I’ve come to realise over the years that being a Somerset supporter means taking a fair bit of punishment. We are a pretty introspective lot as a result so it is interesting when someone from outside the county writes about us. Thomas Blow, a Yorkshireman has done just that in his recently published Kings in Waiting, Somerset’s Quest to Win the County Championship.
The book focusses on the 2010s, and specifically the five runners up CC seasons. A chapter on each in all the gory detail! And concludes with a chapter which asks the questions all Somerset fans want the answer to be, “Yes and very very soon”, more on that later.
I spoke to Tom last week and started by asking him why write about Somerset? His answer is concise and charming, “I’ve always found Somerset fascinating as a club” he says. “so many great players, such an attractive style of cricket”. But blow is also in full admiration of the people who have shaped the current version of the club, identifying Brian Rose, Justin Langer and Andy Hurry as the three most influential figures in creating what we now have at Taunton.
But reading this book is a cathartic experience for a number of reasons. Firstly it makes you realise that we are not alone, there is a broad spectrum of the cricket loving public who want Somerset to win it all almost as much as we do. Secondly, it affirms what I have long felt that Somerset are most people’s second team and thirdly it belies a degree of envy that our county has been so consistently successful for the last decade.
Now before all the naysayers jump on that last sentence and say that success equals winning the Championship let me explain. As Blow writes others have won the championship in the last decade but then fallen back into mid-table mediocrity or been relegated. In eight of the last 10 seasons Somerset have been in contention and in five finished runners up to Notts, Lancashire, Surrey and Essex twice.
Blow is intrigued by the way Somerset keep putting themselves in a position to win and then fortune fails to smile. From Kieron Pollard’s injury in the 2010 T20 final to the weather frustrating the attempt to beat Essex in the final game of the decade there is a constant theme throughout the decade. Something always happens, someone is always just a little more fortunate that Somerset.
Comparing Somerset to Blow’s native Yorkshire the conclusion seems to be that Somerset have been able to punch above their weight. With a population around a tenth of Yorkshire’s Somerset have built a talent pathway that is second to none in the country taking advantage of the wider West Country while maintaining the club’s unique identity.
This all comes through loud and clear in the conversations Blow has had with the players from the last decade which are dotted throughout the book. And that for me is what makes this book different and engaging for Somerset supporters. To read that the players were feeling what we were feeling, suffering through the disappointments in the same way we were and returning season after season with the same sense of optimism sets this book apart. It is uplifting while being sad, if such a thing is possible.
I couldn’t resist reminding Tom that his county is benefitting from our development system in the form of Dom Bess while asking why Yorkshire are unable to produce their own quality spinners. The response to my tease is perfect, as Somerset are finding with opening batsmen your academy cannot produce talent in every position at just the right time but equally important to the development programme is the willingness, albeit reluctant, to allow players to move on. Failing to do so only discourages future stars from entering the pathway in the first place.
We also touched on the current format of the Championship – he is not a fan preferring the two division set up, the Bob Willis Trophy Final – even more not a fan and the success of the live streams and county commentaries. I offer Blow the chance to be ECB chairman for a day and ask what change(s) he would make but beyond these two points he is sensibly diplomatic!
Back to the book. As we move from 2010 through 2012 and the gut-wrenching denouement of 2016 the same themes emerge, repeated after the blip of 2017 in the last two years of the decade. Somerset are widely seen as the best or one of the best two teams but somehow the fates contrive to not allow us to be the best on the crucial day.
Which leads us on the question I referred to at the start. Will we ever win it? You are going to have to buy the book and read it yourself to get the full 14-page answer but in summary the conclusion is that it is inconceivable that any club, especially one as well run and with so much talent as Somerset can fail to lift the holy grail in the near future. Blow is certain, from his conversations with the players that they continue to believe. Comforting, reassuring but no guarantee.
Whether you have lived and breathed every ball of the last decade, have a less fanatical interest or are just a cricket lover fascinating by our most wonderful county this is a book that you will enjoy reading.
Published by Pitch Publishing and, as Tom reminds me, available from all good booksellers this is the perfect book to read with a cold glass of cider on a warm summers evening.