By Sam Dalling
Somerset captain Tom Abell has revealed he was left speechless after being selected to participate in the inaugural edition of the ECB’s new flagship competition, The Hundred.
The 26-year-old was snapped up by Old Trafford based outfit Manchester Originals in the second round of last year’s draft – the first of its kind in English sport.
Had all gone to plan, Abell was due to pack his bags and venture North in late July having fetched the watering sum of £100,000.
But with the entire English domestic season in jeopardy because of the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic, the sport’s governing body were forced to put the 100-ball-per-side showcase on the back burner for until 2021
In a typically understated fashion, the all-rounder admitted he was shocked at his selection – let alone the price tag – and still doesn’t know whether his contract will be rolled over to 2021:
“My expectations going into the draft weren’t too high,” he admitted.
“I thought I might have half a chance of getting picked but had no idea that Manchester were going to come in for me.
“I was watching the draft at home with my family and Lewis Gregory’s name popped up – I was just delighted he was so high.
“But then my name appeared almost straight away, and I don’t think I even reacted.
“I was in a state of shock, and can just remember thinking “what’s just happened?!
“It was a surreal thing and fair to say it was a life changing moment.
“With these auctions, some people always go for more than you expect, while others go for much less – I am very luck.
“I managed to catch up with head coach Simon Katich a few times over the winter, but I’m still waiting to hear what will happen next year.”
Abell’s selection is even more intriguing given that, unlike many of his modern-day counterparts, his rise to the top was not kickstarted by a display of fireworks in front of the cameras.
Instead, it was a classical style and calm temperament that saw the opener establish himself as a firm fixture in red-ball cricket at the Cooper Associates County Ground.
Having narrowly missed out on a triple-figure debut in 2014, a maiden first class hundred came the following Summer and the youngster has barely missed a County Championship fixture since.
But it wasn’t until last year that Abell cemented his white-ball spot, leading his troops to Royal London One Day cup victory against Hampshire at Lords, and notching up a t20 best of 101* against Middlesex – a knock that may yet prove to be his sliding doors moment.
“I will be the first to say I wouldn’t have regarded the white ball stuff as my strongest suit,” he confessed.
“But I’ve had some more success in recent years and that’s partly down to a mindset shift.
“You’ve got to go out there and have confidence in your ability, express yourself and believe you can impact games.
“I’ve made a conscious effort in training to work on my skills set and on a game plan that means I can be effective in the shorter format.
“I’m by no means the finished article but it is nice to be able to make a contribution.”
Going into his fourth season as Somerset’s first team skipper, Abell hit the headlines ahead of the 2017 season when he was announced former England star Marcus Trescothick’s successor at the tender age of 22.
And after a difficult first season at the helm – at one-point dropping himself from the four-day side ahead of a clash with Yorkshire – the ex-Taunton School pupil has gone on to vindicate his appointment, steering the Cidermen to back-to back second place finishes in Division One of the County Championship.
When injury cruelly ruled teammate Lewis Gregory out of the lion share of last year’s Blast, Abell was asked to take the t20 reins, forcing him to sink or swim in the shortest format of the game:
“I had to contribute from a batting point of view, but I also had to step up as captain,” he explained.
“It’s a very different type of leadership from the longer format where you have time to let your plans play out and feel more in control.
“You’ve got to think on your feet and both the bowlers and captains are really under pressure.
“I remember the first few games where the ball was flying all over the place and I’m thinking ‘I’ve got no control here’.
“But I just had to learn to accept that there are going to be boundaries and that is part of the game.
“You can have the best laid out plans in the world but batsmen these days can counteract anything.
“You’ve just got try and keep calm and be adaptable.”
Ask any Taunton-based cricket fan and they will tell you Abell has been destined for great things from an early age.
In 2013 he was crowned Wisden’s Young Schools Cricketer of the Year, while as a teenager he amassed runs for fun with his boyhood side club side, Taunton Cricket Club.
This winter saw another milestone achieved when – in addition to heading to Bangladesh to represent the Rangpur Rangers – the Exeter University graduate’s stellar white ball summer was rewarded with a spot on the plane for the England Lion’s trip down under.
The tour was Abell’s first in England colours, and culminated in victory in the “unofficial” test against a formidable Australia ‘A’ outfit boasting no fewer than eight full internationals.
And despite not enjoying the desired level of personal success, that Abell was asked to stay with the camp after the one-day leg speaks volumes for how he is viewed by the backroom staff:
“It was my first involvement in the England set up and it was an amazing moment when I got the call to say I was involved,” he reminisced.
“As a player you always hope that you might be and around those sorts of conversations, but for it come to fruition was absolutely phenomenal
“Originally, I was only on the ball leg of the tour, and then I got asked to stay on.
“That meant I had six weeks in a different environment, with different teammates and coaches and competing against the Aussies.
“Prior to the tour we had a weekend in Loughborough, and the talk was about learning to win in Australia.
“The pinnacle was the four-day game against Australia at the MCG.
“I never anticipated being involved in that game, so to go on and win it in that environment was fantastic.
“I’d never really played with most of the guys before, so it was a brilliant experience and we formed a pretty strong team.”