SOMERSET have added to their trophy cabinet for the first time since 2005 but the County Championship title continues to prove elusive. PAUL MARTIN reflects on another exciting summer in Taunton, the end of an era and what lies ahead...

‘Trophy needed to cap progress’ ran the headline in the County Gazette’s season review this time last year.

Somerset ticked that particular box in style in 2019, winning the Royal London One-Day Cup final against Hampshire on a fantastic day at Lord’s which will become the abiding memory of this summer for those of a Wyvern persuasion.

Following that triumph, there was optimistic talk of a treble and, though that went up in smoke after an inconsistent Vitality Blast campaign, the tantalising prospect of a double remained until the very final hour of the season.

The rain, Alastair Cook and an excellent Essex team conspired to deny Somerset that privilege, consigning them to a third runners-up spot in four years and ensuring the words ‘County Championship title’ will again be preceded by ‘elusive’ next season.

To add insult to injury, they then had to watch the newly-crowned champions celebrate on the Taunton turf - just as Lancashire had in 2011.

Somerset captain Tom Abell, with emotions still raw, spoke eloquently and maturely in the aftermath as he reflected on another near miss.

“Having won the One-Day Cup, we were desperate to go one further and win the Championship to do the double,” he said.

“We are all very aware of how much it means to everyone at Somerset and to us as a team. It just wasn’t quite meant to be.

“We are absolutely gutted with another runners-up tag.

“The previous times we have come from nowhere. Last year was a bit of a one-horse race but this year was a two-horse race and we have been right there or thereabouts.

“We have been pipped at the last, which is devastating, but it will fuel the fire to go one better next year.

“I don’t think the pressure got the better of us at all.

“We have been in pressure situations throughout this season and come through them.

“The weather has got the better of us this week but there are no excuses - fair play to Essex.

“Over the course of a season the best team will prevail, so congratulations to them.”

Abell will now be tasked with picking up the side to challenge once more in 2020, a task they should be up to given the quality and potential in their ranks.

Burnham and Highbridge Weekly News: Tom Banton v Sussex

SPECIAL TALENT: Tom Banton. Pic: Alex Davidson/SCCC

The young players who have begun to establish themselves this summer do not carry the baggage of the ‘bridesmaids’ tag and they can instead draw upon the experience of lifting silverware at Lord’s.

“We take a lot of pride in how our young players have stepped up and come of age,” Abell said.

“We needed that to happen if we were going to compete at the top of the division.

“It is important to celebrate their successes as you take a lot of knocks as young players.”

Abell knows that as well as anyone, having come through his own difficult period in his first season in charge, and he is correct to point to the performances of the likes of Tom Banton and George Bartlett as key positives from this summer.

Banton is the most exciting prospect to come out of Somerset (maybe even English) cricket since Jos Buttler, so savour watching him in Taunton while you can.

There will be those who point to Somerset’s County Championship averages and quickly identify the areas requiring work if they are to make the next step.

Each of the 10 bowlers used averaged under 30 but just two batsmen - Bartlett and Abell - averaged more than that figure, and only just.

As statistics often do, that tells some of the story, but not all of it. It reinforces that Somerset are blessed with superb depth in their bowling attack and shows up frailties in the batting.

However, a look at the national averages shows a bigger picture. Just one player, Warwickshire’s Dom Sibley, passed 1,000 Division One runs this summer - it was a tricky season for batsmen nationwide and Somerset’s batting unit did enough to win more games (nine) than ever before in a single Championship season.

That will not stop Somerset searching for improvement, and rightly so. An overseas batsman is likely to be on the shopping list and it would not be a surprise to see the club try and recruit domestically as well.

There is also much off-the-field recruitment to be done - Somerset are currently without a chairman or chief executive - and the close season will be a busy one.

The months ahead are particularly exciting for Banton, Jack Leach and Lewis Gregory, who are touring New Zealand with England.

It is a surprise not to see Gregory in the Test squad after a terrific season which yielded 51 wickets at 15.76, but he has a chance to shine in the T20s and could yet join Leach (and what a joy it has been to see him excelling in Ashes action this summer) in England whites as the winter goes on.

Burnham and Highbridge Weekly News:

BRILLIANT SEASON: Lewis Gregory. Pic: Alex Davidson/SCCC

The conclusion to this season also marks the end of an era.

Never again will Marcus Trescothick or Peter Trego, two true stalwarts of Somerset cricket, walk out with bat in hand for the county.

Their presence will be sorely missed on and off the field and their legacy will live on through the decades to come - they are cricketers who supporters will tell their grandchildren about.

In their absence, James Hildreth - the last remaining member of that ‘big three’ - will look to improve on an unusually lean 2019, and the experience of Jack Brooks and Steve Davies, who had steady if unspectacular summers, will be key.

Next season also sees the biggest shake-up of domestic cricket in living memory.

‘The Hundred’ will arrive, all singing and all dancing, on the scene - relegating the tournament Somerset were so proud to win this summer to a ‘development competition’ in the process - and the integrity of the Championship may also be compromised, with every team no longer playing each other twice.

Gloucestershire’s promotion, however, means there is at least one Westcountry derby to look forward to and, amid the uncertainty, it is important to try and cherish what makes county cricket so enjoyable, particularly in Taunton.

An impressive team, made up predominantly of homegrown players, competing in all formats in front of good crowds in a proper cricket ground.

The Championship title may continue to elude - but there is good reason to believe it will not do so for much longer.