County Championship 2017 ~ Narrow escape



“It is therefore possible that Somerset may be operating in a perfect cricketing storm this year.” 

Specsavers County Championship. First Division. Taunton. 19th,20th,21st and 22nd May 2017. Somerset v Warwickshire.

The Championship to Date.

Just before the start of the next Championship match against Warwickshire I reviewed Somerset’s poor start to the Championship season in April which had brought much criticism from supporters. In fact, all the posts on this match were written in the context of and in part were a response to the growing sense of alarm among supporters at the direction the season, especially the Championship season and particularly the Championship batting, was taking.

I tried to put forward some possible reasons for the poor start following such a barnstorming end to the 2016 season. Someone who read the first post said to me, “You think too deeply about your cricket.” Perhaps I do but I found the volte face in Somerset’s fortunes mystifying and needing some explanation. There were doubtless factors of which I had no knowledge but I preferred not to speculate beyond what I could support with facts. One possible explanation suggested to me later in the season was that the batsmen could not find form because of the production of spin friendly result pitches from the start. That may very well have been a factor. It seems unlikely it could have been the only factor. For what they are worth I expressed my thoughts in a pre-match post which set the context for my posts on the match.

In the post, when referring to the second innings collapse against Lancashire in the previous Championship match, I described Somerset’s batsmen as being “like rabbits in the headlights”. In retrospect I would rather I had not used that phrase. Talking afterwards to one or two who were at Old Trafford and thinking about the impression the commentary had left me with I think the phrase rather underestimates the skill with which the Lancashire bowlers bowled and the extent to which the overhead conditions assisted them. Somerset’s batting display in that innings, Trescothick and Hildreth apart, could and no doubt should have been better but “rabbits in the headlights” perhaps overstated it. 

Farmer White (IP Logged) 18 May 2017 11.50 p.m.

“As Somerset go into their third Championship game of the season, bottom of the table, here are some thoughts on factors which may have undermined the Championship performances to date and on the sheer size of the task which may lie ahead. Forewarned is forearmed.

Somerset came second in 2016, missing the Championship only on that last soul-destroying afternoon. I have written previously of the relatively high proportion of first and second place finishers who go on to win the Championship the following year. There are also a significant number of high finishers who are relegated the following year. Does anyone remember 2001? Somerset came second in the Championship for the first time in their history under the inspirational leadership of Jamie Cox. Yorkshire were champions. In 2002 both Yorkshire and Somerset, still under Cox, were relegated.

In more recent years Nottinghamshire finished third in 2015 and a fairly distant bottom in 2016. Sussex finished third in 2014 and were relegated in 2015. Lancashire won the Championship in 2011 and were relegated in 2012. Yorkshire finished third in 2010 (and would have won the Championship on that awful final day had they beaten and not lost to Kent in a close finish). They were relegated in 2011. Something ‘gave’ in those teams. It happens and it could happen this year.

I wonder if sometimes the intense levels of energy, performance and determination which are necessary over an extended period to get close to a Championship, or win it, sometimes lead to teams not being able to ‘go again’ the next season despite the best of intentions. It does seem to happen. And as someone said after the Lancashire match, in addition to challenging closely for the Championship last year Somerset were involved in extended relegation battles for the previous three years and came second the year before that. There may be a risk of the necessary energy just ‘giving out’ at some point after such prolonged intensity.

There is another factor too. Somerset have been in the First Division for ten successive seasons. Only one other of the eighteen Counties has bettered that in the history of the First Division. Durham had managed eleven seasons until they were ejected last year*. That suggests a time comes when either the will or the ability to continue the year in year out continuous intensity required to compete at the highest domestic level eventually evaporates. Ten years is a long time in cricket and it seems to be borrowed time in the First Division.

I appreciate that only three players have been with Somerset for all of those ten years but they are the top, middle and bottom of the top order. Most of the rest of the team have joined the first team within the last five years with most of the younger players making their debuts in 2012. However, those years since 2012 have been unremitting years of pressure at one end of the table or the other.

Further if you look at the 2012 Championship table only three of the current First Division clubs have been continuously in the First Division since then. Perhaps further evidence of the sheer difficulty and strain of remaining in the top division for extended periods. The three teams remaining continuously from 2012 are Somerset, Warwickshire and Middlesex. These are the three teams which currently occupy the bottom three places of this year’s, admittedly embryonic, table and they include last year’s winners and runners up.

