An Open Letter to Tom Abell

Dear Tom,

It is hard to believe that it is already three weeks since we all sat riveted by your Somerset side’s phenomenal effort on the last afternoon of the Championship season as Essex were made to look over the precipice of losing the title the destiny of which had, at the start of the day, seemed a foregone conclusion.

Many people have asked me over that last few weeks how I feel. All I can say when they do is, “It hurts like hell. Yes still hurts like hell.” I can only begin to imagine how you feel but hope that this open letter will let you know that far from being defeated Somerset supporters are emotionally re-doubling their support for you and the team for next season.

There are many many things about that last afternoon that epitomise this Somerset team that has made another huge step forward in 2019 and they all emanate from or reflect you as our leader.

But before we talk about the 2019 season it is worth going back to early July in 2017. Somerset had just lost a titanic championship game with Yorkshire at Taunton and were sitting precariously at the wrong end of division one. With a tough trip to Scarborough looming you took the huge decision to drop yourself.

I can only imagine how low you must have felt at that time. But the fact that you made that decision only a few months into your first season as Somerset captain, one which resulted in a victory which was crucial in the final reckoning, showed what you were made of as a man and a leader. 

Yorkshire is a bit of a recurring theme for me when I think of your development as a captain. I was lucky enough to have a few minutes chatting to you at the end of the second day of this year’s championship game at Headingley. It is fair to say that the first two days hadn’t gone very well after you had won the toss and asked Yorkshire to bat first (a decision I for one totally backed on that first morning).

I walked out of Headingley that evening even more impressed than ever by you. It was clear to see how much those first two days had hurt you and how much you wanted to make it right. I was reminded of our chat when Jason Kerr said recently that you carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. My impression is that Jase is right, but that it is a good thing and a reflection of how strong you are individually. Very few could do what you do for Somerset cricket. 

I am in the process of writing my season’s review. To start it I wanted to pick out a highlight, not an easy task after so many highs in the last 6 months. But actually it was much easier than I first thought.

Taunton, September 12th, mid-afternoon. Yorkshire are on their way to defeat as Somerset have reduced them to 8 wickets down (effectively 9) before tea on the third afternoon still 300 runs adrift. Steve Pattinson, the Yorkshire captain clips a ball off his legs just in front of square on leg-sidede defended by just yourself and Dom Bess. Most sides would have accepted the four and reset for the next ball. Not this Somerset side. Not this Somerset captain. You set off at full tilt but even with your speed it seems for all the world the ball will win. Somehow you launch yourself full-length and claw the ball back inches from the rope. Remarkable.

But that is not the end of the story. As you flick the ball back Dom Bess is there to retrieve and return the ball to Steve Davies, restricting Yorkshire to just three runs. Saving one run in the context of a 300 run lead! Such an example of the commitment you lead with is not isolated but the significance of this instance is all the greater in that it is Dom Bess who chased with you. The same Dom Bess who had been peeved earlier in the game when you withdrew him from the attack.

Like you Bess is crucial to Somerset’s future prospects. To see his respect and loyalty to you demonstrated so openly spoke volumes for what you have built in your side.

That last afternoon will live long in the memory. While our visitors were about to pick up the trophy thanks to the cruelty of the weather on the previous three days they were going to do so with the biggest of metaphorical bloody noses. From a position where Alistair Cook was guiding them to calmness Somerset visited a huge jolt with bowling and fielding that no other county is capable of.

We may have failed to get the victory we all craved but the forfeit of our second innings and attempt to pull off the most sensational of victories. We did not fail in letting the Champions know that they were very fortunate to survive.

It was a funny atmosphere around the Cooper Associates County Ground immediately after the conclusion of that game. We all had to endure seeing someone else lift the trophy but only one of us had to front up to the Sky cameras in the immediate aftermath. I honestly don’t know how you did it but as ever you said all the right things when many of us would have been bitter and acrimonious.

What impressed me was that the whole Somerset squad fronted up in that period. Led by you they watched the celebrations and interviews and while Essex were to be commended for the dignity they showed Somerset were the real beneficiaries. I could feel the fuel that experience was providing for next season. Yet again your leadership turned a possible negative into a positive.

You may well be carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders as Somerset captain but I hope you will reflect that there are many of us who are there with you carrying that weight. A weight my Dad carried before me and is heavier on my shoulders for his passing. A weight that doesn’t diminish us but fuels or drive and desire to bring the ultimate prize to this our county, the greatest of all counties, a county where cricket is a part of the soul of every one of us. I cannot make the bowling changes, face the fast bowling, chase down balls to the boundary (Oh if I still could!) but I live every single delivery of the season vicariously through the efforts of you and your team and hope in doing so that that support nourishes and encourages you.

So when your mind drifts back to our second runners-up place in the last two years allow yourself to reflect on where you were in the summer of 2017 and how far you have brought this team in the last two and a half years. We have come so far and there is still so far to go under your leadership. I think I speak for the vast majority of Somerset fans when I say that I am hugely excited for the journey ahead.

There were many, myself included, who desperately wanted us to win it all for Marcus. Who were brought to tears by the emotion of him leaving the field for the last time three weeks ago. And then I got to thinking. Perhaps the cricketing Gods have something even more special in mind.

Tom Abell, born in Taunton, Somerset lifting the County Championship in the near future. 

When I first started watching Somerset cricket my heroes were 20 years older than me. But now with my 50th season of supporting Somerset completed I find those heroes are 30 years younger. And you are in every aspect worthy of being a hero, one I have no shame i idolising.   

Thank you Tom. Thank you from this Somerset supporter and while he never saw you play thank you from my Dad who like me would be so proud to have you as our leader.

Dare to Dream