Somerset’s batting in the first hour, particularly the tenth wicket stand probably had an impact on Kent’s second batting performance. 

If Somerset didn’t achieve the perfection I said they needed in my piece ahead of the final day’s play of this opening County Championship Division 1 game they were pretty close. What this result will have done is to send the message, if it needed to be sent, to the rest of the first division that this is a Somerset bowling attack that will trouble far better batting line-ups than this Kent one.

The course of the game was changed in a 90-minute spell leading up to lunch on the fourth morning. Somerset, thanks to a last-wicket stand of 62, set Kent a challenging but not impossible 206. By lunch the visitor’s hopes were in shreds at 43-5. Lewis Gregory took a wicket with the first ball of the innings followed shortly after by Matt Renshaw also for a duck with the score on 1-2. Would it be stretching it to ask if Renshaw’s heart still resides at the County Ground?

A mini-revival in the shape of a 35 runs third wicket partnership between Crawley and Bell-Drummond which occupied half an hour and 10 overs but in the space of 9 balls Somerset removed both and captain Heido Kuhn.

The period after lunch saw some normality resume after Gregory took his fourth wicket in his first over after the break at which point Kent were 45-6 and Lewis had 4-8. Darren Stevens, showing all his experience and considerable batting skill settled in to play the sort of innings Kent required their top order to deliver. Stevens was well supported by 20 from Alex Blake and a defiant 10 by Matthew Milnes but Somerset were not to be denied, completing victory when Josh Davey removed last man Mitch Claydon caught by James Hildreth shortly before 4pm. 

Lewis Gregory was quite simply unplayable demonstrating exemplary control and some clever variations after an initial spell of 4-8 he returned to take the ninth wicket and finish with 5-18. He was well supported by Craig Overton and Jack Brooks both bagging a brace.

Resuming on 171-7 and it was widely believed needing to add at least another 50 Somerset were quickly reduced to 181-9 when Mitch Claydon removed Craig Overton for the addition of only a single to his overnight total and Josh Davey for 2, a lead of 143. Both accounted for by balls that would have troubled more senior batsmen.

Enter Jack Brooks, bristling with intent and perhaps still smarting from his profligate debut bowling performance. Whatever his motivation Brooks helped George Bartlett add 62 in just under 10 overs and allowing George to become the first batsman in the match to pass 50. Brooks would have enjoyed his 6 during his unbeaten 35 and will no doubt be telling everyone in the dressing room that in his career for Somerset he has accumulated 40 without being dismissed compared with Tres and Hildreth’s combined 44-4! 

By the time Bartlett was dismissed lbw by Darren Stevens aiming something injudicious to Darren Stevens the pair had increased Somerset’s advantage to 205, a pretty remarkable recovery from the depths of 17-3, 32-4 and 111-7.  

Somerset take 19 points to go second in the table behind Hampshire who completed a maximum point victory over Essex earlier in the day.

Perfection Required

So how did you sleep? How did you feel when you woke up this morning? For the first time in 2019 I woke with a Somerset Cricket sized knot in my stomach ahead of the final day of the Championship opener.

The simple score does not even begin to tell the story for Somerset fans – Somerset 171 and 171-7 lead Kent 209 by 133 runs.

Somerset’s players will be aware as they arrive at the County Ground this morning that their margin for error on the final day is minimal. To achieve an improbable victory not only will they need to add at least 50 more runs for the last three wickets but will then need all the bowlers to perform at or above the level achieved by Lewis Gregory and Josh Davey yesterday morning. 

The probability is that this is going another occasion where Somerset supporters, as well as the players, are going to have their intestinal fortitude tested as with the games against Notts, Essex and Lancashire last season.

It seems incredible that, after being outplayed in five of the six sessions played so far, and comprehensively so in at least three of those, Somerset should have any chance at all in this game as it goes into its final day. Comfortingly however, home fans know that this Somerset side has demonstrated on numerous occasions that it only needs one chance to press home an advantage.

The likely outcome of the final day will almost certainly be dictated by the pattern of yesterday. On a pitch with good pace, carry and even bounce the overhead conditions have been the determining factor in the balance between bat and ball. 

