Somerset’s First Division One Game of 2021?

A week is a long time in the County Championship. Seven days ago Somerset were trailing Hampshire by 16 points with the then leaders heading to The Oval to take on an ailing Surrey side. Now that deficit has been wiped out with Tom Abell’s side leading their opponents this week by a single point thanks to yet another come from behind Somerset win and Surrey’s thrashing of Hampshire by an innings and a shade under 300 runs.

Hampshire v Somerset, County Championship Group 2, The Ageas Bowl, Southampton, May 6th to 10th 2021

What these results don’t change is that Hampshire remain one of the favourites in this group possessing an experienced batting line up including the conundrum that is James Vince and the still under-rated Sam Northeast. Liam Dawson remains one of the finest all-rounders in county cricket and in the two A’s Abbas and Abbott are two devastating opening bowlers.

With the format of this season’s Championship there is every possibility that this could be Somerset’s first division one game of the year. Of course there is a lot of cricket yet to be played and Gloucestershire for one will argue they have a say in the group before then, but the prospect of the points from this game counting in September adds an extra edge.

Somerset fans will need no reminding of the damage Abbot can do after he singlehandedly beat us in September 2019, a defeat that ultimately cost us the title and, so urban myth has it, earned Abbot the Essex player of the month award for September!

The Rose / Ageas bowl has not been a happy hunting ground for Somerset over the last few years. You have to go back to 2015 to find the last Somerset win since then there have been 2 draws and in 2018 and 2019 two defeats. 

Somerset’s selection has been deliciously complicated by Lewis Goldsworthy’s performance over the weekend. Assuming his Christian namesake is as expected able to return Jason Kerr had to decide whether to stick with the Abell / Lammonby combination as the fourth seamer, leave out Jack Leach or drop a batsman. 

It seems both a heresy and unlikely that Leach will miss out, Dawson and Crane both played against Gloucestershire last week bowling 107 overs and picking up 9 wickets. Leach’s namesake Brooks looked well below his best in his substitute appearance on Saturday so if a bowler is to come back in De Lange seems the most likely bet. I’d also like to see the new ball pairing from last year of Craig and Josh restored. They showed in Gregory’s absence on Saturday that they are a lethal new ball pairing. Their battle with Abbas and Abbott will be key.

Simon Lee, Dawson and Crane Prospering? Just Saying!

Jason Kerr, as ever, gave little away in his post-match press conference on Sunday although he did hint that the top order will be under scrutiny again. Banton, rightly or wrongly, looked the most vulnerable and was omitted from the squad announced on Wednesday. Abell should, much to Anthony Gibson’s delight, move up to open with Bartlett likely to revert to 3 where he batted in his first season. The portents are good however, the last time Somerset won in Southampton in 2015 Abell made 88 and 21* in a nine-wicket triumph partnering Marcus at the top of the order.

Marchant de Lange, who many felt was rested last week ahead of this game looks likely to return and will no doubt relish both the opportunity and the head to head with Kyle Abbott. One game after Jack Leach passed the milestone of 100 first-class games for Somerset Craig Overton will follow tomorrow. A ten-wicket match would be a fitting way to mark the landmark.

These are two evenly matched sides. Hampshire have to my mind over-performed this season so far. I don’t buy the view that they are the best side in the group which their draw with Gloucestershire and their trouncing at The Oval in their last two games seem to bear out. But they have five or six high-class performers any of who could make a match-winning contribution. Again the contest between the Somerset top-order and the opposition’s new ball bowlers will get most of the attention in the build-up but I believe Craig and Josh more than capable of out bowling their opposition counterparts. 

Somerset this season have been the epitome of great side in so far as they have been winning (with one notable exception) while not playing well. The pessimistic view is that they cannot continue to under-perform and pull wins out of losing positions, the optimistic one that they will surely click in all departments at the same time soon. A start by shelling less slip catches would help!

With the weather forecast looking changeable and Saturday particularly poor we may need something pretty spectacular to happen in a significantly curtailed game to produce a result. As draw would not be a bad result for either side, especially if Middlesex can turn Gloucestershire over at Lords. But in this most competitive of groups don’t expect anything to be cut and dried regarding the top two until much deeper into the competition.

As for the result, I am the eternal weather pessimist, so I am going to go for a rain-affected draw while hoping of course for a convincing win!