County Championship 2017 ~ Middlesex ~ Final day ~ Floating on air

September 2017 Specsavers County Championship. First Division. Taunton. 25th, 26th, 27th and 28th. Somerset v Middlesex.

In short, Somerset needed to defeat Middlesex to retain their First Division status. Victory for Somerset would also mean the relegation of Middlesex. Any other result would reverse those roles.

Overnight. Somerset 236 and 250-9 dec. Middlesex 142 and 40-3. Middlesex need a further 305 runs to win with 7 wickets standing. 

28th September. Final Day – Floating on air    

Farmer White (IP Logged) 28 September 2017 11.11 p.m.

“I normally set off for a Somerset match filled with trepidation and deep foreboding about the outcome. It was like an out of body experience this morning as I set off, for I had no such forebodings, just a quiet confidence that Somerset would do an efficient professional job of retaining their place in the First Division. Difficult to explain why my psyche should let me have such an easy ride. With so much hanging on the day I should have been paralysed with anxiety. As it was I floated on air.

I think it must have been something about the way in which the team approached this match. They never left me in any doubt that they had, and would keep, the upper hand. Hildreth’s majestic batting, Jack Leach’s wickets, Trescothick’s rediscovered assurance at the top of the order, the constant threat of a Davies stumping, Overton’s topping and tailing of the Middlesex first innings and his towering presence at slip, Abell’s captaincy and assured batting, the electricity in the fielding were all key, but I think what drove my trepidations away was the sheer strength of will of the team. It was as if they had overpowered Middlesex by sheer willpower. The best teams do that. Essex have it. Somerset need to carry it into next season from the start. New Director of Cricket please take note.

And then there was the crowd. On the first two days the crowds may well have been the largest Championship crowds of the season. The last day crowd was the biggest fourth day crowd by some distance that I can remember in this season or any other. The buzz around the ground was incessant, the anticipation all pervading, the encouragement of the team palpable, “C’mon Jack,” the most common call. Even the contingent watching from the flats had doubled from the other days to two dozen.

On the field in this match Somerset had barely put a foot wrong. They started this day of destiny getting it right again. Jack Leach from the River End and, once Dom Bess had completed his unfinished over from the previous day’s rain interruption, Roelof van de Merwe from the Somerset Pavilion End. It proved an inspired move. I watched the first few overs from the old Straggler’s area whilst I updated someone on the previous evening’s Q&A by Lee Cooper* (Impressive). Before I had completed my report, van de Merwe had taken the edge of Eskanazi’s bat and Marcus Trescothick, fielding on his knees at slip, propelled himself forward, stretched further and caught a ball which had angled down off the bat. On his feet he would never have got down quickly enough. Middlesex 43 for 4.

That raised the buzz in the crowd. A couple of loose balls from Jack Leach, both of which Voges hit for four, did not really disturb the air of expectation. The developing partnership between Voges and Simpson which followed did cause a few deeper breaths to be taken. Especially so when they went through half a dozen or so overs barely scoring a run, and not looking particularly threatened by either Leach or Bess who had replaced van de Merwe as soon as he had removed Eskanazi. The Middlesex score seemed frozen in time on 67 for 4 for what seemed an eternity.

Adam Voges did more gardening in that stretch of play than you would see in a dozen sets of allotments on a Sunday morning. I wondered how much his apparent obsession with the preparation of the pitch in this match had got into his team’s heads and contributed to their apparent resignation to defeat. The greater contributor was more likely to have been Jack Leach. While Voges and Simpson were digging in, Leach was sending down one innocent-looking ball after another. Innocent though they may have looked the batsmen treated them all with auditorial care. With good reason, for eventually one looking no different from the others found its way into Craig Overton’s hands at slip via the edge of Voges’ defensive bat. 71 for 5.

Voges stood surveying the fruits of his gardening for what seemed like an age. While he did so the Somerset players gathered for a celebration and the Umpires for a conversation. As with all batsmen who linger at the crease after the fall of their wicket Voges eventually had to drag himself off the stage. Stirling replaced Voges and nearly followed him back as he struck a fierce flat drive straight down the pitch. Leach got a hand to it but unlike the astonishing catch Bess took off Sangakkara at The Oval this one did not stick. Then Bess found the edge of Stirling’s bat. The ball flew at Hildreth who parried it just out of reach over his head. Surely a wicket must come. “C’mon Jack,” someone shouted as the bowling moved to the River End. “Jack” bowled another one. Simpson was pushed back in his crease, the bat came across the pads desperate to intercept the ball. Too late. Lbw. 80 for 6. The Middlesex defensive wall was crumbling.

