WHEN Chris Rogers retired at the end of last season, after coming within a whisker of leading Somerset to a first ever Championship title, there were several options to replace the Australian as captain.
The appointment of Tom Abell, then, took some by surprise – even the man himself – but the Taunton-born youngster is now putting all his effort into making a success of his dream job.
“The captaincy was not something I necessarily had my eye on,” Abell told the County Gazette.
“Matt [Maynard] floated the idea at the end of last year when it became apparent that Buck [Chris Rogers] wasn’t going to be playing anymore, so I had a bit of time to go away and think about it.
“If I’m honest I had a couple of reservations about both my own place and whether it was the best thing for the club and the team, but Matt assured me I was the number one choice and, having spoken to a few of the guys, they were right behind it as well.
“It was a dream of mine to play for Somerset so to captain as well is very special. To have the support of the players, supporters and coaches was huge for me and it’s something I’ll throw myself into and give everything towards.”
Since the appointment was announced in December, the mutual respect between Abell and the experienced players in the Somerset dressing room has been evident.
The 23-year-old described as “invaluable” the support provided by the likes of Hildreth, Trego and Marcus Trescothick, each of whom have spoken warmly about playing under the new captain.
There is a steel to the youngster’s words, however, when he speaks about how he plans to lead the side.
“I have got to be my own man – I don’t necessarily just want to emulate what Tres did as captain or what Chris did last year so I must put my own stance on it,” he said.
“I’m not the loudest character so I don’t intend to be a complete dictator and overhaul what has been good in the past – I hope to lead through action and create an environment where everybody is getting the best out of themselves.
“I don’t want it to be a case of ‘my way or the highway’, I’d like everybody to contribute.”
Abell’s appointment is certainly one that has been made with the future in mind, with the top order batsman being at the heart of a talented crop of young players who have grown up wanting to make an impact at their local club.
Whether it be Taunton’s Abell and Leach or Devon’s Overton twins and Lewis Gregory, there is a sense of regional pride in representing the team that the new captain feels is a recipe for success.
“The passion for Somerset cricket is unparalleled, and these guys are desperate to do well and perform for Somerset,” he said.
“It’s a very special feeling, and one I felt last summer, when local guys step up to the plate and help Somerset win as it creates a very special feeling around the place.
“Having that core of West Country players coming through and performing is what Somerset cricket is about and what supporters love to see, and personally I absolutely love seeing guys like Leachy and the Overton’s performing and winning us games.
“Playing here was a dream for a number of us growing up. You see how much cricket means to people in Somerset and you look at the support we get day in, day out – I don’t think you really get that anywhere else in the country.
“That really drives us as a team and as players as we want to give something back, as the support we get is phenomenal.
“The Overton twins, Lewis and Leachy have performed fantastically over the past few years and now it’s time to try and go up another level again.
“We have got a bit of experience now, we’re not really young players anymore and I think it’s time for us to step up.
“It is great having that core of young players coming through because that compliments the efforts of Tres, Hildy and Tregs who contribute year in, year out.”
Having been denied by last-day drama in 2016, Abell now finds himself in charge of a squad of players with a burning desire to go one better this summer.
Fuelled by the confidence built by last season’s success, the captain feels the side’s determination is backed up by a genuine belief that they have the quality in their ranks to make history.
“It was a gutting end to last season but there were an awful lot of positives to take,” he said.
“The way we performed after being favourites to go down was absolutely fantastic and I think it has fuelled the fire a little bit.
“It’s a tough competition – all the sides are very strong and anyone can beat anyone, so we’re under no illusions about the size of the task ahead, but what last year did was prove to us that when we perform to the best of our abilities we can not only compete with, but actually beat the best teams. That will be a huge factor this year.”
Abell will be selecting his line-ups from a squad he describes as the strongest in his time at the club, while he was also full of praise for new boy Steve Davies and frontline spinner Jack Leach.
“Steve’s class speaks for itself, but he’s also a great guy to have around - he’s been fantastic with me and all the players,” he said.
“And there is no-one better to have as a team man than Leachy – he’ll do anything for anyone. He’s had a bit of a setback this winter, which has been disappointing, but he works harder than anyone at his game and I’ve got huge faith in him performing as well, if not better, than last year.”
Whether Abell can lead Somerset to a fairytale triumph or not, one thing is for certain - it will not be for lack of trying.
Abell's captaincy bow comes against Essex on Good Friday - join us for over-by-over coverage of day one and reports throughout the weekend.
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