County news May 18, 2012

Somerset end search with Levi signing

Richard Levi, the South Africa opening batsman who jointly holds the record for the highest score in Twenty20 internationals, has signed with Somerset for the Friends Life T20. Levi replaces countryman Faf du Plessis, who was not permitted to travel to Somerset by CSA because of national commitments.

"We are delighted to have him on board," Brian Rose, Somerset's director of cricket said. "With Marcus Trescothick likely to miss the start of our T20 campaign, I wanted to sign a power hitter for the top of our batting order. Richard certainly fits the bill and is capable of making Taunton look a very small ground.

"It was frustrating to miss out on du Plessis, particularly after what happened with Chris Gayle. But I am more than happy to have secured Richard's services and we will keep fingers crossed that nothing happens to prevent him joining us."

Somerset have suffered major setbacks in their bid to secure a second overseas player for the Flt20. Chris Gayle pulled out of their campaign after opting to play for West Indies in the upcoming ODI series against England before du Plessis was forced to cancel his arrangement because CSA require him to play in a series between South Africa A and Sri Lanka A and an unofficial T20 tri-series with Zimbabwe and Bangladesh - a series that Levi and Albie Morkel, who has also agreed to play for Somserset, could still be required for.

That series is scheduled from June 18 to 24. If they are required, the pair will be able to play in Somerset's first two matches on June 13 and 14, before joining up with the South Africa national squad for their week in Harare. They would then return to Somerset to play the remaining five fixtures and be available for a potential quarter-final and finals day.

Although Levi and Morkel are not CSA contracted players, unlike du Plessis, both are part of the national squad's limited-overs plans and had to receive clearance from CSA before committing to Somerset. "Team management and the coaching staff had a discussion about it and we decided it's about giving both opportunity and experience in this format," Mohammed Moosajee, South Africa team manager, said.

Levi, in particular, has found a niche in the twenty-over game. He smashed an unbeaten 117 in his second T20 match for South Africa against New Zealand in Wellington in February, breaking Chris Gayle's record and hitting the most sixes in a T20 innings with 13. The 45-ball century was also a world record.

The knock earned him a contact with the Mumbai Indians for the IPL season, after initially going unsold, and he immediately impressed with a half-century on debut for them. Since then, Levi has struggled, particularly against the pace and swing of Dale Steyn. He has played in six matches and totalled 83 runs and could use more time in the middle in preparation for the World T20 later this year.

Somerset are set to provide that, extending their long association with South African players. Graeme Smith captained them to victory in the Twenty20 Cup in 2005 and they have recently enjoyed the services of seamer Vernon Philander in the County Championship.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent