Somerset start Vitality Blast in style


It was a case of history repeating itself as Somerset won this repeat of last season’s Vitality Blast final against Essex Eagles to get the 2024 campaign off to a winning start.

Somerset’s record-breaking campaign last year culminated with Tom Kohler-Cadmore’s sensational catch as Somerset overcame Essex amid dramatic scenes at Edgbaston, and the outcome was the same tonight at the Cooper Associates County Ground.

A capacity crowd of over 7000 was treated to a sensational performance under the lights on another special night in Taunton as Tom Abell and Lewis Gregory staged a whirlwind stand of 60 in 30 balls as the home side came out on top with a thrilling four-wicket victory.

Abell top-scored with 55 from 36 balls and Gregory smashed 44 from 22 deliveries as Somerset reached their target of 194 with five balls to spare. Tom Banton, Will Smeed and Sean Dickson also made useful contributions to send the Somerset faithful home in joyous mood.

Playing against his former County, Dean Elgar top-scored with 77 from 51 balls on his return to the West Country, sharing in stands of 67 and 58 with Adam Rossington and Jordan Cox for the first and third wickets respectively as Essex posted 193 for six. Rossington contributed 32 and Cox 30, while Gregory returned figures of three for 42 off four overs in what was an excellent individual performance with bat and ball.

It was the perfect start for the defending champions, who have now won their last nine matches in the format, while Essex have work to do after losing their opening two matches.

Determined to make a better fist of batting first following defeat to Gloucestershire at Bristol in their opening fixture 24 hours earlier, Essex made a solid start, Rossington and Elgar sharing a stand of 67 in 7.3 overs.

Australian seamer, Riley Meredith kept things tight during three overs from the Marcus Trescothick Pavilion End that cost just 16 runs. However, the visitors raised 56 without loss from the powerplay.

Having already harvested five fours, Rossington greeted Roelof van der Merwe with a towering six hit straight back over the spinner’s head, only to then lose his off stump to Gregory in the act of swinging in the next over. His innings of 32, made from 24 balls, at least afforded the visitors a platform from which to launch.

Michael Pepper came and went quickly, attempting to reverse sweep van der Merwe and offering a straightforward catch to Ben Green at short third with the score on 74 in the ninth. Cox took it upon himself to go on the attack, lifting Jake Ball over deep backward point for a maximum and then pulling the next ball for four as the eleventh over yielded 14 runs to take Essex to three figures.

Setting himself to bat through, Elgar went to 50 from 35 balls, reaching that landmark courtesy of his fifth four. Somerset needed a breakthrough and it arrived in the fifteenth over as Cox miscued to extra cover off the bowling of Gregory and departed for a 23-ball 30. He and Elgar had added 58 in 5.5 overs and set the stage for the big-hitting Paul Walter, who announced himself with a brace of fours and a six in the same Gregory over.

Back came the home side, Ball bowling Walter for 18 and Green making a mess of Daniel Sams’ stumps to partially redress the balance. However, Elgar was not finished, the veteran South African campaigner plundering 15 runs off the eighteenth to spoil Green’s figures on his way to 77 before succumbing to Gregory.

Somerset required a flying start and Tom Banton displayed aggressive intent by driving Aaron Beard over long-on for six and then collecting sumptuous cover-driven fours at the expense of Sams and Ben Allison. Not wanting to appear tardy in comparison, Will Smeed pulled Allison to the boundary and then mustered a brace of sixes in plundering 20 from Walter’s first over to bring a packed audience to life.

Beard afforded Essex some relief, having Banton held at mid-wicket for a 14-ball 21 with the score on 49 in the fifth, but Smeed continued to trade in boundaries, smiting Sams for two successive maximums.  His mercurial innings came to an abrupt halt when he drove the very next ball to cover and departed for a 16-ball 39, having smashed three fours and a quartet of sixes as the home side reached 64 for two at the end of the powerplay.

Tom Kohler-Cadmore fell to Critchley in the next over, brilliantly caught by the diving Simon Harmer (which Essex supporters will see as karma) as Essex deployed spin at both ends in an attempt to apply pressure. Somerset reached the halfway stage on 90 for three, requiring a further 104 runs.

Dickson brought up three figures with a straight-driven six off Critchley, while Abell found the boundary often enough to keep the chase on track during the middle overs. Abell smashed two fours and a six off the thirteenth, sent down by Luc Benkenstein, to bring up the 50 partnership in 36 balls. However, Beard returned to have Dickson caught in the deep for a 19-ball 26 as an enthralling contest took another twist.

New batsman Gregory injected immediate excitement, pulling Allison for a huge six, at which point the home side required a further 54 runs from 30 balls. Crucially, the fifth wicket pair were able to keep the rate at around ten an over, Abell going to 50 via 31 balls with his first six.

Somerset needed a big over and Gregory provided it by smashing three sixes off the seventeenth, bowled by Critchley, to bring the rate under a run a ball for the first time. Abell contributed five fours and a six before being caught at the wicket off the bowling of Walter, while Gregory smashed four sixes and a brace of fours to put the outcome beyond doubt as Somerset’s renowned batting line-up came good at the death.