SOMERSET'S preparations for the new season are gathering pace and there was an undeniable air of optimism around the Cooper Associates County Ground this morning.

The players and staff gathered for the annual pre-season press day, at which director of cricket Andy Hurry and head coach Jason Kerr outlined their confidence ahead of the upcoming campaign.

Hurry said: "Our preparation has been outstanding and we are very well prepared.

“We have real selection dilemmas, which is a strong position to be in as a club.

"I look back on my first season as head coach in 2006 and there was no depth.

"If you were an established player it was too easy and there was no-one pushing for your place.

“Now, there are young players really snapping at the heels of the established ones, which is where you want to be.

"I'm really impressed with how our players have carried themselves on and off the field in pre-season.

"There is an incredible level of professionalism and the players are giving themselves the best possible chance to be the best they can be."

Kerr then sat down with the County Gazette's Richard Browne...

Is the team in a good place with the season about to start?

Absolutely. First and foremost, it's incredibly exciting. Following on from last season, I think we laid some strong foundations.

We've had a really productive winter and pre-season, the guys have worked incredibly hard, and it's nearly time to play some competitive cricket.

Can Somerset challenge Surrey at the top this season?

A huge emphasis for us has been a shift in mindset.

We're going on a journey, and I'm making an incredibly challenging environment for the guys to make sure they give their all.

We've got a hell of a lot of competition for places, which I've seen drive standards through the winter. Players have individual aspirations and they're looking over their shoulder at the competition around them, certainly within the bowling group.

What are your thoughts on the strength of the batting group?

Similarly, we've got a very strong squad, with 24 players competing for places across all formats of the game.

We're going to tinker with the batting order, shape that slightly differently.

We're going to have more experience at the top of the order, and create opportunities for some of the younger players to come through in the middle.

James Hildreth has been prolific for a number of years and Steve Davies has been very good for us in red-ball competitions.

We've got [Marcus] Trescothick and Azhar Ali, too, combined with some incredibly talented young players.

Is James Hildreth pressing his case for England in your thinking (playing him at three)?

What I have to do, with Abes [Tom Abell], is pick the best team to win the game.

Hildy's a phenomenal player, his record speaks itself, and the challenge is to try and get a little bit more out of him [at three].

We want to pick the side that will score the most runs, and asking young players to come in at the top of the order in early April is a real challenge, so we want to make the game more comfortable for them if we can.

We're putting a bit more on the senior players to deliver, and a by-product of that is that it may give James an opportunity.

But it's really important that he stays focused on what he can do for Somerset, and what will be will be.

Will there be difficulties in selection?

We will have some selection headaches, but that's what we want – competition for places.

We want to make sure the guys are delivering what they're there to do.

You said you weren't ruthless enough last season; was the crushing win over Cardiff MCCU a sign of things to come?

Yeah, hopefully. We have an unbelievable staff here, talent-wise, and the character and attitude off the field is outstanding.

I couldn't ask for any more work ethic, but now it's really about taking the ruthlessness onto the park.

You can be the hardest working team off the park, but you have to transfer that into games.

The way Craig [Overton] bowled against Cardiff is an example of that ruthlessness.

The opposition, with all due respect, are not on the same level but we had to show that, and we did it over the three days.

We now have to do that when we're under pressure. Concentrate on the process and we'll get the right result.

What's the mood ahead of the Kent game?

It's one of excitement, inevitably some nerves come Friday morning.

It doesn't matter how many years you've been involved, whether you're Tres or one of the young players, there's always that bit of uncertainty at the start of the season.

For me, it's about making sure the guys are ready to go out and enjoy themselves.

Kent will have a lot of momentum from coming up last year, they're playing some good cricket and we've had some interesting battles with them in white-ball cricket over the years... though red-ball cricket will be very different.

We've had one game here and the surface was excellent – the groundstaff have done a great job – and we expect more of the same on Friday.

Is the Championship title anyone's to win?

Surrey will be strong again, but the whole division's incredibly competitive.

Something we're trying to achieve is sustained success, and inevitably when that moment comes that Somerset win the title, it's not just about achieving that, it's about doing that year in, year out.

In domestic cricket, no-one can do that at the moment.

The long-term vision is to achieve that sustained success, which is incredibly difficult.

Who's going to win it? Who knows. There will be some competitive cricket played, and while Surrey are strong and will be confident, we've seen in previous years that teams who have won it have struggled the year after.

We'll just concentrate on the simple things, day in, day out, and the skill and talent that we've got will take care of the rest.

Pick up this Thursday's County Gazette to read our season preview pullout featuring interviews with key players, a full fixture list and much more.