No cricket for Somerset CCC for a week now and no cricket for another week but plenty to discuss. So what started out as a review of the One Day Cup campaign has broadened somewhat in the last 48 hours.
It feels to me that we’ve made three new signings for different reasons. Tom Abell’s return from injury, Jack Leach’s release from England duties and Azhar Ali’s return for the bulk of the rest of the season.
Any of these in isolation would be a huge boost to any county before the division one campaign starts. All three? It’s hard not to be pretty optimistic isn’t it?
Tom Abell is Back – You Never Appreciate What You Have Until It’s Gone
I suspect the news on Tuesday evening that Tom Abell was fit to play in his franchise’s last game would have lifted the spirits of all Somerset fans. And probably seen more than a few sneak a look at the coverage of that other competition to see it for their own eyes.
You cannot underestimate the importance of the skipper to the final phase of the season. You never appreciate what you have until it is gone and Abell’s absence for 2 months proves that truism. With the positions of the England captain and number three both looking likely to be available in the not-too-distant future Tom will want to put his name at the forefront of the selectors minds when they select the Ashes squad.
But, for this proud Tauntonian, there is no need for extra motivation. Those of us who have seen Tom grow as the club’s leader will know how much our club means to him and how much he wants to bring that elusive first title to Taunton.
Jack Leach Welcomed Back with Open Arms
There are two cricket clubs in Taunton who will have been delighted to hear the news that Jack Leach has been released from England captivity, Somerset and Taunton Deane. Both will have a big role to play in the next few weeks to help Jack put the last few weeks behind him.
It is no defence or excuse to say that Leach’s treatment by England over the last year has been a result of the pandemic. The fact is that, for whatever reason the coach and captain of the national side seem to feel that our Jack can be treated as he has. It is not acceptable.
All Somerset supporters want to see their players progress to and succeed in the international arena but not at the price of the mental damage their treatment can cause. Leach is not alone, Dom Bess and Ton Banton have both spoken openly about their mental health issues in recent months.
I do not think for one minute that this is another conspiracy against Somerset rather incompetence and mismanagement of the highest order. It is all the more disappointing that Leach has never let England down. In fact he has been the standout performer on the majority of his appearances.
But Leach is back with us now and it is vital that we all show him the love he so richly deserves. We know he is the best spin bowler in England. We know he needs a supportive environment to thrive – don’t we all? And we know that Jack Leach is capable of propelling Somerset toward red-ball silverware. We all have a part to play over the next few weeks.
England’s loss is Somerset’s gain.
Azhar’s Return – The More You Think About It The More You Love It
Having had a day and a half to think about Somerset’s overseas signing for the rest of 2021 I am convinced this is a great move. The harshest of critics will say Azhar is no Devon Conway, and that is true. But with the phenomenal New Zealander not available the return of a man who knows his way around Taunton is a great one. He has remained close to his former team-mates and knows what it is like to bat in the County Championship at the end of the season.
The One Day Cup Review – Plenty of Development
If your objective is to provide a reasonable balanced review of a Somerset performance it is always best to let the emotional dust settle on a game, week, competition or season before committing finger to keypad. When the competition is one that has been subject to the vagaries of the ECB’s plan for English domestic cricket and the accompanying heat generated on social media.
Add in the piquancy that being reigning champions gives a biased supporter and it’s fair to say that feelings were running pretty high in Somerset North Towers on last Thursday and Friday.
I can’t help but keep coming back to the words of Somerset CEO Gordon Hollins in his former life at the ECB. This was much more than a development competition producing wonderful cricket, tight finishes and plenty of out-grounds, an alchemy that for the vast majority of cricket lovers was perfect.
The only shame for me was that the opportunity early August provides to have some really good floodlit evenings was missed with hardly any games being day night. Ironically the final tomorrow will be such. You would almost think that the powers that be had some other form of cricket that they wanted people to give their undivided attention! Even the final, which was scheduled as a day-nighter didn’t make it to twilight although that was more of a timing issue than a reflection on the game itself.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. The fact is that Somerset didn’t make it to the knockout phase a result of failing to win any of their last four games. Those defeats were on the whole due to the frailties of an inexperienced bowling attack being bettered by more experienced batting line-ups.
There can be no criticism of the highly promising trio of Kasey Aldridge, Ned Leonard and Sonny Baker. Rather a reflection of the roes they were forced to play with for various reasons Jack Brooks, Marchant de Lange and Ben Green unable to provide the spine of the bowling attack.
There were plenty of positives however, the joy of watching James Hildreth and Steve Davies score runs aplenty. The continued development of Lewis Goldsworthy. The signs of a light at the end of George Bartlett’s tunnel to name a few. Ben Green showed in his presence and his absence that he is a serious top-level cricketer and leader.
Of the established batsmen only Eddie Byrom failed to deliver and, sadly, one must fear that he will ever fulfil his promise at Somerset. If it is not to be I hope that he will find another county that does.
But sad as it was for Byrom there is huge encouragement for all Somerset fans that there is a huge bunch of talent ready to step up to first XI standard in the near future. While we did not see enough of him there is something about James Rew especially that excites me hugely.
The task for these youngsters now is to return to 2nd XI red ball cricket and continue their development mindful that one or more of them may yet be needed in the Championship run in. If they are no Somerset supporter should, after the last month, have any fears. We’ll be keeping tabs on the second string next week when Seconds Watch returns
But as the knockout phase unfolded the reality of the uphill struggle Somerset faced in attempting to defend their title became apparent. The task was hard enough as it was without the injuries and self-isolation requirements that reduced the squad in the CEO’s words, to “one ping away from being unable to field a side”
I’m happy to admit I was wrong with my optimism of mid-July. The folly of my belief that Ben Green’s side could go all the way against sides such as Essex, Durham, Glamorgan and Gloucestershire all who were hardly affected by “the draft”.
Taking a step back to look finally at the competition it was a huge success for county cricket. It will go unnoticed by the powers that be. Sadly. But for all of us who love county cricket this was a competition to treasure. Anyone who saw how much the final meant to the two teams will know that the players were, like the fans, fully invested in the one-day cup.
Put yourself in the place of a lifelong Glamorgan fan at Trent Bridge last evening. In all his time supporting the county they had never won a one-day cup. Hadn’t won anything since 2004. And yet here was a side of mainly local guys most of who have come through the county academy, supplemented by a 40-year-old Aussie who is as Welsh as it is possible for him to be.
That Mr ECB is tradition. History, Cultural roots and pride. And even you cannot create that with some unhealthy snacks and rap music.