County Championship 2017 ~ Reality affirmed

This is the third in the series of 2017 season ‘Farmer White’ Match reports reproduced here from the reports posted on at the time. I did not attend the second match of the season, against Lancashire at Old Trafford. Instead, I listened to the online commentary whilst constructing a patio in my garden. I wrote ‘reports’ on what I had heard after the first and second days of the match. Laying a patio is heavy, precise work and I worked until the light went late in the evening. As a consequence, I did not write reports on the third and fourth days. The reports I did write were ‘offbeat’, the second in particular. The reports themselves appear between quotation marks and in a slightly darker font to differentiate them from the contextual information added in the winter of 2017/18. 



“The Championship season now looked a very different prospect than it had at the start of the season.” 

Specsavers County Championship First Division. Old Trafford. 21st, 22nd, 23rd and 24th April 2017. Lancashire v Somerset.

Somerset’s second match in the County Championship was against Lancashire at Old Trafford. As Essex had Alistair Cook so Lancashire had Jimmy Anderson. I did not travel to see the match but followed it closely on the online BBC commentary whilst digging out for and laying a small patio. I managed to post after the first day and briefly after the second but working late into the evening to finish the patio I did not have time, or energy, to post after days three and four.

The first day of this match proceeded in the same frenetic way as the first two days of the Essex match.

21st April. First Day.

Farmer White (IP Logged) 22 April 2017 1.14 a.m.

“A gruelling day indeed. It always is when you have to dig out for a patio especially when the soil is clay. If you can define clay as soil. Mine was made in a toffee factory and stuck to the spade with all the tenacity with which the sweet sort grips on a filling. From the way the score struggled to make progress today batting must have been a similarly glutinous experience. 262 runs for 18 wickets in the day. In terms of runs that is barely a day’s quorum in this day and age. But cricket of that type grips the attention and the tension drives a spade into clay with feeling.
            With the BBC commentary for company I had barely pegged out the area for digging when Davey struck for his second wicket. Perhaps the warm up matches had not entirely flattered to deceive. Lancashire 1 for 2 and not as the Australians have it. A stand started to develop for the third wicket as Lancashire tried to regroup and the clay, growing in confidence, regrouped with growing tenacity as the spade became as heavy as the cricket was threatening to become. Then Craig Overton took a hand. What a bowler he can be when he gets it right. Three glorious wickets in three overs as the clay and Lancashire took one hell of a beating. 39 for 5. Progress indeed as my hole spread. Never was clay so light. Lighter still as Groenewald removed McLaren. 42 for 6.
            Then, remembering my last patio had been laid in Marcus Trescothick’s debut season, I decided to pace myself and dropped the intensity of my digging. The cricket seemed to match my step as Lancashire eased to Lunch still six down. A quick look at ‘grockles’ revealed someone insisting it was ‘foot on neck’. Time to keep the pressure on the Lancashire batsmen he meant. He wanted Lancashire out for less than three figures but the cricket was running in tandem with my digging and so I was shamed into keeping the pressure on the neck of the spade. It produced almost instant results. Overton took another two in two overs. Harder and faster went the spade as the clay gave as much ground as Lancashire. Groenewald, in the midst of what sounded to be a typically understated 3 for 8 in nearly 9 overs dug Lancashire’s hole deeper. 84 for 9.  
            On target for less than three figures. Then Liam Livingstone, as wickets piled up alongside the clay I had dug out, decided T20 was the answer. The commentary conjured up visions of scoops, ramps and anything else unorthodox he could think of to project the ball to anywhere on the boundary where a fielder might not be. Livingstone’s 40 off just 32 balls after Lunch might turn out to be gold dust in a low scoring game. Of one thing I am certain. No gold rush ever took place in clay soil. Or against such bowling as Groenewald must have served up today. Returns in either case would have been far too meagre to have made it worth the candle. Lancashire clawed their way to 109 all out

