My Favourite Game: Simon Ecclestone

Somerset County Cricket Club have been fortunate to have been represented by some outstanding players who have featured in some memorable games.

During this winter we will be speaking with several former players to discuss their favourite games for the Club.

Today we talk to Simon Ecclestone about his favourite game for Somerset.

Simon played for the County between 1994 and 1998, and but for injury looked all set to take over the captaincy in 1999 when Peter Bowler stepped down. However, as it turned out the exciting young left handed all rounder was forced to quit the game and Jamie Cox was appointed as captain.

Simon was born and grew up in Essex, so how did he come to end up at Somerset in the first place?

“I played for Essex Seconds but they were really strong in those days and I was never going to get a sniff in their first team,” he explained. “I was finishing university at Oxford and they had a good fixture list against First Class counties in those days, so it was a bit like a shop window.

“I could have gone back to Essex, although I didn’t have any official deal with them, but I then had a couple of good games and had made it clear that I was interested in playing First Class cricket. Nottinghamshire came in and wanted to sign me and then a couple of others also got interested, one of who was Bob Cottam who came up and said if I signed he would play me in the First Team.

“I didn’t want to play Second XI cricket when I left Oxford so that’s what swayed it for me plus I’ve always really liked the West Country and it made quite a nice change.”

Simon talked about the Somerset team that he joined.

“Andy Hayhurst was my first captain and it was an amazing team on paper, but there were quite a lot of older pros on the staff.

“There was so much potential there and in the first game I played our opening attack was Caddy and van Troost, who was bowling the speed of light! If he got it right, he was unbelievable but if he got it wrong it was horrible!

“Then we had Mushy, Neil Mallender and Graham Rose, as well as Marcus Trescothick and Mark Lathwell opening and playing brilliantly in those days, so it was an amazing team and it’s a wonder we didn’t win anything.

“It was bit of a strange environment to come into because some of the lads were up for contracts at the end of the year, and were a bit suspicious of me being there. That first season was a bit of a funny atmosphere but I did alright. The next year, Pete Bowler came and joined Somerset, which made quite a difference to things.

“Pete and Bob had a plan and it was all gradually working out and coming together when my knee went pop and I had to retire. I was only 27.

“In 1997 I was Captain for a handful of Championship matches and a couple of one-dayers, which was fun and I really enjoyed it. I didn’t think that I would but it made me think about the game more.

“Pete was struggling with his back and I think the idea was that I was going to take over as captain. I wanted to do things in a different way and I think that county cricket was just starting to change at that time and it was becoming a lot more professional. Dermot Reeve came in and he was innovative and prepared to try new things.

“1997 was a good one for me and although I didn’t play in all of the Championship matches I almost scored 1000 runs. People always thought I was more of a one-day player but it always takes time to make your case.

“I’d stopped bowling by then and the next season started off pretty well, but then my knee went bust and that was that. It all fizzled out very quickly which was a great shame.”

During his time with Somerset he shared partnerships on a number of occasions with Mark Lathwell, who is so fondly remembered by those who watched him play.

“I loved playing with Lathers. He was such a nice guy and I really liked him. He was very quiet and dry but had a great wit about him. When I first joined Somerset I have a couple of good one-day partnerships with him. One of those was at Lord’s where we each got a hundred, which was fantastic. We just got on well.”

So what is Simon’s favourite match for Somerset?

“There is one game that stands out and it was in that 1997 season. Glamorgan and Kent were going hammer and tongs at the top. We played Kent and then we played Glamorgan as our last two home games of the season.

“Pete was injured so I was captain, which was a steep learning curve. We were playing Kent at Taunton  and I went on to marry a girl from Kent, and my father in law blames me for them losing the Championship!

“It was an amazing game. I got a hundred in one innings and 90 in the next, which from a selfish point of view was quite nice, but the game was drawn. It was an absolute thriller down to the last ball with scores level. We then got turned over by Glamorgan at home and they won the Championship.

“That game stands out for all of those reasons: personal reasons, being a captain, a cracking game and also the fact that the result had real implications for Kent, which I have had live with. Welsh people loved me though!

“In the second innings, when I was on 90, I was thinking that we’d bat on and put them out of the game with a draw but then I slog swept Strang and the ball hit Dave Fulton who turned round at short leg. The ball hit him on the back and flopped up in the air and was caught by Alan Wells and I was out. Then suddenly it went bang, bang, bang and we were all out which I was pretty gutted about.

“Then it became ‘game on’ and they were going for it. Mushy was bowling and he was just so hysterical and smiling all the time and looping up these ridiculous googlies, but of course he was right and they ended slogging it up in the air and we got a few more wickets and it elongated the game and it was a tied match, which was brilliant.

“I think at the same time Caddy was getting a six-for on the last day of a Test Match against Australia at the Oval, so it was a cracking afternoon for Somerset.

“I was then officially Vice Captain and the next season I was ready to go and captained the Sunday game against Warwickshire when we turned them over. That was a real high for me.

“You never know what’s around the corner, and soon after that my knee went and sadly I had to retire.”

Simon added: “I loved my time at Somerset and was really gutted when it was brought to an end by injury. I go back down to the West Country a couple of times a year and I’m very fond of the place.”

Somerset v Kent August 1997.

Somerset won the toss and batted scoring 375 all out (Turner 144 and Ecclestone 123). Kent were all out for 449 (Cowdrey 101 and Ealham 105).

Second innings: Somerset 234 all out (Ecclestone 94), Kent 160 for six.

Match drawn Somerset 11 points Kent 16.