There is no doubt that Somerset under-performed in the last two year’s Blast competitions, failing to qualify for the knockout stages on both occasions. While no side is entitled to make the last eight it is a poor reflection of the talent in this squad and needs to be addressed.
Standards are high and expectations likewise, so the target has to be finals day. From there it is a little bit of a lottery with luck playing its part but surely Lewis Gregory’s side is owed some of that at Edgbaston.
The format is the same as 2019, Somerset finding themselves in the south group with games home and away against the other eight teams. We start today with our red-ball nemesis, Essex.
While the first team has been focussed on the championship the second XI have been warming up in the shortest format. From the four matches they played last week there was only one win, over Glamorgan by 8 wickets with few pointers to the 1st XI competition. Of the likely first team squad Max Waller continued to impress, while Tom Banton was promoted back to the 1st XI red ball side missing out on the bulk of the games. Tom Lammonby still appears to be missing the touch he showed in 2020.
There were two second XI fixtures arranged for Monday and Tuesday this week against Gloucestershire & Worcestershire. The first resulted in an easy win by Somerset against a reasonably strong Gloucestershire side who only managing to reach a tally of 148/9 including a 50 by their NZ T20 input Glenn Phillips, and 2 wickets apiece for Max Waller, Jack Brooks (who bowled the ‘death’ over) and Roloef van der Merwe.
Impressive batting again by Tom Banton, 38 runs off 13 balls with 6 sixes, and James Hildreth, surprising us all by opening with 58 off 36 balls with 4 fours and 4 sixes. RvdM batted at 3 where he had first made his mark in this competition for Somerset made 28 and Tom Abell (23 not out) saw Somerset over the line to win in 12.4 overs.
But we can’t we learn much from this outing? Lewis Gregory didn’t bowl, Marchant didn’t play and we didn’t get to see the rest of the batting order, which makes picking the side that will play this evening quite difficult. My side, a combination of personal preference and reading the runes from Monday and yesterday (which was effectively the shadow squad) is, in batting order:
Banton, Hildreth, van der Merwe, Abell, Byrom (I’d have given George a go but he’s not in the squad), Gregory, Lammonby, Green, Aldridge, Brooks, Waller
A deep batting line up and plenty of bowling options to give the flexibility needed if one of Tom L, Kasey or Ben has an off day and it is worth remembering that Lewis didn’t fare very well with the ball in the Big Bash over the winter. Many will be surprised that I’ve gone with Brooks over Marchant. I would like to see them alternate the death bowler role, Jack has certainly been doing that for the 2nds. And one thing last year should have taught the brains trust is that you need experience at the death!
As for Essex, after winning it in 2019 they had a pretty abysmal time of it last year and failed to qualify for the knock out. They will be hoping that Simon Harmer can inspire the team and that they can put their disappointing four day form behind them. I’m quietly confident of a win this evening to get Somerset’s campaign up and running.
Jason Kerr refers to the shortest form being one of fine margins and it is therefore hard to predict the four most likely to qualify in the south group but if we look at it objectively you would have to say that Somerset, Hampshire and Surrey are the three favourites. Gloucestershire, perennially a thorn in Somerset’s T20 side have seen their form collapse in the Championship and I think they will struggle to turn it around while Glamorgan and Kent look to have a lot to do to finish in the top half. A Rashid Khan-less Sussex for at least the first half of the campaign.
But the Blast usually throws up a surprise or two so I’m not going to rule out one of the three I mentioned as favourites not qualifying and there being a surprise package. Please please just don’t let be either Gloucestershire or Kent!
SomersetNorth will continue to try to provide extensive coverage of Somerset’s games and the competition as a whole but I’m keen to get help from anyone who fancies writing a match report for me, especially for the home games if you are there in person. If you are interested in having a go please use the contact me facilities on the site.