County Ar­chives - The Som­er­set side of 2001

While they did not win the Cham­pi­onship in 2001, Som­er­set’s spirit won them plenty of friends. Paul Ed­wards re­mem­bers the Taun­ton boys fondly...

The Cricket Paper - - BIG BASH LEAGUE -

Out­posts are dif­fer­ent; they ac­quire a dis­tinct char­ac­ter and they can come to rep­re­sent more than them­selves. This seems to me as true in cricket as in wider worlds and per­haps it helps ex­plain why Som­er­set are so many peo­ple’s sec­ond favourite team. The medium pace bowler, Tom Cartwright, joined the county from War­wick­shire and his words still ring true.“Som­er­set had a great ap­peal to me,” he said.“The cricket was closer to the com­mu­nity than it had be­come at Edg­bas­ton. And Som­er­set peo­ple are fairly down to earth. They’re not over-im­pressed by flan­nel.”

Yet de­spite win­ning five lim­ited-overs com­pe­ti­tions be­tween 1979 and 1983, Som­er­set have never won the County Cham­pi­onship. In­deed, they have been run­ners-up on only four oc­ca­sions, all of them in this cen­tury. I wit­nessed the cli­max of two of those sec­ond-place fin­ishes and I re­mem­ber them more clearly than some other coun­ties’ facile tri­umphs.

The first oc­curred at Old Traf­ford on the fi­nal evening of the 2010 sea­son, when all that Lan­cashire’s bats­men had to do was avoid los­ing three wick­ets in 18 overs against Not­ting­hamshire to leave Som­er­set with their maiden ti­tle. For all the mut­ter­ings in the Mendips, that was eas­ier said than done against Ryan Side­bot­tom and An­dré Adams in full sail, and Lan­cashire duly failed to do it.

Karl Brown, Mark Chilton and Shiv­nar­ine Chan­der­paul all nicked catches.“He’s caught it!” ex­claimed Christo­pher Martin-Jenk­ins to no one in par­tic­u­lar when Samit Pa­tel held on to that last edge. Not­ting­hamshire took the ti­tle be­cause they had won one more game than Som­er­set and their ex­ul­tant play­ers raced around the out­field man­i­cally. A hun­dred miles away at Ch­ester-le-Street, Mar­cus Trescoth­ick and his men heard the news, as did some 300 of their sup­port­ers. CMJ, for all the copy he had to file about the new cham­pi­ons for The Times, spared more than a line of con­so­la­tion for Som­er­set. I watched the cham­pagne be­ing sprayed at Old Traf­ford and thought of the si­lence at the River­side.

There were con­sid­er­ably more than 300 peo­ple at Taun­ton’s County Ground on the fi­nal day of last sea­son. If you added to­gether all the folk gath­ered in the pav­il­ions – Som­er­set, be­ing Som­er­set, has four such struc­tures – I reckon there were about 1,000 loy­al­ists on the ground. They had turned up to share fel­low­ship as they watched the fi­nal day of Mid­dle­sex’s match against York­shire on TV. They hoped, against all rea­son and crick­et­ing logic, that the game at Lord’s might end in a draw or even a tie, the only re­sults that could leave Som­er­set where they had be­gun the day – at the top of the Di­vi­sion One ta­ble.

Watch­ing the faces in the Strag­glers’ café as Mid­dle­sex strength­ened their grip on the ti­tle, one was re­minded that how­ever many old build­ings Som­er­set’s of­fi­cials choose, for the best of rea­sons, to knock down, the es­sen­tial char­ac­ter of the ground has re­mained mirac­u­lously the same. For that char­ac­ter is made by peo­ple as much as by bricks, ce­ment and old pho­to­graphs, and the en­thu­si­asm for cricket in Taun­ton is un­matched by that at any other town in Eng­land, with the pos­si­ble ex­cep­tion of Scar­bor­ough dur­ing the Fes­ti­val. One has only to visit the cafés in Bath Place or the Ring Of Bells in St James Street to find peo­ple talk­ing about the game that is tak­ing place a few hun­dred yards away.

This sense of com­mu­nity has helped sus­tain Som­er­set through the bad times on the field, and even through the civil war that con­vulsed the club in the mid 1980s. It has en­abled Som­er­set sup­port­ers to en­joy their team’s seven one-day tro­phy wins and to con­sole each other when the cham­pi­onship eludes them; rather as it did in 2001 when a side few had reck­oned ca­pa­ble of win­ning the ti­tle came within 16 points of do­ing so.

“By gen­eral agree­ment, cer­tainly in ev­ery parish across the Mendips and the Quan­tocks, Som­er­set’s sea­son was the best in their var­ie­gated his­tory,” wrote David Foot in the 2002 Wis­den. “Per­haps there were more flash, pul­sat­ing days when play­ers of mighty in­di­vid­ual tal­ent such as Botham, Richards and Gar­ner were around… But 2001 was bet­ter, a more bal­anced tri­umph from lesser souls.” Foot was re­view­ing a sum­mer in which Som­er­set had not only fin­ished run­ners-up in the Cham­pi­onship for the first time in their his­tory, but had won the Chel­tenham and Glouces­ter Tro­phy when they de­feated Le­ices­ter­shire by 41 runs at Lord’s.

