A Must Win? Possibly, Maybe

I really really want Somerset to win this one. After the disappointing performance and result at Taunton last month, a trouncing along the lines of either last season's Bob Willis Trophy clash or the similar innings win the last time the two sides met in red ball cricket at Bristol in 2007 would do nicely thank you

Gloucestershire v Somerset, County Championship Group 2, Bristol, May 20th to 23rd  2021, Preview

I still can’t get my head around Gloucestershire being top of this group. They are only there because of Somerset’s 8 point deduction at present but do have a game in hand and gained a significant advantage from having last weekend off while Somerset and Surrey watched the lakes form on the Taunton outfield.

But top they are and they shouldn’t be. They are a team that are punching above their weight in my mind, a team where the whole is far greater than the sum of their parts. They have the exceptional James Bracey who almost singlehandedly won the game at Taunton last month in their ranks (now finally getting the England recognition he deserves, let’s just hope he is not in the squad for New Zealand and does get a game) but beyond that they are nothing special.

So what are they doing right and can it continue? 

The new coaching set up is a huge reason. Ian Harvey and Mark Alleyne were fine cricketers and are clearly doing a lot of things right and they have a home ground which perfectly suits their style of play and talents. Of course because it is a surface at Bristol that is “bland” it will never draw the attention of the pitch inspectors so they carry on producing pitches that are anathema to good cricket offering little assistance to stroke-making, fast bowling and quality spin.

I’ve made it clear on this site before that I don’t like Gloucestershire. Despite three years doing my degree in Bristol and ironically living for some of that time in the road right behind the pavilion I am not one of those Somerset supporters with a soft spot for our fellow Westcountrymen.

Without going over old ground this enmity is a result of the scars that Proctershire inflicted on a young me. My, slightly warped, memory is that our nearest neighbours always get the better of us. Clearly in the last decade and a bit that has been in white ball but imagine my surprise when I looked back at Somerset’s record at Bristol in first-class cricket since my cricket watching life began – Played 28, Won 8, Lost 9, Drawn 11, a far more even analysis than I expected.

Somerset have however only won once at Bristol since 1998, a stat distorted by the absence of Gloucestershire from division one since Somerset’s promotion in 2007. That title winning year in division 2 did however produce a convincing result a win by an innings and 151 runs where remarkably 401-7 declared was more than enough with a rampant Andy Caddick (12-71) bowling the home side out twice for under 150. A repeat replacing Craig, Lewis or Josh for Caddy would do very nicely this week.

There is a contradiction in my mind about this game. While Somerset really do need to win to keep pace at the top of the group is this a “Division One game” making the points carry forward into September very important or will, as I still expect / hope, Gloucestershire slip back allowing Somerset and Hampshire to qualify? 

While the weather forecast suggests a positive result may be difficult we have to hope that my weather app’s prediction that it is going to rain throughout most of the next four days is wrong. I fear not.

A draw would, if we qualify with Gloucestershire, leave us with a disadvantage come September, not an insurmountable one but not an ideal way to start the group. With the weather forecasts in Southampton (started today) and London looking little better there is every chance it will be as you are after this round of games but a win for Hampshire, who host Leicestershire or Surrey who welcome the currently hapless Middlesex, would deal another blow to Somerset’s hopes. The fact that only 26.2 overs were possible in Southampton today has done Somerset no harm. 

Making the big assumption that there is play the hope has to be that the surface is more conducive to Somerset’s style of play and that the ECB allow Craig and Jack to play. You would hope that the fact they are included in the squad is an indication of that and there will not be a repeat of the hokey-cokey that was Craig’s inclusion / exclusion last week

Steve Davies has clearly recovered from his surgery as he is back in the squad while Tom Banton drops out. I expect to see the same XI that won in Hampshire so no place for either Marchant or Roelof.

While this isn’t a must win in terms of qualification for Division 1 a positive result would be very useful both to cement Somerset’s place in the group but also put a dent in that lot’s chances. A defeat wouldn’t be terminal but it would make the task of winning it all in September much much harder. 

With Hampshire next (after a week off) Tom Abell’s side have the opportunity to take control of the group with, weather permitting, a couple of wins or at the very least a win and a draw. One thing is for certain after the Hampshire game things will be much clearer and hopefully, we will all be feeling very positive.