Welcome to the latest installment in my “All Time XIs” series. Today we are looking at Somerset. In the course of our journey we will meet heroes of the past, stars of the present, a couple of hopes for the future and the man who when I get round to creating it will be captain of the “What Might Have Been XI”.
SOMERSET ALL TIME XI
- Marcus Trescothick – left handed opener who scored stacks of runs in his long and distinguished career. He was selected for England against the West Indies in 2000, showed masses of character in surviving an early onslaught from the veteran pacers Ambrose and Walsh, going on to score 66 on debut. That same winter facing the very different challenges posed by a dry pitch and some crafty spinners in Sri Lanka he made his maiden test hundred. Runs continued to flow against all opponents for some years. At Edgbaston in 2005 after England had been badly beaten in the opening match of that year’s Ashes series at Lord’s a display of controlled aggression brought him 90 on the opening day, after Ponting in spite of losing McGrath, the bowler most likely to cause such a decision to succeed, to injury on the morning of the game put England in. His England career was ended my mental health issues at the back end of 2006, but he returned to Somerset and went on scoring runs for them right up until the end of the 2019 season. He was also a fine slip fielder and bowled respectable medium pace.
- Harold Gimblett – the man who still holds the record for most career first class runs for Somerset, and the highest first class score by a Somerset native (310). On his debut against Essex, after being called up at the last moment, he scored 123 in 79 minutes, winning that season’s Lawrence Trophy for the fastest first class hundred of the season in the process. As with many others who plied their trade for a county who were generally on the fringes of things he received less international recognition than he deserved.
- Lionel Palairet – a stroke making batter of the late Victorian and Edwardian period. In the 1901 season he scored 100 runs in a morning session on five separate occasions. One of those was in a game against Yorkshire that tests credulity: On the first morning Somerset were rolled for 87, to which Yorkshire replied with 325, only for Somerset to score 630 in their second innings, nos 1,2 and 3 all scoring hundreds. Facing a victory target of 393 Yorkshire crumbled to 113 all out, and defeat by 279 runs, their only defeat of the season. He was picked twice for England, Old Trafford and The Oval in 1902, a pulsating three run defeat that settled the destination of that year’s Ashes and “Jessop’s Match” – see my Gloucestershire piece, an extraordinary one wicket victory.
- James Hildreth – a free and heavy scoring middle order batter who somehow completely escaped the notice of the England selectors during a distinguished career. He was used a fielding substitute during the 2005 Ashes, but never got closer than that to the test arena.
- Leonard Braund – at a time when Somerset had few reliable batters, and were not unknown to struggle to get 11 players together for their matches he was a very consistent run scorer, rated as one of the finest of all slip fielders and was a high quality leg spinner. Braund was one of the three centurions in the Somerset come-back mentioned in connection with Palairet (Frank Phillips was the third), and, mirabile dictu, the following season Yorkshire were again champions, again lost only one game and again it was Somerset who were their undoing. This triumph was very much down to Braund – he made the highest individual score of the game and captured 15 wickets in the two Yorkshire innings. In 1907 he found himself in a “good player were at t’other end” scenario, when Albert Trott comprehensively ruined his own benefit match by taking four wickets in four balls and then shortly afterwards ending such resistance as Somerset had offered by doing the hat trick – and poor Braund observed this carnage from 22 yards away, emerging with 28 not out.
- *Sammy Woods – born in Sydney but Somerset through and through. Captain through some very difficult times, and my choice for that role in this side. An attacking right handed bat and a right arm fast bowler.
- Ian Botham – all rounder, a third acknowledged expert in the art of slip fielding alongside Trescothick and Braund in this side. I have him in the position in the batting order from which he scored his two most iconic centuries – 149 not out at Headingley in 1981 to breathe life back into that year’s Ashes when it seemed that Australia were in charge (Bob Willis then took 8-43 to complete the turnaround – see my Warwickshire piece) and then a few weeks later, after he psyched out the Aussie lower order at Edgbaston (a spell of 5-1 in 28 balls, and the only wicket to go a really difficult ball was Ray Bright), with England looking to push home a first innings advantage at Old Trafford he settled the destination of the Ashes and the series by reaching his century off 86 balls, eventually finishing with 118 off 102. After 53 balls of that Old Trafford innings he was on 28 not out, meaning that his last 90 came off 48 balls.
