Tom Abell Goes Up Through The School Of Hard Knocks > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more
Cricket news - Tom Abell rises through school of hard knocks
Your early twenties are as much about fashioning yourself into the person you want to become. Often that comes from adapting after experiences that knock you.
In the last two years, Tom Abell has lost his place in the Somerset first team, been kept awake at night by fears of relegation, dropped his best mate and, last season, led the county to a second-place finish in Division One of the County Championship. All while harbouring doubts deep in the back of his mind that, maybe, captaincy was not for him. To Abell's credit, he managed to remain level throughout this period.
Abell was announced as Somerset's new captain at the end of 2016. He was just 22 when he was offered the role, and 23 when he first led an XI onto the field. The appointment was that very sporting juxtaposition of being risky yet forward-thinking. Here was a young batsman who had not quite taken a season by the scruff of its neck, but had been nothing but Somerset as a boy and impressive as a man. Similar calls have been made on much less.
Such an appointment by its very nature was not meant for scrutiny so soon. Yet in Abell's first year, with Somerset battling relegation, Taunton decision-makers discussed at length and with raised voices whether the right call had been made. The man himself had already made a big one that July when he dropped himself for a trip to Scarborough to face Yorkshire after the ignominy of a pair the week before.
He returned to ensure the drop was avoided, scoring a 45 worth about double on a tough pitch in the mother of all scraps against the eventually relegated Middlesex. And with that, the threat of the axe was removed. Drained by the experience, he decided against a winter away to stay at home to refresh his mind and game. That Abell spent the latest winter with Freemantle Cricket Club in Perth suggests 2018 went much better on all fronts. Which it did.
Surrey were streets ahead of the pack and so were Somerset with 208 points as runners up with just two defeats. Along with 883 Championship runs for Abell, it was also the first time he had averaged 40 in a full first-class season. He even bagged a hat-trick in the final match of the season - the county's 19th overall in first-class cricket and first since Alfonso Thomas in 2014.
Yet even with those comforts, the memories of 2017 still jar.
"I wouldn't say you completely erase those doubts," Abell tells Cricbuzz. "I'm always a little bit conscious in the back of my mind having had that experience. I know how demanding this level is. I know how demanding being captain of Somerset is."
So, what happened in 2017? The temptation is to pin his woes on the added pressures of captaincy and, subconsciously, there may be some truth in the hypothesis. Prior to falling on his sword for the trip way up the north, Abell was averaging 14.25, with just 171 runs halfway through the summer. Yet he rallied to raise those respective figures to 26 and 572 by the close. Only three batsmen - Steve Davies, Marcus Trescothick and James Hildreth - managed more.
"Personally, I feel it's not as straightforward as captaincy having an effect on me," says Abell. "There was always a little bit of concern - was I a good enough player to warrant being captain?"
"Ultimately, I didn't do the best job I could as a player or a captain that season. It was very difficult when I wasn't warranting my place in the XI. I was trying lead from the front, but I wasn't doing that with my performances. At all."
When Abell says the experience is one that will make him "a better player and a person", you take his words at face value. Though it is the latter part of that deal which, by all accounts, will be hard to improve on.
You'd struggle to find a bad word about Abell, though not that Cricbuzz tried. He has a polite, regimented demeanour which did come into play when assessing his captaincy credentials. Professionalism is, and that is what he's got. His 25th birthday, during the height of pre-season, was celebrated sensibly and with his family. You can even sense his firm handshake over the phone.
Somerset have known for some time that Abell's qualities as an individual. After all, it was actually during a hockey match for Taunton School that former head of youth cricket Pete Anderson decided Abell was worth an academy spot, standing out as he did despite playing a couple of years above.
Of course, this only matters to a point. But it was telling that during those difficult times in 2017, he always had the support of his teammates. To a man, they rallied around their captain when he began doubting himself.
"The biggest thing for me is that as a club we are a very close unit," says Abell, gratefully. "I was very lucky to have the incredible support from everyone. And it was nice to repay a little bit of that faith last year. The decision could have easily been to change the leadership and essentially not play me in the team. But throughout the experience, I was backed."
"As a team, we went through a really hard time (in 2017) but we stuck together throughout. I think it showed last year. We really thought we could do something special. When we're under pressure, guys are willing to put their hands up and change the game in our favour. We made some really good strides as a team."
Further personal and collective development is in the offing for the 2019 season. Abell was once talked of as a future England player and while that talk has cooled for the time being - "I've simply not been at that level," comes the admission - a strong start will have gums flapping. As a team, their white whale remains.
Somerset have never won the County Championship and finishing as runners-up in 2016 and last term gives them no comfort. How do they make that final, biggest step?
"We just need to keep raising the bar as Somerset. But that is the million dollar question!" laughs Abell, suggesting it's one he has obsessed over for a good two years now. For him and the club, they need to find that million dollar answer.
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