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Jeff Richardson sees expat call-ups as a win-win for Somerset

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Jacob Albertze is part of the Bermuda squad that will compete in the ICC T20 World Cup Americas Sub-Regional Qualifiers in Argentina after a breakthrough season with Somerset (Photograph by Ras Mykkal)

Jeff Richardson hopes the international call-up of expatriates Matty Watson and Jacob “JD” Albertze provides the kick-start needed to revitalise the league programme at Somerset Cricket Club.

The highly credentialled coach, who confirmed his decision this week to stay on with the Cup Match champions in an exclusive interview with The Royal Gazette, was pleasantly surprised that Watson, from England, and Albertze, from South Africa, were drafted in by Bermuda coach Niraj Odedra for the ICC T20 World Cup Americas Sub-Regional Qualifiers in Argentina this month.

They join domestic team-mates Dominic Sabir and Kamau Leverock, who plays his club cricket at Somerset when on island.

Matty Watson is part of the Bermuda squad that will compete in the ICC T20 World Cup Americas Sub-Regional Qualifiers in Argentina after a breakthrough season with Somerset (Photograph by Ras Mykkal)

“I wouldn’t have foreseen it 12 months ago, I wouldn’t have foreseen it six months ago,“ Richardson said of two players who came to his attention last summer through their exploits in the Evening League.

“With some of the internal issues we have at Somerset Cricket Club, as far as numbers of players, the youth programme feeding the senior team, we’ve had to go out to some Evening League cricketers on occasion to fill in. The downside to that is that there’s not much training taking place by these individuals because it’s not a real commitment to Somerset Cricket Club. They were like, ‘If you guys are short, we’ll play’.

“These two are among three that we have at Somerset, the other one being Piers Carr. These guys enjoyed themselves so much at the club level that they were encouraged, I encouraged them to, if they got a call-up, to go forward and do it. The positive thing for me is that by them being selected for the national team, I can see them playing full time next season and maybe encouraging one or two others from the Evening League because our domestic programme needs these type of players playing week in and week out.”

It is here that Richardson takes a swing at xenophobic attitudes towards foreign players that finds its genesis during the days of bowling all-rounder Saleem Mukuddem, who broke Charlie Marshall’s longstanding colt batting record in Cup Match as a Somerset player in 2003 before going on to play a key role in Bermuda’s historic qualification for the World Cup in 2007.

“Having these players in our leagues makes our club players better,” Richardson said. “There’s this perception, and I don’t know where it came from, that they refer to them as ‘these people don’t belong’ or ‘these people need to go back home’. Man, for years foreign players have graced our domestic leagues. Our domestic programme is in shambles now because of clubs like Police [Recreation] Club no longer having a team in our league. I will encourage [foreigners] and I will continue to encourage them because, first of all, I need the numbers and, second, it makes our domestic players better.”

Richardson openly admits that performances in league cricket over the past five or more years have not been to his liking, some of which can be put down to the different approaches the Cup Match clubs have taken to fielding XIs in the Annual Classic.

Whereas St George’s have historically picked from within to produce a squad presumably representative of “all the people” — no matter the cost — Somerset have gone to “all the people” in search of a winning combination, lessening any incentive to join the league programme.

The results have been that, while St George’s have flourished domestically — a dominant defence of the T20 Premier Division title to end the 2022 season providing salve to the gaping wound inflicted on July 28 and 29 — Somerset have become more of a yo-yo club, springing to life only at Cup Match time when the “best of the rest” join up.

It is a situation that pushed Richardson to the brink of retirement until the arrivals of Watson and Albertze, who had been scoring hundreds for fun in the 16-overs-a-side Evening League, swept through the West End like a breath of fresh air.

“That’s always been a thorn in my side, the club team,” Richardson said. “One season we would do really well and get promoted, and then we have a sub-par season and get demoted. It’s just a cycle. What I’ve always wanted is some of the success and just the way we do things for Cup Match to be instilled at the club level. I think Somerset being as strong as they are in Cup Match, it’s a travesty that their club team are in such disarray at this point.”

Richardson added: “It’s a number of things [to explain it]. It’s sort of the aftermath from Covid, playing too much T20 cricket over a year or two, not having a chance to develop young cricketers, to spend time at the wicket to build an innings. There’s a mindset now among some of our young cricketers that even 50 overs is too long — it got to the place where T20 is it for them because they could play for three hours and have the rest of the day to themselves. So it’s going to be a difficult time to reprogramme them to be playing the longer version of the game.”

The coach will launch his preseason programme soon and expects to see a reinvigorated approach up west — particularly challenging in an “off year”, with Cup Match in St George’s.

“Talks are under way now,” he said. “I’m going to be having a meeting real soon with Mike Corday, the cricket chairman, and our groundsman about how we want things to go this season. With the selection of Matt and JD into national programme — they’re going to be travelling with the squad this month — what that’s going to do for me is it’s going to encourage them to be coming to preseason training for Somerset Cricket Club as well.

“Pre-season has been difficult at best over the past three seasons, so hopefully this year we see a revival of cricket the way it used to be — guys out to preseason training early so that when the season kicks over, they’re ready to go.”

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Published February 08, 2023 at 7:50 am (Updated February 08, 2023 at 9:47 am)

Jeff Richardson sees expat call-ups as a win-win for Somerset

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