Somerset have had a full pre-season schedule throughout March and into the Easter weekend, playing completely different line-ups with each match showcasing the great depth of the squad. They played Worcestershire twice, and red and white ball games both home and away against Gloucestershire. They finished with a final home 3-day game against Glamorgan that included several likely first team players.
Results are of little importance, but the opportunities for youngsters to metaphorically knock the selectors’ doors down are crucial to keep the first team regulars on their toes.
The key debate going into the Championship opener is who will open with Tom Lammonby, and thus who would then bat five. The two men at the heart of this selection headache are George Bartlett and Eddie Byron.
A dodgy lbw decision for Bartlett, in the first innings of the Glamorgan game, was followed a ball that kept low on a sixth-day pitch in the second. Byrom looked assured at the crease before being run out for 40, and was then stumped for a duck looking for quick runs. Not ideal for either of them.
Tom Banton also had his chance opening in pre-season but, despite a few early on-drives, never kicked on to a big score. It looks likely Byrom will open with Lammonby with Banton at five and Bartlett the unlucky man to miss out, but really any two of the three Bs are worthy of either spot.
The seam department also have spare men without even strongly considering exciting young quicks Ned Leonard, Kasey Aldridge, Sonny Baker, and the currently injured Ollie Sale.
Jack Brooks has not looked back to his best since returning from injury and surgery across the winter. Josh Davey and Craig Overton should take the new ball, with Marchant de Lange and Lewis Gregory as very useful change bowlers – a quartet who likely average more with the bat between them than any other seam attack in the country.
Josh Davey’s phenomenal 53*, on the first day of the final pre-season fixture vs Glamorgan, set off a Twitter debate over who should partner Lammonby at the top of the order. The former Scottish ODI opener was robbed of a 50, through Tom Abell’s declaration in the Worcestershire game last week, and arguably robbed of a ton in the second game!
Jack Leach may or may not be required at Lord’s, but the fact that none of Somerset’s batsman bowl part-time spin of First-Class standard is worth noting. The two Toms – Abell and Lammonby – are both ever capable seamers. Ever improving, arguably they are worthy of all-rounder status.
Director of Cricket Andy Hurry stated how his side are “Victims of our own success. We have bred so many talented youngsters, we cannot keep everyone happy.”
Head Coach Jason Kerr went further: “You can never have too many top order batsmen!” Then helpfully narrowed selection down to Banton/Byrom/Green to open with Lammonby – but this was before that Josh Davey knock and the Byrom run out when on 40.
There have been a few changes in the coaching team over the winter. Bowling coach Stuart Barnes left to take up the same role with Ireland and was replaced by former Somerset seamer Steve Kirby, who joins from the same role at Derbyshire. The ginger haired, fiery northerner nicknamed ‘Tango’ was a very popular man in his playing days here and arrives with recent experience of working with the MCC, too.
Former assistant coach Marcus Trescothick has become England’s batting coach, though he was back at the Cooper Associates County Ground lapping the playing area with ex-teammate Tom Banton last week. He has been replaced by former Warwickshire Head Coach Jim Troughton. The 42-year-old captained the Bears to the County Championship in 2012, and later served as their Head Coach.
Outs: Jamie Overton (Surrey), Dom Bess (Yorkshire), Nathan Gilchrist (Kent)
Overseas Players: Marchant de Lange (South Africa)
Still only 20-years of age, but three Bob Willis Trophy centuries and some seriously impressive cameos in the white ball games last summer really saw the Tom Lammonby come of age. Initially as an allrounder, such is the strength of Somerset’s pace attack, his bowling has barely been used. But his batting, oh his batting, has been crucial to Somerset in the past 10 months. So much so that Jason Kerr said he is a dead cert to open, we just don’t yet know who will join him.
That knock at New Road last September – when he became the youngest Somerset player to carry his bat – came in an effective ‘semi-final,’ a winner-takes-all clash with Worcestershire. He followed that up with an equally sublime 100 against the Essex attack at the Home of Cricket. The way he eased to three figures in the final warm-up game, with another six into Gimblett’s Hill, makes one carried away fan think in 15 years’ time maybe he would have surpassed the great Harold Gimblett’s 23,007 First-class runs.
Player to Watch
Though still an inexperienced youngster, there is real excitement around right-arm paceman Sonny Baker. The youngster of Torquay Cricket Club took 3-22, all lbw, off his first 10 overs as a first teamer last Monday vs Worcestershire. Fast, hooping inswingers cause problems for even batsmen of the highest calibre, and that is exactly what Baker did to the likes of Jake Libby, Brett D’Oliveira and Ben Cox – the first two of whom were in the top 15 run scorers in the Bob Willis Trophy last season.
He will not expect to start every game, but if Craig Overton and Lewis Gregory get picked for England full or Lions squads – and inevitably there will be injuries – Baker may get a chance at some point later this season.
Previously a Kolpak player for Glamorgan, but amidst the complicated changes in EU laws and rules as a ramification of Brexit, Marchant de Lange will be Somerset’s permanent overseas player for the 2021 season. De Lange who scored that scintillating 63-ball maiden First-class hundred at Wantage Road last year, showing he can bat as well as bowl rockets, just like the man he replaced Jamie Overton.
Andy Hurry responded to questions on whether any further overseas signings were to come: “Players worry about the isolation periods associated with global travel currently more than the fear of actually contracting covid, and of course the rescheduled PSL (June 2021) causes difficulties.”
The Somerset staff are “monitoring the situation and will communicate updates as soon as we can, as always.” Though, even without another overseas signing, Somerset have the squad depth to compete right to the end of all three County competitions this season.
How they’ll fare
Skybet make Somerset third favourites in both the County Championship and T20 Blast, and second favourites in the Royal London One-Day Cup. As ever, England call-ups will have an impact on their progress, but perhaps not as much this year with such depth in the squad due to so many talented youngsters coming through.
The abundance of seam bowling options may see the likes of Jack Brooks and Josh Davey miss out on the XI at times, especially if in the latter stages of summer, dual-spin and the ever-improving medium pacers of Tom Abell, are employed.
Second XI fixtures modelling the first team-championship, being played in a similar block so both teams playing same formats at the same time this year, should be helpful for squad players to come straight in and hit the ground running when required.
Let’s not forget, though, that Somerset will begin with an ECB awarded eight-point penalty in the longest format’s group phase. A fitting reward for producing England’s two front line spinners for the recent tours of Sri Lanka and India.
Thursday 8th April 11:00 Middlesex Away CC
Season Odds (Skybet):
County Champions: 7/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: 6/1
Vitality Twenty20 Blast: 15/2