- Dominic Bess – an offspinner and handy lower order bat, who I would hope still has a lot of his career to run. I have selected him in this team because I have been hugely impressed by what he has done in his career thus far, and because I felt obliged for reasons I will explain later to overlook another current England spinner. I first wrote about him in this post, on July 19, 2017, and he has done plenty right since then.
- Joel Garner – my chosen overseas player. A right arm fast bowler of extreme accuracy who was especially awkward on account of his great height (6’8″, which coupled with a leap in his delivery stride and a high arm action meant that the ball was coming down from a height of somewhere in the region of 10 feet above ground level).
- Farmer White – a slow left arm bowler of extreme stamina and accuracy. In the course of the 1928-9 Ashes series in which all matches were played to a finish (and England won 4-1) he ploughed through 542 overs in the five test matches. In the Adelaide match (and beautiful place though it is I would doubt that Adelaide is on many bowlers’ lists of preferred destinations!) in great heat he bowled 124 overs over the course of the two Australian innings, collecting match figures of 13-256.
- +Wally Luckes – a wicket keeper who rendered 25 years service to his county. He batted low in the order on the instructions of his doctor (on one occasion against Kent he was sent in at no 5 and scored 121 not out, so he could make runs). His neat and unobtrusive style of wicket keeping was massively appreciated by the bowlers, but was so very unobtrusive as to absolutely fail to attract the attention of the England selectors. As already mentioned he was largely restricted on health grounds to batting late in the order, and he made a name for himself in tight finishes. Against Gloucestershire in 1938 he hit the third and fourth balls of the last possible over of the game for fours to give Somerset a one wicket win (Ben Stokes, if you are reading this, you and only you are permitted to say “what, he didn’t wait until the fifth and sixth balls to complete the job?”). In 365 first class appearances he took 587 catches and executed 240 stumpings.
My chosen XI consists of four specialist batters, three genuine all-rounders of differing types, three specialist bowlers of differing types and an excellent wicketkeeper. I have two out and out pacemen of contrasting approach in Garner and Woods, a right arm swing bowler in Botham, and all types of spin other than left arm wrist spin (White, Bess and Braund). The only type of bowling not available to this side is left arm pace. Other than that, unlike far too many real Somerset sides it looks both balanced and formidably strong.
SOMERSET PRESENT AND FUTURE
Somerset have never won the County Championship, and deep into the 1980s had never finished higher than third. They have been runner-up a number of times in recent years, including in 2019, and in 2016 when they topped the table going into the final day of the season but lost out when Middlesex and Yorkshire connived to create a result out of what looked a certain draw (Middlesex being the beneficiaries in the end). Firmly established in front rank of current players are Jack Leach, who I considered for the left arm spinners slot given to White, Lewis Gregory, a right arm fast medium bowler who is also a useful lower middle order bat and the Overton twins, Craig and Jamie, robust lower order hitters who both bowl right arm at above medium pace (Jamie on top form can be genuinely quick). Also rapidly establishing himself is Tom Abell, a right handed batter who seems to positively relish playing long innings against the red ball (a rarity in this day and age), and who has shown himself to be a shrewd captain. Finally, three youngsters who are at various stages of emerging talent, all of whom I expect to be seriously big names before too many years have passed are Tom Banton, an attacking top order batter and sometimes wicket keeper, George Bartlett, another top order batter who also bowls off spin, and Lewis Goldsworthy, slow left arm bowler and middle order bat (and the only player so far mentioned anywhere in this series whose birth year begins with a 2) who had some memorable moments in the under-19 world cup. That elusive County Championship should not remain elusive for many more years with this kind of talent on tap.
