Somerset storm to another domestic final
Somerset 165 for 3 (Suppiah 57, Trego 40*) beat Durham 219 (Benkenstein 82, Kirby 3-31) by 39 runs (D/L method)
The period in the late 70s and early 80s is generally referred to as the 'glory days' of Somerset cricket. But perhaps that theory will have to be reviewed. For while the current Somerset side has yet to clinch the trophy their domestic dominance deserves, there has never been a period in the club's history when the team has challenged so consistently across so many competitions. A good case could be made to suggest that this is the golden age of Somerset cricket.
Despite the absence of several leading players - Marcus Trescothick and Nick Compton are injured; Craig Kieswetter is on England duty - Somerset brushed aside a strong Durham side to reach their fifth successive domestic final. While they've lost the previous four (three Twenty20s - against Sussex in 2009, Hampshire in 2010 and Leicestershire in 2011 and one CB40 - against Warwickshire in 2010), the remarkable consistency they have shown in continually reaching finals is admirable. Remember, they missed out on the Championship title by the smallest possible margin last year, too. They are surely doing far more right than wrong.
There's no reason Somerset should not continue to thrive, either. In the short-term, Kieswetter will be released by England to play in the final and Trescothick has an outside chance of recovering from his ankle problem. In the longer-term, the fact that five of this side were aged 20 or under bodes extremely well for the future. Both on and off the pitch, Somerset are setting high standards in how to run a cricket club.
Several of those young players made important contributions in this game. Chris Jones, 20 years old and making just his second List A appearance, ensured a bright start to their run-chase with a fluent innings that seemed to dis-spirit Durham and also fielded superbly. His run-out of Mark Stoneman - a direct hit from mid off - set the tone for the game.
It is, however, the blend of youth and experience that make this Somerset side such a potent force. Alfonso Thomas, who may just be the best limited-overs seamer in the world at present, was typically frugal (conceding under four an over on this ground is exceptional), while Steve Kirby dismissed the dangerous Gordon Muchall with one that nipped back and then bowled too fast and too full for the tail to stage any revival. 28-year-old Arul Suppiah, with 57 from 44 balls, made sure of the result with an innings studded with sweetly timed strokes.
It was Peter Trego who deservedly won the Man of the Match award. The 30-year-old allrounder bowled intelligently to his field, picking up the wickets of Phil Mustard and Paul Collingwood, before producing a calm and unbeaten innings of 40 to ensure his side did not squander their strong position.
Durham, however, will reflect that they failed to do themselves justice in this game. Their wayward bowling at the start of the Somerset innings was particularly disappointing, but their batsmen also failed to adjust to a slower than expected pitch and, by attempting to set an unrealistic total, perished for a score that was probably at least 20 short of par. Durham's fielding, carrying the bulky Ian Blackwell, also paled in comparison with Somerset's.
Only when Blackwell and Benkenstein were together did Durham threaten to set a completive total. The pair added 85 in 14 overs, with both men enjoying the short boundaries and threatening a revival. Blackwell mis-hit a slog-sweep to midwicket, however, and Benkenstein, called through for an unlikely second run by Scott Borthwick, was run-out after Lewis Gregory - another of those promising young Somerset players - produced a superb throw.
Had Somerset taken all their chances, however - Blackwell could have been run-out before he scored and was dropped on one and Benkenstein was dropped by Murali Kartik at slip off Craig Meschede before he had scored - this would have been a rout.
Perhaps the manner of victory left something to be desired. Heavy rain forced the players off with Somerset still requiring another 55 runs to win and forcing Duckworth-Lewis to decide the result. Some would have preferred the reserve day to be utilised. Few, however, would dispute that the best side had progressed.