Disciplined, determined, dominant.

County Championship Division 1. Somerset v Yorkshire. 28th, 29th and 30th April 2018. Taunton. Final Day.

Somerset had worked themselves into a powerful position over the first two days of this match and the weather forecast for the final day had cleared. Even so Yorkshire had fought hard to keep themselves in with a chance with a solid performance in bitter conditions on the second evening.

Overnight: Somerset 216 and 200. Yorkshire 96 and 49 for 1. Yorkshire need 272 more runs to win with 9 second innings wickets standing.

If this match could be summed up in a millisecond Tim Groenewald’s catch to dismiss Jack Brooks on the last afternoon would serve perfectly. Groenewald had bowled with discipline and precision with Somerset in the ascendancy and predatory fielders all around. Brooks had counterattacked from a position of Yorkshire weakness. His counterattack was determined, the drive that ended his charge ferocious. Eyes like mine beyond the square boundary followed the line of the ball to the straight boundary. On hearing the cheer from the middle I looked for a spectacular catch at mid on or mid off, then noticed Groenewald’s hand by his shin and Brooks looking on in apparent and desperate disbelief.

That was the whole match. Somerset disciplined, determined, dominant. Yorkshire determined, rocked back on their heels, fighting back, overcome. That sequence was repeated several times in the pattern of the match from the first day to the last afternoon. The Brooks dismissal just a shop window on myriad such jewels in this game. That is the County Championship First Division. No quarter expected. None given. Just good head to head intense cricketing struggle. Testing skills. Testing stamina. Testing wills. Until one side triumphs and the other succumbs.

After such a titanic struggle satisfaction, celebration and ‘Blackbird’, the just desserts of the winners. Devastation for the losers. The commitment of the Yorkshire players to their cause was plain to see for anyone who, like me, had watched the last hour, in conversation, in front of the Caddick Pavilion. The disappointment of dismissal clear to see in the eyes of the batsmen as they returned to the Pavilion. That is perhaps to be expected. What I did not quite expect were the looks of, what I can best describe as desolation, in the faces of the Yorkshire team as they came out to shake the Somerset hands. Those players cared about this defeat. They will want to overturn it at Headingley in August. This will be a hard season.

As to the final day. I was told that Somerset took the first wicket with the first ball of the morning and that it was an absolute peach of a ball from Gregory. Taken at 10.59 apparently. The controlling grip on Yorkshire and the Yorkshire score exercised by the Somerset bowlers in the first 24 overs of the innings in the freezing conditions of the previous afternoon and evening had paid dividends. Yorkshire had eked out just 49 runs and had now lost two wickets. They were still a distant 272 runs from victory or 96 overs from the draw.

A folk concert the night before, a late return, a consequent early hours post and some business to conduct before the start meant I had arrived at the ground about 40 minutes late.

The anxiety of the walk along St James Street was relieved when I finally reached a point from where I could see the Colin Atkinson Pavilion scoreboard. I had dreaded Yorkshire 90 for 1. I saw 84 for 4. The man on the gate was as relieved as I. “Ballance and Lyth have gone,” he said. “Experienced players can make life difficult.” And so they can. I remember Geraint Jones batting out a final afternoon at Taunton for Kent in 2010, one of the many things that season that might have cost Somerset the Championship.

I deposited myself just behind square in the Ondaatje Stand, the sun too tempting to turn down after two days on the Somerset Pavilion glacier. If the Club has to diversify, winter sports will be an option up there. I hesitated before I convinced myself it was safe to take a coat off. While I was deciding that issue and sorting my bag the ‘Ooohs’, ‘Aaaahs’, and appeals from the players and ‘c Davies b Gregory’ under ‘last wicket’ on the scoreboard told me the ball might still be doing a bit or the players willing it to.

After a few overs I came to the conclusion, from the way Leaning and Waite were playing, that the pitch did not look as difficult as it sounded, certainly not as difficult as it had looked on the first two days. Three wickets before I arrived suggested the Somerset bowling had extracted the maximum possible advantage from what assistance remained.

As I began to focus on the cricket Overton came in from the Somerset Stand end. He extracted enough from the wicket to induce Waite into popping one straight back to him off what looked, from square, like a straight bat. 99 for 5.

SvY Day 3 Matt Waite c&b Craig Overton Phot copyright Mike Williams
Did that one get up? Matthew Waite returns a catch to Craig Overton.
Photo courtesy Michael Williams

The hundred came up to polite applause. I have always found this applause curious. It is instinctively given, at 50 run intervals throughout an innings, whether the score is 300 for 2 or 100 for 5. It is in no way related to merit as, for example, is the applause when a batsman or a partnership passes a 50 run milestone. It is the only applause in cricket I can think of that is given irrespective of merit.

I have often wondered if that applause is a distant echo from the early days of organised cricket in this country. In the eighteenth century, when team scores often did not reach 100 and only rarely stretched to 200, passing 50 was meritorious even with wickets down. In those days applause at 100 for 5 would have been fully merited. I wonder if the practice became entrenched and has never left us. If so, today, when the crowd applauded Yorkshire’s 100 for 5 they were continuing an echo stretching back to an age when there was no middle stump and the ‘scoreboard’ was a stick into which notches were cut.

