Somerset 406 (Petersen 136, Buttler 119*, Compton 52, Trescothick 51) and 46 for 1 lead Warwickshire 158 (Thomas 3-29) by 294 runsScorecardMarcus Trescothick fell to a spinner once again, but saw his side build a strong position © Getty Images Enlarge
Related LinksPlayers/Officials: Jos Buttler | Jamie Overton | Alfonso Thomas Matches: Somerset v Warwickshire at Taunton Series/Tournaments: County Championship Division One | England Domestic Season Teams: England | Somerset | Warwickshire
There is much talk of players preferring the IPL to first-class or even international cricket but, in Alfonso Thomas, Somerset have a cricketer who has chosen to take the path less travelled.
Thomas, preferring the security of a new three-year deal at Somerset to another season of IPL, is contracted at Taunton for the entire season. And, on a pitch on which two of his colleagues had made batting look simple with high-class centuries, he produced a spell of bowling that might have made the crucial contribution in this match.
Thomas, playing against the club that rejected him after a brief stint in 2007, claimed three wickets in an excellent afternoon spell. Maintaining a nagging line, using the crease well and finding just enough movement to trouble all the batsmen, he had Jim Troughton feeling for one angled across him from wide at the crease, Laurie Evans edging a beauty that was angled in and left him off the pitch, and Tim Ambrose leg before despite more than an hint of inside edge. It knocked the stuffing out of the Champions and has left them facing a vast first innings deficit.
That Somerset extended their first innings beyond 400 - claiming maximum batting bonus points - for the first time this season was largely due to Jos Buttler. While it would be stretching a point to suggest that Buttler has preferred county duty to the IPL - he has not had the opportunity to participate in the IPL at this stage - he did admit that his century here - just his third in first-class cricket - meant more to him that a match-defining contribution in a T20 match. "I've made a reputation in one-day cricket" he told Sky Sports, "but under-performed in the Championship."
Warwickshire might also reflect on some sloppy batting. Varun Chopra, under the watchful eye of England batting coach Graham Thorpe, missed a straight one as he attempted to flick across the line, while Chris Woakes cut a long-hop to point and William Porterfield mistimed a drive horribly to gift a catch to mid off.
Rikki Clarke, batting imperiously, was run out attempting a third run when Marcus Trescothick's throw from 10 yards inside the boundary at fine leg hit the stumps - "he was unlucky," Trescothick admitted modestly afterwards - while, for the first time in many months, Warwickshire now have a longish tail with three men vying for the No. 11 spot. The foundations of their success last year, built upon a relentless bowling attack and a batting order that disappeared over the horizon, have been weakened.
Perhaps we should not be surprised. Somerset were, after all, the only side to beat Warwickshire in the Championship last year - they came close to doing it twice - when they bowled them out for 124 at Taunton and they did finish second in the Championship in 2012. Besides, this match is not over: Dougie Brown Warwickshire's new director of cricket had brave words at the close about '"chasing anything" on such a good surface.
To date, however, Somerset have out-played Warwickshire with bat and ball. Somerset's batsmen displayed a discipline that Warwickshire's could not and Somerset's bowlers have generated more life from the surface. Had Trescothick, the Somerset captain, not declined the opportunity to enforce the follow-on - a controversial decision bearing in mind that only 13 overs remained in the day when he decided to bat again - then Warwickshire would have been obliged to follow-on for the first time since August 2010, when Nottinghamshire were the opposition. As it was, Somerset extended their lead of 248 to 294 by stumps with Trescothick, out to off-spin yet again (he has been dismissed by three of the last four balls he has faced from off-spinners) the only victim.
"It's really important the bowlers are fresh when they have the new ball," Trescothick said afterwards, explaining his decision to bat again. "Our bowlers had already bowled 65 overs, so I wanted to give them a break. Warwickshire also look tired, so we wanted to put them back out there."
Warwickshire might consider themselves somewhat unfortunate. While the majority of England players, including the fast bowlers, have returned to action in this round of games, Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell continue to sit out this round of matches. Not only are Warwickshire much weakened by their absence, but it seems a shame that such a high-profile televised match, a match that could have been used to market the county game, has been denied such fine players. To be fair to the ECB, they will review the schedule of the fast bowlers on May 2 and it may well be that, while the batmen play another round of games before the first Test against New Zealand, the bowlers are rested.
Warwickshire are also missing Ian Westwood, who is out for around a month having turned his ankle in training, and Keith Barker, who is out for six weeks with a side strain. As a consequence, their batting is considerably weakened.
But none of that should have been unanticipated. It was always likely that Trott and Bell would be absent for vast periods and always likely that injury - and Lions call-ups - would weaken Warwickshire at other times. The likes of Darren Maddy were available for selection. There can be no excuses. These days cricket, at county and international level, is a squad game.
Besides, Somerset have issues of their own. George Dockrell was unavailable with a finger injury and Steve Kirby was rested with a view to 'workload management.' Jack Leach, the 21-year-old left-arm spinner playing only his fourth first-class match, compensated for the absence of the former with a tight spell of bowling that suggested he could have a decent future at this level, while the Overton twins, aged just 19, look prodigiously talented. Jamie found bounce and carry in the pitch that only Clarke, of the Warwickshire bowlers, could match, while Craig conceded just seven runs in 10 overs.
Things are looking up for Somerset. With Chris Gayle having given a written undertaking to allow Somerset first refusal for his services in return for reneging on his contract in 2012, there is still a chance he could appear for the club in this year's T20 competition. The club's chief executive, Guy Lavender, confirmed to ESPNcricinfo that Somerset "would like him to come" which leaves just the pesky issues of money and availability. Gayle is committed to appearing in the Champions Trophy - between June 6 and June 23 - and expected to appear in the Caribbean Premier League from July 29 to August 26. The group stage of the FLt20 runs from June 26 to July 31, with the quarter-finals on August 6 and finals day on August 17. The Sri Lanka Premier League also runs from August 11. Somerset have currently only signed one overseas player for the competition: Alviro Petersen.
More importantly, in the longer term, the club are hopeful of retaining the services of Jos Buttler. The 22-year-old, who produced some outstandingly fluent drives to complete the third first-class century of his career, is out of contract at the end of the season and certain to interest a host of other counties. Slightly unsettled by the uncertainty over his future as a wicketkeeper at the club - Kieswetter retains the gloves and is keeping better all the time - Buttler knows his England ambitions may be better served by a move to a club that allows him to keep more often. But, having developed through the system and having a family steeped in the club, it will take some persuasion to lure him away.
Buttler remains a work in progress. He has plenty of improvement to make with his keeping and questions to answer about his ability to play the short ball and his ability to survive in bowler-friendly conditions. But the way in which he makes perfectly respectable length deliveries appear as if they are over-pitched filth suggests he is a young man of rare talent who will surely find a way.