My planning schedule for SomersetNorth tells me that today is the day we look ahead to the resumption of the County Championship with the visit of Leicestershire to Taunton starting tomorrow. Seemed logical when I planned it, time to refresh the position in Group 2 in our minds and look at the crucial next 12 days which will decide those all important places in Division One for the season finale.
But then cricket happened. A T20 campaign which has been an amazing success, so far but has thrown Somerset’s season into what can be described without exaggeration as an unprecedented injury crisis.
The initially dreadful weather forecast is improving to the point where we may yet get a meaningful game but tomorrow still looks like being a complete washout. A full strength Somerset side would be confident of beating the “Foxes” who began the season so poorly but our visitors have improved markedly and are still theoretically in with a chance of making one of the top two spots even though they currently lie fifth in the table.
Somerset, as we all know, currently sit atop Group 2 but with Tom Abell, Jack Leach, James Hildreth, Lewis Gregory, Tom Banton and Josh Davey all either injured, self-isolating, unavailable or an injury doubt will be required to dig deep into their squad when the game starts.
If you can predict the starting XI against Leicestershire let alone a reasoned route the game will take I’ll tip my cap to you here and now. Because I haven’t a clue and so won’t waste your time with speculation. Let’s just hope Lewis, Hildy and Josh are fit not just for this game but also the trip to The Oval.
What we can do with clarity is look back on the first phase of The Blast with great satisfaction. A campaign which began with two dreadful performances in the home defeats to Essex and Surrey has been transformed by a side which none of us would have had a great deal of confidence in before the 20-over stuff began. While the inexperience has shone through in the batting collapses on Tuesday at Chelmsford and last night that is to be expected and will be a positive development “learning”. That though was the only defeat in the last nine a round which included four wins on the bounce.
There are so many positives, here are just a few of mine.
– The bowling attack has been far better than last year as was demonstrated again last evening in defending a meagre total at Taunton.
– Merchant de Lange is the bowler I hoped we’d signed and hopefully will take that confidence into the red-ball games;
– Jack Brooks has made a huge contribution;
– Lewis Goldsworthy has matured rapidly and looks to be nailed on as the long-term successor at 4 to James Hildreth;
– Tom Banton is smiling again and making runs;
– Lewis Gregory stuffed the words of his critics back where they came from in the most emphatic fashion;
– Devon Conway!
– And best of all, Will Smeed looks to me to be fulfilling the potential we all new he had but has added power and a range of stroke to what I thought was likely to be a predominantly red-ball game;
As a result a campaign that looked like being at best a chase for one of the qualifying places has been transformed into a bid to top the group or at the very least secure an all-important home quarter final. That, with a full-strength squad would be some achievement but with an injury list stretching back down St James Street it is nothing short of remarkable.
Take a look at the other countries tomorrow and take out of each of their sides four or five of their first choice XI and see what is left. I challenge any of you to find another county that could or would have coped as well as Somerset have in the last two weeks. And, as Mike Unwin regularly reports in “Seconds Watch” Greg Kennis shows no signs of slowing down the production line with the likes of Aldridge, Leonard, Rew, Baird, Young and many more pushing to follow the footsteps of Goldsworthy, Lammonby and Smeed.
But this is, for m, the most treacherous part of the season. The switch today in format is the followed by a T20 game at Hampshire on Friday evening before the four dater at The Oval starting on Sunday and then the two concluding Blast games. For those of you old enough to remember county cricket in the seventies this seems like a gentle fluctuation compared to the season long insanity that was a Sunday League game sandwiched between the first and second days of a Championship contest, often requiring sides to travel half way across the country in the process. But the next two weeks represents a challenge to all counties thanks to the mindlessness of the ECB fixture computer.
Let’s all hope that Somerset’s talented youngsters cope as well with that as they have done with what has been thrown at them so far. SomersetNorth will be with them and you every twist, turn and format change.