Monday, February 7, 2011

The English Game: Somerset & Middlesex

by Balanced Sports columnist Ben Roberts.


The early history of Somerset County Cricket Club was less than successful and this perhaps helped set the tone for the county until today. Post the Second World War Somerset began to recruit heavily as the strategy for success on the field. Fearful of failure, Somerset have continued to be a heavy recruiter of both English and International talent up until the present day. Some limited over trophies have been won by Somerset, but the County Championship remains conspicuously absent from the county's honours.

In the 1950s Somerset followed the trend of most county's in dispensing of its policy of only appointing amateur players to captain. Maurice Tremlett (grandfather of current English fast bowler Chris) was the first professional to captain the county. At the same time they recruited former Australian test player Colin McCool from Lancashire league cricket. McCool had emigrated to England after being unable to get back into the Australian team. Ironically when McCool was selected in 1948 to tour England it forced the unselected Bruce Dooland to make the same decision, Dooland ending up a Nottinghamshire champion.

From the 1950s onwards the list of players to have represented Somerset reads like a 'Who's Who' of cricket history. Probably the greatest group of players collected together was in the early 1980s when Ian Botham was joined by the West Indian pair Joel Garner and Vivian Richards. So great were Richards performances for the West Indies and the county that he later went on to become Sir Vivian, and the gates at Somerset's home in Taunton bear his name. All three departed the county in acrimony, yet one of the replacements was another fluent stroke maker in Martin Crowe.

McCool is one of the noted Australians to have played for the county but he is not alone with many of his fellow countrymen having become residents of the West Country for a period. The earliest was Sammy Woods who having played test cricket for both Australia and England went onto lead the county as captain for 13 seasons at the turn of the 20th century. In recent times current Australian selector and former Tasmanian batsmen, Jamie Cox, led the county for 3 years, and Justin Langer upon his retirement from international cricket also took on the captaincy of Somerset for the same length of time. Current Australian T20 captain Cameron White has set county records as well in the shorter forms of the game during the past few seasons.

Despite the cavalcade of great players to have taken the field for Somerset, they are yet to break through and win thecounty's first championship. Potentially the regular desire to recruit high profile players has led the county to continue to field teams of champions, and not the cliché of a champion team.


That Middlesex finished the 2010 County Championship in 8th position in division 2 and Somerset 2nd in division 1 is an opposing reflection to the relative success of each county. Where Somerset are yet to win their first championship, Middlesex have won 12. Maybe it is because the county's home is at Lords, the home of cricket, but Middlesex have always produced leaders of the English game.

Present captain Andrew Strauss is a former captain of the county, and still calls it home when not playing for England. In the earlier years of last century, Pelham 'Plum' Warner was captain of Middlesex and England before later becoming president of the Marylebone Cricket Club. In between these two figures many have captained both county and country. In the most successful period for the club during the 1970s and 1980s Mike Brearley followed by Mike Gatting (both English captains as well) led the county to 7 championships.

Again to make comparison to Somerset, unlike them Middlesex do not have a history bursting with individual champions of the game. That is not to say they have not had great players, most of whom have been home grown talent rather than recruited. That the historic county of Middlesex includes regions of and nearby to the densely populated London maybe is a primary reason for not having the need to recruit from elsewhere. England representative Fred Titmus was a long time stalwart of the county. 30 years after his retirement he still leads the county in wickets taken. Titmus finished his career with over 2,300 wickets for Middlesex.

Justin Langer, again mentioned above for his time at Somerset, also spent three seasons at Middlesex. This included captaining the county also, in 2000. Langer at this time was still yet to become a regular in the Australian test team having been in and out of the national side since 1993. Langer and Gatting combined for an opening partnership record of 372 in 1998, Langer's first season with the county.

More recently the county has not experienced great on-field success. Since their last county championship in 1993 and the split of the championship at the conclusion of the 1999 season, Middlesex have been transient between divisions, spending more time in division 2 than what would be expected of a county with such a successful history.

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