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Tres' Bank Card and Old-style Bowlers - Charl's Inside Story of 2007 Season

Journalist and Somerset supporter, Sam Dalling has submitted a number of articles to the Club which we will be posting during the next few weeks.

In his first piece he looks back at the 2007 season with one of Somerset’s best ever bowlers.

2007 was a seminal summer in Somerset’s recent history.

It laid the foundations for the success the Club enjoys today.

Following relegation in 2002, the County spent four years languishing in domestic cricket’s second-tier. Yes, a first, and so far only, T20 Cup victory was secured in 2005, but 12 months came rock-bottom.

Something had to change, and boy did it.

With fond memories of a triple-hundred (343) against Surrey at Guildford fresh in his mind, in rode Justin Langer, five-foot nothing of Australian redemption.

His cause was bolstered by Marcus Trescothick’s step back from international duty, Ian Blackwell’s recovery from a serious shoulder injury and the emergence of a dimpled Craig Kieswetter. Countryman Cameron White also returned, while Charl Willoughby and Andrew Caddick continued to tear through top-orders as chainsaws do chocolate.  Academy graduates James Hildreth and Neil Edwards both topped 1,000 runs. Pete Trego was well, Pete Trego – averaging more than 50 with the bat and picking up 31 wickets –  while Steffan Jones made his muscular presence felt.

That side swash-buckled their way to the title with ten victories; three by an innings; another three by 198-plus runs; and four by six wickets or more.  A solitary defeat meant they ended 51 ½ points clear of nearest rivals Nottinghamshire, securing promotion back to the promised land. There they remain to this day.

To paraphrase a 90’s pop band, there ain’t no party like a Westcountry party. The apple juice flowed freely and even JL was sighted on the top floor of Deller’s Wharf nightclub come season end.

Top spot was obtained mid-way through the campaign and never relinquished. Opening bowler Willoughby recounts with fondness the game that saw Somerset summit: a crushing innings and 151 runs win over Gloucestershire at Bristol in June.

Until the 314-run thumping dished out to the old enemy in the Bob Willis Trophy last year, it was the last time the sides clashed in red-ball cricket.

“We had a new skipper in Justin Langer, were going well and were trying to get promoted so it was a massive game. Big Banger – Marcus Trescothick – put a little bit of a carrot out there for the team on the Sunday morning.  He put his American Express black card on the door and said  ‘Guys, if we win this game today, we aren’t going back to Taunton; we are going out for a night in Bristol and I’m going to pay for the drinks’.

“He got a duck the day before but it just showed his character and his love for Somerset, for the team and for the game. No matter how well he did he wanted the team to win. That fired the boys up and obviously we had quite a big night out on him which was fun!”

Day One gave no indication of the forthcoming carnage, with just 27 overs possible due to rain: “We hung around, and hung around and hung around. We eventually got a bit of play at the end of the day, which the guys were a bit grumpy about, but it ended up going in our direction.”

By close the hosts were reeling at 69-4, Caddick taking a pair of wickets and Willoughby and Trego grabbing one each.  The next morning the fireworks began. It took Somerset less than 14 overs to polish off the innings, Grant Hodnett’s measured 52 serving as the only real resistance in Gloucestershire’s 121. Alex Gidman was their second top scorer with just 16.

38-years-young, Caddick was irresistible. A masterclass in seam bowling saw him finish with 18.5-7-30-7.  He may have lacked a yard of pace from his zenith, but the 62 Test veteran was purring.

“Caddy was phenomenal bowler: absolutely phenomenal,” said Willoughby. “He was difficult for people to score off because of his pace and that height he came down from. He got bounce and he got movement.”

The reply started tepidly, Carl Greenidge trapping Trescothick with the first ball of the innings, before Neil Edwards’ steading hand guided the visitors to 158/3 at the end of Day Two. A dominant position but no real suggestion of an early finish.

But incentivised by Trescothick’s generosity, the game gathered pace on what was a far from easy Sunday morning for the Gloucestershire attack. After Edwards had fallen for 85, three men who undoubtedly had their evening attire firmly in mind, pushed the tempo. Cameron White made a virtually-run-a -ball 65, before destructive duo Trego (73*) and Ian Blackwell (72) combined for 149 in typically short-order. Langer declared mid-afternoon with the total on 410/7, his side having added 252 runs in 45 overs.

“Tregs used to change games in both four day cricket and one day cricket at will. Blackie – yes, he wasn’t athletic in the field – but his ability with both bat and ball was phenomenal. His experience and the power of his hitting made him a real asset.

“Those two, alongside Craig Kieswetter, coming in at 6, 7 and 8 altered games. It was really interesting to watch: if teams got through the top three or four they then had Craig, Tregs and Blackie coming in and absolutely smashing the change bowlers all over the place. Suddenly we would be on top of the game again.”

Gloucestershire’s attempt to rescue a draw began well enough but when Willoughby found Chris Taylor’s outside edge the cards folded: 102-2 became 138 all-out in the space of 17 overs.

“I remember Cameron White took an absolute blinder of a catch at gully to set the tone just before tea. I think we needed seven wickets or eight wickets at that stage and that is when Caddy and I blew them away.”

