County Championship 2017 ~ Surrey ~ Final day ~ A fighting defeat

Specsavers County Championship. First Division. The Oval. 19th, 20th, 21st and 22nd September 2017. Surrey v Somerset.

Overnight. Somerset 269 and 113-4. Surrey 433. Somerset trail by 51 runs with 6 second inningswickets standing.

22nd September 2017. Final Day.

Farmer White (IP Logged) 24 September 2017 12.58 p.m.

“It was a fitting end to Kumar Sangakkara’s last innings at The Oval as Surrey closed in on victory. It would have been a fitting end to his first-class career had it taken place during his final match, at Old Trafford next week. Here, he drove a ball from Dom Bess so perfectly straight and with such tremendous ferocity that Umpire Ian Gould took evasive action by tumbling flat onto his back like an upended stump. It was not Gould’s speed of reaction which saved him, but the lightning fast reaction and sureness of hand of Dom Bess who, it seemed impossibly, caught the ball.

A career such as Sangakkara’s deserved a catch such as that to end it, on his last home ground match at least. Sangakarra, perhaps not quite believing his eyes hesitated and then started to walk off. The Somerset players, perhaps also disbelieving, hesitated too and then flocked after him slowing his departure until, as far as I could see all shook him by the hand. By the time he was properly on his way the crowd was on its feet and applauded him all the way back to the Pavilion.

By then victory for Surrey was a formality, but Somerset had taken the match rather farther into the last day than most had expected at the outset. Somerset’s resistance with the bat was for the most part determined and prolonged and with the ball they persevered to the end, not without reward. Looking back it seemed the match had turned with the loss of Trescothick’s wicket on the stroke of Lunch on the first morning. From 96 for 1 Rikki Clarke blew away Somerset’s first innings top order with one of the most devastating spells of controlled well-directed pace bowling I have seen for some time. Somerset never recovered in spite of some sterling efforts with bat, ball and in the field throughout the rest of the match.

I arrived on the last morning and reached the top of the Peter May Stand steps just as Tom Abell attacked and edged a delivery from Clarke to slip. Somerset were 132 for 5, 32 behind and I was wondering about the value of my £20 entry ticket. From there though Somerset repaid me handsomely as they fought Surrey all the way. Whatever the effect of the cloud on the first three days there would be no effect on the last day for there was no cloud to have an effect. I had needed two coats by the end of the third day. On the last day I had to scrabble around in the nether regions of my cricket bag to find my sun cream as Somerset’s last two recognised batsmen fought to turn the Surrey tide.

They started well. Davies paddled Batty for two and then swept him behind, almost straight back to the Vauxhaull End, for four. Trego got underway with the smoothest of cover drives off Clarke. As I contemplated Somerset’s slim chances on this excellent cricket wicket I noticed that every stand in the ground was in use. No acres of the cordoned off seats which greet County Championship spectators at that other ground across the river. There were only eight people in the vast expanse of seats on the Archbishop Tenison side of the ground, and only a few more in the OCS Stand at the Vauxhaull End, but it felt quaintly welcoming that I could have sat anywhere I chose in this huge ground.

Somerset had reached 149 for 5 with Davies and Trego gently pushing the ball around when Meaker uprooted one of Davies’ stumps. Davies seemed unconcerned. The reason became apparent when I spotted the Umpire’s outstretched arm. “Awh,” groaned the crowd. Meaker was bowling with appreciably more pace than I thought he had in the first innings, and was looking more the bowler I had seen go through a Somerset second innings at The Oval five or six years ago. Davies, as so often happens after moments like that, took a boundary off Meaker with the most delicate of glances to the Pavilion just as a howling growl from an aircraft bound for Heathrow reflected some Surrey chatter about the unfairness of it all.

Trego, wielding the bat with more confidence than of late, then set about attacking Gareth Batty. He turned him fine and swept him just behind square for two boundaries, the second hitting the boards in front of the scoreboard between the OCS and the Peter May Stands provoking it into posting ‘Lead 1’. Trego was now playing as if of old. He back cut Meaker for four, unleashed a furious cover drive which fair rattled the boards and steered a bouncer to third man. Surrey were now playing with a third man, fine leg and a deep square leg, containing as much as attacking, with just two slips. Perhaps this containing and waiting reflected the performance of the pitch which seemed to deliver wickets on a regular basis throughout the match, Sangakarra’s apart. Surrey had a limited time to win this match and runs might be an issue if Somerset scored too freely. Wickets would come.

Davies turned Batty square for the single which brought up his fifty and a Somerset lead of 28. He received generous applause from the Surrey crowd. I have found them to be one of the more appreciative County Championship crowds where opposition play is concerned. The only blot on their copybook. a group of about a dozen or fifteen, a little under one per cent of the entire crowd, at the back of the Peter May Stand who were often unpleasant in their shouting and chanting throughout the four days, and in particular as Surrey closed in on victory on the last afternoon. Surrey had no visible stewarding in their stands for this match. All but that small group repaid their Club’s confidence.

