Essex State of Mind

22nd September 2019

How do you write a preview to a game like this? We all know what is at stake. We all know the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition having followed their championship games for the majority of the season.

So to help with this preview I am very grateful for the thoughts from Somerset supporters Annie Chave, Dan Kingdom, Peter Wanless, & Ronnie Prentice.

As we head into the game everyone is checking the weather forecast with worried eyes. I know it isn’t great but has improved slightly on my app in the last couple of days. I can’t believe that after such a wonderful season the Cricket Gods would allow the rain to ruin a winner take all championship decider. 

From what I’ve heard and read Essex have a bit of a curious mindset going on. Understandably the victory over Surrey on Wednesday gave them great confidence that they had done enough to take the title. And understandably they were more than happy with the weather forecast helping them to avoid defeat. But there have been some odd utterances over the last couple of days that hint to some mental fragility.

As Julian Wyatt wrote for SomersetNorth on Friday the mentality of only needing a draw can be a dangerous one. Somerset on the other hand know they need a win and will have only positive thoughts going into the game. That in itself can bring dangers but I’d much prefer that mentality to a defensive one.

BBC Essex’s Dick Davies, who I spoke to on Friday, is very much of the mind that this will be a fitting finale to the season and, despite having witnessed first-hand Somerset’s defeat at Chelmsford a couple of months ago, sees these as the best two teams in this year’s competition. Davies is feeling confident, and has every right to.

Davies points to Essex’s consistency through the season as the reason for their top of the table position. Apart from the opening game innings defeat to Hampshire in Southampton and a rain affected draw at Headingley Essex have had few below par performances.

I mentioned to him that Somerset have in contrast been very very good on many occasions and poor on a couple of others and that if Essex come up against good Somerset they will be in for a real fight he agreed but I sensed a confidence that this Essex side can cope with whatever we can throw at them. 

Davies is looking forward to this week, anticipating a second championship triumph in three years but wouldn’t mind too much if it poured all week!

Essex will bounce down the M5 today after their thrilling Blast win yesterday evening. Whether that has any impact on the next four days is a moot point. But you have to wonder how much emotional energy they have left after the run they have put together in the Blast to go from 2 wins from their first 10 games to champions.

Jack Leach, certain to return to the Somerset side

Somerset will I believe recall both Jack Leach and Jamie Overton which means Dom Bess and Roleof van der Merwe will miss out. Harsh on both given the contributions they have made in the championship over the last month, but a bowling attack of Craig, Jack, Jamie and Lewis give Somerset the best chance of bowling Essex out twice.

Jamie Overton – rested for Southampton

Jack Brooks has apparently been training this week but it would be a big risk to play him. Jamie Overton’s bone spur is “being managed” and I believe that his absence at Southampton last week (where he was missed and could have been a difference maker) was to ensure he is available and can play a full part his week.

So which Somerset will turn up? Will the weather be kind? And how will Essex cope with the atmosphere that Taunton is going to offer over the next four days. For me though, if weather permits the key is going to be the mentality of the two sides.

Somerset, as we all know, have had to fight their way back from a number of difficult positions this year to secure victories in the championship. While this has put us all through the wringer it gives me confidence that Tom Abell and his side have the mental fortitude to cope if things aren’t going their way. Essex have on the other hand not been tested as much this year.  

And I suspect that Simon Harmer’s comments after their T20 victory yesterday point to a little mental fragility and a siege mentality. Do Essex feel that the majority of the cricketing world are against them and want Somerset to triumph this week? Do they feel they aren’t respected as much as they deserve (the small county mentality comments)? Are they fearful of what they will face in Taunton both on and off the pitch (Harmer’s reference to the surface “they will prepare”)?   

If it comes down to mental strength the advantage the Cooper Associates County Ground gives us could be the difference. So if you are heading to Taunton this week please please give everything and get behind our boys. 

The CACG atmosphere will be a big factor

I’m feeling positive, if the weather holds there is no doubt we can do this. If we don’t it won’t be for want of trying. Whatever it has been a fantastic season to be a Somerset fan.

As this is my 5oth year of following Somerset I’m going to end by looking back to my first season of 1970. The difference in everything associated with Somerset cricket is enormous. What my Dad and I would have given back then to be in this position come the end of a season. I don’t take what we have achieved for granted, be immensely proud in our Club and #DaretoDream.

Every single one of us Somerset supporters brings to every game our own past, traditions, superstitions, hopes and fears. So I’ve been gathering the thoughts of some others amongst us to get their perspective ahead of our final game of the season. And so, for the last word in this season’s previews its over to Annie, Peter, Dan and Ronnie.

