Another year, another agonisingly close loss of the Championship title. This time no contrived finish for Somerset fans to be bitter about all winter, but a Kyle Abbot 17-86 and rare westcountry rain in the one week. All but Essex fans really hoped it stayed dry.
The Royal London One Day Cup win was a great achievement, and should not be overlooked, but after being christened bridesmaids again it’s the Championship loss that will stay at the forefront of Somerset’s minds, mildly torturing them this winter.
Tom Abell and George Bartlett were the highest Somerset players in the Division One batting averages, but were still well below the rest of the pack. Yet the top eight First Division bowling averages included five Somerset players – a clear summation of how Somerset’s red ball bowlers fared so much better than their Championship batters this year.
For T20, however, it was the complete opposite. Tom Banton and Babar Azam still lead the entire tournament’s run-scoring charts by more than 50-runs over Dawid Malan in third place, despite Somerset not making it out of the group stage.
There is not a single Somerset bowler in the top 15 Blast wicket-takers, and frankly no one deserved to be either.
Roelof Van der Merwe fared best, taking 15 wickets. He and Max Waller were often the most economical, and often bowling in the powerplay too, despite both barely turning it and Waller bowling some frankly quite horrendous deliveries at times (remember Rob Key’s understandably scathing comments live on Sky v Middlesex on the final Friday night group, game when Waller bowled two abysmal leg side long hops?).
Jerome Taylor, Jamie Overton and Craig Overton were simply far too expensive throughout. Josh Davey impressed, but was often overlooked for the ageing (and now departing) Tim Groenewald, and Lewis Gregory barely played T20 this summer due to injury (but still managed to make the England T20 tour of New Zealand next month).
SSCC: 2nd, Division One
Vitality T20 Blast: Group Stage – 6th, South Group
SSCC: Tom Abell 756
Vitality T20 Blast: Babar Azam 578
RLODC: James Hildreth 457
SSCC: Lewis Gregory 51
Vitality T20 Blast: Roelof van der Merwe 15
RLODC: Craig Overton 20
Player of the Season
From the young Taunton School opener with Marcus Trescothick to the middle-order failure ending up dropping himself in his first year as County captain, Tom Abell has been through one hell of a cricketing roller-coaster the last few years. But my gosh has he got off at the other end without a single white cheek or slight retch, just a few tears and 10 minutes to himself after the agony of watching Ryan ten Doeschate spray the champagne and lift the trophy at Taunton last week.
This time alone was patiently permitted by the waiting media last Thursday, Jason Kerr not expecting Tom Abell to appear at all. But, as the incredibly honest, committed bloke he is, he appeared. Red-eyed and apologetic, raw emotion from a man who’s sleeve-worn-heart is Taunton and Somerset through and through.
His T20 hundred vs Middlesex was a personal highlight innings, though sadly was dampened by some atrocious bowling less than two hours later. In the very last knockings of the season he dug in, and looked as close to immovable as anyone that’s not Alastair Cook can do on a spin-encouraging wicket built for a result in Taunton.
He’s lead immaculately by example all season, all three facets of his game improving dramatically once again.
I was at a World Cup game at Old Trafford, at one of those small net technology stall things during a typically lengthy northern rain delay. One of the youngsters in front of me in the queue said who he was going to go in and try to bat like. It was not AB De Villiers or Chris Gayle he mentioned, not even Steve Smith. No, it was a 20-year-old by the name of Tom Banton.
Banton is one of the first picks for the Welsh Fire, in the ECB’s new 100 competition next summer, and given his first England call up for the New Zealand T20 series next month. He picked up the PCA and Cricket Writers’ Young player of the year awards – something that Root, Stokes and Curran have won before him – in addition to the Somerset white-ball player of the year award.
Tom Banton is arguably the hottest young talent in English cricket right now.
Could have done better
Despite an ultimately successful Somerset season, critical me feels there are a few names that could fall into the above category.
It seems a little harsh and daft to include a man who played just five innings across nearly six months of the County season. But when you sign an overseas player, you sign them to win you games, and unfortunately Murali Vijay only managed 42 runs in three matches.
I was confidently silencing the doubters, saying he would score the match-winning, title-winning knock in the third innings at Taunton last week, but alas the weather deprived all, forcing Abell into a brave, but inevitable, innings forfeit in attempt to force a result.
Vijay was brilliant for Essex at the end of the previous summer and I believe he is still a class batsmen. Yes he struggled, and got much criticism, but with many internationals being played in September, a retired Indian opener who had not played in England all summer was about the best we could get.
Eddie Byrom could have been backed to open, and in hindsight yes should have been, but had Somerset lost the Championship without hiring an overseas player they would have still received criticism from certain quarters.
Need to work on
As mentioned previously, two very contrasting different skill-sets; the bowlers to work on their T20 variations and accuracy, the batsmen to improve their red-ball stick-ability.
It was painful viewing, particularly against Middlesex in the final T20 match when Abell scored the most magnificent of maiden T20 hundreds only for Morgan and co to Blast their way past the seemingly minuscule 226 with three overs to spare. This was down to far too many charitable long-hops, half-volleys and full tosses – the likes of which Stirling, Malan, De Villiers, Hafeez and Morgan really don’t need to score quickly in T20 cricket.
Sadly this was the same story all tournament: however many Banton, Babar and co got, you always felt the opposition could chase down anything against Somerset’s struggling seam attack.
Somerset have some wonderful young stroke-makers but, other than Abell (captain fantastic who appeared to find his form again this season, as well as some attacking strokes you’d never have thought he would play just a couple of years ago) and Bartlett (who scored two impressive Championship tons this season), there are a few too many dashers.
The batsmen would benefit from learning to play more old-fashioned, gritty first innings knocks to keep their opposition in the field for longer, and rack up the – all-so-rare for Somerset of late but massively crucial for the final table – batting bonus points.
It will be an interesting off-season for Somerset. The legend that is Marcus Trescothick should fit comfortably into full-time coaching (hopefully, probably) though will likely receive offers from bigger, higher places. He was still undecided about his next work plans when I interviewed him at the Essex match. Of course, likely he will still be working for Sky Sports alongside whatever coaching he does.
Somerset’s shopping list should be headed by an overseas batsmen to open the batting with either Tom Abell or Edward Byrom. The loss of Paul van Meekeren and Tim Groenewald should be much less of a problem, with youngsters Ollie Sale and Ben Green improving, and the experienced Jack Brooks deserving far more game time than the limited red-ball opportunities he got this season – it felt like he spent more time with Charlie Taylor in the commentary box than on the field.
Season Rating: 8.5/10
First silverware since the 2005 Twenty20 Cup, sealed in the last Royal London One-Day Cup final of its historical type.
Just one win away from qualifying from a seriously tight T20 South Group, and of course just one win away from the you-know-what. Maybe the elusive, most coveted trophy should be referred to as it-that-must-not-be-named in the West Country from now one – possibly slightly less condescending than being labelled bridesmaids once again.