Somerset T20 2017 ~ Somerset battle against Nottinghamshire

NatWest T20 Blast Quarter-Final. Trent Bridge. 24th August 2017. Nottinghamshire v Somerset.

Somerset’s 151 for 6 in 20 overs looked well short of a par total. It was nonetheless defended tigerishly with the ball and in the field.

Farmer White (IP Logged) 27 August 2017 6.51 a.m.

“It wasn’t quite as close as Trego’s brilliantly judged catch in the end but Somerset fought hard in this match against a superior T20 team. They only lost contact with the opposition in the last few overs. The diminishing target gave the Nottinghamshire batsmen the confidence to attack on a pitch on which it had looked more difficult to get the ball away than it does on many T20 pitches.

As to the catch I thought it was clean and clearly so. I probably had one of the better views. I sat at right angles to the flight of the ball on the side of the ground where the catch was taken. There was clear air between Trego’s hands and the grass when he took the ball and it did not bounce. I immediately and involuntarily said, “That was clean.” The local Somerset supporter sat next to me instantly said something similar. It was an exceptional catch, Trego diving full length down the line of the ball. Had it bounced it would probably have hit him full in the face.

Alex Hales took a different view along with a group of chanting Nottinghamshire supporters nearby and a number of other home supporters. Who would be an umpire, even a third one, for the catch was replayed over and over again on the big screen so that we could all see what the third Umpire was seeing as he made his decision. Hales did not like the decision and left no-one in any doubt. It is true some of the replays cast some doubt, others did not. From what I have seen of these replays over the years if ‘some’ doubt was enough to give someone not out then almost all would be given not out. There was nothing in my view to warrant overturning this decision.

The catch was indicative of the quality of Somerset’s fielding in this match. Johannes Myburgh’s run out of Taylor was exceptional. Taylor was well out of his ground but that was in part due to the lightning speed of Myburgh’s reaction coming in from backward point and the accuracy of his throw aiming at one stump from over two pitch widths away. With the keeper back the direct hit was the only option. Taylor was furious with Samit Patel, but it was Patel’s call and had Taylor been watching his partner rather than the ball he might not have left his ground.

When Patel’s turn came he had Lewis Gregory to thank for a vignette of which Gary Lineker would have been proud. Gregory raced Patel up the pitch as Lineker might have a defender and from three or four yards connected with the ball with his left instep and stroked it into the stumps as Lineker might have stroked a Gascoigne pass inside the near post. Perhaps all that football practice has its uses after all. It was as graceful a kicked run out as I have seen. Perhaps Gregory’s new-found confidence and discipline with the bat and his taking to captaincy like a duck to water is permeating his whole game.

Somerset’s outfielding was faultless throughout. A catch from Roland van de Merwe, to add to Trego’s and a well-judged one in the deep by Overton, reflecting the standard. Moores had pulled Gregory just behind square. Van de Merwe ran along the boundary from further behind square and caught the ball in front of his left shoulder as he fell to his left perfectly to intercept the catch. It reduced Nottinghamshire to 33 for 3 in the chase and helped create the pressure which brought about Taylor’s run out at 66 for 4. Leask too caught a high ball beyond the boundary having jumped high and backwards from inside the rope and managed to throw it back in before he hit the ground turning six into two though too late in the game to make a difference. It typified Somerset’s zeal, incisiveness and determination in the field throughout the Nottinghamshire innings.

It was not Somerset’s fielding but their innings, or at least Nottinghamshire’s control of it, which in the end determined the match. 151 for 6 of a full 20 overs never felt like enough even if the pitch was slower than previous T20 scores at Trent Bridge this season suggest might have been expected. The pitch had an odd look about it. Shiny from side on, almost like the shiny side of an old red ball. As to consistency, as far as you can tell from 70 yards, rolled plasticine sprang to mind.