Annie Chave

This final game of the Championship season is a huge one as Essex and Somerset go head to head for the title. It was a devastating result last week, as Somerset capitulated against the magic of Hampshire’s Abbot and we saw the chance for their first title fade. 

Essex enter this game 12 huge points ahead and with Harmer’s brilliance leading the attack, the likelihood of a Somerset win is a slim one, but it’s a traditional plot in a fairytale story. 

The heroes have to have their back to the wall before the final incredible performance. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Plus I had a message from Vic Marks on the evening of our dismal defeat, ‘We’re still only one win away!’ He told me, as I lamented their loss. 

And so, that’s how I’ll go into this game thinking. We have to be positive, and we have to believe we can win this, because Somerset work best when they’re positive. Granted the weather looks shocking and to produce a result pitch isn’t going to necessarily go our way, with Harmer in Essex’s battalion. 

Weather is a major factor, with the damp conditions it could be a contest between seam bowlers and who bowls best out of Gregory and Overton or Porter and Cook. Let’s just hope the weather doesn’t take away a result entirely and the game is the thriller its always been billed to be. 

Let’s do it for my hero, Trescothick and let’s do it for 144 years of ‘hurt’.

Peter Wanless

Peter Wanless has, since 2013, been the chief executive officer of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. A lifelong Somerset fan Peter was there for day one of the campaign against Kent –  it rained throughout, though the carvery was apparently excellent. Peter will be there for the last day as well – his birthday – provided we finish the game inside three days. The Thursday however is problematic and could require some seriously dexterous diary management (the CEO can hardly throw a sickie).

“I’m not confident. I’ve seen Somerset clutch heroic defeat from the jaws of victory time after time in ever more imaginative ways. At Lord’s in May I never believed we were going to win until the final runs were hit. But this is a fine team. They have belief. They have experienced success. They show up for one another. It will surely be someone’s turn against Essex who may be distracted and exhausted by T20 Finals day.”

“I will be bringing my son to Taunton for this fixture. My Dad never saw Somerset win the County Championship despite years and years of support for the Club. If we are going to win the trophy at last, I’m determined Wanless Jr is there to see me celebrate.”

Dan Kingdom

I can’t help but start with the weather forecast, which may well ruin everything! However, the percentage chances of rain are currently around the 50% mark for most of the match so I’m going to keep my fingers crossed that it allows us 2 or 3 days worth of playing time.

Ignoring the weather, I make Somerset favourites. We have been very strong at home this season, winning 5 out of 6 Championship matches. Essex are obviously a very good side but we have the edge at Taunton, as they did at Chelmsford.

To get a result we’ll probably need to win quickly with the forecast being as it is. 4 out of 6 Championship games at Taunton this season have finished within 3 days (including Kent which finished on day 4 but had day 1 washed out) which helps. Essex’s batting line-up is good but not perfect and our bowlers have been brilliant this year, especially at Taunton. It will be interesting to see how we balance the attack with Jack Leach available again and Jamie Overton’s return a possibility. Our batting is weaker but we are capable of cobbling enough runs together, especially with James Hildreth’s annual September century still to occur.

Our formula at Taunton is bat first and win but with the time available potentially limited by the weather we may want to rethink that if there is a toss. I’m imagining a scenario where we bowl Essex out for 150, cobble together a quick 250 then blast them out for 90 in a dramatic day 4 finish minutes before rain arrives. Because if we are going to do it, we won’t do it the easy way!

Ronnie Prentice

Looking at the weather forecast I’m expecting some interruptions. I’m banking on some play Monday little Tuesday and enough Wednesday and Thursday.

Based on that I think we will prepare a “crappy” pitch (a result one) to give its technical term. I suspect the toss will be uncontested as Essex will be happy for u to bat first. 

Based on that I think we have to go “Renshaw” on them as in the home game against Yorkshire early last year with the aim of getting up over 200 quickly in both innings. That would give us as much time as possible to get the 20 wickets that are so crucial in this game. 

But with the conditions that may change so we may have to play it day by day.

Let’s play positively it’s our best and probably only chance and suits our game anyway. It’s a winner takes all so in our position we really have nothing to lose.

Ultimately it is going to depend on whether the gods allow us enough time. No one knows that at present, but it would be nice to have enough time to have a shot at it. If that’s not good enough fine at least we’ll have had a chance I’d much prefer that to having to sit in the pavilion watching the rain hand Essex the title. 

I’m trying to be positive and if we get enough play we can sneak it.

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