Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Somerset riding the wave of young, homegrown talent. On Finals Day, Somerset will be attempting to win their first T20 title since 2005
On Finals Day, Somerset will be attempting to win their first T20 title since 2005
Three of the four counties that will be on show at Finals Day on Saturday at Edgbaston are so-called smaller clubs, those who do not play at Test match grounds. At a time when many fear the introduction of The Hundred has begun the march towards an eight-team domestic structure, the presence of Sussex, Kent and Somerset in the Blast's final four is a reminder of the merits of the 18-county system, particularly given all three have a strong homegrown element to their squads.
That is certainly the case with Somerset, who will be attempting to win their first T20 title since 2005. Theirs is a squad full of young talent that has been honed by the club's development system, one that is producing as many high-quality young players as any other county, if not more. The likes of the two Toms, Banton and Lammonby, Will Smeed, Ben Green and Lewis Goldsworthy have all played their part in helping Somerset reach Finals Day. All are 23 years old or under.
The emergence of this new generation complements a number of more experienced players that have also come through the pathway system. Tom Abell, the club captain, played the defining innings of their quarter-final against Lancashire while Lewis Gregory captains the T20 team and has played for England during the ODI series against Pakistan earlier this summer. Jack Leach and Craig Overton are homegrown too and could both feature at Edgbaston.
It is fair to say then that Somerset's development system is working well and has been for some time, reward for hours upon hours of hard work from players and coaches. “We seem to be doing a reasonable job of it at the moment,” Steve Snell, the club's Head of Talent Pathway, tells Cricbuzz. “I think it's a testament to the infrastructure of cricket we've got in the southwest. I think also from my perspective, it's just a great incentive for the players in our pathway to look at the likes of Lambie, Goldsworthy, Will Smeed, Tom Banton, and see what's possible.
“They see those guys have transitioned fairly quickly from age group and Academy cricket into first team cricket and actually had some relative success. It just perpetuates ambition for the rest of the players because they see that as a possibility. Culturally I think that's hugely important as an organisation.”
Snell has been the club's Academy director since 2014 and was given the added responsibility for overseeing and managing the whole of the club's talent pathway structure, covering some 400 to 500 young cricketers, four years ago. He is keen to emphasise that the Somerset's development programme is a team effort and calls out three main things that the club have tried to improve in recent seasons. The first is by mixing traditional coaching methods with more modern techniques. “Gone are the days of young players sitting down in the pavilion to watch the game together,” Snell says.
“If they're out, they're in the nets and they're working with the coaches. They're at the ground earlier, they're being encouraged to practise more. As opposed to the kind of old school coaches, sit down and watch the game together and only speak when you're spoken to. I think we're encouraging the players to challenge us to work harder and smarter for them.”
The players within Somerset's pathway have access to digital tools through which they can get feedback, nutrition and strength and conditioning advice. “Our players can access videos and chronological images of themselves getting better at skills,” Snell says. “That's been a huge success in terms of the feedback process. We've also been videoing all of our matches, from under-12s upwards, which are then accessed through the Play Cricket website so players or their parents or schoolteachers or club coaches have a visual on what's happened in that game.”
The second aspect of Somerset's programme that Snell says has improved is in the expectations the players are now given. “The recognition that to represent Somerset, it's going to be bloody tough,” he says. “You've got to be an extremely strong player, fit physically, athletic and energised and engaged in the field and bowl quick with great variations with the ball. All that type of stuff. The players I think are realising how competitive it is and I think we're signposting what a good player looks like far more than we were.”
Finally, Somerset try to move players up the pathway chain early where it makes sense to do so. “It's a proactiveness generally across our programmes,” Snell adds. “We've got loads and loads of cricket taking place. Our head of age group cricket Matt Drakeley is young, energetic and full of ideas. We're providing opportunity in prominent positions in our 2nd team for our young players at an early age. Even the likes of James Rew, George Thomas and Sonny Baker, we were identifying them at a young age and giving them opportunity in under-18's cricket as 14 or 15 year olds to try and prepare them for the longer form of the game.”
Snell was a wicket-keeper batsman for Gloucestershire and Somerset but began his coaching journey while he was still a young player. He was a Level 3 coach by the age of 21 and a Level 4 coach by the age of 27. He has had an eclectic mix of experiences, coaching in primary schools, academies and in club cricket during the winters, including in Australia and at the Hong Kong Cricket Club. Snell says he started coaching so early “accidentally on purpose” but always with the belief that his coaching career would be far longer than his playing one.
“Don't get me wrong any cricketer wants to play for as long as they can,” he says. “I've got deep passion for competing still. I play some cricket on a Saturday for Bedminster and I absolutely love it. But I think when I came out of Gloucester at the age of 30, I guess I had an eye on a longer time as a coach rather than a player so potentially didn't pursue the rest of my playing career as aggressively as I did the coaching.”
His experiences as a player, one who was good enough to play 92 professional matches, have helped inform his coaching style now. “As a player I was somebody that had to really get everything out of my ability,” Snell says. “I had to work extremely hard. I wasn't blessed with the natural talent as some other players, so as a result I really had to understand the mechanics and psychology of the game, and I think that's particularly helpful for coaching.
“But also I think your own frame of reference becomes far less important. It's important to draw from your own experiences. But the reality is that that becomes quite a short knowledge span. Even the great players can hide behind their careers. The brilliant coaches are able to provide examples from a range of backgrounds, individuals, knowledge, and not just from their own sphere of understanding. The longer I'm doing the job, the more aware of a player's journey and the different things that can impact on that both positively and negatively”
Snell and his team at Somerset are certainly having a positive impact on the players they are bringing through for Jason Kerr's first team. Although the side has fallen away in the County Championship in recent weeks, costing them the chance of an elusive first title, Finals Day presents Somerset's young guns with another opportunity to claim some silverware. It would be just reward for a club doing things the right way.
And given the talent this group of young players possess and the age they are, once they get one trophy under their belts, you wouldn't bet against them winning many, many more.