County previews April 5, 2016

Gayle, Jayawardene and Rogers bring batting quality

Tom Abell's development will be watched with much interest © Getty Images

Director of cricket: Matt Maynard

Captain: Chris Rogers (Champ); Jim Allenby (T20, 50)

Last season

Specsavers Championship: 6th Div 1; NatWest Blast: Eighth, South Group; Royal London Cup: Sixth in group A

In: Ryan Davies (Kent), Roelof van der Merwe (Dutch passport), Yasir Arafat (Hampshire; loan), Michael Leask.

Out: Craig Meschede (Glamorgan, after loan in 2015), Alfonso Thomas, Adam Dibble, George Dockrell, James Regan, Michael Bates (all released), Tom Cooper (released, no longer eligible as domestic player).

Overseas: Chris Rogers, Chris Gayle (T20), Mahela Jayawardene (T20)

2015 in a nutshell

Disappointing. A club that had grown frustrated of just missing out on silverware sunk back into the also-rans and were not safe from relegation until the final weeks of the season. The sad retirement of Craig Kieswetter due to an eye injury especially weakened the limited-overs sides. While the performance of home-grown players was encouraging - James Hildreth was prolific, Marcus Trescothick rediscovered his form, Tom Abell emerged as one of the most promising young batsmen in the country and Craig Overton finished as the side's highest wicket-taker in the Championship - the imports were generally far less successful. Abdur Rehman claimed 10 wickets from nine Championship matches, while Allenby, Myburgh and Cooper all averaged in the 20s with the bat.

2016 prospects

There is a new look to Somerset in 2016. The ground has a new pavilion and a new name and the Championship team has a new captain. Ryan Davies, the England U-19 wicketkeeper recruited from Kent, may also be a new face behind the stumps. Some of the other recruitments, however, look short-term: four of the imports - two of which are overseas players - are in their 30s and born overseas. Both captains were born in Australia and are in their mid-30s. It suggests a management looking for quick fixes. The batting looks strong, though bowling sides out twice at Taunton remains a challenge. The number of allrounders should lead to limited-overs improvement.

Key player

England recognition - and the Somerset captaincy - may well have passed James Hildreth by at this stage. But, aged 31, he remains a class act with the bat - his reputation, as something of a flat-track bully, is not entirely fair - and he scored more first-class runs than anyone in county cricket 2015. Somerset will need more of the same if they are to survive in the top division.

Bright young thing

Tom Abell was named county cricket's breakthrough player of the year in 2015. While opening the batting - which seems likely - is a big responsibility for a 22-year-old, it does underline how highly he is rated at Taunton and suggests that he could be pushing for England recognition before too long. Either of the Overtons could also have been in this category.

ESPNcricinfo verdict

In some ways Somerset has never been better or stronger: a well-developed ground, strong finances and a recent history of strong performances - if few trophies - has increased expectations at the club. The presence of Chris Gayle and Mahela Jayawardene for the T20 Blast is formidable. There is a nice crop of home-grown talent, too, which makes the influx of journeymen cricketers on passports of convenience all the more surprising. Improvement in white-ball cricket looks probable, while a mid-table Championship finish should be within their reach.

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship, Div 1: 17-1; NatWest Blast 17-2; Royal London Cup 12-1

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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