Somerset’s eighth-wicket pair of George Bartlett and Craig Overton, who batted with great maturity and composure at the end of yesterday’s final session will be hoping that a ball that is 58 overs old will not deviate much in the early overs to enable them to add to the 60 the accumulated last evening. In reality Somerset need at least another 50 if they are to give themselves a better than even chance of pulling off an improbable victory.

George Bartlett, Inspired Selection?

This position had been arrived at by a bowling performance of some quality to bowl Kent out for 209 from the overnight 84-2. It is likely that, if Jack Brooks had been anywhere near his best Kent’s total would have been much closer to or perhaps below Somerset’s 171. Brooks 1-70 in 20 overs contained too many “four balls” which meant that he was never able to build the pressure on the Kent batsman that Messrs Gregory, Overton and Davey did. Gregory by comparison conceded only 26 runs in 17 overs in taking 3 wickets while Overton 3-46 and Davey 2-40 were almost as parsimonious.

While it is understandable that Tom Abell wanted to get Jack Brooks up and running and delayed introducing himself into the attack until the very end, it was a generosity in such a low-scoring game that Somerset could not afford. Abell did what he usually does with the ball to finish with 1-3. He must show more confidence in his ability with the ball in the Kent second innings if one of the four more senior bowlers are not performing.

The first target for Somerset in their second innings was to clear off the arrears of 32 with no loss. The scale of their failure to do this was spectacular with, in order, Trescothick, Hildreth, Azhar Ali and Byrom all departing with the deficit not erased.

Tom Abell and Steven Davies for the second time in the match steadied the ship but when they got to tea Somerset’s lead was a slender 15. Strangely Heino Kuhn seemed to adopt a less attacking strategy after tea which gave the pair room to breathe and a previously unseen level of comfort at the crease. The pair stayed together for the next hour to give Somerset supporters hope but Mitchell Claydon removed both in the space of a couple of overs and when he added the scalp of Gregory Somerset were staring down the barrel of an ignominious defeat.  

Therein lies the problem for Somerset, if they are to post a defendable target, they will need a semblance of decent batting conditions, a fair amount of good fortune or a combination of both. But their bowlers will require assistance from the overhead conditions if they are to have a chance of bowling Somerset to victory.

Kent won 10 games in division 2 last season, half of those were achieved chasing a target in the fourth innings and while the standard of bowling in the majority of those games is well below what Somerset possess they will take confidence from chases of; 95-1 against Durham 95-1, 110-4 v Derbyshire 110-4, 195-3 against Glamorgan, 253-2 at Leicester and perhaps most relevantly 157-5 against Middlesex 157-5. All of those successful chases were achieved with the pair of Denly and Billings present. It will be interesting to see how Kent’s batsmen respond to the challenge in the absence of those two. 

The mental aspect of this last day is not to be ignored. Will Kent embrace the chance to get their season off to a surprising win or will the magnitude of the prize induce nerves which no batsman can afford in these conditions,

On Arthur Wellard’s birthday, my thoughts turned to another stalwart Somerset all-rounder, Graham Burgess. The opponents were Kent, the venue was the County Ground, but this was a Gillette Cup quarter-final. Somerset had reached the previous year’s final but seen their hopes of a first every trophy dashed by a Javed Miandad and Imran Khan inspired Sussex. 

Roll forward to the beginning of August the following year. Somerset won the toss and decided to bat in front of a packed house.  The ground had been full a couple of hours before the start but within but within an hour Somerset had been reduced to 45-4. When Viv and Botham departed with the total on 110 Burgess was left with the tail and Somerset’s hopes we in tatters.

“Budgie” made an unbeaten 50 and the last 4 wickets added 80. Like in 2019 the damage was done by another of Kent’s dibbly-dobblers Bob Woolmer who included both Richards and Botham in his 4-28. Kent needed to barely score at 3 runs an over to achieve their target. As ever in the Tancock family, my optimism was heavily counter-balanced by Dad’s pessimism.

What followed was quite simply one of the best couple of hours in Somerset history. Having reached 14-0 Kent subsided to 19-4 before Asif Iqbal and Chris Cowdrey came together. The offered the visitors brief hope taking the score to 40 before Botham and Burgess removed them both in quick succession. From 54-5 Kent were wiped away for 60 by Botham 3-15 and Garner a scarcely believable 5-11 to give Somerset victory by 130 runs. 

What odds on a Somerset victory by a similar margin today?

