Marcus Trescothick: I defy anyone to confidently predict who will win the title
THE battle for the LV= County Championship title this season is going to be more competitive than ever with so many clubs entitled to fancy their chances.
Going into the third round of matches today, there hadn't been a single draw in Division One and only Nottinghamshire had managed to win both of their games.
Every team is capable of beating the others on their day and I can foresee many twists in fortune during what I expect to be a thrilling summer of Championship cricket.
Somerset's next two games are formidable ones, against Notts and reigning champions Lancashire, so we will have a better idea of our prospects at the end of those fixtures. But it is impossible to find a place on the fixture list where there is an easy match. Even the two clubs fresh up from Division Two happen to be big ones in Middlesex and Surrey, who both demand immediate respect.
I was very impressed with the disciplined way Middlesex bowled against us in our opening game, having already seen the strength in depth at Surrey's disposal when we played them in pre-season.
Sussex have already registered a victory, Warwickshire beat us in a close contest at Edgbaston and we know Lancashire, Notts and Durham will be strong again, so I defy anyone to confidently predict who will win the title.
I am pretty happy with the start we have made. It would have been great to pull off a second win against Warwickshire, but we are better placed after two games than in the last couple of seasons and have some key players in good form. Sadly, that doesn't include yours truly. I have been scratching around to find some form on a couple of testing pitches and things haven't clicked into place yet.
Our victory over Middlesex was reward for a lot of hard work during the winter and a more competitive pre-season. Then, against Warwickshire, a lot came down to the toss of the coin.
I made the wrong decision to bat first, believing the dampness in the pitch and the fact it was pretty bare would cause dents to appear as the game progressed. When that happens, batting becomes progressively more difficult.
We had seen film of the previous game at Edgbaston when those circumstances occurred. All that happened this time was that the wicket dried out and got harder.
Talking to Warwickshire coach Ashley Giles during the game, it was clear they, too, anticipated the wicket deteriorating and would also have batted had they won the toss. What made the difference from a week earlier I have no idea, but it was just one of those things.
We fought back hard from a damaging first-innings deficit and were in a position to win at lunch on the final day. Warwickshire had been cruising to their target when Pete Trego got the ball to reverse swing and took three wickets in a spell.
With the second new ball imminent, we expected Jeetan Patel to go on the attack after lunch and planned for that. But he struck the ball very well, hit a couple of big sixes, and took the game away from us in a short time.
As a final gamble, I introduced George Dockrell to the attack and it didn't work. But there were a lot of positives to take out of the game for us.
Nick Compton continued his excellent early-season form with a richly deserved century, while Jos Buttler shared in a big second- innings partnership with him and Adam Dibble scored some handy runs down the order.
Unfortunately for young Adam, he picked up an intercostal muscle injury during the game and now faces a spell on the sidelines after making a good impression with bat and ball.
Vernon Philander has settled in really well at Taunton and wasted no time showing us what a superb bowler he is. He is at the batsmen with every ball and gives nothing away, something England will have to be aware of when they take on South Africa later this summer.
The other players have taken to Vernon well. He is enjoying himself over here and I expect him to prove an extremely shrewd signing.
The challenge for our other bowlers is to get the ball in the right areas as often as he does. Steve Kirby bowled brilliantly in the second innings against Middlesex and they are capable of forming a potent opening attack.
I will preview England's summer in next week's column. I was surprised how poorly we played against Pakistan during the winter and the problems our top batsmen had against spin. But I believe the main problem was that the players had such a long break before that series and that they were not battle-ready for the toughness of Test cricket.
Pakistan were ready and hit us hard. But we improved against Sri Lanka and winning the second Test against them was a real achievement, because it is a hugely difficult place to play. It's humid, the pitches are slow and Sri Lanka have some top players, so to draw that short series did England credit. Overall, the winter was a disappointment, but I am sure we will be more comfortable back on home soil.
West Indies will provide the perfect hors d'oeuvre for the main course against South Africa, who are certain to present a huge challenge.
Interview: Richard Latham