In a subtle way, this photo from Somerset’s social media feed last week encapsulated much of what is glorious about the County Championship: a hazy blue sky, a lush, expansive green outfield, a glimpse of a group of spectators chatting animatedly ahead of the day’s play and, in the foreground, three smiling Somerset centurions from the previous day’s play.
On the right, Marcus Trescothick. A legend of English cricket with nearly 6,000 test and over 23,000 first-class runs to his name; in the middle, Tom Cooper, a globetrotting Australian-cum-Dutchman currently plying his trade in the west of England, and on the left, Tom Abell, a twenty-one year old local lad making his way in the game and, indeed, a name for himself after scoring his maiden first-class hundred.
Three men with very different stories, then, but united by a team, their common goals and shared achievements in a fashion only the County Championship provides. And the powers that be want to reduce the opportunities for such unique pleasures?
Then again, maybe it is this kind of wistful reverie that makes the Championship an easy target for pruning. In an era of ruthless professionalism, what room is their for simple romance?
But you’d be mistaken in thinking that alongside the charm there isn’t room for intensity. Don’t buy it? This week’s clash between Sussex and Somerset at Hove might just convince you.
With both sides embroiled in a fight for their Division One lives, this fixture is likely to provide one hell of a scrap. Each with two games remaining, Sussex and Somerset find themselves tied on 146 points in sixth and seventh place respectively. Just eleven points separate them from Hampshire and the relegation spots. A win for either side would all but guarantee top flight four-day cricket in 2016. Defeat, however, and the final game of the campaign takes on an importance of a near-unbearable magnitude.
Sussex will enter the fixture the fresher of the two sides after enjoying a week off. Memories of their crushing defeat of Worcestershire at New Road will still be fresh in the mind, however, and should provide plenty of encouragement; not least given that this came straight after a spirited draw against Champions-elect Yorkshire.
Somerset, by contrast, have only had one day to prepare for this crunch fixture following on from their high-scoring draw against Hampshire at Taunton which finished on Saturday. After declaring their first innings 390 runs ahead of the visitors, Marcus Trescothick’s men would have been confident of bagging a resounding win and with it the best part of an extra day’s rest ahead of their trip to the South Coast. As it turned out, Somerset were forced to toil in the field for five sessions as Hampshire’s top-order saw their side to safety and gave their own hopes of survival a major boost. It remains to be seen how much this will take its toll over the coming week.
Ultimately, however, what’s gone before becomes irrelevant at 10.30 on Monday morning with only the events of the subsequent four days of any immediate interest to either side. If ever there was a fixture to highlight the potential for a fierce battle and a captivating spectacle in the County Championship, then this might be it.
The second highest run-scorer in Division One (37 runs behind Somerset’s James Hildreth) and fresh from a career best 226 not out during Sussex’s innings defeat of Worcestershire the week before last, Luke Wright is an obvious danger man. But in a match where both sides will be desperate to avoid defeat, it could be the potency of Chris Jordan that makes the inroads into Somerset’s top-order that Sussex will need if they are to force victory.
The England man has taken ten wickets in his three innings since returning from injury, including a five-for to set up victory at New Road. It goes without saying that maintaining Sussex’s top flight status will be Jordan’s main reason for wanting to continue his fine late season form, but earning a place of England’s winter tours will provide a little extra motivation.
The Somerset faithful have long known that student of French at the University of Exeter, Tom Abell possesses a certain je ne sais quoi. The Taunton born and schooled opening bat has hinted at his immense talent ever since he scored 95 against Warwickshire on first-class debut.
Four fifties during this Championship campaign, often made whilst the rest of the Somerset line-up has faltered, further highlighted his promise as well as his the high price he puts on his wicket.
A maiden Championship hundred in the crucial match against Hampshire may prove to be a watershed moment in a career that could well lead to the highest honours.
Fast bowler Ollie Robinson is named in the squad, but is a doubt for the game with a shin injury. Sussex are able to welcome back Ed Joyce, however, who himself in the last outing against Worcestershire.
Sussex Squad: Ed Joyce (captain), Ben Brown (wicketkeeper), Lewis Hatchett, Chris Jordan, Chris Liddle, Matt Machan, Steve Magoffin, Chris Nash, Ollie Robinson, Luke Wells, Luke Wright, Michael Yardy, Ashar Zaidi
Somerset have named a 13-man squad for their trip to the coast, with Tim Groenewald and Alex Barrow joining the XI that drew with Hampshire last week.
Somerset Squad: Marcus Trescothick (captain), Tom Abell, Jim Allenby, Alex Barrow, Tom Cooper, Lewis Gregory, Tim Groenewald, James Hildreth, Jack Leach, Craig Overton, Jamie Overton, Luke Ronchi (wicketkeeper), Peter Trego.
Weather and Conditions
A real mixed bag. Sunny spells, heavy showers – potentially thundery – and strong winds.
Date: 14th – 17th September 2015.
Time: 10.30 am.
Ground: The brightonandhovejobs.com County Ground, Hove.
Odds (SkyBet): Sussex 4/6, Somerset 11/10