County Championship Division 1. Somerset v Yorkshire. 28th, 29th and 30th April 2018. Taunton. Second Day.
This match was due to start on 27th April but the entire first day was lost to rain. Somerset came into this, their second match, having won their first match of the season against Worcestershire. They were looking to consolidate their good start to the season after half a decade of poor starts.
Toss uncontested. Somerset required to bat.
As I conducted my customary circumnavigation of the ground in the Lunch interval someone said to me, “You are going to have to find some new words to describe that.” He meant Matthew Renshaw’s innings of course. Had we met at the end of the day he might have said the same about the whole day’s cricket, Somerset’s performance in particular.
As to Renshaw’s innings let it speak for itself. His century came from 86 balls and included 14 fours and four sixes. His first scoring stroke was a six. He went to his fifty with a six and to his century with another. His first fifty was scored entirely in boundaries. His century was chanceless. It was scored before Lunch, in April, under heavily overcast skies, on a ‘green top’, in England, by an Australian unaccustomed to English conditions.
I have watched Somerset play cricket since 1958. I have watched the majority of Somerset Championship matches, home and away, since their return to the First Division in 2008. I have never before seen a century scored before Lunch and one which would still have been scored before Lunch had Lunch been taken at one o’clock instead of ten minutes later because of overs added after there was no play on the first day. There is no need to use superlatives because it was a superlative innings full of its own superlatives.
Renshaw’s opening six to the Ondaatje boundary was clipped, no more, as if he was flicking a nettle with a stick as John Arlott once wrote. He followed up with a square drive to the Somerset Stand and a straight drive to the Botham Stand. “Good shot!” said the man in front of me, an involuntary exclamation it sounded. To add to the set Renshaw on drove to Gimblett’s Hill and swatted another nettle to the Somerset Stand.
The sun briefly peeked out from behind the clouds, as if disturbed by some unexpected phenomenon of nature. It was just in time to see Renshaw cut the ball backward of point to the Caddick Pavilion boundary. It was as if a schoolmaster from a bygone age had clipped the ear of a schoolboy who had forgotten his homework. Then, as if to ensure the schoolboy remembered it the next time, he clipped his ear again this time in front of point for another four.
Now Renshaw tried the subtle approach and leaned into a shot, which was more of a push than an on drive, towards the Colin Atkinson Pavilion. A hapless fielder set off after it like a commuter late for a bus. He ran hard but you just knew, as the scene unfolded as if in slow motion, that the bus, in the way of buses, would leave the commuter breathless at the stop. And so it was as the ball rolled over the rope followed by the flailing fielder.
It was not all perfection. A spectacular straight drive flew off the edge over gully to the Colin Atkinson boundary. It was followed by the reprise, this time with perfection re-installed, which found the Somerset Pavilion boundary. Next it was the turn of the Caddick Pavilion boundary, recipient of a square drive. And, finally, to bring up his 50, the ball was driven straight back over the bowler’s head to the Somerset Pavilion for six. “I hope he stays there,” said the man in front of me. I think everyone else was too dumbstruck to even think let alone hope. After the first hour on the first morning there were four fielders on the boundary and Somerset were 86 for 1.
Renshaw’s second 50 restored a degree, but only a degree, of normalcy to proceedings. The fielders were back so when the boundary could not be found the single or the two was pushed or steered as the score mounted. He still found time, and space, to drive over the bowlers’ heads to where there are no fielders, to pull for four and for six and then to hook Brooks into the Trescothick Stand to bring up his 100 and the crowd to their feet. I have mentioned Brooks here because he happened to bowl the ball which brought up Renshaw’s century but, in truth, Renshaw treated all the bowlers the same. His boundary strokes, with one exception, were hit so cleanly and with such power most jaws must have been permanently dropped long before the end of his innings.
It was an innings which left a feeling of detachment from reality. It was hard to believe what we had seen. It took the mind a while to regain some equilibrium, to connect with reality and realise it actually had happened. The eyes of some I saw in the Lunch interval spoke of disbelief. It must have happened though because the scoreboards said so and the scoreboards at Taunton these days retain contact with reality and reflect it faithfully.
There was some old-fashioned reality in the rest of the Somerset innings. Trescothick, Hildreth, Abell and Davies, perhaps reflecting the real quality of the Yorkshire bowling or at least of Coad and Brooks, barely reached double figures between them. One or two of the strokes may have left something to be desired but, more in their second spells than their first, Brooks and Coad bowled with pace, accuracy and with periodic movement sometimes in the air but more dangerously off the seam. In particular Brooks bowled an over to Abell which persistently troubled him and, in the end, bowled him. Coad got three in an over to cut back viciously into Bartlett. The third finally persuading the umpire to raise his finger.