Let’s Not Over-React

Après La Deluge

Somerset 171 All Out, 48 overs, Kent 84-2

Jason Kerr, in his post-match press conference reflected the mood of the Somerset support and it seems the dressing room after a very poor first day at Taunton. What is clear is that Somerset can ill afford another day like today in this game if they are to have any chance of emerging with anything from their opening Championship fixture. And perhaps more worryingly can afford no more days like today if they are to sustain a credible title challenge.

Somerset, like their floodlights, were operating at less than full power on their first day of their championship campaign. Unfortunately there is no dimmer switch for on-field performance which was desperately needed for most of the day.

Somerset’s innings was, after a serene start, a case of the frenetic rather than the measured. The consensus on social media was that this was a poor effort by Somerset’s batsman best summed up by Andy Cleeve @CleaveO who asked “where’s the application?” 

While it was understandable that Somerset were keen to make up for lost time by batting “at tempo” in their first innings the senior players should have realised that a more cautious approach was required, at least initially. 

The Kent bowling attack comprising a 42 year-old medium pacer, a 35 year-old who hardly bowled a ball last season and two re-treads hoping to find success at new counties, was one which, if kept in the field, would inevitably have given up easy scoring opportunities, even on a wicket that offered early-season encouragement.

Instead the bowlers were presented with wicket-taking opportunities on a too regular basis by batsman looking to score more quickly than the conditions permitted. 

After a couple of umpire’s inspections and an early lunch we eventually got underway at 1.10pm and the start made by Tres and Azhar was promising. After 10 runs off the first over the pair had reached 30 when inexplicably Marcus paid across the line and was bowled off stump, Azhar followed for 24 off 39 balls to leave Somerset 49-2 but James Hildreth looked in control early on.

Kent’s fielding was not of the highest standard and when Tom Abell was dropped behind for 1 it seemed that Somerset’s fortunes might be about to turn but it was not to be. Hildreth fell for 27, a very soft dismissal and Eddie Byrom went in an equally soft manner for 6 slashing at a ball he would have done well to leave alone to be caught in the gully.

The fact that Hildreth’s 27 was off 34 balls and Byrom’s 6 off 6 demonstrated that the Somerset batsmen appeared to believe they needed to play in one day mode to make up for lost time.

The skipper, who was determined to take advantage of his early reprieve found a willing ally in Steven Davies and together the pair added, with little alarm exactly 50 but the 5 over spell either side of tea ensured Somerset were going to fall well short of a par score.

Davies fell an over short of the interval and in the three overs after the break Bartlett, Gregory and Abell were all dismissed. The skipper, had done all the hard work and got to 49 before helping a ball on its way into the hands of Matt Milnes on the leg side boundary. 

130-4 had become 145-8 before Craig Overton and Josh Davey added 20 for the 9thwicket. But that was simply delaying the inevitable of a hugely disappointing 171 all out in 48 overs.

The scale of Somerset’s demise was emphasised by the fact that Mitch Claydon a journeyman seam bowler who only managed one red ball game last season and Matthew Milnes, a bowler who couldn’t get anywhere near the Notts first team took 5-46 and 3-40.

Needing to make early inroads Somerset’s ambitions were thwarted when James Hildreth dropped Kent opener Sean Dickson at first slip off Lewis Gregory. The bowlers were, like their batting counterparts, commendably eager to make an impression, none more so than debutant Jack Brooks. Disappointingly the good intentions brought scant reward until late in the day when Craig Overton removed Zak Crawley and Josh Davey night-watchman Harry Podmore.

Perhaps the brightest part of the day from a Somerset point of view was Jack Brooks’ appearance on commentary. Since arriving at Taunton Brooks has felt like one of us. There is no doubt he is one of the best of the modern breed of sports stars who are very astute at using social media to their advantage. But this should not detract from the fact that Brooks is a great addition to the squad and the wider club. Brooks’ experience and savvy will be crucial to Somerset tomorrow. 

Every side in division one will have poor days. The key to those that challenge for the title and those that are struggling at the wrong end of the table is how they respond. While it is disappointing to start the season with such a poor day all Somerset fans should draw comfort from the knowledge that one bad day does not make this a bad side. Let’s get behind the boys tomorrow, let them know that they are our boys and that we believe in them.

11am @antgib tomorrow morning. Be there.