Two teams with a mysterious unfamiliarity around their fortunes for the upcoming season meet at Taunton for the opening game of the Championship season, as Durham make the trip to the West Country and Somerset.
It’s well documented that Durham have been punching above their weight for a number of years, devoid of a plethora of superstar names – relative to the county game at least – but still showing an unmatchable quality that saw them win the Championship crown for the third time in six years in 2013.
2015 promises to be no different, at least in terms of personnel. No players have arrived at Chester-le-Street, with only Gareth Breese departing, but with the likes of Paul Collingwood and Graham Onions heading further into their twilight years, the question all Durham fans will be dreading to ask is whether their bubble is set to burst.
Somerset, meanwhile, have notably been a little more active with player movement, signing the ever-impressive all-rounder Jim Allenby from Glamorgan in a bid to higher themselves in Division One. Nick Compton’s departure may put a dampener on those hopes, while the absence of Craig Kieswetter with an eye injury could perhaps open the door for the likes of Alex Barrow with the gloves.
The fact that some have tipped Somerset for a title push, while others suggest a possible relegation battle, speaks volumes of the uncertainty for whether the young players can step up after showing promise over the past couple of seasons, although it seems more likely than not with Matthew Maynard in the coach’s chair.
It was one of those aforementioned youngsters who starred in the corresponding fixture last year: Craig Overton, who celebrated his 21st birthday on Friday, was one of three players to take a five-wicket haul in the match as Somerset prevailed by seven wickets at Taunton.
As with most matches at the early part of the season, there’s certainly a lot of intrigue behind two sides who languished comfortably in mid-table last term with just one point between them.
Indifferent form and disappointing team displays could have led Marcus Trescothick to call time on his career over the past couple of seasons, but the former England opener has shown resilience and will lead the side in 2015 in the County Championship. The 39-year-old also has good recent history in this fixture, making an unbeaten century and guiding Somerset to victory in the process after making a duck in the first innings.
It’s fair to say that 2014 didn’t end particularly well for Keaton Jennings, with four consecutive ducks in Championship cricket, bringing his first-class average to below 30. Those who have seen him play know Jennings is a lot better player than that figure suggests, a fact emphasised with his 177* in the warm-up fixture against Durham MCCU. The opener will be keen to show what he’s capable of on a Taunton deck that’s usually batting friendly, in what could be a full emergence for the 22-year-old.
Somerset will be boosted by having close to a full squad available with none of their players missing on international duty, although Craig Kieswetter has been ruled out for the season following the eye injury he sustained last term. Jim Allenby looks set to make his competitive debut at Taunton.
Somerset squad: Marcus Trescthick (captain), Jim Allenby, Alex Barrow (wicketkeeper), Tom Cooper, Lewis Gregory, Tim Groenewald, James Hildreth, Jack Leach, Johann Myburgh, Craig Overton, Jamie Overton, Abdur Rehman, Peter Trego.
Durham go into this game with the same 13-man squad that comfortably overcame Durham MCCU in their warm-up encounter. Jamie Harrison is not ready to be risked after his knee injury, whilst Mark Wood is away with England in the West Indies. Graham Onions is included, however, following fitness tests as is overseas name John Hastings.
Durham squad: Paul Collingwood (captain), Usman Arshad, Scott Borthwick, Paul Coughlin, John Hastings, Keaton Jennings, Calum MacLeod, Phil Mustard (wicketkeeper), Graham Onions, Ryan Pringle, Michael Richardson, Chris Rushworth, Mark Stoneman
Weather and Conditions
As with the rest of the country, Taunton looks to be set fair with plenty of sunshine, although there could be a bit of light cloud cover on Day One. It’s difficult to ascertain the nature of a pitch before a ball has even been bowled, but history suggests the track should be good for batting, particularly with the friendly overhead conditions.
Date: 12th – 15th April 2015
Ground: County Ground, Taunton
Umpires: Mark Benson & Nigel Cowley
Odds (via SkyBet): Somerset 20/23, Durham 20/21
LV County Championship Match Stats (in association with Opta)
- – Ten of the last 14 Championship matches between these teams have been drawn.
- – Of all players to take 100 Championship wickets since the start of 2012, Peter Trego has scored the most runs with 1618.
- – Chris Rushworth took 22 wickets by LBW last year, the most by any bowler.