I wrote match reports on a number of Somerset’s T20 matches in 2017. The first was at The Oval with references to Beau Nash, Henry Fielding, cricket at Hambledon. The occasion was spectacular, so was the match and Corey Anderson, in his first match for Somerset, played as spectacular a T20 innings as anyone is ever likely to see.
NatWest T20 Blast. The Oval. 9th July 2017. Surrey v Somerset.
I watched this match from square of the wicket in the Peter May Stand at The Kia Oval.
Farmer White (IP Logged) 10 July 2017 11.27 p.m.
“As my London bound coach turned on to the M4, the modern usurper of the old Great West Road from London to Bath, I read Henry Fielding’s ‘Tom Jones’, forerunner of the modern novel. It was written in the age of ‘Beau’ Nash when Bath was being turned into one of the premier summer retreats of London ‘society’ and just before Hambledon flourished as England’s premier cricket club and started the process of regularising cricket’s rules.
Days when there was no middle stump, no restriction on the width of bats, when the crease was actually a ‘crease’ cut into the turf, later regularised at an inch deep and an inch wide and when someone used a bat weighing over 5lbs and when all the bowling was underarm. Cricket was a different game in Fielding’s day. Or was it? The principles were the same. A bowler bowling at and trying to take the batsman’s wicket. A batsman trying to score runs, or ‘notches’ as they were termed in those days, and fielders trying to restrict the number of notches. The team with the most notches won. It was pretty much like that at The Kia Oval on Sunday just as it had been when I last watched the County Championship at Taunton or when Bill Alley played in the first season of the Gillette Cup in 1963.
There were differences though from that Championship match in the cricket and in the crowd. The thing that struck me hardest as I walked through the gates was the crush. It was a mighty throng. The official attendance figure exceeded 15,000. Then there was the age profile and enthusiasm of the crowd. It was, to my eye, predominantly under forty, as many women as men, children in bouncing, laughing numbers as tight knit family groups milled through the festival atmosphere. The atmosphere reminiscent of the Diversity Festival I had attended in Barnstaple the previous day which rang out with music from across the world. The music at The Kia Oval rang out from across the decades as far back as the birth of the Gillette Cup in 1963.
The Kia Oval is my favourite County Ground after Taunton perhaps arising from watching Somerset play there, from the back of the Peter May Stand, over the thirty years of my eastern exile. Always The Kia Oval in preference to Lord’s or Chelmsford. I have no idea why. Perhaps it was sitting in front of the great gasometer of Oval Test Match fame so often the focus of cameras in those early days of Test Matches on television during my childhood. Or what used to be a view of Archbishop Tenison’s school so often a reference point in the Test Match Special commentaries of those days as a counter-point to the gasometer. Or perhaps it was watching Concorde coming into land from over my left shoulder across the dying embers or tense conclusion of a day of Championship cricket only to disappear off over the Harleyford Road or thereabouts.
As I sat down for my first T20 match of the season the music played strains from some of those great songs from the Sixties which challenged and overwhelmed the orthodoxy of the popular music which had preceded them. I thought of my wonderful County Championship, the great classical music of cricket, and wondered if it could possibly co-exist or is it compete with what was going on all around me and more to the point for how long. There is no question T20 has caught the zeitgeist of the age of the two generations which seemed to make up most of the crowd on Sunday and who will form the future audience of cricket.
The stands did not seem overly full but, just as at any other cricket match with five or ten minutes to go, the crowd suddenly appeared and The Kia Oval stands were a patchwork of colour and gaiety to match the Quantocks on a summer’s day. The Surrey turquoise furry headbands were dotted about everywhere, particularly on the heads of children. There was a buzz of expectation around the ground as that iconic Sixties music continued to float triumphantly through the air. The teams walked out to horizontal shafts of fire and four huge Surrey flags being waved around the boundary as if some mediaeval jousting tournament was about to take place. I suppose what we were about to see was the modern equivalent.
And then, rather as it does at Wimbledon as the ball is tossed up, the crowd went quiet as Corey Anderson ran in to bowl the first ball. Short, pulled, four. On came the music, the four boundary flags waved rhythmically through the breeze and the crowd erupted. We were underway. Somerset’s new champion did not mean to let Surrey have it all their own way. The rest of the over went for just two runs. It was the last we saw of him for the rest of the Surrey innings. All those pre-tournament worries that Somerset had signed an injury prone player running around the brain.
