By Jeremy Blackmore
Somerset skipper Tom Abell hopes the experience of a “tough” first year in charge at Taunton will stand his side in good stead to challenge for honours in 2018.
The county struggled last season, only managing to stave off relegation on the final afternoon with a comprehensive victory over Middlesex. Abell’s own form suffered and he dropped himself in mid-summer following a run of low scores before finding his touch again with 96 against Surrey.
Somerset see the appointment of 23-year-old Abell as a long-term investment and have reappointed him captain for the Championship this year. He will also take the reins in the Royal London Cup for the first time.
As a Taunton-born batsman, his captaincy reflects a commitment by the club to invest in homegrown talent.
Abell told The Cricket Paper: “When I was appointed club captain last year, that was very special and this year is no different. Captaining the one-day side will be a huge thing for me and something where I hope I can really bring something to the side.
“Last year was a massive learning curve for me. It was obviously a slightly indifferent year from me as an individual and for us as a side, but I think that experience will put us in good stead moving forward.”
Abell paid tribute to the senior pros at the club who supported him during his first year in charge such as Marcus Trescothick, James Hildreth and Peter Trego: “It was a difficult season but I had some fantastic people around me to help me through what were pretty tough times.
“Going through the tough parts, towards the back end of the season I really felt like my learning came to the fore. From a cricket point of view, there were so many things that you pick up through the season and I’m obviously lucky that we’ve got some fantastically experienced players that were desperate to help me as a captain.
“Trying to separate my own batting from the captaincy was also quite an important thing. The beauty of it is, in spite of the disappointments of last year, you get a fresh start this year.”
Leading a side is not only about things that happen on the pitch and Abell was praised by former director of cricket Matt Maynard for the way he led his side’s fightback at the end of the season.
Maynard highlighted the inspirational speech his young skipper gave to his players before Somerset’s victory at Edgbaston, a win which went a long way towards securing their First Division survival.
Abell added: “I’ve also learned about dealing with things off the pitch, trying to lead from the front and set the right example, whether it’s in training or not accepting mediocrity in anything that we’re doing because at the end of the day that’s what we’re striving towards.
“We want to be the best batting side, the best bowling side, best fielding side in the country. It’s not a quick fix. It’s not going to happen overnight but something that we’re working towards.
“It was always going to be a challenge, as a young captain. I’m under no illusions – I did, and still will, make mistakes.
“But we’ve got some fantastic characters at the club and having these people around me, I’ve got people that I can feed off and then we can make the best decisions in the best interests of the team.
“The guys around me really have my back and that’s a huge part of the captaincy, so I don’t feel like it’s all about myself.
“It’s a collective thing and as captain I just want to try and lead from the front and really bring everyone together and so we’re all singing from the same hymnsheet.”
Abell has played much more first-class cricket than limited overs in his career so far, but is relishing the prospect of leading his side in the One-Day Cup: “I love playing all the formats. They bring different challenges. I look at our squad of players and it’s exciting.
“To be given the opportunity to lead that side is incredible.”
Somerset head coach Jason Kerr said he had no doubts about reappointing Abell as skipper. “It was a challenging year for Tom last year. No doubt about that, but we also saw how he grew as a person. He led the team brilliantly and grew in that capacity and I see him going from strength to strength.
“When we made the appointment last year it wasn’t a short-term fix, it was about a journey that we were going to go on. And if we look back and reflect how much he’s grown in that short period of time, it only bodes well for the future.
“We know he’s an outstanding young man we wouldn’t have put in that position if we didn’t think he could handle it. But ultimately, he epitomises what we believe as a philosophy and what we want to do as a club and Tom will drive that forward brilliantly.”
Abell will have a new member of his squad to call on this summer with Australian Ashes opener Cameron Bancroft joining as the new overseas signing.
Director of cricket Andy Hurry said: “Cameron has come very highly recommended and will fit seamlessly into our environment. This will be a key ingredient to us achieving our aspirations of winning silverware.
“He has the appetite and the temperament for scoring big hundreds. He really values the price of his wicket, is mentally tough and highly driven to succeed.”
After making the decision to sign for Somerset, Bancroft said: “I’m really excited to be joining a county with so much potential. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Somerset from Justin Langer and it’s clear that they are a team heading in the right direction. There’s a long history of Australians doing well at Taunton, so hopefully I can add my name to that list.”