And So It Begins

9th September 2019

We’ve all been waiting for this for all season. Back in April the hope was that we would head into September being into contention in the Championship. Here we are and here we are!

When Somerset left Headingley in mid-July we all reflected on a performance that was the worst of the season in the Championship and which cost us the leadership of Division One. It was a pretty tough watch in Leeds for all the Somerset supporters who travelled, we have to hope the imminent four days at Taunton are more rewarding. 

The immediate after match reactions from the Yorkshire camp were none too complimentary about Somerset either. Somerset are not as bad as some of the Yorkshire comments indicated and are but those comments were understandable given the performance. 

But Somerset have a chance now to show Yorkshire what we all know, that they are considerably better than that display. With the destiny of the title still in their own hands Somerset will need to play consistently to the standard they have set for most of the season for the reminder of the campaign. We are now at the time of the season where such aberrations would prove pretty terminal to a title challenge.

But the immediate objective is to record a much-needed win over the side that currently sit third in the table 35 points behind Somerset. A gap that, while still capable of being closed requires near perfection from Yorkshire and both Somerset and Essex to slip up quite badly. So the question is where do Yorkshire feel they sit in the Championship race? Are they contenders or interested bystanders? I’ve been speaking to BBC Leeds Jonathan Doidge to get the view from the broad acres? 

It is fair to say that Yorkshire’s hopes of being right back in the title race were raised significantly on day three of the last round of championship games. Yorkshire were in control of their game against Notts at Scarborough, Somerset were well behind at Edgbaston and Essex had been bowled out for 114 in their first innings at Canterbury. 

While the win for Yorkshire duly arrived on day four both Somerset and Essex turned things around leaving Yorkshire thinking of what might have been. A three-team title run in involving both Somerset and Yorkshire is somewhere we’ve been in the recent past but it looks like it isn’t going to repeat in 2019.  

Don’t for one minute think that Yorkshire are unhappy with their lot though. Doidge is quick to credit Somerset and Essex for their clear lead at the top of the table and sees third place as a pretty good outcome for a side which is still in transition from Jason Gillespie’s title winning sides. Doidge concedes that over the course of the this season the championship table doesn’t lie.  

Yorkshire also have to perennially compete in the championship without their best players due to international commitments. Remarkably given the two sides relative historic representation in the England side both teams are almost certain to be without two England internationals next week.

While Somerset must manage without their international left arm spinner Yorkshire will include Kesh Maharaj who will play the last game of his current loan spell. Somerset supporters will need no reminding of Maharaj’s talents, his two games against Somerset in the last year have yielded 21 wickets. Somerset will need to find an answer to the threat he poses.

The rest of Yorkshire’s attack is likely to be the same as that which completed victory over Notts at Scarborough last month. Captain Steve Patterson with Ben Coad and Duane Olivier will be the seam bowlers with Tim Bresnan filling the Tom Abell role as fourth seamer. Matthew Fisher, like Coad a very promising young quick bowler might figure as an alternative but hasn’t played since picking up an injury in the early stages of the T20 campaign.

Any additional spinning option will be very much of the part time variety unless Yorkshire gamble on their emerging young off-spinner Jack Shutt. Shutt played half of Yorkshire’s T20 campaign and took 10 wickets (which remarkably put him second highest wicket taker behind Adam Lyth(!)) but has yet to play any red ball cricket. It is probably a fair measure of where Yorkshire see the youngster that they took Dom Bess on loan earlier in the season.  

Bess currently sits fourth in Yorkshire’s first-class batting averages (behind Root, Balance and Lyth). Doidge expects the batting line up from the last championship game to play at Taunton. Balance and Lyth will be joined by Will Fraine, Tom Kohler-Cadmore and Harry Brook with Jonathan Tattersall keeping wicket. Jack Leaning, who would provide a useful leg-spin option, hasn’t played in the Championship side since early July and with his departure to Kent at the end of the season is probably not going to feature again.

Somerset welcome Murali Vijay as Azhar’s replacement for the last three games. Somerset supporters will be hoping Vijay replicates his performance for Essex at the stat of last year’s championship. Vijay topped Essex’s 2018 championship averages with 323 runs in his three games at 64.6.

I suspect that Steven Davies will continue in his role as opener. While the noises coming out of the dressing room have insisted his promotion at Edgbaston was only temporary he excelled in the role at Edgbaston and should be given the chance to continue. I’d drop Tom Abell to 3 and move Hildy to 4 which I believe gives the batting the best chance to succeed. 

My perception is that the Hildy experiment hasn’t worked and it is time for him to return to his rightful place. 460 runs with at an average of 24 is significantly below his career standards. At the very least Jason Kerr and Tom Abell should give James the choice of where he wants to bat.

Lewis Gregory should be fit and will be welcomed back especially given Craig’s likely absence. Dom Bess who, I am delighted to say, is showing his all-round worth, will bat at 8. Assuming Jamie Overton and Jack Brooks play – I believe they should – that leaves one place between Josh Davey and Timmy G.

Brooks hasn’t been at his best this year. His 25 wickets have cost him just under 30 each and place him ninth in the Somerset batting averages. But he was brought in to bring his experience of winning titles into the dressing room and now is the time for him to show us what we all know he is capable of. Davey has been far better than his stats show this year and as ever wouldn’t let anyone down if selected.

Doidge was understandably guarded when I asked him for his title prediction. His view is that if we get to the last week with the title still up for grabs Somerset will be favourites. But to get to this point Somerset have to, at the very least, match Essex’s performances in the next two games.

Whisper it but Doidge would, assuming Yorkshire can’t haul themselves back, love to see Somerset win it all this year. Interestingly for someone covering a club that will have a representation in the new competition he believes a win for one of the have-nots would be wonderful for the county game as a whole.

Essex have a very winnable trip to Edgbaston up next so Somerset will need in all probability to secure victory at Taunton. My feelings after that game were that the return at Taunton would represent some unfinished business which Tom Abell’s side would use as motivation, if any is needed. That hasn’t changed.

As for us supporters we have the opportunity to make a huge contribution over the next three weeks. With two games at Taunton the atmosphere that we can create, which as we all know is second to none on the county circuit, can be a big factor. 

Those like me of a certain vintage who saw visiting sides wilt at Taunton in the late 70s and early 80s know that opponents were regularly taken by surprise by the cauldron that was the county ground.  We have an opportunity to make the CACG a similarly intimidating place this September. It was spine-tingling back then and I for one want to experience that again over the next few weeks.

So please

Get to the County Ground.

Get right behind Tom Abell and his side.

Make our visitors aware that we are there and where our loyalties lie.

And anything is possible.

But above all ensure each and every one of us is a credit to the team and the county of Somerset. We can help make this a fitting finale to what has been a wonderful season so far for Somerset County Cricket Club.

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