Doing It the Jack Leach Way

Bottle it, whatever “it” is that percolates through Jack Leach's veins and make sure everyone who pulls on a Somerset shirt this summer has a good long swig before each session. If we do you can be assured that every player will have given 100% and that is all we can ask for. And I for one will be more than happy over the next six months to see where that takes us.

So here we go again. That joyous, frustrating, exhilarating, nerve-jangling, gut-wrenching emotional roller coaster that is a summer with Somerset County Cricket Club. I spent the first half of the winter in a complete funk after September’s free fall in the second half switching between optimism and pessimism on a daily basis. To be honest I have no idea how this season will go so I’m not even going to pretend I do.

My uncertainty is a result of both the poor performance of Tom Abell’s side in the last month of 2021 and the highly competitive nature of the top division this year. You could make a good case for most of the sides in the division challenging for the title and equally most struggling to avoid relegation. The lottery of the first few weeks of the season with weather and surface conditions at their most fickle may go a long way to deciding which end the table each of the sides finds itself come September.

So can Somerset bounce back and make an all-important strong start to the 2022 County Championship campaign strongly? They face a tough start, the Rose Bowl has never been a good place to go and despite last year’s superb win late on the last day the toss was pivotal in that game and is likely to be so again this week. Add in the absence of Craig Overton and Jack Leach (thanks ECB) and the fitness questions around Josh Davey and Lewis Gregory there are for once questions around the bowling.

When I’m being positive I see a rejuvenated Jack Brooks and the newly arrived Peter Siddle ripping through the Hampshire batting lineup. What we want to avoid is our bowlers being asked to bowl third and fourth spells this early in the season. As for the batting it goes without saying that we need to eliminate the batting collapses and, with Matt Renshaw unavailable for this game will need one of last year’s supporting cast to step up and support the skipper. The pre-season signs were encouraging with Ben Green (who I expect to open in Renshaw’s absence), Tom Banton and Lewis Goldsworthy all making good runs. Banton, cruelly will miss out as a result of a fracture to a finger sustained up in the Warwickshire game.

And what of James Hildreth? His position in the selection pecking order will remain unanswered for now as a result of Tom Banton’s injury. I’m sure I’m not the only Somerset supporter who has been wondering whether his experience would ensure his selection for the Hampshire game. With Banton unavailable Hildreth seems almost certain to fill his regular place in the batting order. Fate it seems has dealt the Somerset legend an opportunity to make the runs he so needs to restore both his confidence and much needed experienced solidity in the upper-middle order.

James Hildreth – big chance for the Somerset legend

I’d take a draw with a decent haul of bonus points this week, the weather may have a big say though turning this into an exercise in collecting what points we can. I’d expect Gloucs and Essex to make strong starts against Northants and Kent (crucially at Chelmsford)  respectively. The game at Edgbaston where the champions take on Surrey will, for me, tell us a lot about both sides’ prospects for 2022. 

I hope I’m not being overly pessimistic but I’d just like to get to September with something to play for at the right end of the table. I’m hoping that our new batting coach can assist the development of Green, Lammonby, Smeed, Bartlett, Banton and Goldsworthy and unlock the talent we all know Hildy possesses in abundance for a glorious golden summer.

I’m hoping that Tom Abell scores stacks of runs and forces his way into the England reckoning for his batting as well as his leadership.

I’m hoping that Craig returns to lead our attack as well as he has in the last few years and that Josh and Lewis have an injury-free summer and I’m hoping that Peter Siddle demonstrates he is still good enough to play international cricket. If all that happens and Jack Brooks contributes as well we could have a bowling attack more fearsome than the last few years. Now that would be something to see.

Apologies if you think I am being wildly optimistic but if you can’t be like that before a ball is bowled when can you be?

And then there is Jack Leach. A Tauntonian who like his skipper gives absolutely everything and then a good bit more as well. The way he is treated by England you wouldn’t have blamed him if, when he walked out to bat in THAT England first innings he had just given it the long handle. But no… not Jack. If anyone doubted his guts, his desire to get every last ounce out of his ability then his 41 not out in the first innings in the third test should have dispelled them. He faced over twice the number of deliveries Root, Lawrence, Stokes and Bairstow combined and took his side from 90-8 to 204 all out.