Skipper Tom Abell says Somerset are treating this week’s vital home clash with Middlesex as a virtual cup final as they bid to stave off relegation.
Indeed, their prized Division One survival rests on a victory over the Londoners. If Somerset beat Middlesex with at least equal bonus points then they will remain in Division One, a result which could see last year’s champions relegated instead. It’s a complete reversal of last year’s Championship run-in in which both clubs had a chance of winning the title going into the final day.
Speaking to LastWordOnCricket after last week’s defeat to Surrey, Abell said: “I thought we bowled at the Oval as well as we’ve bowled all season. We beat the edge a lot. It didn’t quite go our way.
“Sometimes you need the rub of the green and you need those edges to carry, but it didn’t quite fall for us, but I can’t fault the effort of the guys and we fell just short again, which is disappointing.
“But we said in the changing room afterwards that we’ve got a massive cup final against Middlesex. If we can beat them, we’re going to have a chance of staying up.”
Somerset have been a permanent fixture in Division One since 2008, the longest run of any side currently in the top flight, having been promoted at the end of 2007. It’s a remarkable achievement for a non-Test Match hosting county, despite their poor season in which a run of poor performances the bat has contributed to six defeats.
Meanwhile, Middlesex travel to Taunton on the back of a three-day win by 36 runs against Lancashire at Lord’s last week and despite a disappointing season by their standards, Abell doesn’t underestimate the threat they pose.
“It’s going to be far from an easy game,” he said. “But we’re in with a chance.
“Four games ago if you’d have said to us that we’d have had gone into the final game with an opportunity to stay up, then we would have taken that. So, don’t get me wrong, we were still hugely disappointed having lost to Surrey, but we’ve got to pick ourselves up and make sure we’re where we need to be come Monday morning.”
Middlesex’s attack will again be spearheaded by Steven Finn, who boosted his chances of a place in England’s Ashes squad with a devastating return of 8-79 against Lancashire last week. Missing though, is fellow England bowler Toby Roland-Jones, who has been ruled out for the remainder of the season with a stress fracture of his lower back. Perhaps more significantly, on what is certain to be a turning Taunton wicket, is the loss of senior Middlesex spinner Ollie Rayner, who pulled up with side pain during last week’s game at Lord’s.
Instead Middlesex have named the relatively inexperienced slow left-armer Ravi Patel and leg-spinner Nathan Sowter in their squad as they seek to counter the dual threat from Somerset spinners Jack Leach and Dom Bess. Depending on the surface, Somerset could also play Roelof van der Merwe who missed out at the Oval.
Doubts remain over Peter Trego’s fitness after picking up an achilles injury at the Oval last week. The all-rounder from Weston-Super-Mare grabbed a five-fer and scored a valuable half-century against Surrey and Somerset will miss him with bat and ball if he is unable to play.
One eye will be on developments at Edgbaston this week where Warwickshire play host to Hampshire, who currently sit 13 points above Somerset in the table. The south coast side threw away a golden opportunity to secure their own Division One survival last week, after defeat to Essex, despite having enforced the follow-on earlier in the game. Warwickshire have, of course, already been relegated, but still managed to give Yorkshire a real scare at Headingley last week, so should not be taken for granted.
With just one game remaining, Yorkshire (who need just six bonus points against Essex to be safe) sit on 145 points, Middlesex 143, Hampshire 140 and Somerset 127.
Somerset: Tom Abell (c), Marcus Trescothick, Eddie Byrom, George Bartlett, James Hildreth, Steve Davies (wk), Roelof van der Merwe, Craig Overton, Dom Bess, Jack Leach, Tim Groenewald, Paul van Meekeren, Peter Trego
Middlesex: James Franklin (c), Nick Compton, Stephen Eskinazi, Steven Finn, James Harris, Tom Helm, Max Holden, Dawid Malan, Tim Murtagh, Ravi Patel, Sam Robson, John Simpson, Nathan Sowter, Paul Stirling, Adam Voges
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