Cameron Ponsonby is a freelance cricket writer in London. @cameronponsonby
Somerset 124 for 6 (Lammonby 33) beat Hampshire 123 (Fuller 42, Davey 3-21) by four wickets
In James Vince, Tom Banton and Will Smeed, this T20 encounter between Hampshire and Somerset included the ghosts of England's white-ball past, present and future. Three players, at three different stages of their careers, each sharing the same goal of turning international potential into proven ability.
Here, in a low-scoring affair that Somerset ended up winning by four wickets, Vince churned to 12 off 14, Banton showed glimpses in 20 off 21, whilst Smeed shone but ultimately fell for 22 off 15. Three starts, but nothing further for England's posse of potential, as pathetic fallacy fans across the land cheered in celebration.
All three will be looking to England's tour of the Netherlands in two weeks' time with varying degrees of intensity. For Vince, it is an opportunity to further cement his return to the ghost of white-ball present after he scored his maiden international century last summer. Whilst for Banton, omission would hint at his slipping in the other direction. His outings for England in the T20Is against West Indies in January were his first in international colours since 2020, with the next generation of white-ball stars, such as team-mate Smeed, now appearing to apply further pressure.
Smeed is riding the wave of initial success. Happily settled in his role of being the player of Somerset today, but of England tomorrow, he set his team en route to victory today with a brisk cameo that removed any doubt from a game that was already in the away team's hands. The highlight of his innings came in dismissing Australia bowler Nathan Ellis for two boundaries in three deliveries, the second of which flew over a long midwicket boundary.
But before too much excitement takes hold it is worth urging caution and noting the fact that Smeed is yet to fail at this level. As one county academy coach explained years ago in relation to another young England prodigy, you shouldn't judge a player until they've failed and come back for a second time. Only then, can you be sure they possess the skillset to adapt and the temperament to succeed at the top level.
It is a challenge that his opening partner Banton is currently facing. In an interview with Wisden in November, Banton explained of his breakthrough season in 2019 - when he was the same age as Smeed is now - "back then, you weren't afraid of failure. Maybe I am a little bit more now, which I'm not sure why."
It's like failing your driving test. Once is allowed. But twice, well, people start to wonder what's going on. And the doubt creeps in.
It was a mindset displayed by their respective starts. The first eight balls of Banton's innings brought six runs, whilst for Smeed, it was 17. Smeed displaying the much-serenaded fearlessness of youth, while for Banton, great age (all 23 years of it) brought great responsibility.
Whilst the match was all but secured by Smeed and Banton's opening partnership of 46, it was won by Somerset's seamers. On a dank and grey Hampshire evening, they shared all ten wickets around as the home side never threatened to put up a match-winning total. The opening powerplay featured just three boundaries, but crucially, also three wickets.
Vince, who navigated the early stages after his side had fallen to 6 for 2, was the fourth wicket to fall, caught just as he was looking to hit the accelerator having put much of the innings on his back in the early proceedings.
The state of the contest was best summarised when Marchant de Lange struck James Fuller on the arm after the batter made no real effort to get out the way of a short ball, and instead decided to accept his fate and pick up some arnica on the way home. de Lange then proceeded to kill him with kindness after wounding him with pace with an arm around the shoulder and a quiet word in the ear.
"Maybe try opening your eyes next time."
Fuller was, however, the lone bright spot in an otherwise miserable innings for Hampshire - his 42 off 28 the standout in 20 overs where only two other batters managed to strike at above 100. Particularly tortured was Liam Dawson, who scored a boundary-free 13 off 21 balls.
In reply, Somerset briefly stumbled when the finish line was in sight, as 80 for 2 became 89 for 5. But Tom Lammonby's 33 off 22 put an end to any Hampshire hopes and ensured a comfortable and deserved victory for a Somerset side who continued their unbeaten start to the Blast campaign with a third win in a row. Hampshire, meanwhile, have lost both of their opening fixtures.