County Championship 2017 – Lancashire – First day – Battle Royal

Specsavers County Championship. First Division. Taunton. 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th September 2017. Somerset v Lancashire.

Toss. Uncontested. Somerset required to bat.

12th September. First Day – Battle royal

Farmer White (IP Logged) 13 September 2017 7.49 a.m.
“I know they start Championship matches at 10.30 in September. They have for years. Unfortunately, that was not at the forefront of my mind when at the beginning of July I arranged an important appointment for 9.00 a.m. on the first day of this match. And so it was, with another delay on the way to the ground, I arrived at the ground three quarters of an hour after the start. I was not as desperately anxious as I might have been because I caught a glance at the scoreboard as I came over Priory Bridge Road and into the town for a car park. I could see a ‘0’ in the wickets column and the name ‘Trescothick’ as one of the batsmen. It is amazing what relief a name and a digit can bring to the overanxious mind.

Into the ground via the Brian Rose Gates. Not as informative a way to enter the ground as it used to be because the temporary scoreboard next to the Colin Atkinson Pavilion is not visible from the entrance like the old scoreboard was. Not that the old scoreboard was the most reliable source of information given its propensity to deliver ‘fake’, or at least out of date, news. Where wickets are concerned out of date is as good as fake.

The news was updated as I bought my scorecard. First a huge appeal. Then a pregnant silence. Then a cheer from the fielders at the birth of a wicket followed by gentle applause from the crowd as Trescothick walked off. Out in the 20s again but he and Byrom had got Somerset a start. 39 for 1. Then off to find a perch in the top of the Somerset Pavilion, passing as I went a curious group of individuals on Gimblett’s Hill looking pointedly at their watches and gently shaking their heads at me.

Given there was an excellent crowd I was surprised to find a perch quite so easily at the far end of the elevated section just in time to see Bartlett pinned uncomfortably, neither forward nor back or so it looked to me, lbw. 44 for 2. It looked very much like his lbw at Edgbaston had looked on the small screen of a live feed. Something to be worked on perhaps. He is only 19 but he is having something of a baptism of fire. Sport has no hiding places especially in the First Division of the County Championship.

A cover drive of perfection from Hildreth to the Somerset Stand started to settle me in my seat. Byrom then unsettled me with a missed sweep off Parry and then recompensed with a pugilistic back foot drive for four before he airily paddled a full toss for a single. I am never sure about the sweep in the Championship before a batsman is very well set and sometimes not even then. I have seen too many good spin bowlers go straight through it to the stumps.

Somerset started to make headway, a sumptuous Hildreth cut back of square to the Ondatjee to the fore. The Lancashire boundary fielding was not what I had expected from a Championship contender, even a somewhat distant one. Davies, their keeper, was kept busy gathering in throws like conkers falling randomly from a Horse Chestnut on a windy day. Byrom led a bit of a charmed life, chopping one onto his boot, or so it looked, in the process. Hildreth meanwhile was playing as if he could charm boundaries from the trees. One off Parry defied orthodox description. It was swatted off his pads like a conker on a string into the Somerset Stand boards. Another, a late cut off Jarvis to the Trescothick brought cries of “Ohhhh!” from the crowd.

It didn’t last. McClaren was moving the ball from the Somerset Pavilion End. Hildreth defended forward, the ball moved in, took the inside edge and, just, the leg bail and he was gone for 25. 90 for 3. Abell walked out to the warmest of receptions on a chill Autumn day at least in the sunless Somerset Pavilion, my white Somerset hat superfluous except I do not feel properly attired, as they say in the Lord’s Pavilion, without it. Lunch at 103 for 3 was a faintly reassuring performance given Lancashire’s position in the table and the fact that the ball was moving for the seamers and showing signs of turn for the spinners.

The presenter doing a brief report for TV from the Somerset Pavilion Terrace told his camera Lancashire’s decision to insert Somerset had paid off with three wickets. I know this because he did the piece five times before he got it right. I am being descriptive not critical here given the number of rewrites this piece will have had before you see it. I was not convinced by his certainty. Neither the pitch nor the conditions looked easy. Somerset might just have established the base for a competitive score. The Quantocks thought so for the maroon parts of the patchwork which festoons them stood proud.

