Managers of struggling football clubs are fond nowadays of emphasising the importance of their matches against the sides around them in the league. It won’t be the games against the ‘big sides’ that define our season, they say.
Should they wake on Sunday morning with an irresistible urge to don a shiny suit and work their way energetically through a five-pack of Wrigley’s Extra, such a cliché would be an appropriate pre-match soundbite for Matthew Maynard or Mark Robinson to deploy ahead of their sides’ first meeting of the season in Division One of the LV= County Championship at Taunton.
With more or less half the campaign remaining, Somerset and Sussex find themselves neighbours at fifth and sixth in the table, with 98 and 93 points respectively. A win for either side would afford some breathing room on the featureless plains of mid-table mediocrity: unexciting, maybe, but relatively calm and stress-free. A loss, however, and the threat of being dragged onto the relegation battlefield becomes a real possibility.
After their horror start to the season, Somerset are in the better form of the two sides. The west country boys have won three of their last five Championship fixtures, doing the double against Nottinghamshire, now languishing in eighth place, and thumping bottom-side Hampshire inside three days. The other two results? A draw at home against league leaders Yorkshire and a defeat away to second-placed Durham. In all, five games that suddenly make football manager truisms seem like sage-like wisdom. On a decent run, and having enjoyed a week off from Championship action and thereby avoiding the energy-sapping heat that scorched many a county ground during the last round of matches, Somerset will approach this ’32 pointer’ refreshed and in a positive state of mind.
Meanwhile, Sussex will be relieved to have halted a run of three-successive defeats that looked like sending their season into free-fall with a high-scoring draw against Warwickshire at Edgbaston in the last round. For a side with the joint second lowest number of batting bonus points in the division and a runs-per-wicket average for the season of less than 28 (it was barely 25 prior to the last game), the West Midlands run binge which brought Sussex a total of 601/6 declared will have gone some way to restoring their batsmen’s brittle confidence.
Four individual centuries in the match doubled the club’s Championship tally for the season. Steve Magoffin leads an injury ravaged bowling attack, having sent down 131.2 more overs than the next most active Sussex bowler. The evergreen Australian has done sterling work taking 45 wickets at 22.62 runs apiece.
He has been ably supported by young Ollie Robinson who, thrust into regular first team action thanks to Sussex’s bulging folder of ‘off games’ notes, has had his performances rewarded with a nomination for the LV= Breakthrough Player award.
Taunton has retained its high-scoring character so far this season, with over five thousand runs scored in the four Championship matches that the ground has hosted in 2015. Nevertheless, only one of these has ended in a draw, and with two sides having chased down over 400 to win, this is a wicket providing entertaining cricket. In a fixture which both sides will be desperate not to lose, an awareness that almost no score is safe in the fourth innings could lead to conservatism from the captains.
Somerset’s Craig Overton‘s consistent performances with the ball have seen him snare 28 Championship victims so far this season. His average of 15.79 is by far the best for any Division One bowler with more than a hundred overs under his belt. His steepling bounce at a fair old lick at first change has made him a real handful for the circuit’s batsmen. He continues to contribute useful lower order runs, and will have fond memories of his 86 from number 9 in this fixture last year.
Sussex wicket-keeper Ben Brown’s century at Edgbaston – his second in the Championship this term – has taken the local boy towards the top of the Division One run scorer list, with 655 at 46.79. Providing crucial late middle order runs from his position at six – often adding a degree of respectability to some lightweight Sussex cards – Brown has also impressed behind the stumps, his 28 Championship dismissals so far this year behind only Middlesex’s John Simpson’s 31.
Four wickets for Lewis Gregory would take the Somerset seamer to 150 first-class dismissals.
Somerset squad: Marcus Trescothick (captain), Tom Abell, Jim Allenby, Michael Bates (wk),Tom Cooper, Lewis Gregory, Tim Groenewald, James Hildreth, Johann Myburgh, Craig Overton, Jamie Overton, Abdur Rehman, Alfonso Thomas, Pete Trego
Sussex seamers Jimmy Anyon, Lewis Hatchett, Chris Jordan and Ajmal Shahzad remain sidelined by injury.
Sussex squad: TBA
Weather and Conditions
Sunny spells are forecast to be interspersed with rain showers, sometimes heavy, throughout the four days. The Taunton pitch and small boundaries are likely to continue to offer plenty of runs, but bowlers won’t go unrewarded.
Date: 5th – 8th July
Time: 11:00 am
Ground: County Ground, Taunton
Umpires: Steve O’Shaughnessy and Steve Garratt
Odds (via Skybet): Somerset 4/5, Sussex 10/11