Somerset responded by bowling three bowlers in three overs, Overton (14 runs), Davey (16, starting 6,6,4) and Gregory (a relief at 9 runs). Surrey 45 for 0 off four overs. That coach journey home was starting to feel a very long prospect and a score of over 200 a near one. The Surrey crowd meanwhile were in some sort of heaven; cheering to the echo, the children, that had them, were waving their flags, turquoise to match the boundary banners sweeping through the air. Whether they came for a party or for the cricket it was the cricket that was lifting them, Finch in particular. He looked a class act, from Somerset’s point of view a dangerous class act.
In his next over Davey silenced the crowd by removing Burns, amused them by bowling five wides and cheered them as Stoneman off drove his last ball for four. Roelof van de Merwe managed to ‘restrict’ Finch to 9 whilst Max Waller went for 11 including being welcomed by Finch hitting his first ball over long on for six. 79 for 1 off eight overs, the flags were working overtime, the music seemed more on than off and the young crowd was revelling in the batting mayhem on the field.
Then Somerset, as they are inclined to do, started to poop Surrey’s party. Van de Merwe and Waller, slow left arm and leg spin, bowled four more overs in tandem, for 8,5,7 and 4 runs and three wickets. Miserly in T20 these days. It didn’t exactly rip the heart out of the Surrey innings but in comparison with what had gone before it gave them palpitations and the crowd was becoming more hesitant especially after van de Merwe removed Finch. Surrey’s champion was down and the joust was still in the lists. 103 for 4 off 12.
Allenby switched from van de Merwe to the pace of Gregory. Five runs. 108 for 4 off 13. Somerset back in the game. Waller’s last over. Sam Curran ended it 6 . 6 4. Up went the music, across and back waved the flags and the crowd roared a new champion for their cause. Then Roelof van de Merwe, Somerset’s bowling champion, gave them pause for thought. His next over netted a wicket for Somerset and a meagre three runs for Surrey. 130 for 5 off 15
A few in front of the gasometer tried to send a Mexican wave off towards the OCS stand at the Vauxhall End. It had no buoyancy. They tried again, it fizzled out before it reached the end of their block of seats. People were not interested. The cricket was the thing and the match was coming back into the balance.
In the end it was Sam Curran who probably made the difference with 39 off 21 balls with some help from Ollie Pope’s 25 not out off 13 at the end. Pope hitting Overton for three fours off the last three balls of the penultimate over. Somerset’s bowling seemed patchy at times but that could have had something to do with the clean hitting of Finch, Curran and Pope. The crowd roared them on as the flags waved, the music played, the flame throwers flamed and the scoreboard turned ever more quickly. Through the interval the crowd buzzed and two Surrey supporters dropped eight out of ten tennis balls fired high into the sky from the top of the OCS Stand. £1000 if you catch all five which three people did last season. And after all that 181 for 6 felt perhaps 10 or 15 over par.
It felt more over par at the end of Somerset’s first over with Jim Allenby and James Hildreth both back in the Pavilion for first ball ducks, out to identical balls from Dernbach and to identical back foot strokes, whether attempting to defend or steer to third man I couldn’t say from my vantage point. One caught at slip, the other behind. It didn’t look very edifying. Somerset 2 for 2 at the end of the first over. The crowd didn’t seem to mind what it looked like. Surrey’s bowlers were off to a flyer, so were the boundary flags, pity the arm muscles of the poor flag wavers, the music worked overtime, the children waved their flags and the adults cheered themselves hoarse.
Trego and Davies tried to break free but the bowlers showed no mercy and 25 for 2 off four overs was as much headway as they could manage. The rate required neared ten. Davies tried to clip to leg, missed and the finger went up. Hose stretched to use his reach to pull two bouncers. The first went for four but it looked ugly and forced. The second looped to midwicket. Uglier still. Then Trego tried to hit across the line and was bowled. 33 for 5 off seven overs and the required run rate was well past 11.
The flags still waved, the music still played and the crowd cheered but the force was going out of their celebrations. Sated perhaps and a calculation there was no way back for Somerset from 33 for 5. Non-competitive cricket does not hold the attention. It was hereabouts the children started to look out for autograph opportunities just as children did in my childhood days when their attention started to waver from the cricket. Opportunities are fewer in T20 for the game moves at such a pace and fielders are constantly on the move. Children have to be quick. The three along from me were; they disappeared down the long flight of steps and reappeared a couple of minutes later all smiles. No autographs though. Just selfies with a hugely smiling player. Selfies! What would Bill Alley have made of that? Loved it I imagine.