That sets the long-term context in which Somerset are playing in the Championship. Now for some factors relevant to this season.

The strongest theme which has developed to explain Somerset’s two Championship defeats is the fragility of the batting particularly the top order. I am not sure Somerset’s batting is as fragile as it seems at least not inherently so. There may be more to the two defeats than meets the eye in addition to the context set out above.

As far as I could tell from watching the Essex Championship match and listening to the commentary on the Lancashire match Somerset’s top six or seven, Elgar apart on the second afternoon at Old Trafford, have yet to find themselves batting in the best batting conditions of a match in which both the Essex and Lancashire top six or seven batted in their respective second innings which is when the runs were scored which took both matches out of Somerset’s reach.

In the first innings, particularly on the first day, of each match when the conditions were more or less equally testing for both sides, Somerset’s first six wickets outperformed the first six wickets of the opposition. 143 to 91 against Essex and 134 to 42 against Lancashire. That is, in business terms, 57% more output than Essex and 219% more than Lancashire. Most businesses would settle for an edge over the competition of those dimensions and perhaps we should look harder at the context of Somerset’s defeats. Somerset’s bowlers may of course be better than those of Essex but I doubt they were 219% better than those of Lancashire.

Over a season comparisons of different players’ abilities are reasonably reliable. In 2016 Somerset scored more centuries in the Championship (18) than any other Division One County. Five of Somerset’s batsmen averaged over 40 although one was Rogers not now on the playing staff. Only one Division One County bettered that. Middlesex with eight players averaging over 40. No other county managed to match Somerset’s five. There would not therefore, in comparison with other Division One Counties, appear to be anything inherently wrong with Somerset’s batting.

In the two second innings, although batting in worse conditions than either the Essex or Lancashire second innings, the Somerset batsmen clearly did not bat to their potential. It sounded from the Lancashire match commentary as if they batted like rabbits in the headlights sinking to inevitable defeat after Trescothick was out.

Why might Somerset bat poorly in the second innings, having out-batted the opposition in the first, if the batsmen’s technique over the previous season compared favourably with all the other First Division Counties except perhaps the Champions Middlesex?

Firstly, I do not think we should underestimate the impact on the first two matches of two of England’s four world class players, Anderson and Cook. Their return to their Counties is not like previous instances of internationals being made available to their county. They will be with their clubs for most of the first half of the season. Their presence will have been planned with a view to enhancing the whole side rather than disrupting it like an occasional return seems to. It may have succeeded.

Cook stopped Essex’s first innings, albeit helped by some poor Somerset bowling on the first evening, from being a total debacle and, albeit on a pitch that had died, provided the certainty and calm for his team which brooked no interference from Somerset’s persevering bowlers in the match winning second innings. Lancashire were able to fashion their attack around what sounded to be outstandingly controlling and testing spells from Anderson off which the other bowlers, McLaren in particular, fed. In the second innings Anderson’s dismissal of Trescothick after a monumental duel between them seems to have knocked the stuffing out of the Somerset batting albeit by then in more helpful bowling conditions. It was Lancashire’s first Championship win in 14 matches. It was Anderson’s first match of a probable planned block of appearances this season. The two may not be unconnected**.

It is not just the runs and wickets these players contribute. It is the confidence they instil in the rest of their team and the way in which the rest of the team can play around them which pressurises the opposition. Look at Cook’s influence in the Royal London One-Day (50 over) Cup. The first half of the County Championship is different this year. Teams will not be denuded of Test players in the normal way for a while yet. I am sure Somerset made plans to try to deal with Cook and Anderson although how effective such ‘plans’ can be whichever team develops them I am not sure. I wonder though if any thought and preparation was given to dealing with teams invigorated and stiffened by their presence. Yorkshire have Root in a similar role. He has not performed yet. He will. The First Division will be tougher still this year and the pressure will be ever more relentless through the whole of each match and through the season. I wonder if that was factored into Somerset’s preparation.

It is therefore possible that Somerset may be operating in a perfect cricketing storm this year. Time expired in the First Division. The relentless demands for immense levels of energy finally in danger of sapping away from the Club after ten years, the last four being especially gruelling years, culminating in just missing out on the title last year in an even more harrowing and perhaps energy sapping way than in 2010. And then facing First Division teams strengthened and energised by the meaningful return of battle hardened world class England players. Added to which there are now only six, not seven, places above the relegation zone. No other County has faced all of these factors at the same time in the history of the First Division.

