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Somerset have a reputation for finishing second and, as their side ages, they may soon begin to wonder if their best chance of a trophy has gone
April 15, 2013
It has been so common to focus on Somerset's habit of coming runners-up - six times in the last three seasons - that the actual make-up of their side can be rather forgotten. And, while they were arguably only an Alviro Petersen missed flight away from beating Durham at Chester-le-Street, Somerset's squad now has a somewhat disjointed feel.
Somerset have a lot of fine players, and their first-choice X1 remains formidable. Last year a spate of injuries, including to Marcus Trescothick and Nick Compton, which meant they used 24 players in the season, couldn't prevent them finishing as Championship runners-up. Had it been any other side, this would have been regarded as the biggest achievement of the year at county level. Instead it was just Somerset doing what Somerset do: come second.
But the age imbalance of Somerset's squad may become a problem in 2013. They have a lot of players at the start and end of their careers and, especially with Nick Compton now an England Test regular, a lack of players aged 24-30.
Their two leading quicks, Alfonso Thomas and Steve Kirby, are 35 and 36. Peter Trego was magnificent in 2012 but it's asking much for him to repeat his tally of 600 runs and 50 wickets. In time the Overton twins will make fine replacements, but, having just turned 19, it would be highly unusual for them to find consistency just yet.
The depth in the batting is perhaps even more of a concern. The top seven that Somerset should put out this week - Trescothick, Alviro Petersen, Compton, James Hildreth, Craig Kieswetter, Jos Buttler and Trego - is arguably the finest on the county circuit. Of the reserves, only Arul Suppiah is an established county player, and he averaged only 29 last season and managed 5 and 17 at Chester-Le-Street. The lack of young batting talent emanating from Taunton is a particular concern. Alex Barrow averages just 14 after 17 first-class matches and Buttler, for all his thrilling limited-overs improvisation, averaged only 26 in the Championship last year.
Somerset are clearly aware of the problem of their missing generation: it is why they tried to sign both Rory Hamilton-Brown and James Harris. They remain capable of a title challenge, but it's rare for Championships to be won by sides with only two regulars - Hildreth and Kieswetter - not liable to be described either as 'bright young things' or 'veterans'.
No need to play the whingeing Pom
It's a familiar grumble in an Ashes year: why are we letting all those Australians - no fewer than 18 - play? Ed Cowan and Chris Rogers - one definite Ashes starter, another very possible one - appeared on different sides in Middlesex's win over Nottinghamshire. The invitations for Nick Compton and Alastair Cook to play for Queensland and South Australia are, presumably, in the post.
There are legitimate complaints - certainly, county cricket's hospitality to overseas players is seldom returned by other countries. But the fundamental issue should be whether they help to increase the standard of the county game. Cowan might benefit from playing for half a season at Trent Bridge but Alex Hales, who could do with some of Cowan's application if he is to play Test cricket, may gain just as much.
It should also be remembered that Phil Hughes' stunning demonstration of his idiosyncratic strengths for Middlesex before the 2009 Ashes - he averaged 143 - helped teach England where not to bowl to him.
And if you implement a ban where do you stop? Rogers now looks like he could play in this year's Ashes but no one would have predicted that when he first signed for Middlesex. Maybe we shouldn't fret and just enjoy watching them play.
Tom Lancefield: Surrey weren't playing, but this was certainly a good week for men not wanted by the club: Chris Jordan took 6-48 on his Sussex debut; Hamilton-Brown scored a breezy 26 and looked to have rediscovered his vivacity; and Toby Roland-Jones (who flirted with the Surrey second team in 2009) took eight wickets in Middlesex's impressive victory over Nottinghamshire.
But perhaps the most significant performance was by Tom Lancefield, a left-handed opener released by Surrey and, at 22, in danger of slipping out of the game. Playing as a trialist for Gloucestershire 2nd X1, he scored a match-winning century against Surrey - and it was essentially a 1st X1 attack. Lancefield soon posted on Twitter that he had "proven certain individuals wrong".
Adam Wheater: An unbeaten half-century on Championship debut certainly constitutes a good week. But the highlight for Adam Wheater was perhaps being picked as Hampshire's wicket-keeper: vindication for his move away from Essex, where the supreme excellence of James Foster meant Wheater had to be picked as a batsman alone. He can easily justify that - his first-class average has now nudged 40 - but keeping will maximise his chances of an England career. Of course, it was all rather less good news for Michael Bates. Even at 21, he is considered one of the finest keepers in England but his batting - at this stage he is probably no better than a good No 8 - is holding him back.
David Hopps: Quietly hoping Yorkshire would do well was one thing; tipping them as a value bet for the Championship was quite another. That was what ESPNcricinfo's UK editor - coincidentally, Leeds based - did before the season - claiming the decision was sprung on him in haste. An innings defeat later and it doesn't look quite such a good bet.Still, the odds are now even more attractive.
Admittedly, Yorkshire are rather better than the ignominy of beginning the season with 96 all out at home suggests, even if our man on the Supporters' Network thinks it is high time they set a third man.
Few teams have a comparable depth of fast-bowling talent and a hungry Jonny Bairstow should score a lot of runs. Perhaps the key lies in Andrew Gale and Adam Lyth, a pair of very talented homegrown batsman who could be considered bellwethers for the side. They only managed a combined 33 in four innings against Sussex.
Former England pace bowlers: Sajid Mahmood was left out of Essex's side and Steve Harmison didn't even make Durham's 13-man squad. Liam Plunkett did at least play, but one wicket for 53 from 11 overs and a pair of fives with the bat was not the Championship debut he envisaged for Yorkshire.
Dig-in of the Week
A predictable winner, perhaps, but it's hard to overlook Shivnarine Chanderpaul's debut innings for Derbyshire: his 15 spanned 78 balls. No one would be surprised if Chanderpaul was a regular winner of this particular award.
Fixture of the Week
Surrey v Somerset, County Championship, Division One, The Oval, Wednesday
A rare occasion of a county game that needs no building up and which won't be neglected by the national press.
Countyscape will be appearing weekly, every Monday, throughout the county season
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