What a strange beast the English cricket season has become. Accepted it will only get stranger next season but the structure of the domestic game in 2019 is at best bizarre. The players had their say a couple of weeks ago when the one-off round championship games slotted into the middle of the T20 group stage.
The schedule assisted Somerset’s Championship aspirations following the splendid come from behind victory in Birmingham, but three defeats from the last four T20 games finished the treble aspirations. But it is to the Championship that all Somerset’s supporters attention and energies are now directed.
There will undoubtedly be huge disappointment in the dressing room that there is no Blast quarter-final to look forward this week. There will also be much for the coaching staff to think about ahead of next year’s competition with changes clearly needed. But the uncertainty over exactly what form the T20 competition will take next year makes any reasoned discussion over next year’s T20 prospects impossible at the moment.
The T20 does have some ongoing impact on the championship following last week’s final group games. All Somerset supporters were contemplating a championship run in preceded by a T20 quarter final and potentially a finals day between the last two games. With Somerset’s defeat on Friday and Kent’s capitulation over the last week Essex improbably clinched the final quarter-final place and travel to Durham (!) to face Lancashire this evening in the first quarter-final.
A win for Essex at the Riverside would surely tilt the balance in the Championship equation back a little toward Somerset by committing them to Edgbaston just 48 hours before the final championship game begins.
That balance tilts back the other way given that Somerset will, in all probability, be without Jack Leach and Craig Overton for the next two games. While it is wonderful to see two of our own representing England in a home Ashes series international selection is a two-edged sword for county supporters. Somerset will need a fully fit Lewis Gregory and the Jamie Overton of Tuesday evening at Edgbaston supported by a combination of Jack Brooks, Timmy G and Josh Davey to make up for their absence.
Joe Root’s words yesterday hinted at Craig’s selection being only a one-off for Old Trafford. If that is the case there is a possibility that he will be available for Hampshire. Reassuringly, it appears that, barring injury, both Leach and Overton will be available for the Essex game.
With three games, almost 25% of the season, still to be played the twists and turns likely over the next three weeks are likely to put us all through the wringer. So let’s try to dispassionately (the passion will come next week, I promise) predict what is going to happen.
Looking at the remaining games it is almost impossible to determine who has the easier run in. Essex have only one home game to Somerset’s two, but Somerset have to play the other three teams in the top 4 while Essex have two of the bottom three before they come to Taunton.
Essex would love to come into the last game needing to avoid defeat to seal the title. Somerset’s task is therefore not only to keep pace with Essex but to pass them in the next two games. On the basis that Essex maintain their form that means that Somerset have to beat both Yorkshire and Hampshire. That is a tough ask.
Yorkshire inflicted a pretty comprehensive defeat on Somerset at Headingley in July. A game which, by their own admission, the players underperformed in. The Yorkshire view after that game was that Somerset were the poorest side they had played this season. Motivation enough for next week for Tom Abell’s side. And something the Taunton crowd will undoubtedly feed off come Tuesday.
Hampshire away has not been a happy experience for Somerset in the recent past. They last won there in 2015 and lost last year being bowled all out for 106 and 116 to end their already fading Championship challenge. The luck has also been against them recently in Southampton. A rained off last day in 2016, when Somerset were closing in on a victory which ultimately would have won them the title that year. A change of fortune would be most welcome.
Realistically a win and a draw from those two games would represent, in normal circumstances, a good return. For this to get Somerset into the place they want to be going into the last game we may require Essex to slip up.
While both Warwickshire and Surrey appear very winnable games for Essex, neither are straightforward. I’d rather they were the other way around with Warwickshire going to Chelmsford as I think Essex would find it hard to win at The Oval.
So can either Warwickshire or Surrey do us a favour? We saw at Edgbaston two weeks ago that Warwickshire have something about them, the question is can a young side learn for their experience against Somerset and, if they find themselves on top convert that position into a win?
Chelmsford has been a fortress for Essex in the Championship this year so Surrey’s task will be a big one. Essex have been on a run similar to that which last year’s champions put together from the end of May and carried them to the title. Last season Somerset fans hoped that Surrey would slip up and let us in, but they didn’t. Now we find ourselves in a similar position with Essex.
I just have a sneaky feeling that Essex won’t be able to win both of these two games. No logic, just a gut feeling. I hope I am right. If I am Taunton will be something else come the 23rdto 26th.