In the light of all that does it mean Somerset will be relegated this year? Not necessarily. It does not happen to the previous season’s high flyers and established sides every year. But it does in my view mean there needs to be some understanding of the size of the task the team faces and the context in which they face it. Somerset are in almost uncharted First Division survival territory and facing a stronger headwind from teams strengthened and invigorated by current England world class players than any team has faced in recent years.

My point in writing this is twofold. Firstly, to try to highlight the almost unprecedented achievement of the Club in holding its First Division place for so long. Secondly, to try to highlight the size of the task the team faces this year. It is not in my view just about poor batting. There is much more to it.

All that said there are a number of positive indicators which give me hope that Somerset will overcome the weight of the history of this division and the additional factors which apply this year. Firstly, the batting has probably been better over the last year and in the first innings this year than it has been given credit for albeit folding under pressure in the second innings this season. Secondly, the bowling has been pretty unremitting and the side have barely dropped a catch which tends to be a sign of good morale. Thirdly, Tom Abell’s batting may yet come good and there are players coming through if it does not; and Dean Elgar seems to provide just the sort of ballast Somerset’s naturally attacking batting order needs. Fourthly, Somerset do tend to have better late than early seasons. Fifthly, Somerset have demonstrated greater resilience than any other team, except Durham, in the last two decades and may well show it again. Sixthly, Somerset are a team of surprises.

And finally, everything in this post above the penultimate paragraph may turn out to be just so much stuff and nonsense and if Somerset beat Warwickshire and start to climb the table I assure you no-one will be more over the moon than me.”

*Durham were relegated because they required financial assistance from the ECB in 2016 to avoid going out of business.

**At the end of the season Essex and Lancashire had finished first and second in the Championship. 


The Match

19th May. First Day.

Farmer White (IP Logged) 19 May 2017 9.56 p.m.

“There were some wonderful sights today at the Cooper Associates County Ground. Not least the Quantocks bathed in sunlight as the rain pummelled the outfield. The Quantocks were still visible in all their glory, at least the western end over the Trescothick Stand, even as the outfield resembled a puddled green emmental and progressed towards a lake. As play was called off and the few still remaining in the covered stands departed their seats so those with long lenses were drawn to try to capture the spectacle.

The greatest sights of all though were reserved for the cricket. It is not often these days I see a batsman bowled by sheer pace in the County Championship. Today I saw it twice. Modern batsman seem to have developed their technique sufficiently to get the bat down in time even to dig out fast yorkers. Not today.

Westwood went first. As I saw it he tried to get his bat down to defend a fast, good length ball from Jamie Overton, but succeeded only in playing it on from just above or outside off with his bat still angled too far back towards the stumps. It is the sort of sight that makes the heart race. Not race quite as fast though as Umeed being yorked by Overton’s pace and losing his off stump. A photograph showed the ball past the broken stumps with the bat yet to touch ground. A batsman being bowled by such pace is, in my view, the greatest sight in cricket. No six, however spectacular, can quite match it.

Ian Bell soon found himself in trouble against Overton who continued with the sort of pace and accuracy he is increasingly showing this season. Bell tried to cut a fast one that Overton got to lift. The edge cleared the slips for four but a millimetre or two less bat on it might have had a different outcome. Craig than replaced Jamie for his second spell and quickly got just the right amount of ball on Bell’s bat and Trescothick plucked the ball as it flashed by a yard above his head. The Overton’s were a sight to behold today. Joint figures of 16-3-43-3 and a number of the 43 were edged fours past attacking fields.

While the Overton gale was blowing from the Somerset Pavilion End Jack Leach quietly twirled away from Vic Marks’ old end and bowled a ball short of 9 overs for 9 runs. Not a lot of spin but not a lot of leeway either in which the batsmen might gather a few runs away from the Overtons’ attentions. The actual Vic Marks then emerged in the Lunch interval to present Jack Leach with his cap. The morning reminded me of occasions when Marks and Garner bowled in close proximity to each other in an innings often with devastating results from one or the other. I must confess it had not occurred to me that Jack Leach had not received his cap last year. In the old days his performance on the final morning against Durham last year might well have resulted in his Captain presenting it to him immediately on the field of play.

