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!