As if to push the point home, Leach’s first ball to Harris went straight past the edge. At the end of the over it was announced that Simpson was Jack Leach’s 50th first-class wicket of the season. In the end it was 51, taken at a cost of 26 runs each. Mason Crane, Australia bound, has 16 at 45. It is reminiscent of the 1998 season when Andrew Caddick took over 100 wickets in the season for Somerset and was not taken on that year’s Ashes Tour. Leach’s time will come and he will make every ounce of extra experience between now and then tell when it does.

There were a few wags of the Middlesex tail. Harris hit Leach for three successive fours. Three overs later Van de Merwe removed him when he top edged a sweep. Murtagh spoiled van de Merwe’s parsimonious figures of 11.2-6-10-3 with a six to the back of the Somerset Stand. Next ball he tried to scatter the group in the old Straggler’s bar area, missed, and the ball scattered his stumps. Van de Merwe 11.3-6-16-4. Patel took a further chunk out of van de Merwe’s figures with a six into the Old Pavilion End** sight screen before Jack Leach removed Finn. We had not yet reached Lunch and Somerset had won by 231 runs. In 2018 Somerset will equal Durham’s record of eleven successive seasons in the First Division.

The crowd erupted into cheering and rose to its feet. In the middle the players and Umpires entered into the customary round of extended handshaking which follows the close of every match. The crowd outlasted them with their applause. For a while it felt like it would never stop. It was eventually on the point of subsiding when the players started to walk slowly towards the Pavilion; so slowly, it seemed they were reluctant to leave the field of such a match with such a consequence. The applause revived and followed the team as they edged towards the boundary ever more slowly the nearer it came. As they went they turned to applaud the crowd. When finally they crossed the rope the applause revived again. Whatever the travails of the first half of the season, the importance to the Club of the revival of the final few weeks was lost on no-one.

A lap of honour was announced. Most in the crowd stayed for it. All I could see stood for it. The team walked as slowly as they had as they left the field. Craig Overton went to the Colin Atkinson Terrace, Marcus Trescothick to the top of his own stand and Jack Leach to the Somerset Stand to hug family. The crowd applauded the players and the players applauded the crowd, those who had played through the season as well as those who had played in this match. Of the latter, I picked out Peter Trego, Jamie Overton and Johannes Myburg, smiling all.

Eventually, the players found their way back into the Pavilion, apart from one or two doing media interviews. The crowds drifted away to “Winter well,” and “Have a Merry Christmas,” farewells. Many just sat in the stands, some to eat their uneaten lunch, others to imbibe the afterglow of a tremendous performance, others reluctant to leave a scene they will not see for half a year. And all the while the sun shone. From the first ball of the day to the final departure. A true warm summer’s day, my sun cream in action as my bare arms and face felt its heat.

As I stood chatting and taking in a last look at the ground Matthew Maynard walked by. I and the person I was talking to shook his hand, wished him well and thanked him for his efforts at the Club. Working to the last he was on his way to do a media interview.

And so that was it. Another rollercoaster of a Somerset season over and the last of my match reports done. I shall, as they say, have more time to spend with my family. Whether my family wants to spend more time with me I shall soon find out. I have enjoyed every minute of writing these reports, even the ones that kept me up until three o’clock in the morning and the ones that got me up at 5 o’clock so that I could complete them before I had to leave for the start of another day’s play. Fortunately, I never had to do both on the same report. I have always wanted to write up a cricket season but needed the discipline of doing it publicly and the encouragement of people on this site to keep going. Thank you to all those who have expressed their appreciation both on this site and at the ground and to everyone who has had the stamina to get through the posts, whether you post on here or not.

May all of us winter well, and may Somerset’s spring dawn as brightly as its autumn has ended so that next summer may be the brightest of all Somerset’s summers.”

*Somerset’s newly appointed Chief Executive.

**‘The Old Pavilion’ was demolished at the end of the 2014 season. It was replaced by the Somerset Pavilion. It had stood since 1882 and until 1981 when the Colin Atkinson Pavilion (superseded by the Andrew Caddick Pavilion in 2009) came into use it had been The Pavilion. My use of the term ‘Old Pavilion’ instead of ‘Somerset Pavilion’ was inadvertent. I only noticed the error after I had posted. I did consider editing the post but on reflection, the Old Pavilion having stood for all but three of my 61 seasons watching Somerset, I didn’t have the heart to demolish it a second time.

Result. Somerset 236 and 250-9dec. Middlesex 142 and 113 (MJ Leach 5-57, RE van de Merwe 4-22). Somerset won by 231 runs. Somerset 20 points. Middlesex 3 points.

And so Somerset had edged into sixth place, for only the second time in the season, and above Middlesex by just one point to remain in the First Division in 2018 for the eleventh season in succession, thereby equalling Durham’s record.