As to the rest Peter Trego opened the bowling opposite Craig Overton and ran in with enthusiasm and induced one or two thick edges. He also induced Westwood to edge chest high just to Trescothick’s right. The ball went into both hands and out again. Every cloud has a silver lining. The silver lining of that one was that it reserved Westwood for that devastating dismissal shortly afterwards which must have made one or two of the batsmen to come take note.

Dom Bess did not quite get it right and it cost him three crisp boundaries to Trott in his two overs. A test for the young man when he comes back tomorrow. His performances last season suggest he has the capacity. There will be a lot of people willing him on.

Just a word on Abell. He switched his bowlers and field with precision which kept the pressure on Warwickshire and gave every impression of a captain at one with his captaincy. 93 for 3 at less than 3 an over with attacking fields and a relatively short boundary in front of the Somerset Stand against a lost toss suggests Somerset came out ahead today.

The day ended in the 33rd over with that spectacular rain. It had started with Somerset putting their trust in an ambitious, three spinner, attacking team selection. If the judgement was that the wicket would take spin sufficiently to select Leach and Bess I might have been more conservative and had Allenby at seven rather than van de Merwe. It is easy though to make judgements and question decisions when you do not have to carry the responsibility for them and fortune may favour the brave. It should. What is for certain the bowlers today repaid the trust.

And finally the silver lining in today’s rain clouds may be that the Overtons will come back very refreshed tomorrow.”

Close. Toss. Warwickshire. Elected to bat. Warwickshire 93-3. 

20th May. Second Day.

I did not post on the second day because the rain restricted play to even less than was possible on the first day. In the play that was possible Warwickshire consolidated their start by adding 30 runs while Somerset did not take a wicket as the balance of the play tilted towards Warwickshire.

Close. Warwickshire 124-3.  

21st May. Third Day.

On the third day the match swung hard against Somerset. The bowlers stuck steadfastly to their task as they have all season whilst Warwickshire, and Trott in particular, built a commanding score. The Somerset batting failed to respond and by the close Somerset were still over 300 runs adrift with four top order batsmen gone.

Criticism among supporters of Somerset’s batting failures grew apace and calls were being made for changes to the batting line up. A Question and Answer Session with Matthew Maynard was held for members at the end of the third day. After the arrival of Matthew Maynard at the Club these sessions were held three times a season. My post was written immediately after and in the context of that session. It focuses on the issues arising from that session, as well as on the day’s play. I wrote in the context of some of the criticism. 

Farmer White (IP Logged) 22 May 2017 8.14 a.m.

“Two matches lost and 94 for 4 replying to 413 all out. Tom Abell and Stephen Davies completely out of form. Hildreth, Trego and Trescothick yet to make major contributions in the Championship. Trescothick though has built a base in this innings although he has to re-establish himself in the morning. Murmurings and more about some of the continued selections particularly Abell, Davies and perhaps Hildreth. Worries about the impact of the captaincy on Abell’s batting form. Should one or more of Hose, Bartlett and Myburg come in or have already come in as replacements?

At the Q&A Matthew Maynard was clear, and not a politician’s ‘clear’ about the selection policy. He was clear. The policy is stability. My understanding of that was that there is unlikely to be quick change because of poor form. ‘Never say never’ of course and needs may must but the emphasis on an overall policy of team stability was clear. Reference was made to Duncan Fletcher’s England policy of picking the players assessed to be the best and sticking with them whilst they established themselves, and through bad patches, with the consequence that England’s performance improved markedly. This appears to be the model the Club is following. It is one with which I concur.

There is, in my view, a sound people management logic to this policy. A number of factors are relevant. The team is not destabilised by sudden, possibly frequent changes of personnel. A destabilised team is likely to disintegrate on the field rather than just perform poorly. Players are not constantly looking over their shoulders. Not selecting shots against their better judgement because of the impending axe. And so on. It does not mean they are fireproof either. It does mean they have sufficient time to show whether they still warrant a place in the team by working out whatever the problem is. It also means if over a number of matches they still perform poorly there is no room for debate when they are eventually dropped.

Dropping players after only two or three poor matches also undermines the confidence of replacement players. If an established first team player can be dropped for poor performance after a couple of matches then so can the up and coming player. That means they are under immediate selection pressure from the first ball they face. They will have enough pressure without that. And if they fail, which they are more likely to do under that sort of pressure, where does the club go but back to the established players so recently dropped.

