County Championship 2017 ~ Middlesex ~ Third day ~ The value of Hildreth

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

Overnight. Somerset 236 and 159-3. Middlesex 142. Somerset lead by 259 runs with seven second innings wickets standing.  

27th September. Third Day – The value of Hildreth

Farmer White (IP Logged) 28 September 2017 8.28 a.m.

“Well what a day that was. From the first ball there was no doubting Somerset’s intent with the bat, or the weather’s. Middlesex’s in the field soon became clear too. By the end of the day we saw the mettle of Somerset’s new Chief Executive for we knew that by the end of the next day the Director of Cricket will have departed. Steven Davies had been awarded his county cap. By next week a new Director of Cricket will have been announced, and a new post of Head Coach created and filled. And Craig Overton is off to the Ashes too.*

On the cricketing front James Hildreth completed a century in typical Hildrethian style with a perfectly directed cut backward of square. It was a century in two parts. On the third morning he took no prisoners, attacking incessantly with whatever stroke came to hand. Once, he bisected two closely adjacent fielders placed there for the stroke with a precision which suggested he had directed the line of the ball to the boundary with a pair of compasses rather than a bat. On the second day he had been as precise but more circumspect as Somerset built a secure base.

Someone nearby commented that Hildreth infuriates with his ability to play like he did in this innings, and on another day lose his wicket with an ambitious stroke too early in the proceedings. Wishing for consistency from a player like James Hildreth is like wishing the sun would shine when the sky is as heavily overcast as it was on this day. It doesn’t work like that as they say, and wishing that it would leads to continual and pointless disappointment. For wish all you like, Hildreth is an artist, a mercurial genius with the bat and mercury cannot be moulded, and the cricket world would be a less exciting place if it could.

Playing as he does Hildreth has scored over 15000 first-class runs and 41 first-class centuries. By way of comparison with some other key batsmen in this match Hildreth averages 43 and has scored a first-class century every 9.3 innings. Trescothick averages 42 and has scored a first-class century every 9.9 innings. Robson averages 39 and scores a first-class century every 11.8 innings and Nick Compton averages 41 and scores a first-class century every 12.5 innings. Perhaps we should give thanks for what we have, stop expecting the sun to shine every day, and glory on those days when it does, which appears to be at least as often as it does for other top county batsmen.

Tom Abell does not bat with the same air of genius as Hildreth, but he is now batting with an air of permanence which is beginning to suggest he will develop the ability to dominate an attack with his orthodox strokes played with considered and precise shot selection. This morning though it had clearly been decided that a more urgent approach was needed, the sky looking intent on keeping strictly to a forecast which foretold little play beyond Lunch.

The remainder of Somerset’s innings, Roelof van de Merwe’s whirlwind display of a match being thrown into a box of fireworks apart – one of the fireworks falling out of the sky to land in the Trescothick Stand, another fizzing from a reverse sweep to the Caddick Pavilion – was reminiscent of Foinavon’s Grand National. Wickets falling everywhere in the pursuit of enough runs quickly enough to set Middlesex a challenging target with enough time for Somerset to take ten wickets. Even so, there was time for van de Merwe to plunder 24 and for Craig Overton to be given an ovation as he walked to the wicket on his way to Australia.

Middlesex did not attempt to challenge anything except the clock. They wasted time with a purpose. The field was adjusted and re-adjusted like a dinner setting before the arrival of an important guest. Boundary balls were retrieved at a walk, on one occasion Paul Stirling being sent back by an ambling boundary fielder as he actually ran after the ball. A close fielder seemed to have forgotten his pads before the start and went on a country stroll to the boundary to find them. It was blatant. In the end Somerset had had enough of the nonsense and declared a few runs beyond the fall of the ninth wicket. 345 runs, or whatever time the weather allowed, standing between Middlesex and salvation. Ten wickets Somerset’s hurdle.

The Middlesex innings, or as much of it as the weather gods allowed on this third day, was all Somerset. Jack Leach opened the bowling again from the River End and Dom Bess was soon on from the other. When the rain came Middlesex were 40 for 3, still 305 short of their target. A long way on this pitch although, as always in cricket, a doubt found a way of impinging. Middlesex have won their last two run chases at Taunton. The Rogers declaration last year, and the 400 plus they chased down the previous year with Adam Voges to the fore. However, by the close, Leach and Bess had reminded Middlesex that this match is being played on a pitch of a different character to the one on which Middlesex chased down the targets in those two matches. The ball with which Leach drove Compton back uncomfortably close to his stumps as he tried to stop it crashing into them was a beauty. He succeeded only in stopping it with his pads with the inevitable result.

Today will tell how much Compton’s wicket will play on Middlesex minds. And that is all for now, because I am off to find out.”

*This was the day on which the England Team to tour Australia in the winter was announced.

Close. Somerset 236 and 250-9dec (JC Hildreth 109, TB Abell 45, RH Patel 5-92) Middlesex 142 and 40-3. Middlesex need a further 305 runs to win with 7 wickets standing.