A giant falls

County Championship Division 1. Lancashire v Somerset. 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th May 2018. Old Trafford. First Day.

For the first time since 1993 Somerset had won their first two Championship matches of the season. After years of poor starts to the season it was with an unaccustomed glow that Somerset’s band of travelling supporters headed north to Old Trafford. 

Toss. Somerset. Elected to bat.

The shot Trescothick played to Parkinson looked oddly jerky, the ball bouncing awkwardly to mid on. The jerkiness perhaps explained by the fact that by the time the ball reached mid on Trescothick was on his knees. As he hit the ground he steadied himself with one hand and banged the top of his helmet with the other as if in frustration.

“Oh No!” I said to no-one in particular for it was immediately obvious he had suffered a serious injury. The mind, and the eye, flew to the ankle and the thoughts to whether Trescothick could come back from another injury to his ankle. Amateur diagnosis and assumption at 100 yards distance are untrustworthy allies. A broken metatarsal though is more than serious enough.

Somerset had won the toss and opted to bat on a chilly morning with considerable cloud cover and Jimmy Anderson in the Lancashire side. One or two looked at the sky when the announcement was made. I looked at the pitch which did not appear to have a trace of green on it.

I wondered if, given it was Somerset’s intention to bat if they won the toss, they might have included Bess as well as Leach in place of the injured Davey. Instead Paul van Meekeren got the nod. Easy to question that sort of call from beyond the boundary and with no responsibility in the matter. As someone said to me, “It is early in the season and the first match away from home.” Perhaps caution was the watchword.

Trescothick soon made sense of the decision to bat at least. He steered Anderson’s third ball to third man for three; attacked Bailey, the ball going well over slip for four, perhaps more edge than steer; then a stroke which was undeniably a steer followed by a perfect cut behind point, both for four. Trescothick targeted the third man boundary to such an extent in this innings, especially in the earlier phases, it must have had some claim to victimisation.

From Renshaw there was a clip, as crisp as you like, for four; a steer and another cut from Trescothick, both for four and then a trademark Renshaw straight drive with rocket like features. It wasn’t just the boundaries which made an impression. The placement of shots not destined for the boundary opened up the singles and some twos as both batsmen ran their runs positively. No opportunity for a run was missed and the fifty came up in the 11th over. Anderson, for the first time in my experience of watching him, looked ordinary. No signs of the demons with which he stalked Somerset a year ago and every sign that Somerset were intent on carrying on against Lancashire where they had left off against Yorkshire.

The start set the tone for most of the day. This was the batting equivalent of the persistently probing bowling we had seen from the Somerset attack at Taunton in the first two matches. Somerset were assertive, confident, determined; the batting almost as carefree and dominant as it had been careworn and hesitant in the first half of 2017. Inevitably, batting of this kind invited risk for dominance cannot be won without risk.

With risk, sooner or later, comes cost. Renshaw hit a ferocious straight drive which caused the man I was watching the morning with to say, “That is what I came to see.” He saw no more because when Renshaw tried to attack again he either got under the ball from Bailey or top edged it. It carved a high arc to deepish mid wicket. Square leg had plenty of time to run around and collect the catch.

Somerset were 65 for 1 of which Renshaw had made 21. That Trescothick had outscored him was an indication of the way in which the Trescothick of old had taken shape and taken the game to Lancashire. The man next to me pronounced himself satisfied with his trip. He said that in the drive Renshaw had played before he was out he had seen perfection.

Bartlett joined Trescothick and immediately took up the challenge. He started by chasing a ball, too wide for the stroke I thought, and over slip it went for four. Then, as if trying to get it right, he cut behind point for another four. Bartlett, one has to remind oneself, was not born when Trescothick set out on his Somerset career. Yet he bats with that apparent assurance and confidence which seems to be the norm with new young players these days. An on drive which he leaned into for four just before Lunch as good as any you will see played.

Lunch, for Somerset supporters, was taken on a batting high and a score of 113 for 1. It seemed as if we were watching in a different world to a year ago.

The man next to me was a Somerset supporter exiled as far from Somerset as I had been although to a different point of the compass. By one of those curious co-incidences of nature, for we had never met previously, he had taught for some years at one of my schools not so very long after I had left it. He had taught with most of the teachers who had had me inflicted upon them and we were able to swap stories from those times as if we had been at the school together.

We interspersed school with Somerset matches we had both seen, not least that endless day at Chester-le-Street in 2010. As is the way with the County Championship we were able to pass the morning living in a bygone time, and I am not referring to the cricket for that was unremittingly modern in its intensity, whilst barely missing a ball in the present.

In the hour or so after Lunch Somerset pressed home the advantage they had gained in that cavalry charge of a morning. Trescothick attacked the bowling with increasing certainty. He continued to score with deflections on either side of the wicket but also increasingly with the drive and the pull. The bowler he faced seemingly irrelevant. Bailey was the most persistent, Mennie the most threatening and Anderson, for once looked mundane and seemed to lack pace. Parkinson’s leg spin occasionally passed the bat but he did not leave any real impression of danger. Trescothick took them all in his stride and lifted Somerset spirits at the prospect that the jewel encrusted skills of old were still capable of a polish or two yet.