The replacement player(s), under the current policy, can be confident of having a decent run in the side which will reduce the pressure, increase the likelihood of their succeeding and establishing themselves in a stable side. Hose may have been a beneficiary of this policy in 50 over cricket assuming he started in the 50 over side with a clear message that he would have a substantial run. When the time comes for him he will stand a far greater chance of succeeding in the Championship if he knows he will be judged by his performance over time and that it doesn’t all depend on the next match.

The greatest exponents of this policy for two decades after the late 1980s were Australia. It was said of those teams that it was very hard to get in the team and very hard to get out of it. That seems to be the case with Somerset at the moment and has been as far as I can recall, although I haven’t had time to research it, for some time. It could be said those Australian teams had great players and so they did but those players had to have time to establish themselves in the team and then to hold their place through bad patches. For example, Shane Warne, in the first four Tests of his career, took 4 wickets for 386. Australia stuck with him and the rest, as they say, is history.

Players take time to establish themselves and time to get through bad patches. Duncan Fletcher’s England teams managed under the same policy, though to a lesser degree than Australia, to achieve significant success. So have Somerset. As I said on the first post on this thread Somerset have spent ten consecutive seasons in the First Division, longer than any team but Durham. Somerset are one of only three teams that have had an unbroken run in the First Division for just the last five years and have done it whilst the team is in transition. That is a major achievement. A major, almost unprecedented, success for the management of the Club. Only Durham have managed it elsewhere. Let us have confidence in our management.

The Club may still not be able to withstand the forces of history referred to in my first post but it seems to me if any management team and any Club can this one can. Hose’s and Bartlett’s time will come as assuredly did the time of the Overtons, Lewis Gregory, Jack Leach and Tom Abell. And when their time does come it will come with the confidence that they will get a very fair crack of the whip and Somerset will be the better for it.

As to the rest of yesterday. Jack Leach and the Overtons in particular did the Club proud with some sterling consistent attacking bowling. Tom Abell may have failed again with the bat but his captaincy both in confidence and boldness of decision making belied his years. His two boundaries too showed the batting class that lies beneath his poor form. Be patient. As to the other end of the age spectrum Marcus Trescothick pulled off a stunning leg slip catch from orthodox first slip and survived and scored through a pretty torrid evening session whilst Roelof van de Merwe skilfully used his one-day bowling experience to shoot out three Warwickshire batsmen as they tried a swift acceleration of the scoring. This team may be struggling, and it may yet succumb to the headwind of history, but it is not dead yet and it has good reserves to call on if the time for change does come.

This is a time for cool judgement.”

Close. Warwickshire 413 (IJL Trott 175, TR Ambrose 63, R Clarke 57, J Overton 3-76, RE van de Merwe 3-78) Somerset 94-4. Somerset trail Warwickshire by 319 runs with six first innings wickets standing. 

22nd May. Final day.

The third hugely disappointing Championship performance in the third match of the season. Because of the extensive weather interruptions the match entered the last day with, on the face of it, a draw virtually inevitable. It didn’t stop Somerset’s first innings subsiding to the extent they had to follow on. Trescothick’s fiftieth hundred for Somerset prevented any realistic possibility of defeat although a poor start to the second innings threatened to set nerves on edge.

The occasional highlight apart, Elgar’s century at Old Trafford and Trescothick’s in this match, and to an extent in the first innings of the first two matches, Somerset’s top order batting had repeatedly failed to fire in the Championship. In marked contrast the bowling, one short instance apart, had been consistently excellent. The pre-season optimism I had expressed had become a distant memory. Relegation rather than the Championship pennant the focus of conversation. In this post in this context, after Somerset had saved the match with some ease in the end after having to follow on, but perhaps more to the point having lost about a day and a half to rain, I reviewed the performance of each player in the match and in the County Championship season to date. 

Farmer White (IP Logged) 23 May 2017 10.47 p.m.

“Curiously I feel a little more optimistic after the Warwickshire game than I did before it. An odd thing to say after Somerset were made to follow on perhaps. However, I live in a valley and the interesting thing about downward slopes is eventually they level out and then turn upwards just as Somerset’s Championship seasons tend to do. You just have to hope the valley floor is not too wide for the wider the floor the steeper the upward slope at the other side and Somerset are already a little adrift at the bottom of the table.

In this match there were signs that the downward slope with which the Championship season started may at least be levelling out. The bowling, which has been excellent for the most part this year, continued to impress.

