By Charlie Talbot-Smith
ENGLAND hopefuls Nick Compton and Craig Kieswetter know that a strong start to the summer could breathe fresh life into their international ambitions.
And, according to their Somerset teammate James Hildreth, the determination of his colleagues can inspire the county as a whole on to better things.
The wait for a first County Championship goes on at Taunton, last season their worst in the four-day game since their promotion to Division One in 2007.
Marcus Trescothick’s side were battling to stave off relegation rather than challenging for honours, although their limited overs side were as consistent as ever.
Somerset have been the bridesmaids for so long, however, that Hildreth, vice-captain for this season, will settle for nothing less than trophies this summer.
“Everyone in county cricket is thinking that if we have a good start to the season then there is certainly a chance there for me to get involved (with England),” said Hildreth, who along with Compton was one of only two Somerset batsmen to pass 1,000 first-class runs for the summer.
“And we have got two lads in Craig (Kieswetter) and Nick (Compton) who are 100 per cent of that class.
“The way they’ve been playing they deserve a go and if we get things right they will be there. Just watching the way they’ve gone about their training this winter has fired up the rest of the team.
“They’re desperate to get back into that set-up, you can see it in their eyes, and if we can use that to push forward at the start of the season then that’s great and this could be the beginning for them.
“The start of the season is crucial, there are probably a couple more result wickets out there as well so the challenge is there for us.”
Last year’s eventual finish of sixth involved a campaign that saw Somerset struggle for runs at the top of the order, a strain that is epitomised by Trescothick’s failure to score a single century for the county for the first time since 1998.
And while things can, and must, change this time around accorddng to Hildreth, there is still a side at Taunton that can change from relegation candidates last summer, to eventual champions this year.
“It was another season that lacked some silverware,” added the 29-year-old. “It was a disappointing season in the four-day game, first things first we have to be more consistent.
“That’s what we have been working on this winter and hopefully it can come to fruition.
“We are a very proud county, we don’t want to be looking over our shoulder we want to be at the top.
“We have never won the Championship and we, as a squad, are all desperate to put that right and at the start of every year that is our target.
“There were quite a few of us who didn’t have that good a season with the bat, it was not what we were looking for.
“We only had two guys get over 1,000 runs, and we need to sort that out.
“For too long we have been reliant on Compo, he has bailed us out with his weight of runs and it’s up to us to make sure we hold our ends up.”
There has been a reshuffle in the coaching set-up at Taunton this summer as Dave Houghton comes in as batting coach from Derbyshire while Jason Kerr is promoted from academy to bowling coach.
In terms of personnel the departure of Jos Buttler is a tough one for all concerned at Taunton to take but they have recruited former Durham all-rounder Johann Myburgh.
And with a bowling attack that balances the experience of Steve Kirby with the youthful vigour of the Overton twins, Craig and Jamie, Hildreth sees a side that can once again challenge for honours across the board.
“Last year we had guys like Lewis Gregory and Craig Meschede who really stepped up, not to mention the Overton twins,” he added.
“Those guys are all a year older and wiser now so, hopefully, they can use that experience and make up a balanced attack.
“There will be opportunities there for people to come in and stake a claim, if you can come in and perform.
“Bringing in some specialist coaches has been great for training, to have them at your beck and call is fantastic.
“Jason (Kerr) is a young and very ambitious coach and we are lucky to have him working with our bowlers.
“Dave (Houghton) has come on board as batting coach and I have loved working with him. I worked with him on the England Lions tour in 2007 so we have a good relationship and that’s a real boost for everyone.
“We are so consistent as a side, the limited overs was the same again last season.
“But we set ourselves high standards, getting out of the group stages is not enough.
“We want to be challenging and winning trophies.”