Anthony Gibson's Season Review

BBC radio commentator Anthony Gibson, who was the only journalist to have covered every single Somerset game in 2020, reflects on what was a very different season.

What a very strange season that was, for commentators as well as for players, coaches and everyone else.  But at least we got a season, albeit a truncated one, and for that the oft-maligned ECB deserves great credit. They, the players, the County Clubs and their staff, everyone involved in fact, made the very best of a bad job.

Ben Warren’s advice to those few media folk accredited to attend Somerset’s opening game against Glamorgan on the morning of August 1st was to get there early, in view of all the checks that might need to be made. In the event, the procedure was straightforward enough.

The nice lady on car parking duty took me through her Covid checklist, took my temperature (36.2 – spot on) and issued me with a pass – but a pass only for the Marcus Trescothick Pavilion, as the Somerset Pavilion is now known, and its immediate environs. When I tried to wander across the car park for some exercise at lunchtime, I was politely reprimanded by a steward, and asked to get back in my zone.

We couldn’t use the usual commentary box, which is too small for social distancing. Instead, we were set up in the Weston-super-Mare hospitality suite on the first floor. Bill Andrews, Brian Rose and Pete Trego would have felt very much at home there, and it was, in fact, just about the ideal commentary position, offering a view not dissimilar to that provided by the dear departed ‘potting shed’ on the roof of the Old Pavilion.

There was excitement and relief in the air as the clock ticked round to 11 on that first morning. The long wait for cricket was nearly over. The two umpires, Ian Blackwell and Russell Warren, marched out from the Andy Caddick Pavilion as usual.  But here’s a thing:  the Glamorgan fielders are emerging from the Ondaatje Pavilion, while the two Somerset opening batsmen – the unlikely pairing, as it seemed pre-season, of Ben Green and Tom Lammonby – are making their way down the steps from where the home dressing room used to be in the Colin Atkinson Pavilion! All, of course, in the name of social distancing, and arrangements were similar at every other ground we visited.  Just as well, I reflected, that our Cooper Associates County Ground boasts more pavilions than any other on the circuit!

The absence of a crowd was the strangest aspect of proceedings. The residents of the retirement apartments and their friends did generate some atmosphere, especially when it came to the Vitality Blast home games, but otherwise, the only sounds being picked up by our effects microphone – noise of bat on ball apart, of course – were the shouts of mutual encouragement among the players, Tom Abell’s stentorian exhortations echoing around the empty stands. Somerset were, by some margin, the most vocal of the counties we saw.

Unlike the international squads, county cricketers were not kept in bubbles, cut off entirely from the wider world.  However, post-match interviews at Taunton were conducted by Zoom call, which was a bit odd.  Elsewhere, we stood two metres apart on the outfield, although there was one occasion when Steve Davies and I were forced to take shelter in a spectator access tunnel as the rain came lashing down at Edgbaston. 

As for the cricket, despite the absence of spectators, it never lacked in intensity, especially on Somerset’s part. In the Bob Willis Trophy especially, no team fought harder, bowled better, fielded more athletically or caught so unerringly.  The seam attack, inspiringly led by a revitalised Craig Overton, were quite superb. They batted pretty well too, turning round the first three BWT games.

Perhaps the greatest joy was to see the young batsmen seize the opportunity provided by this strange season to show what they could do.  George Bartlett looked as if he was batting on a different pitch to everyone else in his first innings century against Gloucestershire, Eddie Byrom finally fulfilled his promise in the final at Lord’s, Will Smeed showed great potential in taking his team to within touching distance of an unlikely win against the Glosters in the Blast, Ben Green got better as the season went on, while, as for Tom Lammonby, what a revelation!  His century on a tricky pitch at New Road, against a relentlessly accurate and probing Worcester attack, at first defending as if his life depended on it and then, as the bowlers tired, unfurling his full range of glorious attacking shots was for me the highlight of the season.

It was a huge privilege to have been able commentate on all of Somerset’s matches.  Thanks to live streaming – Ben Warren showing the rest of the country the way, as always – our audiences sometimes ran into the hundreds of thousands and I know from social media how much the words and pictures were appreciated.

Taken in the round, it was I suppose a bittersweet season, with much to savour but disappointment at the last in both the Blast and the Bob Willis Trophy. And it was also most certainly a memorable season, albeit one that I profoundly hope will never need to be repeated.

(Anthony Gibson OBE is the BBC’s senior commentator on Somerset cricket.)

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