Craig Overton kept the pressure on throughout as he has done all year with some intelligent and at times spicy bowling. He was very unlucky to have Trott dropped. He had another sharp catch dropped by Trescothick. The run of poor results does not seem to have dented his determination to keep batsmen honest.

Jamie Overton bowled the most impressive spell of the Warwickshire innings on the first morning. It was aggressive, accurate and thoughtful. A model I would say for him to replicate early in an innings when the ball is still hard. Westwood and Umeed were bowled through sheer pace; a joy to behold in these days when it is a rare occurrence. Jabbing down on the fast yorker seems almost routine these days.

Jack Leach accurate as ever bowled his first 17 overs for 17 runs and as he so often does in these spells enticed a rash stroke from Hain and off popped the bails. Early days perhaps but Leach seems to be slotting back into the groove that brought him 65 wickets last season.

Leach’s dismissal of Ambrose, or rather Trescothick’s catch to dismiss Ambrose, would undoubtedly have been Brian Johnstone’s Champagne Moment in this match had Trescothick not provided a better when he batted. It may well be the fielding Champagne Moment of the season. Truly brilliant. Ambrose shaped to scoop Leach fine to leg. In the instant Ambrose started to shape the stroke Trescothick, at first slip, scampered behind the keeper, dived full length and caught the ball at leg slip. Ambrose, who played the ball just where a leg side scoop should go, wide of the keeper and fine of deep fine leg, must still wonder where those four runs went. A memory which will lodge in the mind as long as Jamie Overton’s two bowleds.

Peter Trego bowled manfully to support the Overtons from the other end in the absence of another front-line seamer. He is primarily a batsman these days and his lack of penetration the price paid to accommodate Bess. No lack of effort though and he had an appeal turned down against Trott when Trott was still on his overnight 50 early on the third morning. Trego looked genuinely convinced Trott had edged the ball to the keeper and bemused that he was not given the verdict. I wondered if that affected his concentration when he dropped Trott at gully off Craig Overton in the next over. An indication perhaps of the team spirit at the moment was the number of players who consoled Trego after the drop and most impressive of all was that one of them was Craig Overton.

Roelof van de Merwe, a little expensive, perhaps spotted an opportunity when Warwickshire tried to accelerate exponentially either side of the 110 over cut off for bonus points. He seemed to revert to one-day mode and took three wickets as a result. He perhaps needs not to revert to one-day mode with his batting. An expansive drive to his first ball was always likely to lose him is wicket.

Dom Bess looked a little out of sorts and seemed to overpitch making him the most expensive of the bowlers. He did not seem quite where he was last year. With van de Merwe in the side I wondered why he was played if he is not quite at his best. Then visions of Tom Cooper going through Warwickshire on the last day two years ago by dropping his occasional off spin into Keith Barker’s footholds to win a close match made me wonder if Barker’s presence was a factor. Bess was a revelation last year. There is therefore reason to hope he will be again this year.

Three catches went down in this match. The first time this season this has been a factor. A blip hopefully.

As to the batting. Problems still but also signs of the long-awaited awakening.          

Trescothick, as he so often has in recent years ended a run of indifferent form with a performance that put any doubts about him to shame. A determined 106 under the pressure of wickets falling at the other end, a pitch gradually becoming more helpful to the bowlers and the personal pressure of approaching an all-time Somerset batting record, not to mention a wonder catch that required split second judgement, decision and rapidity of action, suggests the old fire, skill and burning commitment to Somerset are still there. He now averages 48 and has scores of 26, 5, 20, 36, 106, 46*. Only just inside the top 20 of First Division averages but he is on his way and has only failed to get a start once.

Elgar has perhaps not performed quite as well in the Championship as the impression he has left although he has made a significant impact. He averages 9 less than Trescothick at 39 and has scores of 34, 27, 113*, 8, 11, 0. His 0 against Warwickshire from a ball from Singh that popped. For his 113 not out he carried his bat which kept Somerset in the match against Lancashire until the collapse on the last afternoon. Three of his five dismissals have been to spinners so perhaps something to watch out for there.

Tom Abell has scores of 1, 0, 1, 0, 8, 35*. One small swallow does not a summer make and his 35* in this match was a bit scratchy at times and contained a bit of luck although he was due some. However, it also contained some strokes of the highest class and the outset was played under the most intense personal and team pressure on a pitch that by then was really helping the bowlers with spin and movement off the seam.

