Somerset start their four game bid for the 2021 county championship tomorrow. A period as important as any in their history. And every Somerset supporter has a big part to play. I make no apology for writing this rallying cry today as it is as more important that ever that #WeAreSomerset is something we can all be proud of over the next few weeks. Let’s all be as classy and positive off the field as Tom Abell’s side is on it.
Four County Championship games lie ahead over the next four weeks. Four games which will determine if Somerset can finally end their history long wait for a first ever first-class title. That in itself is pretty significant but in 2021 the stakes for the county club are far far higher.
As we have already seen one of the anticipated detrimental effects of The Hundred has begun to manifest itself. Sussex, a non-test match, non-franchise club will say goodbye to Phil Salt and Chris Jordan at the end of this season the pair leaving for Lancashire / Manchester Originals and Surrey / Oval Invincibles respectively. Those moves will not be the last.
Before you say that this has no relevance to Somerset take a moment to stop and think as it very definitely does.
The future of the current then county clubs not directly associated with a franchise is coming ever more under threat. And Somerset, whether we like it or not are one of those ten. We may be the most fortunate of that group, if such a thing is possible, but the future of our club is under attack from the malevolent force that is the ECB under its current leadership.
There are many who fear, and far too many who advocate, an eight franchise championship as well. The utterly horrible prospect that Somerset may never win a red-ball title could loom larger and larger over the next few years.
Somerset released a very moving and very clever short video ahead of Thursday’s quarter-final where a number of the players spoke eloquently about what it means to them to play for SCCC. At first sight this was aimed at the supporters ahead of the Lancashire game but if you think about it it was as much to remind the players – significantly all were just back from franchise duty – that they are Somerset players and that is something very special.
I’m not for one minute suggesting that we have members of the current first team squad who are on the verge of leaving. But if the franchise counties continue to benefit disproportionately from Harrison’s monstrous love child in the coming seasons the financial imbalance will grow. From there the potential for Somerset players to be offered significantly more money to spend their summers in Southampton or Nottingham will only increase.
And before you jump to criticise any player for being tempted, despite a deep-seated loyalty to Somerset just imagine you are approached tomorrow by a competitor of the business you work for and are offered double to treble what you are currently earning to do the same job for them. How far would your loyalty to your current bosses and customers go then?
Somerset cricket though does have a lot going for it that counties like Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Northants don’t. We have a strong academy with deep roots in the local communities and evidence of graduates of that system moving into the first XI on a regular basis. We have a greater local identity that probably any county (Yorkshire supporters will argue strongly otherwise I suspect) and have over the last 10+ years been consistently in the top two or three in all formats – an achievement that none of the other 17 can match.
And as Thursday showed there really is noting like a full house at Taunton. That is not a new phenomena, although T20 and floodlights have helped, but something that I was lucky enough to first experience in the seventies. There is no doubt though that we have something very special. When Matt Roller, writing for ESPN Cricinfo describes Taunton as “the spiritual home of T20 cricket” you sit up and take notice. We are part of something very special. We are blessed with an abundance of talent who make us proud to support Somerset. And we must do everything we’re can to ensure it continues.
EVERY SUPPORTER MATTERS
Each and every Somerset supporter has a part to play, especially over the next month. We need to all act in a positive and classy way as the club’ fortunes ebb and flow, as they inevitably will. If you are moved to write something spontaneous or critical on social media please take a moment before posting. We all experience the frustration and exasperation that a poor few overs or a session brings. But this is four day cricket and as this Somerset side regularly shows all is not lost until the final wicket falls or winning run is scored.
I’ve seen so many things over the last few days on Twitter and Facebook that have made me wince and several which have made me on the edge of ashamed to be associated with the comments of fellow Somerset “supporters”. It does not represent the club or the players fairly and serves no positive purpose. I want neutrals and supporters of other counties to say to themselves if and when Tom Abell hoists silverware in September that they are pleased for Somerset cricket as a whole.
So I ask that we all focus on following the example of Tom Abell. By all means wear your loyalty to the club prominently but so so in a mature, classy and impressive way.
Not only will your positivity help the players achieve what we all want this season but it will further strengthen the bond between players, club and supporters that is such a big element of what we are all part of.
Before you accuse me of some form of Sporting Totalitarianism I am not for one moment advocating that. Of course we all have a right to express our own opinions but if you could humour me and just temper it a little or better still keep it private that would, I strongly believe, help hugely.
A TASK MADE TOUGHER
The task facing the side is a tough one, make no mistake. And while many we feel we have earned an entitlement to win it all this year that does not guarantee success. We have four tough games against sides like us who have earned the right to fight it out for the title. They will all believe as they arrive at their games tomorrow that they have as much right as we do to lift the trophy at the end of September.
The task is made harder by the depletion of the bowling attack which has carried us to the place we are again this season. Craig Overton will surely be given the rest of the India series and so will be unavailable for all or most of the division one campaign. Doubts remain over Lewis Gregory’s ability to contribute with the ball and both Marchant de Lange and Jack Brooks will need to step up a level if they are to fill the void. A heavy onus will rest on Josh Davey alongside a hope that his fitness allows him to finish the season. Sonny Baker may yet be a key part of the last month.
The possibility that Jack Leach will be available for the rest of the domestic season is an enticing one. I for one cannot see England wanting to play two spinners against India preferring to rely on Moeen and use Joe Root as needed. The possibility that Jack Leach will spin Somerset to a title on the sort of surfaces he relishes grows ever stronger. With the possibility of playing both the other two left arm spinners, especially for the strength they give to the batting, Somerset’s bowling may well look very different from what we saw earlier this year.
The two games at Taunton against Notts starting tomorrow and Lancashire in two weeks time are must not lose games. A win and a good draw from those two would do very nicely. Scarborough will almost certainly be a result wicket, weather permitting. If all goes well we will arrive en mass at Edgbaston in three weeks time with everything to play for. I have this dream that Birmingham will be transformed into a sea of Maroon and Black for the last four days of the season.
Mention of Edgbaston also brings to mind that Somerset are back at Finals day. An all cough group finals day with, delightfully only one of the four being from Harrison’s chosen few. We all know that the short form is a very volatile format but there is nothing to suggest that Somerset could not pick up two trophies in the space of a few days in Birmingham.
If sheer willpower from captain, players and supporters could be converted into points there is no doubt that that glorious possibility would become reality. But please please please each and every one of you play your part and make your county proud over the next month.