Which brings me to Bartlett. He came in at the fall of the first wicket with five runs on the board and stayed with Renshaw through most of his innings. He scored 39 of their partnership of 140. He hit just four boundaries including a stunning cover drive to the untidy gap in the ground perimeter where the old Scoreboard Stand once stood.
Bartlett’s innings was crucial to Somerset’s eventual total of 216. He pushed singles, guided twos and rotated the strike. Above all he kept an end secure for an hour and a half whilst Renshaw decimated the bowling from the other end. It was Bartlett’s best innings for Somerset at least of those I have seen. Somerset’s young batting blades are just starting to push their seniors.
From the fall of Bartlett’s wicket Somerset lost seven wickets for 31 runs including Renshaw trying horribly to cut a ball too wide for the stroke. There were a few rolled eyes and shaking heads at some of the strokes, Hildreth’s across the line and Gregory’s on the move in particular. But the real story of those seven wickets was the fierce intensity of Coad and Brooks’ bowling, in the end supported by Bresnan, as they incisively and explosively counterattacked a rampant Somerset. A prize fighter rising from the canvas and tearing into his domineering opponent. In the end Craig Overton (19*) and Davey (11) took Somerset to a batting bonus point and a total of 216.
Wonderful cricket in a viciously chill breeze that lowered the body temperature as the cricket set the heart racing. So chill the statutory 12 watchers from the flats had reduced itself to six. A blanket had been employed as indeed some were in the ground. Not cricket weather as they say, but what cricket. And we were not yet half way through the day.
Yorkshire took a different view of batting to Somerset, or at least to Renshaw. Whereas Renshaw had decided to take the fight to the bowlers Yorkshire decided to let the bowlers take the fight to them. It may have been a crucial error. It was not their only error. Before there was a run on the board, Brook sold Lyth the perfect running dummy and Bartlett did the rest with a lightning throw which either hit the stumps direct or was palmed onto the stumps by the perfectly positioned Overton. Impossible to be sure from beyond the boundary it happened so fast.
Thereafter Yorkshire seemed concerned not to take risks with the ball still moving intermittently, sometimes in the air, more often off the pitch. They limited themselves to two an over or less. Eventually their careworn approach resulted in the second wicket falling lbw with only 30 on the board and nearly 15 overs gone. Pujara’s quizzical look at the Umpire not convincing to a ball which looked to me as if it would have upended leg stump. At the end of their 15th over Somerset had been 81 for 1.
At Tea I decided to desert my Antarctic perch over the Umpire’s head in the top of the Somerset Pavilion. It was cold enough to have sent an arctic tern on its northerly migration. I set off, literally shivering, on a second circumnavigation of the ground. I stopped for some conversation where the old scoreboard used to be.
While I discussed the season ahead and the relative contributions to the fall of wickets as between bowlers and batsmen in this match Yorkshire returned and felt their way towards 50. The Somerset bowling was persistent, testing and unremitting. Gregory bowled with pace and movement, Davey with vice-like containing accuracy, Overton with testing lift, Groenewald patiently waited in the wings and the fielding was predatory.
The conversation edged towards anxiety as the score crept up and the bowling failed to reap rewards. Thoughts of Yorkshire perhaps building a lead started to pick at the mind. Then Groenewald took his turn. He and Overton bowled two maidens and then the incessance of the Somerset pressure burst the Yorkshire dam. The rushing flood of wickets which followed was more than any innings could survive. 51 for 2 became 64 for 8.
Groenewald and Gregory took three wickets apiece. Both found themselves on unrealised hat tricks as Trescothick took two neat slip catches, Davies two with the gloves and two more were bowled. For the second time in the day Yorkshire were on the floor, swept there by the damburst of wickets, and Somerset had regained the footing they had lost after Renshaw was out barely three hours before.
Trescothick did ground a low catch and the Yorkshire tail tried to get their side’s head back above water. However, 96 all out, as Overton and Davey took the last two, and a deficit of 120 on an April pitch in April weather leaves Somerset with as much to fear from the weather as from Yorkshire. The forecast suggests anxiety in the sky on Sunday and a flood of the more traditional kind on Monday.
Close: Somerset 216 (MT Renshaw 112, JA Brooks 5-57, BO Coad 3-67) and 6 for 0. Yorkshire 96 (TD Groenewald 3-12, L Gregory 3-30). Somerset lead by 126 runs with 10 second innings wickets standing.
The original version of this report was published on grockles.com on 29th April 2018.