Somerset may have been the victims of the batting strategy that has set up most of their wins in this competition. ‘High risk’ Matthew Maynard once called it. Attack, attack, attack is what it looks like. Spectacularly effective if it comes off. Embarrassing to watch if it doesn’t. As with most bold strategies there is always a risk of a day of reckoning. Had the strategy worked one more time Somerset might have now been contemplating Edgbaston on 2nd September given the resolute way in which they defended 151 when it failed.

As it was Gregory’s stride down the wicket to drive Ball’s sixth ball through the on side resulted in him playing around it and losing his middle stump. Perhaps his lack of runs in the first two overs telling. Myburgh’s attempt to drive his first ball, also from Ball, through the off side resulted in an inside edge to the keeper. Myburgh was undone because, if my reading of the replay on the big screen was accurate, the ball moved in slightly off the seam.

Somerset had lost the two batsmen who have exemplified their approach more than any and who have got Somerset off on the road to their winning totals. If you are watching T20 in a small Test Ground with high stands like Trent Bridge and the stand you are in has a canopy roof you know when the opposition supporters value a wicket because the roar which goes up replicates the solid wall of sound roar that followed Mo Farah and David Ward around the Olympic Stadium when they successfully pursued gold. I was there for the latter. It was just such a roar for Myburgh’s wicket.

Davies batting against the early Nottinghamshire tide began to show some of what had been promised when he came to Somerset. In this innings he watched Patel and then went straight to the accelerator. Gurney was clipped to fine leg, Christian cut behind square, Ball driven hard through mid off, Patel twice scooped, once perfectly over the head of short fine leg, all for four. He swept Patel for six, bringing up a resounding chorus of “Somerset La La La” which rather belied the relatively small but concentrated group of Somerset supporters from whence it came. He pulled too the nagging medium pace of Mullaney for another six. Even the sixes coaxed rather than hit off the bat, his batting as undemonstrative as his keeping. Had he chosen pickpocketing as a career he would be a rich man.

Trego has been slower to start since his return to the side and here after eight balls he had scored two. Then the Peter Trego of old began to come to life. A boundary steered to long leg. Two sixes, one pulled in front of square the other driven destructively so far over long on a new ball was sought. No cricketing pick pocket he. And then another four, cut past the wide third man fielder, so well placed it ignited the “Somerset La La La” chorus and a final one off Mullaney slog swept behind square. Finally, he pulled a short one and was caught, brilliantly, by the running, diving Ball on the square boundary in front of the Somerset contingent. “Not’n’mshire La La La,” pointed the home fans. Up stood the Somerset contingent in immediate response, “Somerset La la La.” Trego 40 off 34 balls.

He and Davies had taken Somerset from 17 for 2 in the third over to 103 for 3 in the 13th. They took the supporters from the depths of anxiety to the edge of hope. But a charge would have to come if a competitive total was to be posted. It never really did as the Nottinghamshire bowlers stuck to their nagging task. Hildreth, seemingly bamboozled, chipping his first ball low back Patel. The replay suggested he changed his stroke. Somerset’s top two run scorers in the T20 this season both out first ball and Gregory, the third highest scorer at the start of the match out, for 3. 102 for 4.

118 for 5 when Davies pulled to deep midwicket. “Nott’n’mshire La La La” thundered the home singers. “Somerset La La La” came the instant reply. Michael Leask came to the wicket and departed shortly afterwards having driven straight down long on’s throat, as they say, more in hope than anticipation it seemed from beyond the boundary. Cheering without the singing from the Nottinghamshire crowd. 103 for 2 had become a desperate 118 for 6 with just four overs remaining.

Ball bowled the 17th over and van de Merwe and Overton drove him safely along the ground rather than trying to clear the ropes. Constrained by his pace and accuracy and the straight boundaries at Trent Bridge, a distant sight from the crease. Six runs from the over.