MAURICE TREMLETT – A TALENT DENIED
When Somerset went to Lord’s in 1947 to take on Middlesex who were on their way to that year’s County Championship they took with them a young fast medium bowler named Maurice Tremlett. He took 3-47 in the first Middlesex innings, and then in the second innings 5-39, all of those wickets coming in a spell of five overs during which he conceded only eight runs. Then, batting at no 11 he joined Horace Hazell, a slow left armer who already had a reputation in tight finishes (he was Luckes’ last wicket partner in that 1938 game against Gloucestershire) and won the game for his side with a little gem of an innings which included a straight six off spinner Jack Young. This sort of debut should have set the stage for an illustrious career (and maybe if physicists are right about there being parallel universes that is what happened in one of those). Sadly England’s desperate need for pace bowling options at that time and maybe Tremlett’s own nature intervened. Various coaches, and at least one international captain, Gubby Allen, in the West Indies that winter, tried to mould him into the genuine fast bowling article. Changes to the length of his run up (four strides added in an effort to generate more pace), the position of his hips, thighs and feet, and so on led to a loss of his greatest natural asset, the outswinger, control and confidence. Within a few years he had packed in bowling save for occasional attempts to break a partnership and was making his way as a specialist batter, in which capacity he did fairly well but was never of international standard. He was also for a period a highly regarded county captain, which is why when I have created it he will be captain of the “What Might Have Been XI”. In a counterfactual novel dealing with the cricket of this period (or that parallel universe!) Tremlett, not messed about with, would have developed into an attacking no 8 bat and new ball bowler with a hugely successful test record. In the real world it would be two generations before a Tremlett, grandson Chris, would enjoy serious test match success as a bowler, playing a vital role in 2010-11 Ashes triumph.
In addition to Leach and White the left arm spinner’s berth could have gone to Edwin Tyler, Beaumont Cranfield or Horace Hazell. Roy Virgin, Brian Rose and Mark Lathwell were three fine opening batters (and there are those who would say that had be been properly handled Lathwell could have been a great batter). In the middle of the order three names who might have had a place were Jack MacBryan (who would have expected to be unlucky – this is the guy who played test cricket but never batted, bowled or fielded, since the match he was selected for was ruined by rain, and there was evidently something wrong with the way he hung around in the pavilion), Brian Close, who taught Somerset how to win in the 1970s, and Peter Randall Johnson. The last named played in an era when residential/ birth qualifications were taken very seriously by the powers that be, but less so by Somerset, who found ingenious ways round these rules. In Mr Johnson’s case Somerset went for the absolutely brazen approach of airily telling the powers that be “oh yes, he was born in Wellington”, which was the truth but not the whole truth – they failed to mention which Wellington he was born in, and yes, it was the one in New Zealand! Bill Alley, an Australian born batter and medium pace bowler merited consideration. Arthur Wellard, a fast medium bowler and big hitting batter (25% of his 12,000 first class runs came in the form of maximums) was also a candidate, but with Woods and Botham nailed-on selections his presence would have unbalanced the side. ‘Crusoe’ Robertson-Glasgow, a Scottish born pace bowler and no 11 batter did not make the cut as a player but has the consolation of being my first choice to write about this team’s performances. Finally, only one Somerset born bowler has ever lifted a senior world cup: Anya Shrubsole – and I did think about it. Somerset has had some splendid official overseas players down the years, with Viv Richards, Sunil Gavaskar, Justin Langer, Greg Chappell and Martin Crowe all authentic greats, but as usual when it came to the overseas player I went for a bowler, in this case Garner. The off spinner’s position could have gone to Brian Langford, who had a long and distinguished Somerset career, while Vic Marks also played for England as an off spinning all rounder. Ian Blackwell, a big hitting middle order bat and left arm spinner simply could not be accommodated. Among the wicket keepers the wonderfully named Archdale Palmer Wickham (nicknamed ‘snickham’ such was his incompetence with the bat) was clearly s splendid practitioner. More recently Piran Holloway, Craig Kieswetter, Jos Buttler and Steven Davies would all have their advocates.
Readers may have other players that I have not mentioned in mind, and suggestions are welcome, but remember to consider the effect that your suggestions will have on the balance of the side.
Yes, our rollercoaster ride through Somerset cricket is at an end, and all that remains is my usual sign off…