There is no doubt that the 2019 season has been a success for Somerset. Any team that wins a trophy will have to say their season has been worth it. Success is measured in many differing ways and most teams will have to find positives without being able to point at a trophy won. If we can’t applaud a trophy winning season then we will never be happy.
Having said that, there will be a sense of disappointment too, as the elusive county championship was almost won, again. My view is that this team is still growing. Admittedly, Marcus has now moved on and so too, Tregs. Both will be sorely missed. Not just for their all-round quality as cricketers, but their quality as Somerset men and what they offered the dressing room. Every environment needs these characters to look up to and learn from. The team already has Hildy. Others will step forward now and in Tom Abell, they have a true leader stamping his mark on this team and the history of the club.
As for the disappointment? It will act as a fuel to this group. This team is still young. This group crossed a line this summer when they won the Royal London One Day Cup. That will have given them the taste of victory and it will be something they will want, again and again. This group will also believe they are better than the rest. Jason said, immediately after the conclusion of the Essex game last week, that he believed Somerset were the best team in the country. It matters not whether the facts prove him right or wrong. What matters is that he believes it and that the group believes it.
This team is nowhere near its peak yet. It has a number of players that have represented England recently and others that are on England’s radar. Obviously, this is good and bad. Great for the players as their ultimate ambition should be to represent their country. The downside is the fact that Somerset will need to ensure those players that are likely to be absent are adequately covered. Not easy. One, because international quality is not easily created, nor replaced and two, if players are brought in they will need to be exactly what the environment requires.
In addition to being RLODC winners and County Championship runners up, the team only just missed out on qualifying in the T20. Personally, I didn’t think leaving Pete Trego out made any sense. His experience is / was invaluable and I think it was something the team may have lacked in the latter stages. I am a huge advocate for blooding young players and the fact that they were has to be recognised as a positive. However, balance is everything and I wouldn’t have removed our most senior player. The fact that Pete is hoping to continue his career elsewhere, suggests he feels he is good enough for a few more years yet. He is an experienced cricketer, who has retained a very high level of fitness. I would trust him. I would also expect him to continue performing to a high level, whichever county is lucky enough to sign him. I think we will miss him.
The nucleus of the squad is loaded with a west country vibe. Thank heavens for that. I argued with Peter Anderson many years ago (1996-2001) that our motivation and planning had to reflect that. His view was that it would never be possible. Peter? Of course, you will always need one or two additions that fit the clubs values and identify with the culture continually being developed. However, the strength of Somerset is in representing the west country as a whole. With luck, a Cornishman or two will further bolster the vibe over the ensuing seasons.
The west country vibe ensures that the goals are shared. The ambition to win for Somerset and the people that support Somerset becomes an enormous motivation. The team contains players that have been developed in Taunton, North Devon, Plymouth, Sidmouth, Exeter etc… The team contains players that were educated at Millfeld, Kings Taunton, Taunton, Exeter, Blundells etc… These players are fully aware that they represent their friends, their neighbours, club colleagues. These West Countrymen are not only Somerset players, they are also Somerset supporters. Never underestimate the power of that form of motivation. I genuinely believe this team are on the verge of creating history.
My two worries are, one, not losing too many players to international duty that cannot be replaced and two, the pitches prepared. I have no issue with a seamer friendly pitch, nor a spin friendly pitch. What I don’t like is a seamer / spinner friendly pitch at the same time. As a batter, you can set a plan to play the seaming ball (it’s hard but you can plan) and you can set a plan to play the turning ball (it’s hard, but you can plan). However, setting plans to play both at the same time? I don’t believe that’s a fair contest anymore and that’s reflected in the batting averages. These guys can play, but fifty percent of their games are too often on an ‘all bowler’ friendly surface. The pitch should deteriorate accordingly. I don’t think it should start in the manner that it does. The ECB will pounce sooner or later. This team are good. I don’t think they need the pitch as much as they used to.
I worry that batters lose rhythm. Battling on tough pitches is an absolute necessity. The problem is you know there’s a ball with your name on it never too far away and with this in mind, batters become desperate. Poor decisions are made and balls without your name on it pick up wickets too. Yes, gritty thirties and forties are match relevant, but batters thrive on runs which breed confidence. The danger is the lack of runs weigh heavily and all pitches become a battle when rhythm is lost. The championship batting plans need fine tuning this winter. One day approaches in four-day cricket aren’t consistently successful. I prefer simply targeting one hundred overs every first innings. Let the scoreboard look after itself and simply commit to time. To win the 2020 County Championship, maybe the bowlers and batters will need to feel equally responsible?
Who will the club look to bring in? The bowling stocks are good so is there too much need to sign another seamer? It won’t hurt though and I’m sure there will be plenty of bowlers very keen to join. And it goes without saying that a replacement for Jack is almost certain. Whether many batters will be phoning up I’m not so sure.
And talking of batters, our best ever is retiring. I don’t say that lightly and the Harold Gimblett supporters will be rightly affronted. I will always take into account the 5,825 runs Marcus scored for England. Many of those were scored abroad, but many many at home which restricted his Somerset games and would undoubtedly have taken him past Harold Gimblett. And therefore, in my view our best ever. I am biased though. I played for Keynsham and remember the chubby five-year old who was never without a cricket bat. I captained the club in 1992/3 and selected Marcus into the first team. I remember a training method he had which he showed me once. It was a small power ball on a piece of elastic, attached to a stick in the ground. He would hit the ball repeatedly, as it flew in all directions. I had a go and could barely see it, never mind hit it! It probably played a part in what great hand / eye co-ordination he had, but also his lack of foot movement perhaps? No matter, he scored plenty more than most and with a technique that lasted twenty-seven years.
Should he be knighted? For what he achieved off of the field as much as on it, then yes. I don’t quite understand knighthoods for people that play sport and are well compensated for doing what they love. What Marcus has done off of the field has been extraordinarily brave. Drawing attention to something very personal and being prepared to expose himself to the world, probably demanded more courage than facing up to Curtley Ambrose or Brett Lee. He has become a leading pioneer in mental health support and for that yes, why not? Arise Sir Marcus… If not, he will still be our Marcus! And I have a feeling he will be fine with that too.