For Somerset, there were plenty of individual highlights in 2015 but it was overall a deeply disappointing season.
The team finished on a high note with a Championship win over Warwickshire. It elevated them to sixth place in the table and finally removed the threat of relegation that had hung over them for much of the season. It is true that another half a dozen points would have put Somerset into fourth place in the Championship but just four wins from 16 games was a poor haul.
Results in the white ball competitions were equally unsatisfactory. Sixth place in group A of the Royal London One-Day Cup with four wins and four defeats left the team looking enviously upwards at local rivals Gloucestershire who finished second in the group and went on to win the trophy. It was little consolation that Somerset’s net run rate was second highest in the group.
As for the NatWest T20 Blast, Somerset’s four wins (a familiar total) and eight defeats left them only one place above the bottom of the South Group. To be fair, there were three games that were lost by just five runs or less. There is little point, however, in going too far into the territory of “could’ve, should’ve, would’ve – but didn’t!”
As for highlights, the two wicket Championship win at Taunton over Notts in June when Somerset racked up over 400 in the fourth innings ranks high. And then there was Chris Gayle’s astonishing innings of 151 off only 61 deliveries in the T20 Blast, also at Taunton. None of Somerset’s big hitters from the past – not Harold Gimblett, not Arthur Wellard, not Ian Botham – ever achieved anything quite like that. But (whisper it quietly) Kent won the match.
Throughout it all, the Somerset fans may have moaned and complained but they kept the faith. And when Jack Leach took the final Warwickshire wicket in the last game of the season, the cheer that went up might have lifted the roof off the famous Old Pavilion if it hadn’t already been demolished.
Overall, then, it was a tough season’s baptism for Director of Cricket Matt Maynard. At the moment, there seems to be an acceptance amongst the county’s loyal supporters that he needs to be given more time to make an impact. Another mediocre season in 2016 and it may be a different story.
LVCC: 6th, Division One
T20 Blast: 8th, South Group
RLODC: 6th, Group A
Leading run-scorer: James Hildreth, 1,833 runs
Leading wicket-taker: Craig Overton, 56 wickets
Win %: 32
Player of the Season
The competition to be player of the year is about as intense as on The X Factor in a bad year. It’s true that Marcus Trescothick finished his championship season with a run of scores that showed that he had not lost his magic touch. Fellow veteran Peter Trego made useful contributions with bat and ball from time to time; and James Allenby did enough in all competitions to demonstrate that he was a useful acquisition. But really, it comes down to James Hildreth versus Craig Overton.
We can take a look at young Mr. Overton later in this review. Let’s give the prize to James Hildreth. His 11 fifties and three hundreds were scored with style in all competitions; and he often held together a fragile batting order. Only Trescothick came within 15 runs of his championship average of 53 and the pair scored more hundreds between them in that competition than the rest of the team put together. Hildreth had a quiet T20 Blast with 226 runs in 12 games – he was a mere zephyr compared with the hurricane known as Chris Gayle who blew in and amassed 328 runs in just three innings, two of which were undefeated. In the Royal London competition, he accumulated steadily and averaged over 40. At age 31, his England prospects are probably long gone but Somerset supporters will hope to enjoy his strokeplay at Taunton for a few more years.
Craig Overton had a good season in 2014 but his progress in 2015 surely qualifies him as one of Somerset’s breakthrough players. 56 wickets in all competitions were the most of any Somerset bowler and more than twice as many as his twin brother Jamie. It has to be said, however, that he did himself and his county no favours by getting himself banned from the last game of the season and the first of 2016 after being reported three times by umpires during the season. It remains to be seen whether these are just the indiscretions of youth or a major temperamental flaw.
Tom Abell scored his maiden first class hundred in the key relegation match against Hampshire in September, sharing in an opening partnership of 272 with Trescothick that had the local supporters in ecstasy. He scored over 900 runs in 20 Championship and Royal London games, displaying a calmness and range of shots that belied his youth. As one observer (OK, I admit it was me) commented, the future of English batting is probably in the hands of the almost biblical pairing of Hain and Abell.
An expert panel including Jason Gillespie and Mark Butcher has already awarded Tom Abell the prestigious title of LV= Breakthrough Player of the Year. So who are we to disagree? He wins the equally prestigious Deep Extra Cover title of Somerset’s Breakthrough Player.
Could’ve done better
If we are talking cataclysmic failure, we need to look no further than overseas star Abdur Rehman. The Pakistani left-arm spinner had previously played for Somerset with success in a few games in 2012. This time, his wickets were as rare as rocking-horse droppings – just 12 across two competitions with an average in the seventies. He suffered the indignity of having his contract terminated halfway through the season.
For some, including Rehman, “could’ve done better” can be followed by “but won’t get the chance”. At the end of the season, Somerset released a quartet of players – Alfonso Thomas, Adam Dibble, George Dockrell and James Regan.
Need to work on
The announcement that Australian Chris Rogers has signed as overseas player for 2016 will give supporters a boost. He is an established performer at the top of the order in English conditions and a thoroughly sound character.
There are crucial questions for Director of Cricket Matt Maynard about how he can strengthen the squad. Apart from the players released, Kolpak Tom Cooper is unlikely to be available next season and New Zealander Luke Ronchi, who replaced Abdur Rehman as overseas player, was always regarded as a short-term signing. So at the very least, a new overseas signing is needed.
South African all-rounder Roelof van der Merwe has already been signed for 2016 via a Dutch passport. Craig Meschede, another South African all-rounder with European connections, spent 2015 on loan to Glamorgan but may possibly return to Somerset. Other than that, it remains to be seen what options Maynard can uncover to strengthen his squad.
Maynard has pinned down another key issue:
“We’ve had some great individual performances this season. There will always be individuals and that’s fine but the critical mass has to be about team success. Therefore it’s really important to me that we all get in the dressing room and start discussing each day and have input from both senior players and junior players about the game of cricket plus how we can improve as a team going forward.”
Tweet of the season
— Somerset Cricket (@SomersetCCC) September 25, 2015
For an ambitious and well-supported county, Somerset’s results in 2015 were at best mediocre. They failed to compete seriously in any of the three competitions. Once the loyal supporters have finished breathing a sigh of relief that they will not be visiting Derby and Leicester (not to mention Bristol)next season, they will reflect that they deserve something better.
By the beginning of next season the ground redevelopment at what used to be the Old Pavilion end will have been completed and the new Somerset Pavilion will be in place. It may even be that the new Press Box will have replaced this season’s Portakabin. Supporters will be hoping that there will be a similar transformation of what at times during 2015 seemed a makeshift team in transition. 4/10