That mob from Bristol are heading to the County Ground this weekend for a much anticipated red-ball local derby. But this is a game that has a much wider significance than the purely local rivalry as we get to the sharp end of the Bob Willis Trophy.
Somerset, by dint of the weather’s intervention find themselves in second place in their group and fourth in the overall rankings behind the three group leaders; Derbyshire, Essex and Worcestershire. A win over the weekend will be more significant for Somerset’s BWT aspirations than any local bragging rights. This is a meeting of two teams that have for the last 13 years not just dined at different red-ball tables but in completely different restaurants.
The third round of the competition was severely affected by the weather with five of the games ending as rain affected draws while the games at Arundel, Hove and Northampton went to the latter stages of the last day. Only Hampshire, who beat woeful Surrey by an innings could have a claim to have dominated their game as much as Somerset did in the West Midlands.
In the north all three games finished as draws meaning that Derbyshire stay top although their lead over Yorkshire is now just two points. It seems quite possible that Derbyshire could be the surprise group winners here which in a division containing three teams that were either first division last season and/or will be next season would be quite a feat.
In the south Hampshire have recovered from their surprise defeat to Sussex in the opening round to win two on the trot, the first with nine fit men against Middlesex the second a thrashing of the suddenly dreadful Surrey. (Jamie it’s not too late to change your mind!). Hampshire will try to derail Harmershire’s seemingly calm progress to the final at Arundel this weekend.
In the central group Worcestershire’s win over Northants – which took 245 overs to complete compared with Somerset’s 161 the week before – allowed them to leapfrog us to the top of the table by a solitary point while in Cardiff the Bristol Boys couldn’t bowl Glamorgan out twice. Glamorgan’s second innings on Tuesday, in pretty unfriendly batting conditions occupied 91 overs, they had only managed 110 in their two innings at Taunton. Both measures bode well for Somerset ahead of the weekend as examples of their dominance in the group on a level playing field.
This weekend we have the local derbies, the Roses match, the East and West Midlands derbies and a couple of South East turf wars. Only Derbyshire at Durham, Essex at Hampshire and Northants in Cardiff are games with any significant geographical separation.
Durham, Glamorgan, Northants and Surrey are the four sides we can count out already. Middlesex, Notts, Sussex and Warwickshire all need to win their last two games and hope for some pretty unlikely results or very inclement elsewhere to have any chance, while for Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Kent, Lancashire and Leicestershire nothing short of two wins from two will suffice for them to be in the mix.
That leaves the top five who still have a final place in their own hands. Essex lead the way with the only 100% record and 61 points, Derbyshire and Worcestershire top the north and central respectively with 57 points with the two best second placed teams Somerset (56) and Yorkshire (55) very close.
With the weather as the caveat I suspect we will see that reduced to four after this round as surely one of Worcestershire, Yorkshire or Derbyshire will let it slip on the principle of the law of averages. Although you’d be brave to bet on Warwickshire, Lancashire and Durham respectively in an accumulator.
Somerset know they need to do the business against our “friends” but will still need to get the better of the game at New Road in the last round. As Jason Kerr would say though we need to focus on the next game and then deal with the consequences at the end of this round of Trophy games.
Don’t be misled by the visitors’ promotion to the top division last year, the truer form line is drawn from the pre-season game and the relative performances against Glamorgan and Warwickshire in the group campaign. This isn’t arrogance or complacency simply an objective analysis of the relative merits of the two sides. There are probably only one or two players in the away side who would get into a combined XI, James Bracey (if available) and perhaps Chris Dent.
I was caught by surprise by Tom Banton and Lewis Gregory being unavailable due to their call up for England’s T20 squad. I believed that they would be able to play in this game as the T20s against Pakistan don’t start until next Friday but in these strange times I presume they are required to join the squad earlier than would normally be the case. That bubble must be tough to get into!
So, with George Bartlett expected to return he will replace Banton at 5 while Jack Brooks would be the most likely candidate to complement the ever present Overtons and Josh Davey. Ben Green is joined by Lewis Goldsworthy in the squad to, I expect, get more exposure to being “in and around the group”.
The anxious glances at the weather forecast have indicated, at least on the app I use, that the chances of play across the four days are improving but we are all going to be keeping fingers crossed and casting anxious gazes towards Anthony Gibson’s contractually obliged Quantock’s until matters are concluded.
While the rights and wrongs of the decision to bat on at Edgbaston has been extensively discussed the desire of the Somerset players and coaches to be ruthlessly dominant is clear and if we are able to bring that to Taunton over the next four days our opponents will need to do something very special to stay in the game.
Wouldn’t it be nice for a routine, efficient victory? The win the toss, bat first, get maximum batting points for 5 wickets with a couple of centuries among the top five and then bowl the other side out twice in 50 overs? I can but dream ……..
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