County previews 2014 March 30, 2014

Somerset face up to change

Last year
6th, CC Div 1; Quarter-finals, FLt20; Semi-finals, YB40.

2013 in a nutshell
By the standards of most clubs, 2013 was a pretty good season. Somerset reached the semifinals of the YB40, the quarter-finals of the FLt20 and were sixth in the Championship. But, by their high standards, 2013 was a disappointment. Instead of challenging for that elusive Championship title, they ended the season staving off relegation and finished with the same amount of victories (three) as Derbyshire. After failing to win any of their first eight Championship games, they were relieved to win two of their last four, with late-season signing, Piyush Chawla contributing heavily. To worsen matters, the club was unable to retain the services of Jos Buttler after he accepted the offer of more regular wicket-keeping opportunities at Lancashire.

The combination of disappointing results and the Buttler departure led to questions about the future of the new director of cricket Dave Nosworthy, who was recruited from South Africa ahead of the season. Though the club hierarchy sensibly reasoned that he needed more than a year to instil his values at the club, he will enter 2014 under some pressure.

Marcus Trescothick, for so long the rock upon which Somerset's efforts were built, struggled for form in 2013 and failed to register a century in the season for the first time since 1998. It was a decline mirrored across a good part of the squad, with Steve Kirby also a fading force with the ball and the club's coterie of younger players slightly too green to take up the slack. Gemaal Hussain, who never replicated the excellence of his form with Gloucestershire, was released at the end of the season. There were success stories: Nick Compton reached 1,000 runs in the season and averaged 50+ despite playing only 12 Championship matches and Craig Kieswetter cast off his disappointing Championship form with an excellent T20 campaign.

2014 prospects
A glance at the bowling attack sums up the situation in which Somerset find themselves. With Kirby (who is now 36 and may well miss the start of the season following shoulder surgery) and Alfonso Thomas (aged 37) a year or two past their best and the younger crop - the Overtons, Dockrell, Meschede, Gregory et al - still developing, the club finds itself in a transitional era. It is similar with the batting, with Somerset having been heavily reliant on either Trescothick and Compton in recent times and more now required from the likes of James Hildreth and Craig Kieswetter in the Championship. Perhaps that explains the recruitment of Johann Myburgh, a 33-year-old batting all-rounder of South African background but who does not count as an overseas player, to strengthen the middle-order. Much will be required of the young all-rounders Meschede and Gregory if the struggles of last year are not to be repeated. A title challenge might therefore prove beyond them, with the limited-overs competitions offering a better chance of success. Alviro Petersen returns as overseas player, with the club still exploring the market for T20 options.

Key player
By backing Craig Kieswetter as keeper ahead of Buttler, Somerset made a clear choice about which of the two they would rather stay with the club. It is not just Kieswetter's playing ability that the club rate, it is his character. Somerset remains pleasantly, but perhaps not helpfully, gentle and it may prove that Kieswetter is promoted to a leadership role sooner rather than later. Bearing in mind the club's commitment to him, many were surprised by his decision to enter the IPL auction and it remains a danger that he will win a recall to the England set-up, leaving Somerset without both him and Buttler. But for now, he remains a highly valuable player for the club and a central part of the long-term plans.

Bright young thing
Somerset have an excellent record of producing players in recent years and there are many young men on their current staff who could have been chosen for this category. But in the Overton twins, they have two gems. Jamie Overton has gained more attention so far and is blessed with the height and unusual pace that suggests he could go on to enjoy a career at the top level. But Craig, who missed most of last season with a back injury, is also a fine prospect. While not quite as quick as his brother, he has an action that faintly resembles Stuart Broad's and also bats. There are concerns both could be over-bowled or called into the England system too soon, but both have the raw potential to become valuable players for Somerset for a decade or more.

Dave Nosworthy remains as director of cricket, with Andy Hurry now in charge of the academy and player development. Dave Houghton has joined as batting coach and Jason Kerr has been promoted to the bowling coach role. Trescothick remains as captain, with James Hildreth vice-captain. It may well be that he or Kieswetter will take the captaincy role in at least one of the formats sooner rather than later.

ESPNcricinfo verdict
A Championship challenge looks unlikely, with Somerset in transition and Nosworthy's plans for the future taking shape. The club do possess an unusual number of talented young bowlers, though, so the long-term future remains bright.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo