Jack Brooks spent the final two months of 2020 virtually immobile following three post-season surgeries, so his hunger to walk back on field with his Somerset team-mates is as palpable as the club’s desire to go one better than their perennial runners-up spot in the new Championship season.
Simultaneous Achilles operations in late October followed two weeks after surgery to replace a snapped tendon in his right hand, suffered in a freak fielding accident during the Bob Willis Trophy final at Lord’s when Brooks’ thumb got stuck in the ground as he dived to stop an Alastair Cook drive.
“I knew something bad had happened straight away, even though I could move it,” Brooks says. “I couldn’t physically force the ball into the thumb, so bowling was pretty tough until I taped it up and took a lot of medication.
“They had to replace the tendon, which was a short operation in London but a bit frustrating when I knew I had to have my Achilles tinkered with as well. I was laid up in bed and was on crutches when I could be up and about.
“I wasn’t really doing much but it gave me a little bit of time for reflection and to process a few things. I learned to walk again just after Christmas and I am back running, fully training now, and I feel as excited for this season as I have been in my whole career.”
It has been a long and eventful career but, as Brooks prepares to turn 37 in June, he says: “There’s plenty of life left in me yet, I just need to get the body moving properly.” The hope is that his Achillles have been sufficiently repaired to allow just that.
“The surgeon was really confident,” Brooks adds. “He said he should be able to get me back to 90 percent at least. The main thing for me was not just the cricket, it was walking or just being able to go out for a run, or gym, or do anything away from cricket.
“I was getting to the point where I could hardly walk really, so it was amazing that I was able to play the five games I did last year, really in quite a lot of pain.”
— Jack Brooks (@BrooksyFerret) March 31, 2021
There’s been plenty of pain of the emotional kind at Somerset as well – too much, says Brooks.
In holding out for a draw on the last day of the final, Essex added the Bob Willis Trophy to their two Championship titles from 2017 and 2019. It was their third first-class title in four seasons since being promoted from Division Two in 2016.
Somerset, meanwhile, were Division One runners-up to Middlesex in 2016, Surrey in 2018 and Essex in 2019. All up Somerset have been runners-up seven times since 2000 and they remain one of only three first-class counties never to have won the Championship.
Brooks, who joined Somerset in 2018 from Yorkshire, where he won two titles in 2014 and 2015, believes it’s not a case of making wholesale changes, but more subtle adjustments to deliver that elusive victory, given how close they’ve come in the past two years in particular.
“We just need to show that bit more toughness in the real tough situations,” he says. “This club should definitely have won the Championship by now, really. From outside or in opposition for a while you think they’re always going to be one of those teams competing, and now being here, you wonder why, how come they haven’t got over the line.
“Hildy [James Hildreth] once looked at the honours board in the long room and said, ‘I just worked I’ve finished runners-up 11 times in my career in various tournaments’. So if you convert a few of those, Somerset’s recent history could be completely different.”
Hildreth, who made his first-class debut at Taunton in 2003, will have another shot this season. It’s easy to understand the argument that Somerset, who open their LV= Insurance County Championship campaign against Middlesex at Lord’s next Thursday, should challenge again with the talent they have.
Dom Bess has moved to Yorkshire, where he will look to bounce back from a difficult tour of India and find more opportunity than he had behind fellow Test spinner Jack Leach, who remains at Somerset, with Craig Overton, Josh Davey and Lewis Gregory joining Brooks in the seam attack.
In captain Tom Abell, George Bartlett and Tom Banton they have a formidable batting line-up along with the emerging 20-year-old Tom Lammonby, who made his first-class debut last year and scored three centuries to finish as the third-highest run-scorer of the Bob Willis Trophy.
“It is frustrating being in that environment when you haven’t quite won it,” Brooks says. “I can give it the big ones and say, ‘I’ve got a couple, I’ll show you my medals,’ the lads might make light of it now and again but you know that it does hurt them, especially Tom Abell.
“He is desperate, he is mad for getting some more silverware, especially the Championship. You can think of how good the party will be when Somerset eventually win it as well.”
LV= Insurance is the new title partner of the County Championship. The season begins on April 8 with champions Essex taking on Worcestershire. For more information visit lv.com/gi/cricket
Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo