County championship 2017 ~ Scarborough Miracle

And so, to July in Somerset’s gruelling 2017 season and the miracle of Scarborough. I attended fewer away matches in 2017 than I have been able to of late. Scarborough was one I did not attend. Instead I followed it from, as I put it in my report, 253 miles behind fine leg. Although there were more defeats to come, Scarborough was the turning point of the season. There is a report on the first day, summaries of the second and third days and a post-match review written just after the match. The review looks at where Somerset were and to the future for the Somerset team. As I saw it in 2017 …

As usual in this series the original reports are contained within quotation marks and are in a darker font. 


~   YORKSHIRE   ~  

“It is not the win of itself, nor the win in the context of this season, nor just the manner of the win but the shape of the team which won the victory which lends the feel of history on the turn.”

Specsavers County Championship. First Division. Scarborough. 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th July 2017. Yorkshire v Somerset.

After the near calamity against Hampshire Somerset travelled to Scarborough for the return match against Yorkshire following the three run defeat at Taunton three weeks before. Tom Abell, unable to pick up his form, was dropped and replaced by 21-year-old Tim Rouse who came in at three, where Adam Hose had batted at Southampton. Hose dropped back to five with Steven Davies seemingly settled at six. Lewis Gregory stepped up to the captaincy.

I did not travel to this match. I followed it closely through the online commentary and posted a ‘remote’ report about the first day and a review of where Somerset’s season stood after the end of the match. I also posted a preview which I have not included here because it largely repeated the contents of earlier posts, particularly that at the start of the Warwickshire Championship match at Taunton earlier in the season. It referred to the extensive length of Somerset’s stay in the First Division in comparison with all other counties except Durham and suggested again that after ten consecutive seasons in the top flight the tide of First Division history might be running hard against Somerset echoes of which appear in my reports.

3rd July. First Day.

Farmer White (IP Logged) 4 July 2017 12.41 a.m.

“This is how the day seemed to me from the objectivity of 253 miles behind fine leg or long off to the right-hander.

Somerset left the field at Scarborough at the end of the first day with their eyes on the tide. The tide of history that is that says they should be relegated this year or one year soon. As the evening sun slowly inched its way down over the Brendon Hills here in Somerset, and into the Bristol Channel for all the distant observer could see, it seemed the team had spent much of the day keeping their heads above water and then making headway against the tide with some spirit.

I was not there but watching the score and listening to the commentary was an exercise in déjà vu as the start against Middlesex at Lord’s was repeated. Win the toss, bat when most said, and some screamed, bowl. History though whispered on the breeze bat, try to weather the pre-Lunch storm and then steer a course to a competitive total.

The start was familiarly choppy. Marcus Trescothick edged one early to slip for 15 and Somerset were 20 for 1. Not as slow a start as some of his recent innings and I would like him to attack the bowling more than he has this season. Attempt to dominate. It is only impressionistic but I have often felt he tends to lose his wicket when he treads water to good bowling. His attacking opening batting has always come with a frisson of risk but risk, when it pays off, that can net match winning runs.

I have been fortunate enough to watch most home Somerset matches since the team returned to the First Division and more than half of the away matches. From time to time I have heard the voices of a small number of Somerset supporters denigrating Trescothick’s efforts. One day the time for him to drop anchor for good will come. Whether that is this season or not remains to be seen. It is barely half over. But those few denigrating voices have done a great Somerset player a disservice in my view. I have rather listened to the voices of the great majority of supporters and opposition players who recognise a rare talent when they see one. More than once within my hearing at the boundary edge I have heard words of awe from a thankful opposition bowler at the fall of Trescothick’s wicket.

Then Byrom, after his impressive first innings against Hampshire, and Rouse soon lost their wickets to Plunkett, so much better a bowler since he moved to Yorkshire. It must have been a withering experience for a 20 and a 21-year-old to face a bowler of Plunkett’s skill on a helpful pitch. They should deposit their dismissals in the bank of experience the better to face such dangerous seas in the future. 30 for 3 and the tide of history threatening a flood of wickets again.

James Hildreth, with an attacking nature, which has netted him 39 first-class centuries and an average of over 40, undimmed by the weight of the persistent heavy weather he has laboured in this season, tried as he always does to give battle to the opposition. No trimming of sails, just straight into the storm in the old Somerset tradition. It sounded as if he might at last bear down on a decent score until, by most accounts, he was beaten by a sharp ball that lifted more than might have been expected. He departed for 32. If the patience shown to him results in him finding his true form that patience will receive due reward.

The innings of the day came from Adam Hose who, from what I have seen, is a much improved player this season. Supported for periods by Davies, Allenby and Gregory he started to steer the innings towards slightly calmer waters. 62 runs starting from 30 for 3 in the context of this innings on a helpful bowling pitch must have been an excellent effort from a player in only his fourth first-class match. Not for the first time this season he has shown that in him Somerset might have found a player good enough to be a fixture in the evolving batting line up.