Somerset were 1 for 1 when he came to the crease with just over 40 overs to bat out. Somerset have been bowled out in around 40 overs on several occasions in recent seasons and so his 35* was not without merit. His captaincy is open to few questions to date and his bringing back of Jamie Overton as Warwickshire strained for a fifth batting bonus point was inspired as was the over which Overton bowled.

James Hildreth. What to say about James Hildreth? Hildreth is always liable to infuriate with shot selection. He is as liable to surprise. Someone once said me, when Hildreth was having a bad patch, he wondered why Somerset persisted with him. I surprised him with the information that Hildreth had, at the time, scored 30 centuries for Somerset (he has now scored 37, fourth in the all-time Somerset list). Hildreth is gold dust when he fires. Given some of the comments I have heard about his performance and the calls for him to be dropped his actual statistics, although not good did surprise me. This season he averages 28 with scores of 36, 35, 12, 43, 14. The 35 and the 43 were the top scores of the innings and both were played at stages of the match when the pitch was difficult. The 36 was the second highest score of an innings also played when the pitch was difficult. This is not the record of which he is capable. Neither is it a record that warrants, in my view, calls for him to be dropped. He has not fully fired yet this season. When he does we will be very glad of the gold dust he brings.

Stephen Davies’ form is a puzzle. By general agreement Somerset’s best batsman in the warm up matches albeit against weak opposition. Then in the Championship, scores of 12, 11, 1, 3, 7 and really no better in the 50 over competition. Not even a start or a sign of an upturn in the Championship. His wicket keeping though is impressively invisible, always to my mind a good sign, and does not seem to be affected by his batting form. A batsman of his class must surely come good with the bat soon.

Peter Trego has played against type at six with a, for him, meagre batting strike rate of 48 perhaps trying to shore up the innings after the problems above him. He has scores of 48, 17, 19, 7, 52 and averages 29, a similar record to Hildreth. Perhaps when the top order start to perform he will revert to type and his strike rate and scores will rise in tandem.

None of this is remotely to suggest everything in the garden is rosy. It is clearly far from it. However, the performances of some batsmen have perhaps been a little better than the impression that has gained hold and they do perhaps hint at better to come. It needs to be borne in mind too that in all three matches the opposition batsmen have scored the runs that gave their side dominance when the pitch for that match was at its best and Somerset, the Elgar and Leach partnership at Old Trafford apart, have yet to have that opportunity.

I made my thoughts clear about the risks of dropping players too quickly on my post after the third day. Nothing that happened on Monday has changed my mind and some of what happened has reinforced my view. Other than in the case of injury changes should not, in my view, be made unless and until it becomes categorically clear that a player is not going to turn the corner and if that time comes then any change should be made with the clear intention of bringing in a player who can become part of the team and play an integral role in the side that complements the roles of others and is complemented by others.

And finally on Monday. Trescothick’s fiftieth hundred for Somerset. A monumental achievement. And under such pressure both in personal performance terms this season and with the team under intense pressure in the match. Chanceless as I recall. I have seen far more fluent hundreds from him. I have seen more dominant ones. I have seen ones in which he has carried Somerset to victory. I have seen ones he scored because he could. But only on Monday could I see him go past Gimblett*, one of only two players I never saw that I wish I had seen. You cannot bottle moments like that. A Somerset man who played with huge distinction for his country; who stuck with his county through thick and thin; who could have gone to any other county of his choice whenever he wished but never did; who overcame major health problems with incredible courage and dignity and did it in a way that will have inspired others; and who is still the bane of bowlers the length and breadth of the country at the age of 41. His like may never come again. Let us be thankful he plays for us still.”

*Harold Gimblett played for Somerset from 1935 to 1954 and held the Somerset record for first-class centuries scored for the County with 49. He is commemorated in ‘Gimblett’s Hill’ a small slightly raised section of the ground containing park benches for spectators just beyond the boundary in front of St James’s Church.

Result. Match Drawn. Warwickshire 12 points. Somerset 8 points. Warwickshire 413. Somerset 230 (ME Trescothick 106, PD Trego 52, GT Thornton 4-34, R Clarke 3-29) and 86-1 (f/o) (ME Trescothick 46*).

At the end of this match Somerset remained in eighth and bottom place now 18 points behind Middlesex in sixth place.