EPP a second honeymoon for Hildreth
‘Bridesmaids’ is not a term that sits easily with Somerset - runners-up in all three competitions last summer - but it remains a theme for James Hildreth, who is tying the knot this month.
Hildreth was Somerset’s most consistent batsman with more than 2,500 runs, earning a place in the England Performance Programme squad to tour Australia in November and December.
Fortunately the 26-year-old’s wedding plans, including a honeymoon in Mauritius, have been unaffected - much to the relief of his fiancée Aimee.
“Nothing’s changed really,” he told ecb.co.uk. “I’m getting married in a couple of weeks. That’s obviously my main focus at the moment and once I’m back from honeymoon I’ll really concentrate on cricket.”
Hildreth was naturally delighted with his EPP call - it was not his first - and hopes to make the most of his chance to impress.
“It is pleasing, really pleasing,” he added. “Just to know you’re out in Australia while the Ashes is going on is something special and to be around that environment is something I’m really looking forward to.
"I'm cherishing the opportunity I’m going to get to put my name in the hat for the Lions side.”
Should England require middle-order cover during the Ashes, the right-hander will be well placed in a squad where the other middle men are relatively inexperienced.
“It would mean the world to me,” Hildreth enthused. “It’s every cricketer’s dream to be in the Test squad. That’s what we’re striving to achieve really. It’s a personal ambition and something I would cherish.”
With the party for the one-day series after the Ashes still to be announced and the World Cup squad to follow, Hildreth is hoping for an opening there too but remains pragmatic.
“The England one-day side is going really well at the moment; they’ve got some really good one-day players in the team,” he said. “All I can do is keep scoring runs and keep impressing the ECB.”
Hildreth certainly did that this summer.
His stunning statistics break down to 1,440 championship runs at 67.57, 627 at 69.66 in the CB40 and 459 at 32.78 in the FP t20.
The only Somerset player to out-score him in any competition was former England opener Marcus Trescothick in the t20.
“Tres has been brilliant this year. He’s very different from JL,” he revealed.
“He captains and leads in different styles and it definitely suits how our team is going about things at the moment.
“He puts a lot of onus on the players in terms of training and in the gym and stuff like that. He’s given us a bit more belief.”
Although he has no immediate designs on Trescothick’s job, Hildreth admitted he would one day like to lead Somerset.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do really,” he said. “Tres has got a few years left in him yet, but it’s definitely been a goal of mine.”
Hildreth achieved another ambition this year, by playing in a Lord’s final.
Despite suffering defeat to Warwickshire, he was delighted to take part having had to watch Somerset’s previous showpiece at headquarters.
“A Lord’s final was something I wanted to play in for a long time. I just missed out on starting in 2002 when Somerset played Yorkshire,” he remembered.
Warwickshire’s victory on the last day of the campaign was a bitter pill to swallow, but Hildreth does not countenance the ‘bridesmaids’ tag following a season of unprecedented success for the south-west club.
“I think we did brilliantly this year,” he argued. “We were saying at the [club’s] presentation evening that we’re on a journey and, if you look at how we’ve done in previous seasons, we’re bettering it each year.
“We didn’t get any silverware, but when you look back it was really good season for the club.”
On a personal level, though, he is prepared to concede that his weight of runs was insufficient consolation.
“Your goal during the season is to win trophies for your club,” he said. “Getting those runs contributes to that. It’s pleasing to get runs but not the same as winning.”
Hildreth understandably took much satisfaction from his batting exploits, most notably his new-found consistency which yielded eight centuries - seven in the championship.
This was particularly encouraging on championship pitches prepared to favour bowlers more than in previous years - notably Taunton’s former batting paradise.
However, he was quick to point out it was “not just Taunton - where the track has started spinning - they’re obviously trying to make it a result-friendly wicket, which is good.
“You might not necessarily get as many runs as you used to at Taunton a few years ago, but if you’re winning games it doesn’t really matter.
“One of my goals at the beginning of the season was trying to get that little bit of consistency in my game and I’ve managed to do that.
“I’m more pleased with scoring hundreds away from home really, but it’s always nice to get runs in front of your home crowd as well.”
Half of Hildreth’s tons were at Taunton, where Somerset won four championship games compared to one in each of the previous two campaigns.
But his performances all round the country saw him named in the FTI team of the year at the NatWest Professional Cricketers’ Association awards, alongside team-mates Trescothick and Alfonso Thomas.
“If you think of all the great cricketers we’ve got playing the game at the moment around the counties, it’s really pleasing to see your name in that kind of team,” Hildreth said.
“You never really think about it during the season, but to get recognition at the end of the season is nice.”