Tough and Competent

Somerset have a big part to play in the destiny of the county championship this week, even though, sadly, they cannot win it. But after a tough three weeks the need for a performance for both our own sakes and the integrity of the competition is paramount

For the first time since 2017 we get to the last week of the Championship and Somerset are out of the race. That’s a pretty remarkable record when you think of it but it doesn’t make it easier to bear. 

This year’s denouement could be the most exciting and dramatic since 2016 or 2010, both years which saw us finish second so in a way it is a bit of a relief to sit back and watch others suffer. But that is not to say that Somerset does not have a hand in the destination of the trophy as they face second placed Warwickshire at Edgbaston starting tomorrow.

At a time when the credibility of the County Championship is being attacked on many sides, not least by the governing body, it is important that the integrity of the competition is maintained in this last round. So while Lancashire host Hampshire with the latter having a four point advantage, Somerset face Warwickshire (3.5 points behind the leaders) and Yorkshire, also out of title contention travel to Trent Bridge to face fourth placed Nottinghamshire. 

The temptation is for both Yorkshire and Somerset to “rest and rotate” and in Somerset’s case give the likes of Jamie Rew and Sonny Baker experience. But that should not happen, not out of any lack of confidence in these young stars but because we owe it to the teams in contentions to put out the strongest possible side and put on the best performance we can.

I can hear the keyboards chattering already as some jump straight in along the lines of, “well the strongest side hasn’t exactly competed over the last three weeks has it?” and that is fair but it is not the point. Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of Hampshire, Lancashire and Notts and imagine one of our title rivals were opposed by a less than full strength side and that decided the title against us. I’m guessing the vast majority wouldn’t be happy?

Selecting the strongest side is, relatively, the easy bit. The far harder task is to put in a performance at Edgbaston this week. We have all heard the words coming out of the dressing room about being used to winning games, pride in playing for the county and how much it is hurting all concerned. But how to turn it round.    

Going way off on a tangent in my mind on Saturday evening, bear with me here, gave me a thought. It has been a week for my interest in all things space. Not only was I lucky enough to talk to BBC Sky at Night presenter and astrophysics professor Chris Lintott (a westcountryman and Somerset supporter) but space history was made with the successful three day orbital flight of Space-X’s Inspiration 4.  

And that got me thinking back to the legendary days of NASA Mission Control. In the immmediate aftermath of the loss of the Apollo 1 crew, astronauts Grissom, Chaffey and White, in January 1967. Gene Krantz, lead flight director called his team together and gave a short but inspirational speech in which he told his controllers that from that day forth they would be “tough and competent”, that they would write that on the blackboards in their offices and remember it every day.

Now I’m not comparing the loss of three county championship games to the loss of the lives of three astronauts. But I sense that the game starting tomorrow is an opportunity to start the route to winning that title. When Krantz spoke to his team he had under three years to fulfil the late JFK’s target to put a man on the moon. 30 months later the Eagle landed.  

If like me you feel the summit of the County Championship is as far away now as the surface of the moon must have to those in Houston on that late January day 54 years ago we need to take the first positive step tomorrow. There is no doubt that the passion beats hard within the dressing room, I’ve witnessed first-hand that in Andy Hurry and Tom Abell in particular. That passion needs to be focussed now, play hard, keep to doing the basics and see where that takes us.

As I write this on Monday I have no idea how this will play out. The fact that Lancashire are playing at Aigburth adds further complication to the equation. I suspect that will be a positive result by Thursday and my gut favours Lancashire. Somerset and Yorkshire’s relative performances could well in that situation determine the destination of the title. Notts will need to better Warwickshire’s performance by three and a half points and Lancashire’s by three if they are to prevails so every run and every wicket could be crucial. It promises to be very exciting and I for one can’t wait for 10:30 tomorrow morning.

And then there is the purely parochial hope that Somerset can put in a performance that sends us off into the long and dark winter with something good to remember from Edgbaston.