July 31, 2013

Sweet torture keeps addicts hooked

After another month of ups and downs, Somerset qualified for the FLt20 knockout stage once again

So there we have it. Somerset have qualified for the T20 knockout stages for the fifth year running. As easy as shelling peas. Not. For they are a county that surely knows how to make their supporters suffer. The match thread on the Somerset supporters site entitled 'squeaky Brum time' certainly proved to be true as Darren Maddy hit Warwickshire towards a swansong, sunset-lit quarter-final. Then Alfonso Thomas and Yasir Arafat, veterans of 26 different major teams with 431 T20 wickets between them, proved that you don't need 101 bowling variations. Just 12 perfectly pitched yorkers. For Somerset supporters the sweet torture continues.

I have been doing cold turkey.

This may surprise you. It surprised me too. For I didn't realise I had a problem. But now I am in no doubt. My name's Nicky and I'm a crickoholic.

I had a very sheltered upbringing (rural Devon, Pony Club). Looking back, the warning signs were there to be seen, as I shut myself away in a darkened room at 1.55pm on a Sunday afternoon. The BBC's John Player League coverage was my gateway drug. Of course it didn't stop there and now I am pouring money into the coffers of counties and Sky in pursuit of cricketing highs.

One day last month it was gone. I found myself shorn of the paraphernalia essential to the true cricket addict - no satellite TV, no internet radio, indeed, no internet at all. Just me, a rather un-smart phone and the BBC.

As even I can't persuade friends to offer ball-by-ball text messaging services from Taunton the only way to follow the cricket was via the BBC and its red button service. This rather jumbled version of the old Ceefax is surely, if we are sticking to drug addiction metaphors, cricket's answer to methadone, feeding you just enough information to stop you imagining there are creepy-crawlies dancing a conga around your room, whilst believing that ten minutes of Nick Knight would be soooo much better.

Anyone under the age of about 30 will have no idea what it was like to watch a day's cricket via Ceefax. Waiting for the page to update. Over the years I may have seen as many Somerset batting collapses via the medium of Ceefax as I have in the flesh.

Anyway, this season has been like deja vu all over again. Somerset's half-term report on their Championship campaign doesn't make pleasant reading. Balanced precariously just two points clear of relegation, draws will not be enough to keep them in the top division. Their single win, a last-day scramble for runs as wickets tumbled against bottom-of-the-table Derbyshire, didn't provide the confidence-boost required and they followed up with another defeat, their fourth of the season and the third inside three days, against Sussex.

Sandwiched between these two matches they hosted the Australians at Taunton. Much of the first day of this match proved to be a contest between a bowling attack described by their recently departed coach as the best in world cricket and Chris Jones, who just a few days previously had been otherwise engaged securing a first in his economics degree at Durham.

Prior to his 130 untroubled runs against the Australians the 22-year-old Jones' first-class record was patchy at best, with a highest score of 69 for Durham MCCU, two Championship half centuries and an average the wrong side of 20. But record-breaking innings are not unknown territory for Jones; last year, playing in the Minor Counties Championship for his native Dorset against Shropshire, he scored 175 and 188 - the aggregate of 363 runs is the highest in Minor Counties history.

Obviously it is quite a step up to play first-class cricket, but he judges where his off stump is extremely well and seems to have an unflappable temperament. He also plays a more than passable version of Kevin Pietersen's 'flamingo' shot. Coincidentally Pietersen is also his only first-class wicket.

As one top-order batsman was making his mark in the team another was announcing his retirement. At 29, Arul Suppiah finally gave up the battle with chronic knee problems. He will be remembered as an attractive batsman, a lightning fielder and a useful bowler, especially in limited-overs cricket. But mainly he will be remembered for one night against Glamorgan when Somerset were struggling to defend an under par total and Trescothick tossed him the ball. His 6 for 5 world-record T20 bowling figures mean that for me and many Somerset supporters there is a little corner of Cardiff that will be forever Suppiah Gardens.

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