And blow them away they did. Caddick added five to take his match haul to a career-best 12 for 71, while his left-arm partner in crime took five for 56.  A month previously the pair had spearheaded an eight-wicket triumph at Taunton against the same opposition, their fruitful new ball partnership yielding 132 wickets all told.

“We were old style bowlers,” explained Willoughby. “We hit our lines and lengths regularly, looked for a bit of movement and tried not to give the batsman anything.  We built a bit of pressure and looked to get batters out playing an untoward shot. Now untoward shots are part of the game – even in the four day game you see paddles and reverses.

“When Justin Langer came in that year he needed somebody to put their hand up to bowl, and he had two guys who knew their game backwards. We always wanted the ball. I might not have been the most athletic or the most physically fit runner, but I could literally bowl all day, as could Caddy.  He got me many wickets and, although he will deny it, I am sure I got him many wickets as well!”

That year was the second of a seven season spell for Willoughby in Taunton, where he now lives, working for Cooper Associates.

He had previously turned out for Leicestershire in 2005, and also appeared in two Tests for South Africa in 2003 – including one of against England at Edgbaston – plus a handful of ODIs.

Willoughby’s signature was secured after a lengthy courtship, Brian Rose, then Director of Cricket, eventually growing fed up of him tormenting Somerset batsmen.

“Mark Garraway, who was coach at Somerset at time, started the ball rolling,” he recalled.  “He had played some cricket with Neil Johnson at Hampshire who was a teammate of mine at Western Province. Jonno told Mark that if he wanted somebody to get him 50 Championship wickets, I was the guy.

“One of my first games for Leicestershire was a C&G Trophy match against Somerset on TV. I got six wickets (10-3-16-6) and I think Brian took a bit of notice. Somerset then brought in Graeme Smith as the overseas player that year – he and I were really, really good mates, having lived together.

“In the first game Graeme played for Somerset I got him out for 10 and I think that was when Rosey thought ‘ok let’s have a proper look at this guy’. Graeme put in a decent word for me and by the end of the season I’d been offered a deal.”

Signing for Somerset meant Willoughby giving up his dreams of returning to international cricket.

Following his brief stint in the South Africa side, he had returned outstanding numbers back home.  But despite 134 wickets at 22.7 across three summers for Western Province and then for Cape Cobras after the introduction of franchise cricket in 2004/05, a recall remained elusive. Having sought Smith’s counsel, he chose to go Kolpak and immediately experienced mental freedom.

“When I made the decision to give up my dream of playing for South Africa, there was a lot of weight lifted off my shoulders. When you are constantly striving to get picked, and when you are successful in the domestic game over there, but you don’t get selected you get pretty down about it. You are constantly fighting for that place.

“As soon as I made the decision, Somerset became my international cricket if you like – it was the highest level I could now go.  If I compare it to other teams I played for, Somerset was definitely the pinnacle of professionalism in terms of everything that went on behind the scenes. Everything was geared up around the players and making them better. It became the happiest period of my cricket career.”

***

Right up until his departure in mid-2012, Willoughby was an integral part of the First XI.  While there was no trophy to lift skyward, by any measure it was a successful period: joint-top of the the County Championship in 2009, losing out only on victory count; the T20 Final three times in a row between 2009 and 2011; a pair of trips to the now defunct T20 Champions League, including a semi-final against eventual winners Mumbai Indians in 2011; plus back-to-back (2011 & 2012) Lord’s outings in the 40 over cup.

“I think that was a really, really, really good period in Somerset’s history,” he reflected. “I know they’ll always talk about the Botham and the Garner era but even though we didn’t win a major trophy, I think we were comparable in terms of the team we had.”

***

Willoughby’s personal returns were equally bountiful: 347 First Class wickets at 27.49 in 95 outings, plus another 111 in white ball cricket. In full flow it was a thing of outstanding beauty; the upright start, the gazelle-ish approach; coil the spring; and, to finish, the distinctively whippy left arm flourish.

Runs were more sparse but when he trudged out to the middle – always at his customary Number 11 position – everyone took their seats. The challenge? Distinguish between Willoughby and the square-leg umpire at the point of release.

He finished with a remarkable 1,174 wickets, although it is List A economy rate that he believes will be his legacy.

“I always joke with the guys I play club cricket with that if they look back at my one day record – 4.1 runs an over after 200 odd games – they will think I was a genius,” he laughs.

“But back then four runs an over was normal for a 50-over game whereas now the game moves so fast and seven runs an over is normal. Still, when people are comparing notes in ten years’ time of guys who played in this era and guys who played in my era, you will be thinking ‘geez, how good were Willoughby and Caddick’.”

To be frank Charl, they may well say it anyway.

Cricket journalist Sam Dalling (@sammyd767) is a Somerset fan who regularly writes for The Cricketer.

Sam grew up a Junior Sabre and is among a small category of Newcastle United season ticket holders that are also Somerset fans. Now based in London, he is trying to write about cricket, and will do so for anyone and everyone that replies to his emails.

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