CAPTAINING a side in Division One of the County Championship at the age of 23 was never going to be easy, but Tom Abell could have been forgiven for not anticipating such a fluctuating range of emotions during his first year in the job.

From dropping himself in mid-season after a run of low scores to parading round the County Ground having led his side to safety, the Taunton-born batsman has been on something of a rollercoaster ride since, to some surprise but much encouragement, he was announced as Somerset’s captain a year ago today (December 21).

Beginning the story of how his appointment came about, Abell said: "I had meetings towards the end of the 2016 season – once it became clear Chris Rogers wasn’t going to carry on – and they saw some real leadership potential in me.

"I had reservations in myself and it wasn’t a decision I took lightly, so I spoke with a number of people and the feedback was pretty unanimous. The players were right behind it, which was a big thing.

“It was a huge thrill and honour to be asked to captain the club.”

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ALL SMILES: Abell at his first press conference as Somerset captain on December 21, 2016

Early signs were good, with Somerset enjoying a flawless pre-season, but the mood soon turned when the competitive action began as Abell’s charges suffered consecutive defeats and the skipper returned scores of 1, 0, 1 and 0 in his first four innings in the job.

Amid talk from Matthew Maynard of an altered technique picked up over the winter in Australia, Abell sat out the Royal London One-Day Cup group games in a bid to rediscover his touch.

"I wasn't performing at the start of the season," Abell admitted.

"Technically I’m not perfect – there aren’t many batsmen that are – but when you’re not playing well things get highlighted a bit. You end up delving very deep into your technique and that can cloud your judgement.

"I wasn’t batting any differently, but you fail a couple of times and you start to question yourself and how you’re playing."

A corner looked turned as Abell helped see his side to draws against Warwickshire and Middlesex, but he remained frustrated by a lack of notable first innings contributions.

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LANDMARK: Abell batted Somerset to a draw against Warwickshire in a match which saw Marcus Trescothick (above) reach his record-breaking 50th century.

Somerset then lost a decisive match against Yorkshire by just three runs, and the strains of the job were beginning to take their toll on the fresh-faced captain.

"I can remember that feeling like it was yesterday," he said.

"We needed about 30 more runs with four wickets left and we really thought we were about to get that win we were desperate for, but it got snatched away from us.

“It was our own doing, we lacked the composure to finish it off, but it was another dagger to the heart – to be knocked down again was really tough to take. It was a very quiet dressing room after that result."

If that was a low point, it may have felt meek in comparison to what followed against Hampshire in Southampton.

"I was having doubts about my place in the side, but we wanted to give it one more game rather than one too few, and I was obviously desperate to turn it round," he said.

"I got a pair [against Hampshire] and was in tears on the bus. I realised at that point the time had come to drop myself.

"I was in a really bad place at that time. I couldn’t see myself returning to form and it was gutting not to be able to fulfil the role I wanted to play as captain of the club.

"I was pretty disconsolate, but it was a decision which had to be made - as difficult as it was, it had to happen.”

With Lewis Gregory leading the side in Abell’s absence, Somerset picked up their overdue first Championship win against Yorkshire in Scarborough, leaving the skipper to make an impact closer to home.

On the evening Somerset wrapped up their first win, Abell was helping out with All Stars Cricket back where it all began for the batsman, at Taunton CC. It was just the tonic he needed.

“Sometimes it’s great to take a step back,” he said.

“You go to things like that and you see what it’s all about – kids running round and having the time of their lives. That was me at that age, and you do obtain a bit of perspective that you don’t see when you’re so wrapped up in playing.

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ROLE MODEL: Helping out at All Stars Cricket helped put a smile back on Abell's face at a tough time

“I had lost a bit of love for batting during that period, so it was a good way to try and rediscover that.”

Talking cricket, of course, is all but inescapable in Taunton, particularly if you’re the Somerset captain. Some may find such an atmosphere suffocating, but the reverse is true for Abell.

“I love it – bumping into people and talking about what we do. The passion for Somerset is unparalleled and I love talking about it and everything that goes with it. It helped me through a difficult time.

“Chatting to people around town, I could see people were desperate for me to rediscover some form and were right behind me, which was uplifting. It’s something I’m very grateful for and will never take for granted.”

Abell’s task wasn’t made any easier as, when the 23-year-old was in and out of the T20 team through midsummer, the side were dealt a blow by the shock departure of Adam Hose to Warwickshire.

There are no hard feelings on Abell’s part – the pair remain close friends – and, as fate would have it, Hose’s departure opened up a space in the middle order.

“I wasn’t confident that I’d come back in and score runs, but that would have been the weak decision – I had taken on the captaincy and this was my time to step up.”

Step up he did, scoring 96 against Surrey in Taunton on his return to the first team having walked to the crease at 46-3. The relief was palpable.

“I was absolutely delighted with that,” he recalled.

“It was just such a great feeling to contribute, particularly with Davos [Steve Davies, who scored 142] as we had both been struggling. We call ourselves the engine room - that was having issues at the start of the season, but we both began to find a bit of form.”

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RETURN TO FORM: Abell on his way to 96 on his return to the first team against Surrey (Pic: Alain Lockyer)

By the end of August, however, it was back to square one. A feeble surrender at runaway leaders Essex left Somerset staring relegation in the face when they travelled to Edgbaston to face fellow strugglers Warwickshire.

Earlier in the season, when things weren’t clicking, Abell admitted to “not being as authoritative as I would have liked to have been”, partly due to a lack of runs making it tough to lead from the front. Buoyed by a boost in his own form, he was ready to hold a team meeting in the Midlands.

“I’m not going to take any credit or say it was a rallying cry – it was just a case of saying ‘we got ourselves into this position, and we are the only people who can get us out of it’.

“Our backs were massively up against the wall, and I think we were playing in handcuffs a little bit. We wanted guys to play with freedom, as that’s how to get the best out of stroke makers like Hildy, Davos and Tres.

“Tres got a phenomenal hundred at Edgbaston and we never looked back. We were ruthless in that game.”

Another win against Lancashire followed and the great escape looked on, but Surrey put a halt to the momentum and set up a winner-takes-all clash against Middlesex in Taunton.

Kumar Sangakkarra’s masterful 157 was the difference in Somerset’s defeat at the Oval, and the Sri Lankan went on to prove his class off the field after the match.

“I’m always slightly reluctant to chat to certain people as they may get sick of it, but Arun Harinath called Kumar over,” Abell said.

“I was thinking ‘this is his last game for Surrey, he won’t want to talk to me’, but it’s a sign of the character he is that he gave up his time to do so.

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'THE GREATEST': Kumar Sangakkara took the time to speak to Abell after helping Surrey defeat Somerset at the Oval (Pic: PA Wire)

“It was so eye-opening to talk to him about batting, the game and life – he is, in my eyes, the greatest batsman that’s played the game.”

Somerset returned to Taunton to face Middlesex knowing what they had to do – it was win or bust.

“Our mindset was spot on – we were positive and aggressive,” Abell said.

“We really saw the class of Hildy in that game – to score a hundred in those circumstances was a phenomenal effort.”

Hildreth’s century – as part of a 126-run partnership with Abell – led Somerset to an imposing 344-run lead, and the three-pronged spin attack completed the job with a minimum of fuss.

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JOB DONE: Abell joins in the celebrations as Somerset make their way towards victory over Middlesex (Pic: PA Wire)

“Those feelings walking round the ground at the end of the game were similar to the previous year’s, when we so nearly won it,” Abell said.

“Don’t get me wrong, we were all disappointed with how the year had gone. But we looked dead and buried, so to survive how we did was special.”

Particularly so for Abell, who had been thrown in at the deep end and learned to swim rather than sink.

As a result, he will now lead the team in the 50-over game as well as Championship cricket next season.

“There’s no getting away from the fact last year was disappointing, but how we finished has given me the drive to go into the close season and work at parts of my game that needed addressing.

“Mentally I’ve had a refresher and I’m happy with how training is going, so I have a real excitement moving into 2018.”

He is not the only one. Somerset are set to announce an overseas signing imminently and have a new coaching team at the helm, appointed by an ambitious and straight-talking CEO with his sights set on delivering trophies to the County Ground.

Somerset have not added to their trophy cabinet since 2005, but as the calendars flip over to 2018 and thoughts turn to the new season, the inevitable optimism will begin to build. Were Somerset to break their duck and win a cup next summer, there would be no more fitting man to lift it than Abell.