There was more to it than win­ners’ medals, though. In 2001, Som­er­set’s cen­trally-con­tracted play­ers, Mar­cus Trescoth­ick and An­drew Cad­dick, were re­stricted to five Cham­pi­onship games be­tween them. Trescoth­ick still man­aged to chip in with a cen­tury and Cad­dick with 18 wick­ets, yet their ab­sence only in­spired other play­ers to fill the breach. The county’s Tas­ma­nian skip­per, Jamie Cox, en­joyed his best sea­son as cap­tain and was the only Som­er­set bats­man to score a 1,000 runs in the Cham­pi­onship. For all that he had to wait un­til Septem­ber for his only cen­tury. Many of Cox’s nine fifties were made at cru­cial times in games that were in the haz­ard. “His sim­ple, pure style of bat­ting was a de­light to be­hold,” wrote Vic Marks. “Few play­ers have pum­melled the off-side bound­aries at Taun­ton with such ele­gance.”

Cox never played Test cricket, but he was an ex­cel­lent il­lus­tra­tion of Som­er­set’s abil­ity to at­tract lit­tle-known or un­likely over­seas play­ers who pro­ceeded to play far be­yond most peo­ple’s ex­pec­ta­tions. This, after all, was the county for whom Bill Al­ley made his Cham­pi­onship de­but, aged 38, in 1957 and Taun­ton was where a 19-year-old Greg Chap­pell came to learn about English wick­ets. Cox was the lat­est in an hon­ourable line and he was de­ter­mined in his quiet way to get the best out of a team which fea­tured more foot sol­diers than knights in bur­nished ar­mour.

Apart from Cox, the bat­ting was led by Mike Burns, whose 893 runs in­cluded 221 in the draw against York­shire at Bath. “Burns was the kind of oc­cu­pant of the dress­ing room to give other play­ers the right sense of per­spec­tive,” wrote Foot in

Sixty Sum­mers. “When mo­rale was low, he told them they were lucky to be in em­ploy­ment. Once he worked as a ship­yard fit­ter in his na­tive Bar­row… then came a few win­ters on the dole… When ma­jor con­struc­tion was be­ing car­ried out at the county ground in Taun­ton, he vol­un­teered for an unglam­orous labour­ing job.”

The un­com­pli­cated ap­proach of Cox and Burns was fol­lowed by their team mates. Peter Bowler made 799 runs and Ian Black­well, orig­i­nally re­cruited from Der­byshire in 2000 as a left-arm spinner, whacked four Cham­pi­onship hun­dreds to re­in­force his claims to be an all-rounder. This, though, is so of­ten the way of things in Som­er­set. They pro­duce their own play­ers, re­cruit young over­seas crick­eters and re­vive ca­reers that have flagged at other coun­ties.

The bowl­ing at­tack in 2001 ex­em­pli­fied these traits. The seamer Richard John­son and the off-spinner Keith Dutch were both per­suaded to head west from Mid­dle­sex by the new coach, Kevin Shine. John­son, then two years away from mak­ing his Test de­but, took 62 wick­ets and Dutch’s slow bowl­ing ac­counted for 35 bats­men. Both made use­ful runs. In a sim­i­lar fash­ion, Llanelli-born seamer St­ef­fan Jones en­joyed his best sea­son at Som­er­set in 2001, tak­ing 59 wick­ets and fill­ing the dress­ing room with un­quench­able en­thu­si­asm.

“There is too much em­pha­sis on tech­nique and all that rub­bish,” said the splen­didly un­con­ven­tional Jones, a fit­ness en­thu­si­ast who had con­verted his Taun­ton garage into a gym. Coaches should leave play­ers alone to de­velop their own meth­ods. Flair and in­di­vid­u­al­ism should not be sti­fled.”

This mix of tal­ents brought Som­er­set six no­table vic­to­ries in 2001. Cad­dick’s ten wick­ets helped his side de­feat York­shire by ten wick­ets at Leeds and a typ­i­cally de­ter­mined team ef­fort set up a ten-wicket vic­tory over Lan­cashire at Old Traf­ford.

Through­out the sum­mer, Cox and his play­ers con­tin­ued to con­found those who could not be­lieve they were still in con­tention.

Ul­ti­mately, though, at least as far as the Cham­pi­onship was con­cerned, it was not quite enough.When David Byas caught Si­mon Jones off Dar­ren Lehmann at

Scar­bor­ough he

sealed York­shire’s 30th ti­tle and de­nied Som­er­set their first.

Out­side the West Coun­try, you might do well these days to find peo­ple ca­pa­ble of nam­ing too many of Cox’s ‘nearly men’ of 2001. In the Pold­ens or the Black­downs, how­ever, there are prob­a­bly plenty who are able to re­call one of the most whole­hearted teams in the county’s his­tory.

“In the long view it is not the arith­meti­cal per­for­mances of this or that player, not merely the times of suc­cess or fail­ure that strike the his­to­rian of Som­er­set cricket,” wrote R C Robert­son-Glas­gow in a dis­tant age. “Itis rather the

Cox never played Test cricket, but he was an ex­cel­lent il­lus­tra­tion of Som­er­set’s abil­ity to at­tract lit­tle-known or un­likely over­seas play­ers

spirit – the spirit which, win or lose, has al­ways been a happy com­pound of hu­mour and in­de­pen­dence.”

What Cox and his play­ers man­aged in 2001 was to take that spirit, add the nec­es­sary pro­fes­sion­al­ism to it and pro­duce per­for­mances which sur­prised those who be­lieved the ti­tle was bound to go al­most any­where, but Taun­ton.

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