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Alex Winter at Taunton
August 7, 2012
Nottinghamshire 18 for 1 v Somerset
The County Championship has been marginalised by many things this summer, not least the weather, with the "reserve Ashes" between England Lions and Australia A at Old Trafford the latest event to take the limelight away from the competition just as it moves towards the business end.
Two of the best sides in England are at Taunton in a crucial match that could have significant impact on the title. But country before club has long been the emphasis in English cricket and clearly the ECB sees more value in the second-best players in the land playing an unofficial Test than helping their counties try to win the Championship.
Somerset are most disadvantaged. Nick Compton has made 1,036 Championship runs at 86.33 this season - outperforming by a distance every other player - and helped Somerset maintain their push for a first title. But with such a historic milestone within reach, England have put their needs above Somerset's.
"We're where we are in the table mainly because Nick Compton has played so well in adverse conditions," Brian Rose, Somerset's director of cricket, told ESPNcricinfo. "It's frustrating to get towards the end of the season and have a clash of fixtures. It's coming to a crucial time in the Championship, we're just a win behind the two leaders and if we have a good game here it will set up an exciting time for the club.
"But I'm a great supporter of England Lions games because it's a precursor to Test cricket. Nick deserves to play and all credit to him, he's played tremendously well. Don't forget you put so much into development you want players to play for England, that's part of our job to get players into the England team so there's no way Somerset or Nottinghamshire are going to be complaining about that."
So perhaps the counties are now more inclined to measure success by their contribution to the England team than to their trophy cabinets? Maybe that can be understood given the level of financial support now offered by the ECB to promote young players in the county game. But an entire west country XI for England could not usurp a first Championship title for Somerset.
Victory for them here would see Somerset join Warwickshire, Nottinghamshire and Sussex on four wins but Rose was philosophical about the impact of losing players to the Lions. "At the end of the day, the sides that are going to win the Championship are going to be good enough to stay at the top," he said. "The weather has been the biggest factor this year, which has compressed the competition, but I think at the end of the day the best team should still win it."
Weather certainly owned day one. All credit was due to the umpires for refusing to call off play with showers falling in the early afternoon. The weather cleared long enough for Somerset to win the toss and ask Notts to bat at 4.40pm. But eight overs in and the heavens gathered again. One more ball was possible and Peter Trego found the outside edge of Riki Wessels' bat. It was entirely expected on a very green wicket that offered plenty to Trego and Steve Kirby.
So far in this match, it hasn't particularly mattered who is playing. "Swings and roundabouts" was Rose's summing up of the situation. Notts are without Samit Patel - 329 runs and 14 wickets in nine matches this season - and would have been without James Taylor too had he not earned a last-minute call-up for the second Test at Headingley. Somerset are also missing wicketkeeper Craig Kieswetter. Jos Buttler is behind the stumps in this match.
"I've mentioned to the ECB that these fixtures don't clash so players can play at both ends," Rose said, who was keen on the idea of a window for Lions' games if space could be found. "The best thing if you're coming towards the end of the Championship would be to have the fixture list represented in a slightly better fashion. But it all depends on future tours and how the Championship and T20s are composed as well. The authorities are looking at it."
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