Anthony Gibson: A View from the Commentary Box

What did Somerset’s 2023 season look like from the commentary box?  Slightly disappointing in the County Championship, tough-going in the One Day Cup, but just brilliant in the Blast.

The start to the season was anything but propitious.  We arrived at the CACG on the morning of April 6th for the game against Warwickshire to find a lake at one end of the ground and a beach at the other.  The first day was lost, but if hadn’t been for the enterprise of the umpires, Rob Bailey and Alex Wharf, and the hard work of the groundstaff, the entire match might well have been abandoned.  A defeat in three days was avoided thanks largely to the resilience of the lower order in Somerset’s first innings and a defiant 66* from Tom Lammonby in the second.

Despite the signings of Sean Dickson, Tom Kohler-Cadmore and, for the first four games, Cameron Bancroft, the top order batting again looked brittle. Bancroft started promisingly but ended his four match stint averaging just 19.6, while the likes of Tom Banton and Lewis Goldsworthy were left kicking their heels in the dressing room.

But there was plenty of good stuff as well.  It took James Rew just one innings – 65 against Warwickshire – to confirm the boundless promise that he’d shown in 2022, and three matches to produce the first century of what would blossom into a prodigious season. That was at Taunton against Lancashire, Jimmy Anderson and all, his partnership of 264 with fellow local boy Tom Abell, one of the highlights of the season.  As was Tom Kohler-Cadmore’s brutal 135 in the next game against Northants, bringing up his century with a lofted straight drive into the Botham stand of which Lionel Palairet would have been proud.  There may be batters who hit the ball harder than TKC but, if so, I haven’t seen them.  I haven’t known such a shiver of excitement go round the ground when he walks to the wicket since Marcus Trescothick was in his pomp.

We had to wait until Lord’s in mid-May for the first Championship victory, George Bartlett scoring a typically elegant century and the combination of Matt Henry, Peter Siddle, Lewis Gregory and a revitalised Craig Overton proving much too potent for the dispirited Middlesex batters.  This was the sort of Somerset performance we’d been hoping to see from the start.

And so to the Blast, with a side seemingly perfectly equipped for it: power from the top order, pace with the new ball, experience from the all-rounders, brilliance in the field, all coolly and intelligently orchestrated by Lewis Gregory.  It made for some glorious cricket, made even more enjoyable for Mark Davis and myself, by the fact that we were able to commentate on the home games, not from the portacabin at cow corner, but from behind the bowler’s arm on the Thatcher’s Terrace.  It didn’t bother us at all that our new ‘box’ turned out to be a curious, open-fronted structure, christened by Spencer Bishop as the “rustic bus-shelter” (of which more anon). As a vantage point it was perfect, and being in the open air, surrounded by spectators, meant we could immerse ourselves in the unique atmosphere of T20 cricket under lights at the CACG.

Four games stand out from the qualifying stage:  Hampshire being blown away in the first game, the wins at the Oval and – deliciously – Chelmsford, and coming from behind to beat the Glosters at Taunton.  At 62 for five, chasing 158 to beat Notts in the quarter final, Somerset were in trouble, only for two of the real heroes of the campaign, Lewis Gregory and Ben Green, to see us home in the last over.

For once in my experience, Finals Day did not disappoint.  The threatened rain held off for the most part and on a pitch which got trickier for batting as the day wore on, Somerset showed magnificent skill and spirit to defend two seemingly below par totals.  Taking their cue from the captain, they held their nerve at the crucial moments, not least when Adam Rossington and Dan Lawrence came out all guns blazing in the final – what a catch that was by Kasey Aldridge! – and at the death when Daniel Sams was threatening to win the game single-handedly – what a catch that was by TKC!  I enjoyed the celebrations down on the pitch, rather than in the comm box, and what celebrations they were, as players, officials, coaches, fans, even commentators joined in as rousing and heartfelt a rendition of “Blackbird” as you will ever hear. A great day.

In the meantime, in the County Championship, Notts had been beaten by the small matter of 399 runs, after Somerset had been bowled out for just 163 in the first innings.  As a turn-around it was almost on a par with Yorkshire at Headingley in 1901 (look it up!).  Hampshire too were almost beaten, in a game that will always be remembered for James Rew’s double century – the first of many, if I’m any judge. He has all the technical skills a top-class batter needs (not least playing the ball as late as possible), allied with a calm, seemingly imperturbable temperament. And he’s still only 19 remember.

The Hampshire game was memorable in one other respect: our rustic bus shelter was twice blown over by gusts of wind, the second time taking the Hampshire commentator Kevan James with it!  The inevitable health and safety verdict was then pre-empted by the storm that destroyed it once and for all a few days later, fortunately not on a match day.  We look forward hopefully to something equally well situated, but rather better designed, for next season.

Hopes were never high for the One Day Cup campaign, given how many players Somerset were losing to the 100, so three wins out of eight rates as a decent result.  Far and away the stand-out performance, not just for Somerset but arguably in the entire competition, was that of Andy Umeed:  613 runs at an average of 87.6 with three centuries and two fifties. His batting was a revelation.  I had no idea he could hit it so hard.  The straight six that was still rising as it cleared the pavilion at Northampton was one of the shots of the season.  It was good to be able to see some of the young seamers in action as well.

The September run-in to the County Championship was again a bit of a disappointment. In the absence of Peter Siddle, Matt Henry and Craig Overton, the bowling attack lacked teeth, too many of the batters were out of form and the one game in which they did fire, against Kent, with centuries for Tom Lammonby and a belatedly recalled Lewis Goldsworthy, was ruined by the weather. Curiously, the season ended very much as it had started, with an entire day’s play being lost under sunny skies, the umpires deciding that the outfield at Edgbaston was unsafe.

Tom Abell, who once again captained the side superbly,  was measured in his appraisal of the Championship season when I spoke to him when play was called off. Yes, they had comfortably avoided the threat of relegation, but this is a club which sets its sights much higher.  “Could do a lot better” would not be an unfair summary.

I suspect the squad of players will look rather different for next season.  It was sad to say goodbye to Jack Brooks, George Bartlett, Steve Davies and Peter Siddle, all of whom will be greatly missed for their contributions both on and off the field, thoughtful and articulate interviewees one and all.

My thanks go to the players and coaching staff alike, for their patience in answering my occasionally daft questions, especially when the team has had a bad day, and to Spencer, Ben, Sarah and all the staff for their help and support.  When it comes to looking at Somerset County Cricket Club in all its aspects, friendly and well-run as it is, the only thing which might improve the view from the commentary box would be, well, maybe a new commentary box?!

Anthony Gibson is the BBC’s senior commentator on Somerset cricket