Davies eventually fell for 52, edging Batty to Clarke at slip and Somerset were 198 for 6, just 34 ahead. Soon afterwards Trego edged Dernbach straight into Sangakarra’s chest at slip and for the second time in the match Sangakarra dropped the ball. Overton drove Batty into the back of the Laker and Lock Stand and Somerset lunched at 220 for 6. 56 ahead with news on someone’s phone that Yorkshire were at 141 for 7, 34 short of beating Warwickshire, having been edging close to defeat at 96 for 7. There are always twists and turns in a relegation battle. There will be more of joy or anguish next week.

After Lunch Gareth Batty defended the square leg boundary with two deep square legs. Trego swept hard between them for four to reach his fifty. Then Overton leaned into a ball from Meaker to turn it square, it thudded into his pad and Somerset were 234 for 7. Lead 70. Wickets were falling just too steadily to give Somerset real hope. Somerset supporters fell to bonus point calculations to try to work out the implications of a defeat for the for the Middlesex match next week. No serious conclusion was reached as we tried to watch the cricket, remember the state of the table, add in the points gained in this round of matches, the implications if Essex beat Hampshire, or Warwickshire managed to beat Yorkshire, and then work out if there was anything we had forgotten. In the end we just went back to watching the cricket and hoped a partnership might develop.

What we saw was not encouraging. Bess drove airily at his first ball and missed. Trego drove at Dernbach and edged him just wide of the slips for four. Then he got it right and drove through mid off for four. Then he got it wrong as he repeated Overton’s lean into the ball and was bowled by Patel for 68. Only Sangakarra and Davies had scored more in an innings in this match, and 68 on a pitch where wickets fell regularly was a pretty good effort from an out of form batsman. 242 for 8. Lead 78.

Immediately Meaker bowled what looked, from my perch square, easily the fastest over of the match at Bess and beat him repeatedly. But you do not keep Bess down for long. Soon he was on tip toe to drive Dernbach for four. He followed that up with a stunning cover drive off the same bowler. “Imperious!” said the man next to me and it was. Jack Leach shared in a stand of 48 with Bess, scoring 15 before edging Batty to Clarke at slip. 290 for 9. Lead 126, but too much time left. Bess added another 16 with Groenewald before he was caught down the leg side for 35 trying to glance Clarke, and Surrey needed 143 to win with 42 overs still to be bowled. Somerset’s final wicket brought on an early Tea giving Surrey an additional two overs. It seemed unlikely they would be needed.

Stoneman and Burns attacked from the outset and Surrey were 25 for 0 after 3 overs. 118 still needed from 39. Somerset’s bowlers though did not mean to make it easy for Surrey. Overton and Groenewald started to exert some control with the result that Burns tried to hit Overton to or over the long on boundary, got under the ball and Groenewald, running in hard from the boundary, took an outstanding catch low to the ground in front of him. 38 for 1 in the seventh over. 105 needed. 35 overs remaining. Two balls later Stoneman edged Groenewald to Davies. 39 for 2.

The two wickets brought some caution to the Surrey approach, first against Overton and Groenwald and then against Leach and Bess. After 20 overs they were 73 for 2, with just 35 runs in the last 15 overs. With Surrey needing 70 from 22 overs no-one thought this gave Somerset the remotest chance of saving the game, but it did show their supporters that they had a team which continued to fight hard even in a hopeless situation. That raised morale ahead of next week’s encounter, or at least it did mine. It put some pressure on Patel too. He had not played an aggressive stroke for several overs. Now he did. A slog sweep against Bess. Bess went through the stroke and bowled him. 73 for 3. 70 needed in 21 overs.

Enter Foakes who promptly edged Bess for four. It did not deter the batsman. There comes a point in fairly straightforward run chases where the batting side decides to settle the issue. It became apparent Foakes had been sent in to do just that. He attacked from his arrival and the target was suddenly rushing towards us like an oncoming train. The tactic seemed to be for Sangakarra to rotate the strike and for Foakes to play the attacking shots. When Sangakarra did play an attacking shot Bess caught it but Surrey were then only 15 short.

And so Somerset came away with just four points due in large part to the sort of score from Kumar Sangakkara with which he has dominated matches for a lifetime and the bowling spell of a lifetime from Rikki Clarke. Performances like that create intense pressure on the opposition and protect their own side from it. Somerset did not quite prove able to overcome the pressure which derived from Clarke’s eighty-minute spell on the first afternoon and Sangakarra heaped up just too many runs. The fight though with which Somerset responded in their second innings and in Surrey’s showed their spirit is still intact ahead of next week and that is what matters now.”

Result. Somerset 269 and 306 (PD Trego 68, SM Davies 52, SC Meaker 3-65). Surrey 433 and 146-4 (BT Foakes 42*). Surrey won by 6 wickets. Surrey 23 points. Somerset 4 points.

Somerset ended the match in seventh place in the table, 13 points behind Hampshire in sixth position, and 16 points behind Middlesex in fifth. Warwickshire safely down. Following Middlesex’s win at Lord’s, both they and Somerset had three wins. To stay up Somerset’s task was simple. If they were to beat Middlesex at Taunton to take themselves one win ahead of the visitors, and at least match them for bonus points, the Hampshire match would be irrelevant. If Somerset were to beat Middlesex, and by an unlikely quirk, fail to match them for bonus points then the only hope would be for Hampshire to lose very heavily to Essex.