Last season, Somerset ended their 14 year wait for a trophy when they won the One-Day Cup at Lords. They also fell agonisingly short of winning the County Championship with victory still possible going into the final game.
Unusually they did not meet expectations in the T20 Blast, despite great batting performances from Babar Azam, Tom Banton and Tom Abell.
Somerset’s Championship wins were courtesy of the outstanding squad of bowlers who were consistent all season. Not a single bowler cost the side more than 30 runs per wicket all season, although the batters did not reach the same standards. Tom Abell’s 31.50 was the highest average from any Somerset batsmen. They could not seem to marry the two disciplines together to claim a second piece of silverware.
The marquee signing at Taunton over the winter was Vernon Philander. The South African bowler has retired from international cricket and Somerset have signed him on a Kolpak deal. It is a massive coup for Somerset to have a bowler of Philander’s quality and will certainly help their quest for the Championship title in 2020.
It can be asked if Somerset even need another bowler, given the success of the attack last summer. When the opportunity came to sign a bowler who averages 22 in Test cricket with the ball, however, Somerset clearly could not pass that up.
In an attempt to make Somerset’s top order more secure Babar Azam has been signed for five weeks between May and July. This should provide runs in the Championship and continue the outstanding opening partnership with Tom Banton.
Babar averages 45 in Tests, including five centuries, and has an extraordinary record in T20Is averaging over 50. Although he won’t play every game of the summer, Babar will be a great asset when he does and will help Somerset’s batting, which struggled in the Championship last season.
There have been several departures from the side this winter, most notably Marcus Trescothick retiring and joining the coaching staff. Peter Trego has also ended his long association with the county, joining Nottinghamshire. Tim Rouse and Paul van Meekeren have both been released, while Jerome Taylor has joined rivals Gloucestershire.
Losing these five players hasn’t really weakened the squad, though, as the key players have been retained.
Somerset might have looked to bring further batting reinforcements, but the club has faith in the young batting talent that has come through the academy system. Lots of said young talent have played cricket over the winter. Tom Abell has toured Australia with the England Lions while Eddie Byrom has had brilliant success playing club cricket in down under.
Tom Banton made his England ODI and T20I debut in New Zealand, and showcased his talent at the Australian Big Bash. Somerset have placed their faith in this core of batting, which also includes George Bartlett. Banton, 21, Bartlett, 22 Byrom, 22 and Abell, 26 will be around the county for many years to come, and will provide the foundation to build on last summer’s success with more trophies in 2020.