Gurney bowled the 18th. Van de Merwe steered the first through slip for four. Overton turned the third fine for two well run runs, the throws from the long straight boundaries often leaving the wicket keeper with some gathering to do. The fourth Overton drove straight, hard and clean the only result the demolition of the stumps at the other end. The sixth van de Merwe skied into the hands of the deep fine leg fielder, the batsmen completing two runs as the umpire signalled no ball. “Somerset La La La La,” only for van de Merwe to miss the free hit. “Nott’n’mshire La la La.” Bowlers seem to be adapting to the free hit ball. They seem now to go for fewer runs than was once the case. 12 runs though from the over. 137 for 6.

The 19th came from Ball. Five runs from the first five balls as the ball repeatedly found the fielders, the batsmen looking constrained in their attempts to get it away. The pace of Ball’s accuracy perhaps leaving little time to fashion an innovative stroke. Van de Merwe then used all of his innovation against the last ball to drop on one knee and play a delicious late cut for four. Nine runs from the over. 146 for 6.

The final over from Gurney perhaps a summation of the strength of the Nottinghamshire bowling. The one bouncer netted an edged single. Four other singles from accurate full balls driven to the deep fielders. Five runs. 151 for 6.

Davies and Trego, and van de Merwe briefly, at the end had gathered in the runs but they never really turned the Nottinghamshire tide. Overton in the closing overs, capable of fast scoring and big hitting held to less than a run a ball. The pace of the innings more to do with the quality of the bowling than weakness in Somerset’s top order batting.

As the innings ended and the evening darkened the lights began to take effect. The sky beyond the stand opposite mine, as if on cue, produced a wonderful sunset. Thin bands of distant cloud interspersed with pale strips of sky produce a canvas of pastel greys, pinks, purples, oranges and blues framed on either side by the brilliant white intensity of the floodlights. At its centre sat the large thin crescent of a new moon. This year’s Harvest Moon*. If moons have any influence this one may be crucial because it becomes full on the first day of Somerset’s Championship match against Warwickshire**. Tradition forbids me from telling the wish I invested in the powers of that new moon on this my first sighting.

Not daunted by the balance of the match Somerset’s bowlers challenged Nottinghamshire head on. Max Waller in the van with the wicket of Wessells when the innings was as young as the presiding moon. “Waller for England,” incanted the Somerset choir. Overton then bowled a curate’s egg. Three fours and three pinning dots although the one that had been skied just beyond Waller’s running range only just rolled over the boundary. Then another egg for the curate from van Meekeren. One four, one six and four dots Nottinghamshire awaiting the ball to hit. Then a captain’s over from Gregory including Trego’s brilliant catch, Hales reluctant departure and just two runs, “Somerset La La La” and Nottinghamshire 28 for 2 from four.

Then Overton. On song. Six runs and Roelof van de Merwe’s catch. 10 runs off Gregory. Patel and Taylor trying to get into their stride. They cut, drove and pushed van de Merwe’s next over but only to the fielders. Five runs. Then Waller, a four and four singles. A glance at the scoreboard. 57 for 3. Duckworth Lewis 59. Close. And it felt that close. The hushed buzz reflecting it. Somerset were holding Nottinghamshire.

A breathless look at the sky. Much darker now overhead. The lights in full command of the ground. But not of the sunset. That had turned magical. Much more vivid than earlier as it and its glowing palette stood out from the darkening sky. The thin crescent of the moon brightly golden. The lights showing much brighter than earlier but the sunset showing the limitations of the lights. They held no sway beyond the ground. In the world outside cricket nature ruled and it ruled gloriously.

In the ground it was not clear who ruled. Nottinghamshire, dominant in the Somerset innings, now had wobbly knees. Somerset’s star challenging them. “Somerset La La La” rampant. Somerset’s fielders predatory.

