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Analysis

Somerset living the life of Rilee as power-packed line-up advances on Finals Day

Aggression in abundance as Taunton high-fliers brace for semi-final

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
14-Jul-2022
Rilee Rossouw and Tom Abell have been integral to Somerset's powerful scoring this season  •  Getty Images

Rilee Rossouw and Tom Abell have been integral to Somerset's powerful scoring this season  •  Getty Images

Two-hundred and sixty-five for five. Somerset's total in their Blast quarter-final on Saturday night was the highest score in the 20 seasons of English domestic T20 cricket, and the fifth-highest in the format's history worldwide as Derbyshire's inexperienced attack - the impressive George Scrimshaw apart - buckled under the hostility of a packed Taunton crowd.
"Absolutely magic," was Tom Abell's description, speaking to ESPNcricinfo before leading England Lions against South Africa this week. "Quarter-final nights here at Taunton are the nights that we'll never forget. It's always a phenomenal atmosphere. For the guys to perform and step up like they did was brilliant: it gives us a real confidence boost going into the weekend."
The star, as so often this season, was Rilee Rossouw, who has quickly become one of the best overseas signings in the Blast's history. He has scored exactly 600 runs, averaging 50 while striking at 197.36, an unprecedented combination of dependability and destruction which has earned him a recall to South Africa's T20I squad. Against Derbyshire, he thumped 93 off 36 - including 34 runs off a single over of Mattie McKiernan's legspin.
"Rilee's been a legend," Will Smeed added, also speaking while on Lions duty. "Everyone loves spending time with him and the way he's performed for us this year has just been ridiculous. He's on a different level to any of the guys here. It feels like every time I'm batting with him, we're both just trying to slog every ball for six. It's pretty fun."
"Phenomenal," Abell said. "He's absolutely out of this world. He's been unbelievably consistent for us and obviously the way he bats, he's just so destructive and probably hits the cleanest ball I've ever seen. You can never guarantee performance but we knew Rilee's quality and we knew what we were signing. It's been a privilege to have him with us."
Somerset have been the fastest-scoring team in the country this season, empowered not only by Taunton's flat pitches and small boundaries, but the depth of their batting line-up. The lower order have been key in several wins this season - notably at Bristol, Lord's and Cardiff - and with batting down to No. 10, the top order of Tom Banton, Smeed and Rossouw have been liberated.
"The way the team has worked this year, it's been different people putting their hands up at different times," Smeed said. "We have a team full of match-winners on their day and we take a lot of confidence from that. It helps a lot when you've got faith in the guys coming behind you: you can play freely, and try to really take the game to the opposition."
With the ball, there has been a clear shift in approach over the past three seasons. Somerset used to be a spin-heavy team, with Max Waller and Roelof van der Merwe regularly bowling their full allocation of overs. Now, Waller has become a peripheral squad member and they are a seam-dominant side, prioritising wickets over restricting run-rates; only Hampshire, their semi-final opponents on Saturday, have taken more this season.
That shift has been led by Abell, who has taken over the T20 captaincy from Lewis Gregory to add to his Championship role. "It's obviously not without its stresses and challenges," he said. "Lewy G was a phenomenal captain in white-ball cricket for us so he's a tough act to follow - a brilliant cricket brain and still a huge ally to me out in the middle.
"I feel very lucky that we've got a quality side. The guys have made my life a lot easier as captain by performing so well. We've got a settled side and a clear formula with how we're playing our T20 cricket. Qualifying for Finals Day is obviously a big thing but now we're there, our sole aim is that we just want to win it."
Abell himself has had a solid season with the bat, finding form towards the end of the group stages. "My role in the side is that I'm just trying to play the situation as best I can and adapt to whatever situation I'm in," he explained. "I was a little bit inconsistent in the first half of the competition but I feel like I've started to find my feet."
His own standing as a T20 batter has grown markedly in the last five years, to the extent that Jos Buttler approached him during the Hundred last year to ask him about a shot that has become his trademark: a reverse-scoop over short third. Abell blushed when asked about that interaction: "Ah, Christ," he said, laughing.
"Jos is a huge role model for all of us here at Somerset, obviously now getting to captain England - it's amazing to see him and how well he's done. I was just catching up with him before a game at the Hundred and I'm not sure what he can learn from me, to be honest: he's got everything that you could ask for in a batter.
"I was trying to pick his brains but yeah, he asked me about that scoop because that's a shot that I quite like to play. But he probably does it far better than me." On Saturday, Abell has the chance to show it off on county cricket's biggest stage.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98