Across his innings Bartlett did not match the overall scoring rate of Trescothick’s although he had scored 53 of the runs when their hundred partnership came up, perhaps facing more of the strike. He did though bat with the same intent to break through the opposition whatever they threw at him. He hit the only six of the innings, hitting Parkinson over long on. Once, later in his innings, when constrained by a well-placed tight on side inner ring he reverse swept along the ground for four.

One cover drive of tremendous power sticks in the memory. He did too ride his luck. Some edges evaded frustrated fielders. One drive was miscued to mid off who had his hands on it three times before it fell to the grass. A top edge fell short of long leg and another just cleared mid off. The key thing about luck in cricket though is to take advantage of it when it comes your way. Bartlett took his luck with both hands and squeezed every last ounce of opportunity from it.

As the pair approached Somerset’s first bonus point and with his score on 95 Trescothick fell to the ground. He remained there for a full ten minutes it seemed at the centre of treatment and concern. Finally upright, and clearly in pain, he hobbled, occasionally hopped and walked only with the use of his bat as a walking stick. To say he was back ‘on his feet’ would overstate it.

IMG_1115 Lancs v Som Day 1 Tres broken foot and 100 2
Contemporaneous note.
Author’s notes of Trescothick’s foot injury and century.

Immediately on the restart he drove Parkinson uppishly between mid wicket and mid on, but not cleanly, for two. I wondered out loud if he was trying to clear the boundary. Then he cut for another two. Each scoring stroke saw him literally hopping back to his crease as Renshaw ran his runs. Finally he pushed the last ball of the over past the bowler to bring up his century and retain the strike.

His ‘walk’ to the striker’s end was teeth clenching to watch and executed in slow motion. I think it surprised no-one when he was immediately caught behind off a cut to a ball from Livingstone all but out of his immobile reach. He walked off extremely slowly and painfully, only ceasing to use his bat as a stick to acknowledge the applause which followed him every inch of the way to and across the rope.

I wondered if my decision to come to Manchester had enabled me to see Trescothick’s final innings. The nature of his collapse at the crease had, for a 42-year-old, an unnerving look of finality about it. It left the sort of sick numbing feeling in the system that a violent impact leaves. And yet we have been here before. And Trescothick has come back before. He faces though on this occasion the rising pressure from the fast-improving next generation.

Do not however discount Trescothick’s fierce desire to play cricket and to play it for Somerset. And do not discount the continued existence of his ability to take control of a match with that determined will and that neatly angled bat that he showed here in the first two sessions. A large score needs a firm base and clear direction. Trescothick has provided both myriad times through his career for Somerset and for England. He had provided it again in this innings.

There will doubtless be considerations to ponder and decisions to be made but do not be surprised if this turns out not to have been the last Somerset innings to be so set up and so steered on its way by Marcus Trescothick. He brings a presence to an innings it would be wonderful to see again, and which will be very difficult to replace.

But, even in circumstances such as these the cricket must carry on. Hildreth, the last Somerset batsman to score a century with a broken foot, joined Bartlett at 199 for 2 and departed at 215 for 3. Out for five to a leading edge popped up to mid off as he tried to turn the ball into the on side. Any prospect of an instant Somerset wobble of old was seen off by Abell who scored his first run after 19 balls of solid, determined defence. Somerset had built a very solid base and Abell seemed intent on extending it.

He and Bartlett put on 79 for the fourth wicket as the new generation took the reins of the innings. They steered Somerset close to 300. Not at the pace that had gone before but with the same apparent intent. On the way Bartlett passed his maiden first class century. He had also passed his maiden first class fifty. That the century had come up with what appeared to be a thick edge, along the ground wide of the slips, was perhaps reflective of the luck he had ridden. The drive for an all run four and the precisely placed clip off his legs for a boundary four just before he was out indicative of the quality of some of his strokes. The spectacular and difficult slip catch just above his head, off a very fast edge, with which Livingstone eventually caught him, perhaps the way he was always most likely to be out. He had played a big part in taking Somerset to 294 for 4.

Abell meanwhile had accumulated 38 runs and defended the Somerset innings with a steely resolve. He was beginning to pick up the pace of the innings when Bartlett was out. From there to the end of play he seemed, to use the old phrase, to be playing for the morning.

Steven Davies replaced Bartlett and was met by four slips. He proceeded to take the innings forward by teasing them with cuts and steers wide of the cordon much as Trescothick had done at the start of the day. In the final over though Davies edged low towards slip, the fielder reached down and a Lancashire voice said in disbelief, “He’s dropped it.” I wondered if it had quite carried. It didn’t matter. Davies tried to flick the last ball to leg and succeeded only as far as the keeper. 321 for 5 at the close and some batting for Abell and the bowlers to do if the promise that Trescothick had given this innings is to be fully realised.

Close: Somerset 321 for 5. 

The original version of this report was published on grockles.com on 5th May 2018.