Tim Groenewald appeared as if out of nowhere. Two leg side wides, the bane of the white ball bowler’s life. Five singles otherwise reflecting his accuracy. The runs scored from drives or turns into the on side reflecting the fullness of his length. And Myburgh’s phenomenal run out, worthy of the display in the heavens. 69 for 4. Half way through the innings. Duckworth Lewis 75. Waller at his restrictive best. Five drives to the deep fielders. 74 for 4 off 11. 78 needed off nine. Groenewald again. Four drives, three runs. The required run rate now nine an over. One of those singles a misjudged lofted drive from Patel which carried almost too far only to bounce a foot in front of a hard diving Waller.

And, Gregory’s passing skills apart, that was pretty well it for Somerset. Two balls later Groenewald over-pitched by perhaps as much as the earlier ball had landed short of Waller and this one cleared the ropes followed by a steer to the third man boundary. 13 from the over, 10 of them from the last two balls and Nottinghamshire were 87 for 4. D/L 87. The match statistically in the balance. It didn’t feel it though. The ball falling so close to Waller and the six from the slight overpitching of Groenewald perhaps highlighting, with the quality and depth of the Nottinghamshire batting and the limitations of the Somerset total, just how little room for error Somerset had.

The Nottinghamshire Club must have sensed it too for suddenly the PA burst forth into the swinging tunes of yesteryear, the singing section of their crowd joining with gusto. Soon they reverted into “Nottn’m’shire La La La,” the Somerset contingent steadfast in response with “Somerset La La La.”

As so often seems to happen once the bowlers’ spell is broken when defending a low total the match swung almost inexorably to the batting side. Waller’s next over conceding a six and a four and van Meekeren’s a six and two fours. The flame throwers in the front of my stand and the Nottinghamshire crowd in full flow. The heat on Somerset as hot as the palpable heat from the flamethrowers. The sunset now fading and the moon sinking fast into the low bands of cloud on the urban horizon. How quickly sunsets can fade. How quickly a side’s hopes can fade in a low scoring match. “You’re not singing anymore,” rang out from the Nottinghamshire choir. “Somerset La La La,” the instant reply.

Somerset facing defeat with the sunset all but gone fought back again. For now followed three overs without a boundary, two from van de Merwe and one from Gregory including his precision footwork. Three overs, 15 runs and the run out. Three overs now left. 128 for 5. DL 124. But 24 needed from three overs with five wickets left felt a lost cause. 19 from Overton’s next over confirmed it was. As so often in T20 a batting side with wickets in hand able to strike its way to victory over the last few overs. The sky had gone dark. The Nottinghamshire roar and singing were cacophonous. The Somerset choir went down with their ship singing right to the end.

There has been talk of “problems” at the Club particularly at the time of the departure of Adam Hose. Like most beyond the boundary I don’t know the truth or otherwise of that talk. The fighting spirit the team showed in this match spoke otherwise and the Somerset travelling crowd responded and got right behind their team right to the end.

Was it worth eight and a half hours on a coach? Yes.”

*In fact the Harvest Moon for 2017 fell on 5th October. I was a month early in naming it.

**Warwickshire. The bottom side in Division One of the Championship and so a crucial up and coming match for Somerset in their fight against relegation.

***At the end of the season, following a review of Somerset’s cricket structure it was announced that the roles of Director of Cricket and Head Coach would be separated. It was stressed that the issues were identified as being related to the Club’s structure and not to personnel. Matthew Maynard left the Club on “very amicable terms”. Andy Hurry was appointed Director of Cricket and Jason Kerr Head Coach.

Result. Toss. Nottinghamshire. Elected to field. Somerset 151-6 (20 overs) SM Davies 59(41 balls), PD Trego 40(34), JT Ball 2-21(econ 5.25), DT Christian 2-23(5.75), SR Patel 2-26(6.50). Nottinghamshire 152-5(18.3/20 overs) SR Patel 45(28), DT Christian 36*(26). Nottinghamshire won by 5 wickets and qualified for the NatWest Blast T20 Finals Day.