Last season could not have been more disappointing for Somerset. Few sporting campaigns have promised so much but ended with so little: Marcus Trescothick's side finished second in the Championship – having gathered the same points total as champions Nottinghamshire but with one victory fewer – and were beaten in the finals of both one-day competitions.
The second of those final defeats came amid the gloom of a September evening at a half-full Lord's, where Warwickshire won a low-scoring 40-over final. Afterwards, Trescothick struggled manfully to look on the bright side. "We're proud of what we've achieved as cricketers this season," he said. "We've been probably the most consistent team through the year, and we've put ourselves in a position to win three trophies. We could be talking about a completely different situation, but obviously we're not."
Today Somerset take on Warwickshire again as they get their Championship campaign under way a week behind many of their rivals. Already, Yorkshire have a win in the bag and Durham, who had the better of a draw with Hampshire, showed they look ready to challenge for the title they won back-to-back in 2008 and 2009. Like Somerset, Notts have had to wait until today (they face Hampshire) but it's on Taunton that most interest will be focused.
That is at least partly because the bookies have made Somerset title favourites. This optimism appears to be shared by many at the club, including Trescothick. "There is real presence about the place this year," he says. "It's exciting, but that brings a little bit of pressure to what it is we have got to do and we are fully aware of what it is we have got to try to achieve this coming summer."
Any expectation is only heightened by the fact that Somerset have, remarkably, never won the County Championship. They have rarely had a better chance to rid themselves of that dismal tag. Although Zander de Bruyn's departure for Surrey weakens the batting, the addition of Steve Kirby and Gemaal Hussain – both from Gloucestershire – may make up for it in the pace bowling department. Kirby is a notoriously fiery character (on the field, at least) and his refusal to be second-best could be just what the club needs.
Equally useful, in terms of winning titles, will be a good spinner. The season began last week in a blaze of sunshine and if this is to be a long, hot summer (although today's forecast for Taunton is not promising) then Murali Kartik and Ireland's young off-spinner George Dockrell will be crucial. Wisely, Somerset have recruited Sri Lankan Ajantha Mendis (who arrived in England yesterday and is expected to go straight into today's team) to cover while the former is away on IPL duty for the first few weeks of the season. The former Pakistan bowler, Saqlain Mushtaq, meanwhile, has been taken on as spin-bowling coach.
Clearly, Somerset are serious about making up for 2010's disappointments. If Trescothick can shake off the conservatism that cost his side in certain Championship games last season – his apparent refusal to set Kent a target at Canterbury last year was surprising given the Kentish tendency for second-innings collapses – then they could well live up to their role as favourites.
It's a status the club appears to have embraced. "I think it will be an advantage for us to go into competitions as favourites because teams will come here knowing just how good a team we are," said Trescothick. True enough, but that won't mean a thing if the club ends the season potless once again. Everyone at Taunton is working hard to ensure that doesn't happen.
Wisden XI 2010
Australians are thin on the ground in county cricket this season but there are more of them gracing England's domestic competition than there are in Wisden Almanac's Test XI of 2010, revealed yesterday:
Virender Sehwag (India)
Tamim Iqbal (Bangladesh)
Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka)
Sachin Tendulkar (India)
Jacques Kallis (South Africa)
VVS Laxman (India)
MS Dhoni (India, capt and wkt)
Graeme Swann (England)
Dale Steyn (South Africa)
Zaheer Khan (India)
James Anderson (England)