May 29, 2013

Above Somerset only clouds

Poor form, international call-ups and injuries have left Somerset reeling in the Championship and their supporters more than "begrumpled"

Somerset were skittled twice inside two days at Horsham in their latest batting failure © Getty Images

The sign for Liverpool John Lennon Airport has a scribbled picture, a copy of a self portrait by the Beatle, and an appropriate line from his song Imagine: "above us only sky". It is on a road I travel frequently. Last September some graffiti had been added by a disgruntled supporter from the red half of Merseyside: "below us only QPR and Reading".

Liverpool hadn't won a lot in recent seasons but they were generally there or thereabouts. But a dreadful start and two months into the season supporters were looking over their shoulders at the bottom of the table. A third of the way through the County Championship season and Somerset supporters are doing the same.

Following their televised draw against Warwickshire at Taunton - a match where the cricket from both teams was of the highest quality but which Somerset will know they should have won - the downward slide has gathered apace: a batting collapse after following on at Yorkshire, defeat only averted because so much time had been lost earlier in the match; a third-day deluge at Taunton only delayed the inevitable as Middlesex passed the 71 they needed to win after 7pm.

Dodgy weather wasn't even given the opportunity to be the saviour at Horsham, where the match was over before tea on day two, leaving Sussex to celebrate an innings victory whilst wondering what the heck they were going to do with their fully booked hospitality tents on day three.

Either side of a 122-run sixth-wicket partnership between Jos Buttler and Peter Trego in the second innings of the Middlesex match (in vain, apart from forcing them to bat again) Somerset have made 311 for the loss of 28 wickets and 292 for 25. Hey, I'll do the maths for you - that's less than 12 runs per wicket. They are not being beaten by extreme pace or extravagant turn but by bowlers bowling a consistent line and length. Or in cricketer speak "putting the ball in good areas". And every time Bono clicks his fingers a Somerset wicket falls.

Even Alviro Petersen has fallen victim to the highly contagious Somerset Syndrome, scoring just 17 runs in his four innings since being announced as the replacement for the injured Graeme Smith in South Africa's Champions Trophy squad. News is he was placed in quarantine on his arrival in Amsterdam to join the Proteas, for fear of him spreading this virulent infection. Another South African, Dean Elgar, has flown in to fill the Petersen-shaped hole whilst he is away on international duty.

Somerset are not just battling poor form but those other two members of the axis of selection evil, injury an international call-ups. Craig Kieswetter's fractured thumb, sustained on the final day of the drawn Warwickshire match, is yet to fully recover, with no sign yet of him even playing second-team Xbox. Craig Overton is out for the season with a back injury and Alfonso Thomas has done a hammy.

Buttler leaves to join England's Champions Trophy squad (Alex Barrow takes the gloves for the first time in the Championship against Yorkshire) and whilst Nick Compton will return from England Test duty the last thing he needs is to slot into a batting line-up with all the resilience of cottage cheese. At least George Dockrell is back, having proved his recovery from a finger injury by playing for Ireland against Pakistan. His batting average in the Championship this season (12.5) is the fourth highest among the squad named to play Yorkshire.

Somerset supporters on the whole may be a magnanimous lot (we've had a lot of practice) but for some "begrumpled" doesn't come close. The soon-to-be-named Brian Rose Gates could be adorned with the heads of the director of cricket, the coach, the captain, many of the batsmen, some of the bowlers and the office cat if a few supporters get their way. Rose, castigated over the years for Somerset's failure to bring a trophy to Taunton, is now seen by some as "the special one". If things don't improve it may be only a matter of time before a Mourinho-esque return is called for.

But through these dark clouds of Somerset misery a beam of light has shone. For it seems a different side has turned out for the YB40 matches. The gift of an opening match against group minnows the Unicorns was gratefully received, to be followed by emphatic wins against both Yorkshire and Middlesex.

The perfect start in this competition came to a sudden halt at Grace Road where they failed to defend a total of 323 against a Josh Cobb-inspired Leicestershire. Some will point to deficiencies in the bowling and fielding; the loss of Thomas with a hamstring injury early in the innings cannot have helped. Hopefully this result was a blip. In the meantime a batting line-up stymied by uncertainty against the red ball has made 1102 runs at 8.4 runs per over against the white.

Elgar will play his first match against Yorkshire at Taunton. Supporters will hope his arrival will solve the enigma of Somerset's failed batting confidence, returning them to their pomp. In such a circumstance surely glory will follow.

Nicky King is a Somerset supporter and member of Somerset CCC's radio commentary team. She tweets here