The scales edged towards Lancashire immediately after Lunch as Byrom was bowled by McClaren for 38. 105 for 4. Byrom not quite reaching the 40s this time but another crucial anchoring role as the main runs came from the other end. Davies promptly played a backfoot drive of precision and power off Bailey to the Somerset Stand boundary. At 122 for 4 and Abell and Davies striving to establish some ascendancy for Somerset another appointment awaited me outside the ground.

I was gone an hour. Somehow my anxiety level was lower than it normally is when I am away from the score perhaps Abell and Davies starting to suggest they might develop a stand. Nevertheless, it was a pleasant surprise to return to the ground and realise they were both still there at 193 for 4.

I watched a while from the vicinity of the old Stragglers Bar. Davies was still playing in the same vein as he had been when I left. A late cut and a clip off his legs sounding as if both bat and ball were covered in velvet sending the ball unerringly to the boundary. If ghosts from the old Stragglers Bar do inhabit that area they will have been drooling at Davies’ stroke play for at times it is almost ghostly quiet in its execution. Abell barely seemed to get a ball to face although it cannot have been that way throughout the partnership for he was on 42 to Davies 49. Half a dozen or so overs later still starved of the strike he edged Parkinson to Livingstone at slip for 46. Somerset 224 for 5. Enter Peter Trego.

Once Trego had found his feet he let people know with three boundaries in succession off McClaren one a late cut to the Trescothick stand as deft and well placed as if Hildreth had played it. When the spinners came on, now turning the ball regularly and in the case of Parkinson effectively, Trego lost his fluency and his wicket to a stumping against the leg spinner shortly after Tea.
The Tea interval brought a smooth blanket of cloud which stayed to the end. For a period, if periodic discussions between Stephen Croft and the Umpires are any indication, the spinners stayed on beyond 80 overs because had they not the Umpires would have taken them all off for light.

Then beneath the cloud from above the Quantocks approached head on to the Somerset Pavilion an aircraft with lines as pure as the stroke play of Hildreth and Davies. It looked very familiar even head on in the distance. Then, as it sped towards us as unerringly as one of those Davies boundaries the unmistakeable roar of a Merlin engine broke through the cricketing buzz of the crowd. The elliptical wings of a Spitfire then graced the sky as it turned a perfect quarter circle in the direction of the flats and then another in the other direction to somewhere behind the Somerset Pavilion. It is Battle of Britain Day on the last day of this match.

Craig Overton, replacing Trego, drove Parry straight to the Botham Stand for four but soon fell to a slip catch off Parkinson. Bess replaced him and swept Parkinson to the Caddick Pavilion for four. Bess does not wait for the fight to come to him. Then Davies swept Parkinson behind square towards the end of the Somerset Stand the ball curving along the grass in a distinct arc, towards the Trescothick Stand, almost as perfect as that described earlier in the opposite direction by the Spitfire. Together they would have made a perfect scimitar cross.

By the time the Davies Bess partnership had reached 20 Bess had 16 of them. He did not get much further falling for 17 to the persistent Parkinson now sometimes turning the ball sharply. Bess stumped it seems although no-one around me could work out what had happened as the bails were taken off and then subsequently a stump removed with Bess seemingly transfixed. 288 for 8.

The bonus point, 12 runs away, became an object of obsession with and around me as Davies and Leach picked a way through the spinners web a run at a time an over at a time. 296 for 8. Within a boundary and down came the rain. Ten minutes we waited. The rain came to nothing of consequence after an initial unpleasant burst. The Umpires, or to be precise one of them, came out for a peek and then struggled to attract the attention of the players as he tried to beckon them out from the field rather than return to the Pavilion to seek them out. Davies and Leach stuck to their task. One run at a time, one over at a time they inched to 300.

Davies’ vigil ended at 111 with Somerset 321 for 9 but not before Leach had decided to set about Parkinson including a slog sweep which landed about half a dozen rows into the Somerset Stand. The crowd had much shrunk by the time Davies was out many having left at the interruption but most of those who had stayed rose to him and applauded him to within a few yards of the rope and then resumed as he crossed the rope into the Pavilion. Only the Lancashire innings will tell how valuable that innings was but of the Somerset innings he was the backbone in an extended bare-knuckle fight with the Lancashire bowlers on a difficult pitch.

The day had been a battle royal in which most thought Somerset had prevailed although time will have a say in that. Leach and Groenewald took Somerset to 330 for 9 at the close with just an eye perhaps on 350 in the morning. A long shot possibly but it might be a crucial one if it comes off.”

Close. Somerset 330-9.