But I digress. Davey returned to send a couple past the edge, then pulled up during his run up, took his sunglasses from the umpire (not a distant echo from 1772) and walked straight off the field. A practice bowl at Lunch resulted in him discarding the ball before his arm reached the vertical.

Bess completed the one outstanding ball from the over. Overton started his next over by pushing Hodd right back with the first ball. It thudded into his pads and the Umpire had no hesitation in raising the finger. 103 for 6. Somerset hopes were bursting forth, excitement growing, but Yorkshire fought back again. Leaning and Bresnan dug in and fought hard through to Lunch at 116 for 6.

SvY Day 3 Andy Hodd lbw Craig Overton Photo copyright Mike Williams
Pushed back. Andy Hodd lbw to Craig Overton.
Photo courtesy of Michael Williams

After Lunch the batsmen looked determined to continue and seemed in little real trouble. There were fewer deliveries causing gasps from the fielders or crowd. Indeed, from square, the pitch was beginning to look like it was turning into a 350 run pitch. It did not affect the intensity from the bowlers. They ran in unremittingly hard as the batsmen defended stubbornly. I watched for an hour as the head to head stalemate continued. Somerset pushing. Yorkshire resisting. No-one giving. The score accumulating. Three runs an over resulting. The bowling attacking and miserly. The pressure on both sides rising.

When Leaning struck Bess for four in his fifth over it was the first runs Bess had conceded. When the score reached 153 for 6 it marked the fifty partnership between Leaning and Bresnan. They received much merited applause from a Somerset crowd which is always generous in acknowledging good play by visiting teams.

The comparative lack of alarm with which the Yorkshire pair had reached their milestone fuelled the faintly growing anxiety that the pitch might ease too much. If the luck went with them could Yorkshire just hold out? That they were now nearly half way to their target led to a calculation. If they held out and continued at three an over they could actually win the match. It hardly seemed a realistic possibility but doubts pick away at the mind of the anxiety-prone supporter.

With the new ball ten overs away and Somerset’s three remaining pacemen having to do the work of four Tom Abell brought himself on from the Somerset Pavilion End. No sooner had I uttered the thought to the person I was talking to that Abell had brought himself on to get Somerset through to the new ball than he forced Bresnan right back on to his stumps. The ball speared in after him and the umpire’s finger went up. “He’s a bit sharp isn’t he,” I said to my colleague.

There was no suggestion in Abell’s bowling that he intended to permit an easing of the pressure. Indeed, his pace seemed up by a yard from his spell at the Oval last summer. Perhaps it surprised the Yorkshiremen for when he took Bresnan’s wicket Abell had bowled two overs without conceding a run. Somerset could do with a partnership breaker we concluded. Zander de Bruyn has never really been replaced in that regard my colleague suggested.

It was the beginning of the end, the storming counterattack from Brooks notwithstanding. He scored 21 off 16 balls including four boundaries and added 32 runs with Leaning before that brilliant catch by Groenwald. 191 for 8. The final two wickets added another 29 as the Yorkshire batsmen yielded nothing of their resistance. This was not a team that rolled over.

In the end another wicket to the surprising pace of Abell to a good low catch from Trescothick, who took four in this match, and a third wicket to the persistent Overton finally pushed Yorkshire’s arm flat down on the arm wrestling table. 202 all out and defeat by 118 runs in a low scoring match.

After the match against Essex at Chelmsford in 2017 I reflected that Somerset had been beaten as much in a test of wills as in a test of skills. In this match Somerset had more depth in the pace bowling department than Yorkshire. Yorkshire had to depend too much on Brooks and Coad in the battle with Somerset’s highly integrated four-pronged, perhaps as it turned out five-pronged, pace attack. Neither did Yorkshire have anyone to match Renshaw’s, perhaps unparalleled, April innings.

Even so Yorkshire fought with a powerful will. That it was eventually overcome perhaps had as much to do with Somerset’s immense determination in this match as their burgeoning skill. Perhaps that was reflected in the faces of the Yorkshire players as they emerged to shake the Somerset hands.

Of one thing I have no doubt. The skill of this Somerset team is, as they say, ‘breaking out all over’. Equally important, in my view, is the development of a powerful team spirit and a growing strength of purpose and will. It became apparent last year in that desperate fight against relegation. It will be crucial this year as the team face counties that can match them in skill. When that time comes whichever team has the stronger will and the greater sense of purpose will win.

Result: Somerset 216 (MT Renshaw 112, JA Brooks 5-57, BO Coad 3-67) and 200 (TB Abell 82, BO Coad 4-61, JA Brooks 3-44). Yorkshire 96 (TD Groenewald 3-12, L Gregory 3-30) and 202 (JA Leaning 68, C Overton 3-43). Somerset won by 118 runs. Somerset 20 points. Yorkshire 3 points.

The original version of this report was first published on grockles.com on 1st May 2018.