LV County Championship Group 2, Somerset v Middlesex, Taunton, April 29th to May 2nd
You’ve got to love fixture computers haven’t you? The great silicon chips at ECB towers have determined that the County Championship’s fourth week will be a repeat of the opening round. Somerset have yet to play either Hampshire or Surrey but by Sunday will be done with the Lord’s tenants in this phase of the Championship.
We are all familiar with Middlesex with that amazing game at Lord’s three weeks ago still fresh in our memories, the only significant change likely in the visitors line up is the inclusion of Peter Handscomb who skippered the side in last week’s convincing win over Surrey and possible Steve Finn who was “rested” for the season opener.
From Somerset’s point of view everyone appears to be fit so it is just a question of whether there will be any changes in the batting order and / or rotation in the bowling. I’d like to see Jack Brooks given a go on Thursday in place of Marchant de Lange. Brooks is too good a bowler to be kicking his heels in the seconds and having proved his fitness over the last few weeks should be a serious contender.
De Lange is, I suspect, a little disappointed in his performances so far. It is hard for him to be a direct comparison with the phenomenal Craig Overton but the comparison exists. Additionally, De Lange seems to me suited to the surface the Aegas Bowl has produced this season so a rest ahead of that game might be the right strategy.
Talking of surfaces, Somerset will hope that the pitch for the next four days will show a little more pace and less inclination to go to sleep than it did two weeks ago. The weather forecast looks a little mixed so overhead and surface conditions may be more suited to the bowlers this time around. Conditions ideally suited to Lewis Gregory?
If the bowlers do have the climatic advantage the Somerset top order will face another stiff examination against a very good Middlesex seam attack. The hope has to be that Toms Abell and Lammonby continue where they left off on Saturday at Leicester and the encouraging signs Anthony Gibson talked about on last evening’s Somerset Podcast that Tom Banton shaped well in both innings before getting balls that had his name on them.
James Hildreth, who made a hundred the last time these sides met in the Championship in 2017, is too good a player not to score big runs soon but even with all his experience it would be nice to see that small monkey lifted off his back this week. Hildreth has been poised closely behind fourth placed Bill Alley in Somerset’s all time run scorers. Would a flowing Hildreth hundred be the perfect way for him to move up that table.
What we all need to remember if some of the Somerset top order do not make significant contributions in this game is that it does not mean they should be dropped. Patience will be rewarded with this talented bunch. So while it is tempting to play an extra batsman and ask Abell and Lammonby to share the role of fourth seamer I will stick with the batting order as is again. My only caveat to this would be to seriously consider moving Jack Leach up the order if Somerset have a short session (say up to 10 overs) to bat at the end of any of the first three days. Leach’s organisation, talent and temperament have never been in doubt, his technique continues to improve to the point where this option on an occasional basis should be considered.
Can you imagine if Taunton Deane’s finest was to mark his 100th first-class appearance for Somerset with a ton after having opened the batting late on the first evening? Far-fetched I know but just imagine.
The competition is now taking shape in all three groups but there is a long way to go. While we sit in third I believe topping the group is still well within reach, especially with two games against Hampshire still to come. Hampshire travel to the Oval hoping that the surface will be a little more evenly balanced between bat and ball than two weeks ago and that the brown caps will continue their poor form. Runs and wickets for a hopefully recalled Jamie Overton to stop the Hampshire momentum in its tracks. As for our friends up the M5 they face a Leicestershire side who, based on the evidence of last week, could put in a performance to upset their hosts and prove they aren’t the also-rans of the group.