Having challenged Yorkshire and Middlesex right until the final session of the final day of Championship action in 2016, last season was a real jolt back to reality for the west country side. They were involved in a relegation battle pretty much the entire season. The main focus for 2018 therefore will be to finish nearer 2016’s final position than 2017’s in the Championship.
One-Day double-winners Notts were Somerset’s conquerors in both white-ball competitions in two memorable run-fests, one at each of Taunton and Trent Bridge. There should be no shame in losing to such a dominant Notts side, who should really have won the treble, but for a late season slip-up in Division Two.
Yet Somerset were still in the running to win both matches with just a few overs left. This never-say-die attitude was great to see from a Somerset-perspective and combined with a little more nous and some star performances from overseas players should see them go one further to the last four of at least one competition this season.
The departure of Jim Allenby is no great surprise, frankly never a fans favourite at Taunton he was one of Matt Maynard’s imports who never quite lived up to the standards he showed at Glamorgan. Tom Abell has replaced Allenby as one-day captain and, added to his second year as captain in the longer form, provides some consistency with the young batsman having had a strong winter. He will hope to find form to keep himself in both teams this season, form which should help his leadership of the side too. Lewis Gregory will lead the Twenty20 side.
Staff changes have seen Andy Hurry return to Somerset as Director of Cricket following the departure of Matthew Maynard. Former bowling coach Jason Kerr has stepped up to become head coach. And the familiar face of strength and conditioning coach Darren Veness has joined Surrey, his replacement being Joel Tratt.
Ins: Fin Trenouth (Youth Academy)
Outs: Jim Allenby, Michael Leask, Ryan Davies (all released)
Craig Overton. Getting Steve Smith (arguably the best Aussie batsman since Bradman) in the Ashes as his first Test wicket is not a line many players can put on their CV. Brought into the England squad after the Ben Stokes debacle, Overton was never expected to fill Stokes’ shoes, but he didn’t do half badly, picked out by skipper Joe Root as a bright spark amidst an otherwise dark English winter of Test cricket.
He finished with six wickets and 62 runs in two test match losses, not a bad return for a rather surprising England pick. Overton has come a long way with the bat since agonisingly being caught out on 99 in the County Championship back in 2014. One would expect further England call-ups for the North Devon paceman, but when allowed to represent Somerset he’ll be a leading light, hopefully with his twin brother fully fit and steaming in from the other end, possibly opening the bowling and enjoying eighth-wicket whackathons together.
Player to Watch
Dom Bess. The Exmouth born-and-bred young off-spinner recently took 5-88 on his England Lions debut tour to the West Indies, bowling in tandem with fellow Somerset spinner Jack Leach, both considerably out-bowling Ashes-selected Hampshire leg spinner Mason Crane. Bess also shone in the Champion County match, taking six wickets in the final innings to help MCC beat Essex.
Jack Leach’s introduction to the England Test squad places extra pressure on Bess, particularly if the Taunton pitches continue to live up to their adopted name of Cyderabad of the last few campaigns. Expect the youngster to thrive under this pressure, as shown on his first-class debut when bowling at Younis Khan, he was not deterred from trotting straight back to his mark after the Pakistani great smashed him repeatedly for four. He has also showed some real promise with the bat and deserves to bat closer to number eight or nine for Somerset than the number eleven he was predominantly lumped with last season. His century in that Champion County match backs that up.
Corey Anderson (just T20). After returning back injuries ended his spell in Taunton early last season, Somerset were left to rue the lack of an overseas player, particularly as the rumours of left-handed Pakistani Champions Trophy Final centurion Fakhar Zaman joining never came to fruition. Anderson has committed to playing the duration of the T20 Blast competition this campaign, a handy acquisition who will beef up both the bowling and batting departments.
Australian Cameron Bancroft was the overseas signing for the County Championship, but the county decided against bringing him in after his role in the ball-tampering scandal that has rocked Australian cricket.
How they’ll fare
Somerset have not made any jaw-dropping signings to make one think they will fare considerably better than last season and core players of the last 10 years Marcus Trescothick, Pete Trego and James Hildreth are all ageing. Thus, head coach Jason Kerr will need youngsters to step up and make a big impact to get them challenging at the top of the three tables. England selections will also likely influence largely on Somerset’s success, The Overton twins and spin-twins Bess and Leach have all received England call-ups of varying descriptions in the last couple of years and, if fit, will only spend more time with the Three Lions. This could leave Somerset’s cupboard pretty bare, lacking viable replacements. Expect a mid-table Championship finish and minimum quarter-finals in the white-ball competitions.
SSCC Div One v Worcestershire, Friday 20th April at Taunton
Season Odds (Skybet)
SS County Championship Division 1: 14/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: 16/1
Vitality Twenty20 Blast: 16/1