Somerset will be desperate to put their recent Championship woes firmly behind them by lifting the Vitality Blast final at Edgbaston on Saturday night.
But first they must conquer Sussex’s pace-like-fire attack of Tymal Mills, Jofra Archer, Chris Jordan and David Wiese in Saturday’s second semi-final.
Somerset have a rapid speedster of their own, North Devon’s Jamie Overton, twin brother of Craig who has Steve Smith as his first test-wicket scalp. Jamie has been unfortunate with injuries in recent years, but though always expensive, he has 24 wickets in this years’ competition, including 5-47 in the quarter-final win over Notts.
When the two sides last met, at Hove in August, Somerset won by three wickets. Laurie Evans’ 96 was the standout score from either side, but with van der Merwe coming in at eight, Jamie Overton nine, and when even number 10 Jerome Taylor has a test century, once again Somerset’s batting depth dug their top order out of trouble.
That’s often been the case throughout the competition, particularly with the lower order runs of skipper Lewis Gregory.
Somerset, who topped the South Group before seeing off defending champions Notts in the quarter-finals, will be wary of Sussex before thoughts can turn to a potential final.
The Sharks are on a late season charge for promotion out of Division Two in the County Championship, but look a much stronger white-ball outfit, particularly in the bowling department. The top six lack big-names other than Luke Wright, but the likes of Phil Salt, Laurie Evans and Delray Rawlings have been excitingly impressive and won’t mind being underdogs on Saturday.
An interesting match-up will be the battle of the middle-order all-rounders. It’s hard to separate Gregory, van der Merwe and Overton from Wiese, Archer and Jordan. Two all-round triumvirates who will both likely bat from seven-nine on Saturday. Likely whichever threesome performs better on the day will dictate the winners of this one.
Somerset’s Key Men
Lewis Gregory, fourth in the overall PCA rankings, has been in quite sensational form this season, leading by example as skipper of the side. Having opened the batting last summer, he’s dropped down to 7 this year.
Despite not batting in the powerplay, he’s consistently struck the ball to all parts, earning him the highest strike rate in the competition, 216.89. It’s easy to forget he made his name as a bowler-impressively he still has 17 wickets at under 10 an over this season, in a game which (as his batting stats show) often see sides score well clear of 200 these days.
Top-run scorer is Corey Anderson, though James Hildreth has the most half-centuries (four) and Lewis Gregory the highest strike rate. Anderson has struck 31 sixes, on course to 466 runs at an average of only 42.36 despite having only three red inkers in his 14 innings. Due to Somerset’s regular powerplay collapses he has got the chance to bat in all but one innings of the Vitality Blast this year, predominantly coming in at five or six. His destructive striking is perhaps best summed up by Anderson having scored more sixes than his 29 fours this competition-keeping him fit has been crucial for the Taunton-side this summer.
Top bowler has been the still-teenage-looking Max Waller. The now 30-year-old T20 specialist has increasingly found consistency of line and length this season-arguably his finest to date.
Opening with spin has been Somerset’s not-so-secretive secret this season, a job Waller’s relished doing, despite having only two men for cover outside the 30-yard circle. He has 15 Vitality Blast wickets, including the rarity of a T20 maiden-encapsulating his even more surprising economy rate of just 6.67-the best of all Somerset’s bowlers. Also Somerset’s best fielder, he has 10 catches, the majority of which coming off Jamie Overton’s bowling – a partnership rather different to, but perhaps inspired by; caught Cook, bowled Anderson.
Road to the final:
Top of the table seemed a country mile away when Somerset lost two of their first three games. But having beaten nearest rivals Gloucestershire in the season opener, then only lost to them away in a rain-reduced 11-over slogathon, having of course lost to Kent in their second home game. Year-on-year nothing changes regarding Somerset playing Kent, but this year they managed to find a way to deal with two inevitable losses-winning every other 20-over game.
The other loss saw Aaron Finch and Jason Roy’s bats on fire at The Oval, scoring 71 off just 32 balls on a rather wet July evening when a T10 was played.
Four losses might seem a lot, but Somerset still won two more matches than their nearest rivals (yes you guessed it…Kent…), only finishing level on points because the Canterbury-based side saw four No Results (the notoriously dry west country saw none). The final Kent loss was shrouded in controversy with Somerset docked six runs for a slow overrate – a similar offence Kent only just got away with, in their five-run loss.
Not quite the bogey-side of Kent, but Notts were probably the last side Jason Kerr wanted to see his boys up against in the quarter-finals after last years double white-ball loss to The Outlaws in the last eight. This time lacking Jake Ball and Brendan Taylor, Notts looked both a bowler and a batsman light whilst Somerset’s sensational skippering all-rounder Lewis Gregory scored 60* and took two wickets to send his side to finals day.
Somerset squad: Tom Abell, Corey Anderson, Tom Banton, Josh Davey, Steve Davies, Lewis Gregory (c), James Hildreth, Johann Myburgh, Craig Overton, Jamie Overton, Jerome Taylor, Peter Trego, Roelof van der Merwe and Max Waller.
Date: 15th September 2018
Time: 2.30pm (2nd SF of Finals Day)
Tournament Odds (SkyBet): Somerset 11/4