Somerset struggled on, Corey Anderson, finally at the wicket at five down after his fielding absence, with a huge mountain to climb against a racing clock. Roelof van de Merwe and he perhaps Somerset’s last hopes. Six from van de Merwe and then lbw trying to turn to leg. 49 for 6.
It was around now the group in front of the gasometer succeeded. The Mexican wave spread past the scoreboard, picked up energy through the OCS Stand, ran smoothly along the stand which hides most of Archbishop Tenison’s school, faltered to pantomime boos as it passed through the Pavilion and then picked up to cheers as it passed through the Laker and Lock Stands and raced along the Peter May Stand enveloping me as it went by. And around again and again. It ran out of steam half way round its fourth (anti-clockwise for directional aficionados) circumnavigation. The thing I find about Mexican waves at T20 matches is they rarely succeed when the cricket is competitive. They only prosper when it has lost its point. The modern equivalent perhaps of the slow handclapping of slow play in the 1950s. Holding the interest when the cricket does not.
It was the only Mexican wave of the match because Corey Anderson started to make the cricket relevant again. Gregory and Overton came and went, both out trying to hit sixes but with Anderson they stretched Somerset’s score to 106 for 8 but still 76 needed from 5.3 overs. Anderson by then had hit three sixes and was 39 not out as he tried to climb the mountain virtually single-handed but with only Davey and Waller to come hoping seemed pointless. The crowd had found its full voice again as Surrey’s victory came closer. The wickets brought huge roars, the waving flags now hardly noticed against the delirium. Surrey were closing in.
Then a miracle started to take shape. Davey, who has not looked remotely like a batsman this season somehow held his nerve, held his end up, rotated the strike brilliantly and on the one occasion he found himself facing the last ball of an over managed to edge it for four. Anderson, meanwhile took Surrey on. Four more sixes, including a huge one to the back of the stand between the Peter May and the OCS and one over the long boundary in front of Archbishop Tenison. It seemed almost futile, if not totally, from where I sat. Too much had been left for him to do. 51 still needed from the last three overs.
But Surrey had taken their eye off the ball or more to the point off the clock. They drifted past the innings cut off time two overs light. The 18th over consisted of two sixes and some loose change from Anderson and 12 penalty runs from Surrey. 29 from the over. Somerset had gone from 131 for 8 to 159 for 8. 23 needed off 12 balls. The realisation suddenly sank in. Somerset could do this. The crowd fell quiet. Not silent, for an anxious mumble hummed around the ground. Whether he could read a clock better than Dernbach I have no notion but it was as if Anderson had been preparing for this. Davey and Anderson swapped singles in that 19th over until Anderson hit the fifth ball for six and took a single of the last.
12 needed. Six balls. Anderson facing. He tried to hit Tom Curran’s first ball for six. Missed. Hit the second for four. Eight needed. Four balls. Anderson and Davey debated. Anderson hit deep to long off. The fielder closed in, Anderson, desperate to keep the strike raced for the second, perhaps ready to sacrifice Davey, who ran towards the danger end. The fielder kept his cool, threw long and straight to the keeper, the ball came in next to the stumps, the bails were off with Anderson a yard short. On such narrow margins are matches won and lost. Somerset’s charge had fizzled out so close to the line.
Anderson walked off for 81 to a tremendous ovation from the entire crowd. They knew their cricket. They knew they had seen something special. If he plays like that at Taunton he will win hearts and if Somerset can find a couple of batsmen to stay with him long enough he will win matches.
It was, in the end, as I have said elsewhere quoting the Duke of Wellington, “the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life”. Cue crowd eruption, flags, music, flamethrowers, applause and some deep breaths of relief and disappointment.
As I walked up the Harleyford Road after the game half the crowd seemed to be doing the same. Two continuous smiling, bubbling streams of humanity. They were abuzz and the buzz was of cricket. Of a match that had seemed dead and then had life breathed into it by Anderson, and what life. A day that will live long in the memory. And what might they have thought of it in the Bat and Ball at Hambledon? I fancy Richard Nyren, Billy Beldham and Co might have wanted a piece of the action. Bill Alley certainly would have done.”
Result. Toss. Somerset. Elected to field. Surrey 181-7 (20 overs) AJ Finch 61(42 balls), SM Curran 39(21), RE van de Merwe 3-27(econ 6.75), JH Davey 2-37(12.33). Somerset 177-9 (20 overs) CJ Anderson 81(45), SM Curran 2-22(5.50), TK Curran 2-23(5.75), JW Dernbach 2-32(8.00). Surrey won by 4 runs. Surrey 2 points. Somerset 0 points.