And so as Trescothick and Elgar started to build a platform Somerset hopes started to rise and I realised just how high Somerset’s spellbinding bowling and almost faultless fielding had built my pile of excavated clay. A few measurements revealed about two inches depth of my hole too much. When in a hole stop digging. Especially if you are digging it whilst Somerset are on commentary. The shock of the realisation did for Trescothick and further tested Abell’s resolve as he went for 1 and Somerset were 44 for 2. Give Abell some time I thought and he will come good. And with luck so will my patio. Class always does. Abell’s that is. My patio is two digs down one up and not a slab yet in sight.
            For a moment, one over to be precise, Hildreth threatened to speed my retrenchment with a spectacular assault as 16 runs came from five balls until the clay hit back with his wicket off the sixth – an assault on the last ball before Tea. Even the best quality clay can be infuriating. 63 for 3.
            After Tea the focus needed to be on settling things down. Care was needed to compact and level the soil whilst maintaining a downward slope away from the house. Davies started me on the downward slope before I even got the commentary back up. 67 for 4. Dark broodings from the commentators soon suggested Somerset might not even reach the Lancashire total. When in a hole trust Trego. While I was levelling off he was digging in. And Elgar had been digging in all the while. If ever you have a patio to dig out he might just turn out to be your man. For an hour the three of us got the job done. Them digging in and me levelling out.
            Levelling out is a funny thing. Just when you think you are there you hit rocks. I had no sooner relaxed than Trego, followed by Gregory, was gone. Lbw to ones that might have kept low according to a post on ‘grockles’ from someone at the match. 134 for 6. And Somerset have to bat last. And Anderson has not fully come to the party yet. Oh yes. My clay. It has rocks in it too. And then Davey followed, followed by Craig Overton. 145 for 8. All four in the time it took me to get the “sub-base” down. Sub-base? Whatever happened to hardcore? I guess that was Elgar. 66 not out off 52 overs and thank goodness for it.
            Worry not about Elgar*. At least not yet. A score of 50 plus in approximately 1 in 3 innings is pretty close to what Viv Richards managed in his first-class career with Somerset. Now, Dean Elgar is no Viv Richards (who is?), and Viv Richards’ 50 plus innings did include 47 hundreds; and Elgar has only had three innings this visit. Trescothick too, over his long career, averages roughly one score of 50 plus for every three innings. That seems to be the standard for the best. Let us judge Elgar at the end of his stay rather than at the beginning.
            And so Somerset start tomorrow on 153 for 8, some runs still to get, not to mention another ten Lancashire wickets for not too many. And I start tomorrow with some slabs to lay. Anyone who has done it will know it is a challenging combination of heavy and precise work which needs concentration, discipline and patience. Somerset and me both.”

*Someone had questioned whether Dean Elgar’s record of one fifty in his first three innings was acceptable for an overseas player. I therefore set his start in the context of the records for Somerset of Marcus Trescothick and Sir Vivian Richards.

Close. Toss. Uncontested. Lancashire required to bat. Lancashire 109 (LS Livingstone 68, C Overton 5-47, TD Groenewald 3-8). Somerset 153-8. Somerset lead Lancashire by 44 runs with 2 first innings wickets standing. 

22nd April. Second Day.

No attempt at a post on the evening of the second day. Digging out clay and laying patio stones takes its toll. Whilst the spirit to write was strong the eyes refused heavily to stay open or the brain to concentrate. The second day had seen an apparent easing of the conditions of the first day which enabled Somerset to fashion a recovery from their overnight 153 for 8 courtesy of Elgar, Leach and Groenewald who added 133 for the last two wickets and established a first innings lead of 169.

What was sauce for Somerset’s goose was sauce for Lancashire’s gander. They took full advantage of the improved conditions in their second innings to take them to within 17 runs of Somerset’s total with 8 wickets still in hand. Davies and Livingstone lead the way with an unbroken third wicket partnership of 129. Somerset were under pressure and in real danger of losing the initiative in the match. I tried to reflect this in another offbeat post before the start of play on the third day.

Farmer White (IP Logged) 23 April 2017 10.40 a.m.