180 for 7 at the departure of Hose was hardly riches or likely to be competitive but it did provide something of a base for Craig Overton (35) and then Groenewald (41 not out) to show grit, controlled aggression and good sense against the old ball. They added 61 in 8 overs after the fall of the ninth wicket. As far as I could tell from the commentary this partnership was not a desperate slog. It was considered, targeted, attacking batting. Groenewald’s 26 in an over off Rashid an exemplar of how and when to take risks in the situation in which he found himself. It took Somerset within three runs of the treasure of a second batting bonus point. That, and another 11 runs from his next over, cannot have helped Rashid’s confidence.

Somerset 268 all out. Last wicket partnerships of this ilk can energise the batting side and demoralise the opposition when they come to bat. It may also have turned the storm onto Yorkshire. Whether it turns the tide of this match or even the tide of history remains to be seen. There have been too many false dawns this year. Yorkshire 42 for 3 is however a good start. It might though be as well when this match restarts if Somerset’s bowlers can get far enough through the Yorkshire innings quickly enough for Plunkett, fired up by his bowling, not to be in a position do to the old ball what Overton and Groenewald did to it today.”

Close. Toss. Somerset. Elected to bat. Somerset 268 (AJ Hose 62, TD Groenewald 41*, LE Plunkett 4-73). Yorkshire 42-3. Yorkshire trail Somerset by 226 runs with seven first innings wickets standing. 

4th July. Second Day.

The second day was rain affected but there was sufficient play for Somerset to make progress and to sustain the narrow advantage they had gained at the end of the first day. Craig Overton made the greatest impact with three of the four Yorkshire wickets to fall to add to the two he had taken on the first evening.

Close. Somerset 268. Yorkshire 159-7. Yorkshire trail Somerset by 109 runs with three wickets standing. 

5th July. Third Day.

Somerset turned a narrow overnight advantage into what seemed a significant one as the top order fired. Trescothick (27) and Byrom (40) just topped fifty for the first wicket. Rouse registered a good debut with 69. Somerset ended the day seven wickets in hand with a lead of 289 and with James Hildreth nearing a century. The issue remaining was whether they could force a win on the final day.

Close. Somerset 268 and 234-3. Yorkshire 213 (AU Rashid 49, C Overton 5-87, TD Groenewald 3-43). Somerset lead Yorkshire by 289 runs with seven second innings wickets standing. 

6th July. Final Day.

Somerset did indeed forge a victory with some ease in the end as the Yorkshire batting proved too fragile for the determined challenge which it faced from the Somerset bowling, the bulk of the wickets going to Craig Overton and Jack Leach. There were three ducks in the top four as Yorkshire were reduced to 12 for 3 in pursuit of a distant 337, or more realistically a draw.

James Hildreth reached his first century of the season. Highlights footage suggested his reaction was more about relief than celebration. The entire top six had got a start including Byrom, Rouse and Hose. Bryom and Rouse perhaps more ready for first-class cricket than I had imagined in some of my earlier posts or perhaps there had been concentrated focus on their preparation as the poor results continued.

There was a significant caveat to Somerset’s batting achievements in this match. Ryan Sidebottom was unable to bowl after breaking down in his first spell on the first morning. Then Liam Plunkett was unable to bowl more than six overs in Somerset’s second innings also due to injury as Somerset pushed home their advantage. Nevertheless, it was a stunning victory, all the more so after the unrelenting disappointments of the first half of the Championship season.

My post-match report focused primarily on my view of where I thought Somerset’s season stood as their Championship season was about to enter its climactic final phase.

 Farmer White (IP Logged) 7 July 2017 11.05 p.m.

“With full acknowledgement to Sir Winston Churchill, “Before Scarborough we never had a victory. After Scarborough we never had a defeat.” That may or may not turn out to be the case for Somerset at the end of the season. There is much work to do, much focus to keep and a long way to go between now and then if Somerset are to come near being able to say such a thing. The Scarborough win did though have the feel of history on the turn.

Yorkshire may have started with their batting weakened by the loss of Ballance to England (Root and Bairstow now being in effect primarily England rather than Yorkshire players) and had their bowling weakened during the match. Nevertheless, as far as could be ascertained from the radio commentary, video replays and the views of those present Somerset’s performance was clinical throughout with bat and ball. The loss of wickets on the first morning a necessary risk arising from electing to bat on a pitch such as Scarborough. The decision consistent with recent victories at Scarborough occurring more often after a team has elected to bat than when it has inserted the opposition. The wickets for Jack Leach on the final afternoon the delicious icing on the cake of that decision.

It is not the win of itself, nor the win in the context of this season, nor just the manner of the win but the shape of the team which won the victory which lends the feel of history on the turn.

Somerset’s quartet of young bowlers, a quintet from the end of last season, has been growing in skill, strength and consistency and has been gelling into one of the most effective bowling units on the circuit over the course of last season and this.

The role played by the influence and experience of Tim Groenewald perhaps providing the ballast around which this strike force has grown. The consistency of the bowling performances throughout the trials and tribulations of the first half of this season have been a wonder to behold and suggest a depth of character, determination and skill which will carry forward long into the future. Lewis Gregory’s response to his back injury, Jack Leach’s to the winter questions about his action*, Craig Overton’s to being called up and then not picked by England and his persistent improvement this season, Jamie Overton’s huge improvement over the last year and Dom Bess’ ability to walk straight in from the seconds and turn a game all make the point. I wonder if Somerset have had a young home-grown attack of such promise since the days of Botham, Dredge and Marks in the 1970s.

