Feature

Tom Abell plays it straight as Somerset's Hundred contingent roll back into town

Somerset have felt foresaken by Hundred but diplomatic club captain has steered clear of culture war

David Hopps
David Hopps
26-Aug-2021
Tom Abell lines up one of his trademark scoops, Somerset vs Kent, Vitality Blast, Taunton, June 15, 2021

Tom Abell lines up one of his trademark scoops  •  Getty Images

Tom Abell is centre stage again for Somerset's official preview of their Vitality Blast quarter-final against Lancashire. Playing one of his trademark flips over the wicketkeeper's head. A player admired from Wincanton to Watchet. Young Tom, 27 now, safely back in the fold just as the season reaches its climax.
Somerset are in dependable hands with Abell back alongside the T20 captain, Lewis Gregory. His passion for Somerset is unstinting. They are also in the hands of a diplomat because Abell has a diplomat's approach to life, uttering impeccably appropriate phrases with admirably steely determination.
On the field, in the Blast, he prospers by dash and invention, an energising presence full of cricketing intelligence. Off the field, he plays it straight down the line, living life in the V, addressing events straight from the coaching manual. The captaincy nearly broke him in his early days; it will never remotely break him again.
That diplomacy has never been more useful, this of all seasons. Abell is back from a stint with Birmingham Phoenix and mere mention of the Hundred in these parts causes a mass spluttering so great that it could cause mist to gather across the Somerset levels. No county has felt more forsaken than Somerset, its abiding love for cricket rejected because Taunton is not a city and it possesses a charming cricket ground not a high-capacity stadium.
"I guess it's obviously a slightly awkward position to be in," Abell said. "I can understand the role in the Hundred and as a product it did exactly what it wanted to do - big crowds, good atmosphere and it generated a lot of interest in the cricket. Equally I am a very passionate Somerset player, very passionate about county cricket and I want to see county cricket thrive and I think county Twenty20 has been thriving. Cricket as a whole is in a really good place in this country.
"As part of the Birmingham franchise I spent some time in a different environment and around some great people but I'm a Somerset boy and I'm excited to get back in and around the guys. We obviously still have a lot to focus on this summer."
No matter how the power structures shift in professional cricket in England in Wales over the next decade, it can be taken for granted that Abell's bond with Taunton will never weaken.
"I think cricket is at the heart of everything that goes on in Taunton," he said. "You walk down the street and there is a very intimate feel around the place. You bump into supporters and members all the time. We are a very tight group as players, squad, coaching staff and have an incredible relationship. There is a huge amount of passion for Somerset cricket. That is what makes the place so special."
He has had a frustrating two months, a hamstring complaint ruling him out of the bulk of the Blast's group stages, and all but one match in the Hundred, but as he said with impeccable good sense: "I try and keep it all in perspective. Nobody enjoys being out injured. I love what I do. But there are worse things happen to other people."
In the one Phoenix match he did play, against Northern Superchargers at Headingley, he got a close-up view of the last blows from Liam Livingstone, on his way to an unbeaten 92 from 40 balls with 10 sixes. A threat, obviously, to Abell's happy homecoming in the quarter-final.
"He is a huge player, currently one of the best white-ball players in the world," Abell said. "I have been watching him in the last month and to be brutally honest I didn't think he was as good as he is. We'll obviously be trying to negate his threat."
Somerset have challenges of their own, not least the loss of Devon Conway's calming influence at the top of the order (he broke a finger in the Hundred and has flown home) which is bound to change the dynamic; James Hildreth is a likely candidate to fill in. Lewis Goldsworthy is also absent with illness while Craig Overton is playing for England in Leeds.
Abell is returning at a vital time. Somerset loves him. Whether he will awake on Friday morning with Somerset still contesting two trophies - not just the Blast, but that elusive first Championship title - will soon be revealed.

David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps