James Hildreth has insisted Somerset's 12-point deduction has done nothing to alter their belief that they are capable of winning next season's County Championship.

Somerset were hit by the sanction following a 'poor' pitch rating in the season finale against Essex but their longest serving player believes the side will quickly put it behind them - and the batsman has made winning the title with Somerset his primary focus in what remains of a splendid county career having 'moved on' from the disappointment of being overlooked by England.

"The points deduction is clearly a big blow," Hildreth said.

"But we can't let that affect our focus and our ultimate ambition.

"Just think how good it would be if we were to win it having overcome that - it might make it even sweeter."

Hildreth has, of course, experienced both sides of Somerset's pitches - from the run-friendly surfaces of the late 2000s and early 2010s to the turning wickets of more recent seasons.

"I remember the first game of the season back in 2007 against Middlesex when 850 played 600 - Justin Langer said we had to do something about it as we would never win the Championship on pitches like that.

"Now we have come full circle, partly because the points were adjusted to give more for a win - which was the right move, as teams were winning the Championship by drawing most of their games.

"That made result pitches more important but it seems that only spinning wickets are sanctioned.

"We have turned up and played on green seamers, with live grass on the wicket, and nothing has happened."

The change to more result-friendly surfaces across the country has coincided with the County Championship being played at the bookends of the season, making life difficult for top-order batsmen.

In 2015, when Hildreth finished as Division One's leading run scorer with 1,390, he was one of 12 batsmen in the division to top 1,000 runs - last summer, only Warwickshire's Dom Sibley reached four figures in the top tier.

Hildreth moved from his traditional spot at number four up to three in 2019 but a lean campaign by his standards brought 553 runs at 23.04 - though he believes it would be too easy to assign that just to a change in role.

"I really don't think it made that much difference," he said.

"In the last few years, with the wickets as they have been, I have been in early anyway at four.

"I think it worked for the team, too, as it allowed the likes of George Bartlett and Tom Banton to come in later."

Hildreth is likely to return to four this summer as Somerset mount their latest title tilt having finished in a familiar runners-up spot last time out.

"It was hugely frustrating but Essex deserved to win it - they were more consistent across the season," he said.

“For a time on that final day, when wickets were tumbling, we had hope – but Cook and Nick Browne batted well at the end to see it through.

"We had opportunities to run away with it a bit over the summer but couldn't capitalise. The defeat at Yorkshire was a turning point, as was the loss at Southampton.

"But our young players will be better for the experience and we have so much talent - I think we are on an upward curve.

"If those youngsters can develop into players who take 50 wickets and score 1,000 runs, which they are capable of doing, and the old timers like myself can keep contributing, we will be up there again."

The county's youngsters will also gain experience from playing in the Royal London One-Day Cup, which Somerset will be out to retain having beaten Hampshire in last year's final in a match which saw Hildreth hit the winning runs.

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WINNING RUNS: James Hildreth celebrates at Lord's. Pic: Alex Davidson/SCCC

"That was a brilliant day - right up there with my career highlights," he said.

"Sharing those moments with such a special group will live long in the memory, especially with it being the last Lord's final."

Somerset will be without seven first-team regulars in this year's competition due to The Hundred - including both white-ball captains, Tom Abell and Lewis Gregory.

That leaves Hildreth as one of the few experienced players who will be left in Taunton when the 50-over competition is on and, though he has "no interest" in captaining the team in the tournament, he is relishing the prospect of coming up against his great friend Peter Trego when Somerset visit Nottinghamshire in August.

"That will be very bizarre - but great fun," Hildreth said.

"Tregs is a great mate and it will be strange if he's bowling at me but it's always good playing against your friends.

"I'll be trying to pick him out to run singles to in the field and I'm sure he'll have some words for me!"

Hildreth and Trego are two of a dwindling generation of cricketers who featured when the 50-over competition was a straight knock-out - a situation Somerset's fifth leading First Class run scorer of all time can see returning in the not too distant future.

"I am not sure three white-ball tournaments are sustainable," he said.

"The Blast brings good crowds in and makes money, so that should be OK, but I can see the 50-over becoming knock-out again, like the C&G Trophy was, with the minor counties involved."

Though Hildreth put his name forward for The Hundred, he missed out on a deal - and admitted the looming presence of the all singing, all dancing new tournament will bring a different challenge to the dressing room.

"I think we will be fine as we are a strong, tight group," he said.

"But until it happens, you just don't know. Will people be thinking about The Hundred when playing for Somerset? You'd like to think not, but you don't know. There are a lot of unknowns."

Also unknown - and a source of bafflement to many cricket fans from Somerset and further afield - is why Hildreth has been overlooked by England for all these years.

As it transpires, the man himself is similarly in the dark.

"I have never really had too many conversations with selectors," Hildreth said.

"That tends to surprise people but I suppose they can't talk to everyone - they will prioritise speaking to those included, which is fair enough.

"Of course it would have been nice to play but I have to move on. I would drive myself mad if I kept thinking about it."

Instead, Hildreth - who has spent two days a week working with banking firm Arbuthnot Latham over the winter - will dedicate his thoughts and ambitions to helping Somerset lift that County Championship title for the first time.

"That is my main focus now," he said.

"It would mean so much to the members and players if we could do it.

"We have added some real quality over the winter to an already talented squad - there are exciting times ahead."