Somerset benefit from an old rivalry
SOMERSET youngsters Eddie Byrom and George Bartlett put aside their old schoolboy rivalry to play key roles in the club’s fight for Division One survival this autumn.
The pair first met as teenagers on opposing sides during fiercely contested matches between their respective schools King’s College and Millfield, but rallied to a common cause in the Somerset top order as the county attempted to drag itself out of the relegation zone.
Both graduated from the Somerset Academy, but the rivalry between the two remains: “Millfield always won, obviously,” says George, 19, with a smile.
With Byrom, 20, hailing from Zimbabwe, the pair have followed different paths to the club, but there’s a familiar strand to both their stories, with cricket loving fathers encouraging each player’s development.
Bartlett, whose family moved from Surrey to Somerset when he was one, grew up playing the game in the garden with his father, before joining Westlands CC in Yeovil and progressing through the Somerset age-groups.
Byrom attended St John’s in Harare, playing for Mid West Rhinos and representing Zimbabwe U17s before moving to Taunton in 2014 to complete his education at King’s, Jos Buttler’s former school.
There he fell under the watchful eye of former Somerset player Rob Woodman and director of cricket Phil Lewis who introduced him to Somerset. Indeed, this week Byrom scored his maiden first class century on his debut appearance for Rising Stars in Zimbabwe.
Bartlett has already made headlines in the past few years, scoring prodigiously for England U19s. His 179 in the Youth ‘Test’ at Nagpur last winter came in a stand of 321 with Middlesex’s Max Holden, a new record partnership for any wicket for England U19s.
It was also the highest score by an England U19 batsman overseas, beating the 170 by Nasser Hussain against Sri Lanka some 30 years ago.
“Going away when you’re young, especially the Subcontinent, places like India and Bangladesh, it’s really helpful for your development, especially against spin,” says Bartlett. “You couldn’t ask for a better experience as a young player, so that’s been really, really helpful.
“Highlights include going to the U19 World Cup last year. We didn’t get as far as we wanted to, but it was a great experience nonetheless and then going to India last winter where we did all right, in a good competitive series.”
Byrom made his senior debut for Somerset first in late June – in unusual circumstances at Southampton. Facing a pink ball for the first time, he held his own, making 43 as Marcus Trescothick’s opening partner in the first dig.
“It was a very strange introduction to first-class cricket,” he recalls. “I must have been the first debutant against a pink ball in a day/night game, so that was interesting!
“Just to be involved in first-team cricket is amazing. My Mum and Dad came all the way from Zimbabwe. Especially for my Dad, who’s really enjoyed watching my cricket grow, being such a big part of my development, for him to be there was quite a special moment for him as well as well as my Mum.”
Since then, Byrom has forged a regular opening partnership with Trescothick, which works well despite the 21-year age gap between the pair. In eight Championship matches he scored 401 runs at 26.73 and, after three knocks in the 40s, recorded a valuable maiden first-class halfcentury in the final game of the season against Middlesex.
Bartlett made his senior debut at Edgbaston against Warwickshire at the beginning of September, batting at three in each of the final four games of the season. How has he found the progression?
“There obviously is a step-up, there’s obviously a lot more people watching. That’s heightened things,” reflects Bartlett. “The intensity goes up as well, but it’s the same game at the end of the day, just a bit more pressure on it.
“I’m enjoying every minute of it. Couldn’t ask for anything more. Playing for Somerset means a lot. Coming through the age groups, I often would go and watch Somerset at the ground, watching the likes of Tres play, so it’s an absolute dream come true really to be playing with him and for Somerset – if a bit surreal!”
Meanwhile it’s clear that Byrom has taken Somerset to his heart: “Coming over from Zimbabwe, this is the club that’s given me the opportunity to become a professional cricketer, which is something that I really wanted and to then to follow in the footsteps of some legends like Botham and Richards and guys like that, and a living legend like Trescothick in the dressing room, it’s amazing to be involved with.”
Byrom, who signed a two-year contract with Somerset this summer, sees his future in England: “I’ve come over from Zimbabwe and this is where I wanted my professional career to develop and hopefully it will do that for many more years.”
Working together: Somerset’s Eddie Byrom and George Bartlett, inset