From Florida to Portugal Everyone Wants the Answers I Do

Are we all guilty of looking in the wrong direction? Shouldn't the issue of the surfaces at Taunton be addressed?

I have received two messages in the last two days from two very intelligent cricket fans I know well and respect very much both asking the same question, to paraphrase, “what is going on with the wicket at Taunton?” One question, from the Lancastrian, was phrased with genuine interest, the other from a Middlesex fan with a little more needle. But the sentiment expressed in both is worthy of a proper response.

I’ve felt for several years that the Somerset hierarchy have been getting it wrong with pitch preparation. I know a little about the difficulty of preparing surfaces for good cricket having served as an unpaid assistant to the legendary Cecil Buttle during my summer holidays at Taunton Deane but I’m not claiming to be an expert.

What Cec did drill into me was that he wanted as far as possible a true surface with a little movement but plenty of pace and bounce. His mantra was to prepare a pitch that the good players, batters and bowlers would be able to get something out of.

Somerset have had an abundance of bowling talent in recent history so why have we felt the need to prepare surfaces that initially assisted Jack Leach and Dom Bess and now seem tailored to Somerset’s plethora of quality seamers? 

Don’t get me wrong I am not in any way denigrating the achievements of the aforementioned spinners or of Craig, Josh, Lewis, Jack and Peter. I am on the contrary praising them as I believe they would outbowl most county attacks on any surface. Indeed they have proved this around the country over recent years. 

I may be guilty of my memory playing tricks on me but I seem to remember that in the glory years we never prepared surfaces tailored for Joel Garner and Ian Botham. Like Craig, Jack et al they would have out-bowled anyone on anything. The period of Jimmy Cook was one where Taunton was known as the “road” of the county circuit, something that produced loads of runs, very little interesting cricket, and no chance of Andy Caddick bowling Somerset to a title. But it seems we have swung way to far the other way.

I said on last week’s podcast that the sort of surfaces we saw around the country in week one of the season weren’t going to enhance the case for Championship cricket’s primacy. No one wants to see 550-7 declared play 487-4, to go back to Cecil Buttle we want to see an even balance.

But, we all have to admit that Taunton has fallen to far on the wrong side of that balance.

Financially it is not good for the club. Think of the lost revenue yesterday and today in beautiful weather over a bank holiday weekend. So even if the coaches want something specific for a game there should be some checks and balances in place.

Every Somerset supporter wants desperately for us to win our first-ever title. I’m pretty sure that most like me want us to win it fair and square. To do that we need to make consistent runs in red-ball cricket. If we do we have the bowling to propel us where we want to go. But at present we are asking young batters to develop skill, confidence and outputs on surfaces that are at best challenging.

We seem capable of producing fantastic surfaces for the white-ball stuff so I can’t understand why we can do the same for the longest format. A surface that is capable of lasting four days and provides Jack Leach – who was effectively a specialist batsman in this game – with an opportunity to bowl on the last day without returning to Ciderabad would do just nicely thank you.

Sorry but it is not good enough and it needs to change and change quickly. For the future of our batsmen, for the credibility of our club and to avoid further awkward questions and gentle needling from correspondents!

I’d really like to hear something from Somerset in the not-too-distant future on pitch preparation. Anyone else out there feel the same?