Delicious Selection Difficulties

10th April 2019

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.