I post this at tea on day one of Somerset’s final preseason game at home this March, now into April. This having just returned from a successful pre-season trip to the United Arab Emirates, prevailing in T20 matches v recent rivals Essex whilst also enjoying a two-day red ball practise match in the sun on the grass. They played Glamorgan, then Gloucestershire and now Warwickshire in the next fortnight.
Tom Banton had a busy time; as well as training, he and Sir Alastair Cook ran a coaching session with Zayed Cricket Academy players at Abu Dhabi Cricket. Banton chose to take an extended break from bubble-life, turning down a second season with Brisbane Heat to spend more time at home this winter. This seemed beneficial in a more relaxed Tom Banton training in the Middle East the last fortnight. He then scored a sublime hundred on day one of preseason v Glamorgan-great signs.
It’s going to be a particularly exciting summer in Taunton with various types of cricket being played. Not just the men’s three formats, but also Western Storm, Sri Lanka development XI and England Lions v South Africa men will be at the Cooper Associates County Ground too.
Brian the cat has been built a hut and plans have been unveiled to revamp the
Sir, now Lord, Ian Botham Stand. The Marcus Trescothick Pavilion is going to have more padded seats and a new, larger scoreboard is going to replace the previously faulty one beside Gimblett’s Hill. Here disabled access will improve too.
Pitch drainage issues have also been worked on, removing current silica topsoil and relaying grass to help diving fielders too. Not all of this will be done this summer, but big plans are in the pipeline in Taunton to get the ground closer to ECB standards for regular international fixtures.
Jason Kerr, Greg Kennis, Steve Kirby and Paul Tweddle have slightly tweaked the winter training to focus more on batting for long periods of time. Pressure applied for a two hour-long session to replicate batting in the four-day game more realistically. This could be the most important and beneficial move in recent times.
Outs: Eddie Byrom (Glamorgan), Sam Young (released)
Overseas players: Marchant de Lange (South Africa) Peter Siddle & Matt Renshaw (Australia)
In the final Adelaide Strikers match of the Big Bash League (BBL) season, the Eliminator, Renshaw dropped a sitter off Siddle’s bowling. The same week Somerset announced both would be joining forces in the west country this summer-let’s hope they’ll have got over that by then!
Renshaw made a real impact at Somerset in his previous stint, well known for his constant chatter and chirping, but most memorable for that boundary-laden Championship knock vs Yorkshire. His first 52 runs all came in fours and sixes, finishing with 16 fours and four sixes. He plundered 112 from 99 balls-more than half Somerset’s first innings total on that day in April 2018. In the same game Yorkshire were bowled out for 96, so it was hardly a pitch like Rawalpindi, Antigua and Barbados in recent weeks! He is hoped to form a formidable opening partnership with fellow left-hander Tom Lammonby this year.
Peter Siddle will provide key depth to a squad that has oodles of right-arm seam talent. But realistically Craig Overton and Lewis Gregory will likely miss some of the county season for international duty, Jack Brooks is 37-years-old and had double achilles and thumb surgery whilst the likes of Ned Leonard, Kasey Aldridge, Sonny Baker and Ollie Sale are all relatively young and inexperienced and have had injury issues of their own-as most fast bowlers are prone. This leaves Josh Davey as the only experienced seamer likely to play most of the season and that’s only because Scotland allow him to prioritise County cricket. Siddle will be particularly potent and to be frank it is a real surprise Essex let him go to their main rivals.
Trying to think of a different player to previous years is tricky; ruling out Abell or Lammonby. Gregory and Overton are crucial but even the most ardent Somerset supporters don’t want to deny them England experiences. Thus, Lewis Goldsworthy could be an unthought-of key player. With James Hildreth’s form waning in recent years, now 37-years-old, Goldsworthy could take up the key batting mantle of number three or four in all three formats. Add in his improving slow left-armers and electric fielding at point then you have a seriously useful talent. A better batsman than van der Merwe, they could both play T20s, but Goldsworthy will get the nod for his batting more so in the longest form.
Player to Watch
George Bartlett has shown irregular glimpses of promise for a few years now without having a really stellar season or consistent run scoring yet. He could cement a number five or six spot in the Championship and RLC-the latter where he would be a senior batter along with Hildreth and Steve Davies. Without ‘keeping or being much of a bowling option (see some of the Championship draw-bowling clips for a bit of a laugh here) he has no alternative strings to his bow. But if he continues to keep working on his batting he could be a useful link between Hildreth and the allrounders who regularly have had to come in too early in recent years.
How they’ll fare
I feel this year is one of the hardest to predict with so many changes to the game, formats, schedule etc in recent times. Skybet have Somerset fourth favourites for the Championship behind Warwickshire, but I don’t feel many would have tipped them for the title they won last year. Meanwhile for the Blast Somerset are joint favourites with the white-ball side of the past decade-Notts. Even at 38-years-old now, it’s hard to bet against a side led by serial T20 competition winner Dan Christian- leading them for a seventh campaign.
The RLC is the hardest to call amidst the ECB’s advent of this new franchise tournament, hence Skybet having four favourites. I reckon this is Somerset’s to win as they have such a strong squad of youngsters, alongside the old-heads of Brooks, Davey, Hildreth and Davies-even Renshaw and Siddle may play some 50-over cricket this summer which will be great to see.
Davey had groin surgery after the World Cup and only joined the preseason campaign today (first match-bowling late on the morning of Friday 1st April). Abell missed out on most of the BBL and all the PSL with a knee problem, but has batted and bowled in preseason so both should be fit for the below.
Thursday 7th April 11:00 Hampshire Away CC
Season Odds (Skybet)
County Champions: 6/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: 8/1
Vitality Twenty20 Blast: 7/1