Happy New Year from SomersetNorth

3rd January 2020

The concept of SomersetNorth has been an ambition of mine for several years but 2019 has saw it come to fruition. To every one of you who have read, contributed, commented in the last 5 months thank you for the bottom of my heart.

It really is hard to believe that it was only at the start of August that the site launched. Despite having written extensively in other places devoted to Somerset Cricket I needed room to breathe as a writer, something which other sites did not allow me. The confidence of having the first piece I submitted to The Nightwatchman accepted for publication came at just the right time. So did the support of so many at Somerset County Cricket Club encouraged me to take the plunge. Special thanks are therefore due to Tanya Aldred, Tom Abell, Spencer Bishop, Michelle Brooks, and Ben Warren for their time and words when I needed them.  

I’d also like to thank BBC Somerset’s Anthony Gibson, Stephen Lamb and Charlie Taylor. Not just for the hours of excellent commentary but also for what they have done to support and encourage my second career. And finally, Steve Jennings who gave me the opportunity to reach an audience with my writing.

Julian Wyatt was kind enough to be the trailblazing first guest writer on the site. I want SomersetNorth to be a place for all supporters to have a voice, not just mine. To that end I am working hard to bring further guest writers on board.

The new year / new decade is a cause of great concern for all cricket supporters. There will be a lot to talk about and I intend the first full season for SomersetNorth will be right at the heart of that discussion.

The site is already fully functional for interaction on all the social media platforms, if you haven’t used them yet please feel free to use them to comment on pieces as they are written. There is an easy to use Facebook comment box at the bottom of each article as well as share buttons which make 1-click sharing / sending a doddle. Ultimately the site will be so much better for the interaction it receives so please feel free.

2020 is going to be a year when it is even more important that the ordinary cricket supporter makes his or her voice heard. Sites like SomersetNorth have, I believe, a crucial role to play in this regard. So please feel free to contact me by the email link on the site if you have something to say or questions you would like answers to. I will do my best to deal with each and every email swiftly.

Somerset supporters should look back on 2019 with a smile, only one other county could reasonably argue to have had as good a season. The players can look back with great pride in what they achieved. We have a trophy back in Taunton. No one can take that away from them. From us.

But attention has to turn to the new year and begin to consider what it holds for Somerset Cricket. As we head into 2020 there are three numbers that, Sesame Street-like, will be at the forefront of my mind. 51, 12 and 1. 

2020 will be my 51st season of following Somerset Cricket. As I push on beyond my half-century of devotion the burning desire to see Somerset’s first-ever Championship gets stronger and stronger. 

That desire is tempered by the 12 – the points handicap we have to overcome to get to the elusive 1, that first-ever championship.

The 2020 cricket season is going to be a challenge for Somerset, its players and supporters. As we head into the new year there is so much uncertainty. The club is still looking for a Chief Executive, the repercussions of Andrew Cornish’s departure still linger below the surface. Encouragingly the appointment of the new chairman has now taken place, something which should facilitate the search for the man in day-to-day charge.

The club’s decision to update the badge seems to me to have a meaning beyond the superficial “refresh”. Somerset are heading into the new decade with refreshed intentions and a clearer mission statement. The desire to see people with the capabilities of Andy Hurry and Jason Kerr heading the administrative side of the club is clear and should be applauded. 

But it is on-field that the most significant challenges and uncertainties lie. Success for Somerset where it matters most feels, at the moment, feels just that little bit further away. The 12-point deduction is not huge in the scheme of things. Two other issues concern me more.

The first is the sword of Damocles held by the ECB of a further equivalent deduction from Somerset which could derail a title chase. The precedent has been set by the ECB who will, I believe, take great delight in enforcing the further penalty.

Secondly, there will be an underlying sub-conscious erring on the side of caution in terms of the balance between bat and ball, seam and spin in terms of pitch preparation. Possibly a considerable handicap for Somerset compared to the rest of division one?

And then we have to consider the structure of the season. The impact of the scattering of the Somerset dressing room across The Hundred franchises in the height of Summer. Success in 2020 will require a mixture of factors not seen before. I had only just arrived in the world when the Gillette Cup was brought in and don’t recall the first season on the Sunday League, both were seasons where the structure of the domestic cricket season changed markedly.

The introduction on the Benson & Hedges Cup a couple of years later had a less dramatic impact. Principally because the bulk of it was scheduled so early in the season. I still recall a cold and damp day in April watching Minor Counties South in Torquay which, in my memory at least, epitomised the competition. But while the authorities have tinkered with the formats of the competitions no season has seen the changes we will in 2020.

It is not just the new format and the revised schedules it brings but the creation of eight new teams and the associated separation of the “haves” and the “have-nots” that franchise association brings.

Somerset are one of the clubs who will lose the most players to the new competition. And while I don’t want to diminish the impact the loss of Messrs Abell, Gregory, Overton et al will have on the county I see there are some possibilities and potential the 50-over competition will create.

The addition of Vernon Philander, a canny one by anyone’s measure ensures that Somerset will have a strong bowling line-up to select from for the One-Day Cup. Importantly the ability to mix the experience of Jack Brooks and VP with younger “fringe” players will make Somerset competitive and provide a wonderful development opportunity. 

I still believe that in the fullness of time the authorities will come to their senses and see the folly of their new toy. Somerset need to weather the storm while using the opportunities presented to develop increased depth. If they can do this the 20s could be even more successful than the preceding decade, an exciting thought.  

But most of all we have a Championship to win, a 12-point deficit to overcome. And I can’t wait.

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