“Henry Irving bestrode the Victorian stage for a generation in his greatest triumph ‘The Bells’. Haunted by the ghostly ringing out of bells he cried out, night after night, in despair, “The bells! The bells!”
            Last night, too tired to post, I went to bed haunted by my patio stones. I refrained from crying out, “The stones! The stones!” It did not seem to have quite the same ring about it as “The bells!”
            I wondered though if Somerset’s bowlers went off to bed cursing, “The pitch! The pitch!” For the pitch, or at least the conditions, sounded to have gone as flat as the Lyceum boards on which Irving walked. Thank goodness for the discipline and tenacity of Elgar, Leach and Groenewald, a batting triumvirate as important to Somerset in this match as Garrick, Irving and Olivier were to the English stage, for they kept Somerset in the game. Without their keeping to the script so determinedly Somerset might now have been trailing badly in this match.
            If the sun shines bright today Somerset will need discipline in the bowling that those three showed in their batting. Batsmen with a score overnight often fall before they have fully remembered their lines the next morning. Neither is it uncommon for a side pulling ahead with the bat, having come from behind, to subconsciously relax just before the job is done.
            It will be crucial then for Somerset’s bowlers to get their lines right from the start this morning. Discipline at the start to try to catch the awakening overnight batsmen before they can fully focus on their script, discipline to hold the score back if partnerships start to build, and discipline to take advantage if Lancashire do forget their lines at any point.
            I trust Somerset’s bowlers will take the field this morning with prompts and encouragement from Matthew Maynard ringing in their ears. And what better prompt than, “The stumps! The stumps!” Let Somerset bowl unremittingly at the stumps this morning with a bit of theatrical licence for just outside off.
            “Make them play! Make them play!” Tom Abell might add at the slightest sign of an ad lib.”

Close. Lancashire 109 and 152-2. Somerset 278 (D Elgar 113, MJ Leach 52, R McLaren 4-76, LA Procter 3-43.) Lancashire trail Somerset by 17 runs with 8 second innings wickets standing.

23rd April. Third Day.

The patio had by now completely taken over although I listened throughout the day to the commentary whilst trying to lay recalcitrant stones at precisely the right angle in precisely the right place. Being a perfectionist in patio laying is at the same time a blessing and a curse. As it was I silently cursed my judgement for allowing me to even think of laying a patio when Somerset were playing for it meant I could not post on the last two days of the match. It was a rare mistake.

As to the cricket it was exasperating. Somerset, by all accounts, bowled with immense discipline and skill in the best batting conditions of the match as Lancashire piled on the runs and eventually topped 400. Livingstone sounded to have played the innings of a player destined to play for England one day. The descriptions of Somerset’s determination with the ball kept the spirits up and got the patio stones down but it was a hard day’s slog in Manchester and in my corner of Somerset.

Close. Lancashire 109 and 423-7. Somerset 278. Lancashire lead Somerset by 254 runs with 3 second innings wickets standing. 

24th April. Final Day.

Somerset lost this match in the end quite easily. Lancashire’s eventual dismissal 12 overs into the final day set Somerset 295 to win. They lost with nearly a session to spare. It was a dispiriting end after a very promising start to the match and it cause much soul searching among supporters and I imagine among the team. The cold chill of reality and the numbness of the realisation that this might be a tough season had all but shattered the warm glow of optimism with which the month had started. The patio at least was finished and was home to a bench resplendent in the lee of the Blackdown’s.

As to the cricket. Jimmy Anderson had bowled 40 overs in the match for just three wickets. But he had bowled with such control and such persistent challenge throughout that McLaren’s 8 wickets must have owed something to pressure wrought by him. In the second innings Marcus Trescothick batted 26 overs for 36 runs. His duel with Anderson had the commentators drooling. His dismissal, by Anderson, when the score was on 78 for 2 the pivotal moment in Somerset’s attempt to save the game. After Trescothick the last eight wickets fell away for just 52 runs. Only James Hildreth with 43 runs of spirited resistance stood firm for any length of time.

The overhead conditions had reverted to those of the first day and apparently were ideal seam bowling conditions which Anderson and McLaren exploited corrosively with experience and skill. At the start of the Somerset second innings some thought victory a prospect. Most thought a draw well within Somerset’s range. The conditions and the Lancashire bowling ended hopes of either, leaving questions in the minds of some supporters about how much Somerset’s batting had contributed to the defeat.

Result. Lancashire won by 164 runs. Lancashire 19 points. Somerset 5 points. Lancashire 109 and 463 (LS Livingstone 168, AL Davies 130, R McLaren 45, L Gregory 5-74). Somerset 278 and 130 (JC Hildreth 43, R McLaren 4-37, J Clark 3-12).

The Championship season now looked a very different prospect than it had at the start of the season. After two matches Somerset were in eighth and bottom place 13 points behind sixth placed Middlesex the first team above the relegation zone.

Before they could be put further to the test the fifty over Royal London One-Day Cup intervened.