Somerset Cricket Natters

Two of the only three winners from the opening round of the 2021 County Championship come face to face at Taunton on Thursday with more than West Country bragging rights at stake

Somerset v Gloucestershire, County Championship Group 2, Taunton, April 15th to 18th 2021

Three days on from that fabulous last afternoon at Lord’s and I’m still smiling from ear to ear. A weekend that turned out pretty much as well as we could have hoped before a ball was bowled. The eight-point deduction that has vexed us all since the autumn of 2019 wiped out and with Surrey losing ground not just made up but gained on one of the favoured sides in the group. While elsewhere draws were everywhere even for the pre-season favourites.

The fascination of this structure of the season is already revealed by Essex’s result against Worcestershire. The draw at Chelmsford means that, should both sides qualify for the top division, half of the points from that result (13 & 12 respectively) will translate into division one points. It is worth looking out for such games each week in the group phase. 

Hampshire were expected to win in Leicester but their success is grievously tainted and subject to ECB investigation. All right-minded cricket supporters will hope that they will be punished for their transgression not just of the laws of the game but of the spirit of cricket. How the players will react when they face Middlesex is yet to be seen but there must be a heavy cloud over Southampton at the moment.

Which brings us to Gloucestershire. Surprising winners at Bristol thanks to a stunningly easy run chase on Sunday afternoon. The degree to which Surrey under-performed is one I can’t judge, my attentions being focussed on NW8 but there is no doubt that Chris Dent’s side will head to Taunton full of confidence and determined to expunge the memory of the trouncing the took last August in the Bob Willis Trophy.

So how will the next four days play out at the County Ground? I am lucky enough to have had a chance to talk to a die-hard Somerset supporter and star in the firmament of County Cricket.  Annie Chave is well known to all Somerset supporters and beyond so it is with great thanks that she was able to give SomersetNorth 45 minutes earlier in the week to look back to Lord’s and forward to the “Glosters”. 

Just the mention of Lord’s brings a smile to Annie’s face although she admits that she was on edge throughout the run chase. The three wickets that fell before lunch were a real low for most Somerset supporters making the bounty of the Bartlett Gregory partnership an even greater pleasure. Like me Annie can’t think of a better come from behind victory in her time following the county.

But as is the way with professional sport there is never long to dwell on the wonderful win with another game starting three days later. What I asked does Chave expect from the game against Gloucestershire? 

In simple terms a win, not as convincingly as last year and hopefully not as nerve-shredding as last week but a win nonetheless. Even if Gloucestershire can sustain their levels of last week Somerset at Taunton are a very different proposition for both their batsmen and bowlers than their own turgid Bristol wicket. If some pace and bounce can be found in the early season pitch Somerset’s bowlers will hold all the aces and in Jack Leach the home side has those extra dimensions of guile and control that no other side in this group has. 

We agreed, after some discussion that we would field an unchanged side although Annie is keen to see Eddie Byrom back in the side she admits she can’t see how he can be accommodated at the moment. With regard to the bowlers she mentions Jack Brooks 3-4 in the second XI game on Monday but agreed with me that he may have to wait until Leicester next week and the possibility of rotation to get his chance. De Lange underperformed with the ball last week, Jason Kerr attributing this to him trying too hard so it is difficult to see him being left out, especially against a Gloucestershire line up he will be familiar with. A quick bowler with a point to prove is not an enticing prospect of any opposing batting line up.

Mention of Brooks brings me on to a new podcast which Annie hosts. Episode 2 of County Cricket Natters was released last evening and as well as another Somerset supporting journo Sam Dalling features as special guest the aforementioned Jack. If you haven’t listened yet I highly recommend it, you can download it here.

“Natters”  is the offspring of County Cricket Matters, which Annie writes for, edits and currently does most other things. For someone who four years ago did not see herself as being a cricket writer and broadcaster it has been a meteoric rise with Being Outside Cricket, Guerilla Cricket and the Cricketer among her palmares already. But it is the County Ground which remains her spiritual home and one where, like all of us, she longs to see Tom Abell lifting a trophy this and many more seasons.

If that’s not enough listening and reading don’t forget Ian Shephard’s Somerset Podcast, now available every Tuesday where Ian, Dan Kingdom, Anthony Gibson and myself talk everything Somerset cricket.   

Finally, a plug for the now weekly BBC Somerset Cricket Show hosted by Charlie Taylor. 

A win for Somerset should be the reasonable expectation despite last week’s result in Bristol. Such a result should take us above our opponents in the nascent table and even at this early stage make a strong case for qualification into Division One at the end of the season. A win achieved without having to come from quite so far behind though would be much appreciated by my nerves.

What a time to be alive for Somerset fans. After the longest, hardest year of all out lives the presence of Tom Abell’s wonderful side is a shining light.