The Quest for the Holy Grail Resumes (Briefly)

Somerset resume their case of the County Championship with a trip to Birmingham starting on Sunday

County Championship Division One – Warwickshire v Somerset, Edgbaston, Birmingham, August 18th to 21st

Somerset travel to Edgbaston on Sunday for a crucial and challenging county championship game. The challenges for Jason Kerr and his squad are manifold but it can be argued they are as great off the field as on it. Somerset, in search of their first ever county championship title find themselves, after defeat at the hands of Yorkshire in mid-July, four points behind leaders Essex with four games to go.

This game is scheduled in the middle of the T20 group stages meaning that the squad will have either been heavily involved in the short form and embedded in all the different demands that presents or playing second XI cricket.

Selection is therefore a big challenge. Picking a side that comprises the best eleven for the conditions and format is not going to be easy. Injuries and, test call ups will have an impact with Jack Leach and Azhar Ali definitely unavailable and Lewis Gregory likely to miss out as he continues he rehabilitation. The options are myriad so no apologies for spending some time looking at the likely line up.

There is of course the added interest of who Somerset will sign for the remainder of the season now that Azhar has to return to prepare for Pakistan’s forthcoming test series.  The timing of Babar’s recall has not been made known but if it is the same as Azhar’s it will be after the Blast quarter finals. Will Somerset prioritise the Championship in their choice or look for someone adept in both formats? I am sure we will know soon. 

Azhar’s absence presents a very interesting scenario with Babar Azam ready to make his Championship debut as the registered overseas player for the county until the end of the T20 group phase. Babar, is not a like for like replacement for his countryman unless he is asked to do something he doesn’t do for his country. His red ball cricket in the last two years has been almost exclusively in test cricket where he batts at 4 or 5.  

If we need to find another partner for the skipper at the top of the order the choice seems likely to be between a return for Marcus, another chance for Eddie Byron or Tom Banton moving up from the number 4 slot he has occupied in the championship so far this season.

I’d prefer to see Banton stay at 4 but feel he may have to move up to allow Hildreth, Bartlett and Babar to play. The alternative is to leave Steven Davies out and ask Banton to keep and bat at 6 but that is one change too many for me especially as the technical competences of the keepers will be tested by the surface.  

With Edgbaston having been a spinners paradise for much of the season and Jack Leach otherwise engaged with England, the spinning duties will in all probability be shared between Dom Bess (who will return from his T20 loan at Yorkshire) and Roleof van der Merwe.

The remainder of the bowling line up, assuming the two spinners play, is likely to be three seamers with Tom Abell as the fourth seamer. Josh Davey has been in good form in both formats for the 2ndXI and has a strong case to return while Tim Groenewald who has recently returned to the T20 side but the experience of Jack Brooks is likely to see him selected leaving a choice of three from four from Josh, Timmy G and the twins.

I’ve been lucky enough to get four Somerset supporters to give me their thoughts on the likely line up. The differences in their choices serve only to emphasise how many difficulty choices have to be made before Sunday morning. 

David Wyatt (@DavidWyatt54) – Babar, Byrom, Abell, Hildreth, Banton, Davies/Bartlett, Bess, Van der Merwe, 2 of Brooks / Overtons and either Davey or Groenewald

Ronnie Prentice (@prenny1) – Byrom, Abell, Babar, Hildreth, Banton, Davies, Van der Merwe, Bess, J Overton, C Overton, Brooks

Dan Kingdom (@DanKingdom96) – Babar, Byrom, Abell, Hildreth, Banton, Davies, Bess, J Overton, C Overton, Groenewald (assuming Gregory unfit), Brooks

Andy Cleave (@CleaveO) – Abell, Babar, Hildreth, Banton, Bartlett, Davies, Van der Merwe, Bess, J Overton, C Overton, Brooks 

For what it is worth I am going to go with – Banton, Abell, Hildreth, Babar, Bartlett, Davies, Bess, RvdM, J Overton/C Overton, Davey, Brooks 

The other imponderable is how T20 form will translate into red ball for the two teams. Both were scheduled to play in the Blast on Friday evening but both games were abandoned without a ball bowled so we have to look back almost a week to their most recent games.

While Somerset have run into some serious form in the Blast in the last week Warwickshire, or more correctly the Birmingham Bears, having lost to Leicestershire (the game in which Colin Ackerman passed Arul Suppiah’s T20 world best) and Notts bounced back on Sunday to inflict Lancashire’s first defeat of the competition and keep themselves in contention in a very tight north group.

In the Championship Warwickshire find themselves in 8th19 points adrift of Surrey but 40 clear of hapless Notts. The batting has been heavily reliant on England hopeful Dominic Sibley (940 runs at 63 with three centuries) and Sam Hain (623, 52, 2) while the bowling has been dominated by Jeetan Patel with 52 wickets and Oliver Hannon-Dalby with 32. Astonishingly these two have bowled virtually half of their side’s overs so far this season.

Liam Norwell, who has recently returned to first team action after a lengthy layoff is a big plus for Warwickshire but with Olly Stone out for the season the Bears bowling resources are beginning to look sparse. Somerset’s depth in this department and the ability to rotate may be crucial.

Another long-term injury victim, Ian Bell, has been ruled out for the rest of the season having injured his knee while playing for the 2nds recently.

The absences of Leach and Gregory will return all Somerset supporters to the disappointing performance last time out at Headingley when both were at Canterbury for England Lions. I think that the break for the T20 will have done Somerset good and they will, weather permitting have too much for their hosts.

Elsewhere in the division Essex travel to Canterbury hoping that T20 form will not be a factor against a side who are going much the better in the Blast. Third placed Yorkshire will be hoping to keep up the pressure on the top two in their fixture against bottom club Notts at wonderful Scarborough while Hampshire, in danger of slipping into mid-table mediocrity face last season’s champions.

The dream scenario would be a win for Somerset and defeats for Essex and Yorkshire but realistically anything that keeps us close at this stage of the season and shows we are coping with the building pressure would be very nice thank you.