The batting unit is now on the change too. Three young batsmen who had not played a Championship match between them before this season have been introduced into the team. All have made contributions under pressure not least at Scarborough.  

Adam Hose’s introduction to the County Championship worked seamlessly as far as could be seen from the stands. Two seasons development in the 2nd XI, some white ball outings in 2016 and then a highly successful Royal London Cup run this year before being brought into the side on what must have been a wave of confidence. He has shown every sign of being fully prepared for the challenge.

The ability of Eddie Byrom and Tim Rouse to come into a struggling batting line up earlier than must have been planned and perform as they have suggests Somerset’s young batsmen may have what it takes to perform in the First Division. I say ‘may’ because it is very early days. Both lost their wickets cheaply to Plunkett in the more difficult conditions of the first innings. It should also be remembered this was Rouse’s debut. The First Division will have much to teach all three and will test them to the core. A batsman as talented as Tom Abell has shown that. There will be more Plunketts to face. Even so, to come in at the top of the order and score the runs they did under the pressure they did in this match suggests they may have what it takes.

Perhaps the loss of batsmen of the quality of Craig Kieswetter, Jos Buttler and Nick Compton, all of whom for varying reasons left Somerset before their time, is now beginning to be made good from within.

There is perhaps a two year gap between the now burgeoning development of Somerset’s new generation of bowlers and the time when the development of the new generation of batsmen reaches similar levels. Somerset may need its experience in the form of Trescothick and Trego to continue for a season or two yet if they can find the form again to match their commitment. The future though started to take shape at Southampton and Scarborough with Byrom and Rouse joining Adam Hose as part of it. Tom Abell too has shown he has the potential to become a batsman of real class if he can get through his current trough. I have seen him only once but others speak highly also of George Bartlett moving up through the ranks.

James Hildreth’s, to my mind inevitable, return to form and the 39 first-class centuries (Nick Compton for example has 26) that went before Scarborough give real hope that he can continue to grace the Cooper Associates County Ground and add to his near 15000 first-class runs for several seasons yet. A core of experience around which the young batsmen can develop.

The bowling is coalescing and growing into a formidable force, the batting only starting to take shape but we may have seen more of the future than we saw of the past at Scarborough if the views of those fortunate enough to be there are anything to go by. The scorecard certainly supported those views. That is why I say Scarborough had the feel of history on the turn.

Whether history will turn quickly enough to realise Churchill’s adage at the head of this post in time for the remainder of this season is another matter. Whether too it will turn quickly enough for Somerset to finish above the bottom two and thereby emulate Durham’s eleven seasons in the First Division also remains to be seen. The remainder of the season will be as the Duke of Wellington said of the Battle of Waterloo, ‘hard pounding.’ And if Somerset stay up it may also be, as the Duke also said, ‘the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.’

If that ‘nearest run thing’ comes off it will have been a typically exhilarating Somerset ride from here on in. What is clear to me is that on the field the team has kept hold of its belief and spirit in spite of the loss of batting form, the resulting trials and the disasters on the field of the first half of the season, and the despair they must have brought to some at times. As Churchill said, ‘If you are going through hell, keep going’. The team to its immense credit has done precisely that. If there was ever a doubt that the team’s spirit had survived the dark days it was swept away at Scarborough.

That is not to say it has not slipped at times, Matthew Maynard’s reference to some team members not helping one another in training is evidence of that. That happens to teams under immense pressure. What counts though is, in spite of all, keeping going. Still be a fighting unit when the tide turns. And what better place to turn a tide than at Scarborough where Yorkshire have been impregnable in recent years except against the County Champions last year.

It is that spirit that gives me the greatest hope for the future. The underlying class that Somerset have and are developing are the necessary foundations for future success in the rest of this season and beyond. The thing that will make that class count is spirit. And Somerset seem to have spirit in abundance. Or as Churchill put it, ‘Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.’ That is good enough for me. May it be good enough for Somerset to consign Durham’s impressive record stay in the First Division to history.”

*During the winter the England management had detected a minor irregularity in Jack Leach’s action. Leach had rectified his action during the remainder of the winter.

Result. Somerset 268 and 281-4dec (JC Hildreth 101*, TD Rouse 69, EJ Byrom 40,). Yorkshire 213 and 157(C Overton 4-47, MJ Leach 4-51). Somerset won by 179 runs. Somerset 21 points. Yorkshire 4 points. 

After this match Somerset were in seventh position in the table 30 points behind Surrey who were in sixth place. Middlesex, who beat bottom placed Warwickshire, were on equal points with Surrey and in in fifth place. Warwickshire were in last place a further 17 points below Somerset. Six matches remained for each of the bottom four.

Before Somerset’s victory could be followed up the NatWest T20 Blast intervened. The question of whether Scarborough would turn out to be the beginning of a Championship revival or a curious blip would hang in the air like a North Sea fret for the next month.