Somerset have played some good cricket in pre-season. Their tour of Abu Dhabi saw them meet county sides Worcestershire and Essex in warmer climes.
Many of the younger players have spent time playing club cricket down under and, of course, the seasoned county pros James Hildreth and Marcus Trescothick have been putting in the gym work throughout the winter, fresh and ready for another long season on the county circuit.
Somerset’s first match on British shores of 2019 saw James Hildreth notch another classy, effortless century. Albeit against Cardiff MCCU, his 158* was only ended by a generous declaration. Somerset went on to win this first-class fixture by the largest margin of runs in domestic cricket history!
Into his second season as head coach, Jason Kerr has plenty of talent at his disposal, the bigger challenge will be who to use when and in what format, especially with such an arsenal of young quick bowlers, who will all think they deserve to, but cannot all fit into every starting XI. Being a former first-class, right-arm seaming all-rounder himself, this is a situation Kerr can relate to.
The addition of four grand floodlights has added a different dimension to the Taunton skyline and the Cooper Associates County Ground. Visible from miles around, they scream cricket in a town where it is the most high-profile sport. Harshly labelled an ‘eyesore’, one can sill look out at the rolling Quantock Hills from three sides of the ground, dusk-time floodlights only enhancing artistic photographs .
Most importantly these additions to the CACG allow Somerset to play matches later into the evenings, enabling more spectators to get to the ground after work. Years of Friday night 4.30 starts will become more like 6-7pm starts, not that a team that always sells out for T20 matches needs to worry about getting more fans in, but it will assist TV broadcasts.
The floodlights could be particularly useful on the rare bad weather days in the south west, when its hoped the floodlights can enhance natural light to allow play to go on past 6pm on the greyer Autumnal days.
Jack Brooks (Yorkshire)
hOverseas: Azhar Ali (Pakistan, County Championship & One-Day Cup), Jerome Taylor (West Indies, T20)
Outs:Johann Myburgh (retired), Fin Trenouth (released)
Lewis Gregory. Arguably the white-ball player of the year in the whole country last season, Somerset’s T20 captain had the white ball on a string with bat and ball. He finished with phenomenal statistics and fourth place in the overall PCA rankings, only injury ensuring he played fewer matches than all those ranked above him.
Talk of a move to Middlesex (or any of three other counties who reportedly approached him) was put to bed when he put pen to paper on a new three-year deal in July 2018. The Plymouth lad enjoyed the winter England Lions tour of India but would have liked to have taken a few more wickets and scored more runs. This is not something that will phase him coming back into home conditions come April.
Player to Watch
Tom Banton. The former England Under-19 captain showed plenty of positive signs last season. His first Somerset T20 appearance of the campaign was the ideal scenario for the 20-year-old, happily playing second fiddle to Johann Myburgh’s phenomenal T20 ton v Essex. One particular shot – an audacious scoop for six over fine leg off the final ball of the first over, was enough to tell us this is a young man to look out for.
This game stands out, despite him only needing to score 29* from 25 balls, including hitting the winning runs, such was the pressure taken off his shoulders by Myburgh’s ridiculously good innings. The youngster showed enough glimpses of his talent in this one match to imply he could fill the gaping Jos Buttler/Craig Kieswetter shaped mould left in Taunton the last few years.
In vastly different circumstances, he made his County Championship debut in September against Surrey, performed adequately enough and subsequently signed the season off positively sealing a contract extension until 2020.
This season, depending on Steve Davies’ form, he could usurp the experienced left-hander to take the gloves in white-ball cricket. He may get a chance to play as an attacking number six batsman in Somerset’s red ball side.
Somerset stick with two of the four main overseas players named for last summer. Injury prone Corey Anderson and Kent bound Matt Renshaw are not set to return, but Azhar Ali will cover the Championship and One-Day Cup with Jerome Taylor set to be available for the entire duration of the T20 Blast.
Ali, the Pakistan captain and part-time leg spinner performed adequately for Somerset last season without quite replicating international form that’s seen him score 15 test centuries, including 302*. Scoring a century on debut v Worcestershire was no mean feat and scoring over 400 runs in seven County Championship games is good going but he didn’t quite capture the fans’ love as the chirpy English-come-Australian Matt Renshaw did. Runs, runs and more runs are the best recipe to become another of the oh so many Somerset overseas legends.
At 34 years of age he joins a Somerset top six which will likely contrast majorly from himself, Trescothick and Hildreth to the youngsters of skipper Abell and probably two of Byrom, Bartlett and Banton. As former Pakistan captain he will again bring further leadership and experience to the side which should help young captain Abell and the aforementioned `B’ batsmen.
T20 World Cup winner Jerome Taylor made a huge impact in last season’s competition, taking 22 wickets in 11 matches at an average of just 16.64 on Somerset’s march to the top of the South Group and Finals Day. He also became only the third Somerset bowler to claim a five-wicket haul in T20 cricket with his 5-15 against Hampshire at the Cooper Associates County Ground.
He has retired from international cricket, so West Indies’ involvement in the 2019 World Cup should prove little distraction for the right-arm seamer. Taylor brings vast experience from across the world in all formats of international and club and county cricket which is a massive asset to a likely otherwise young T20 seam attack of Gregory, Davey and the Overton twins.
How they’ll fare
Somerset are one of the hardest sides to predict in County Cricket, the perennial over, then under achievers, just as a brilliant season raises expectations, the then higher standards set sees fans disappointed with a not so successful following season. With Trescothick ageing and no young batsmen nailing down a spot in and around him, the west country side could struggle for runs with too much reliance on Hildreth, Ali and Abell.
There are plenty of exciting seamers, but many are injury prone and the Overtons and Gregory will likely get England call-ups of some degree again this summer and Davey should keep leading the way for Scotland. If all four are away or injured at the same time, a lot of pressure would fall on Groenewald and Brooks, who’d hope van Meekeren won’t be playing for Holland and can assist the fast bowling duties.
England selections could also hit the spin department. With Myburgh retired, Ali would be the only real spin option if Bess and Leach are called up. Though this is probably unlikely in an English World Cup summer, only one, if either, would likely be called up with Ali and Rashid seemingly ahead in the international pecking order.
The all-rounders department is still strong even with Peter Trego playing for Devon and just white-ball cricket for Somerset this year. Gregory, Bess and the Overtons should provide handy lower order runs with even Brooks having a first-class hundred to his name and Leach, Davey and Groenewald all worthy contenders as the best number 11 in the Championship.
SSCC v Kent, Cooper Associates County Ground, Taunton – April 5 2019 11am
Season Odds (Skybet)
SS County Championship Division 1: 8/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: 11/1
T20 Blast: 12/1