Relay race to victory ~ Hampshire v Somerset ~ RLODC 2018

That’ll teach you Farmer White! You do an analysis of Somerset’s RLODC campaign after the Gloucestershire match and point out that the opening partnership has failed to reach 50 once, that Peter Trego has made four 50s but failed to convert any of them to a three-figure score, that Somerset’s batsmen have only made one century in the entire competition and that a century tends to go with a competitive score on a flat pitch.  So off I go to Southampton, the openers put on 87 before Somerset get to the end of the 12th over, someone scores a century, it turns out to be Trego and Somerset score over 350. And what a match it was especially for the person who came with me for his first match of the season. He thought it was well worth the 350-mile round trip which he took to see it. We arrived an hour before the start and found ourselves parking towards the back of the last available car park. It was the best part of an hour before we could get away afterwards but the closeness of the car park to the ground probably made up for that and after a match like the one we had just watched we didn’t want to rush away from our seats.

The weather was glorious and the ground has mellowed from the stark concrete bowl it was a few years ago. It gives you too a more welcoming reception than I experienced then. For this match at least, there were some excellent food outlets too. There is also an uninterrupted view from wherever you sit although, for me, the scoreboards left much to be desired. Small font, no ‘last man’, no ‘last wicket’, no number of overs bowled by each bowler. It did though often show replays. I have always thought winning a high scoring 50 over game is akin to winning a 4 X 400 metre relay race. It has to be played at sustained pace over the whole duration of the event, needs a seamless succession of performances and when it comes off is quite a spectacle. We had one such match at the AGEAS Bowl on Wednesday. Somerset lost the toss and found themselves bowling on a wicket that looked the same colour as a pine table top and as flat. Gregory and Craig Overton led off for Somerset. Overton was straight into his stride, taking the edge of Rossouw’s bat, the ball going straight into Trego’s hands at second slip; the replay suggesting he got a bit of movement off the seam.

The opening pair then settled into a steady rhythm. After a few overs they discovered that Vince and Alsop were more constrained by the ball bowled back of a length than the fuller ball. By the end of the first powerplay, at 10 overs, they had run Somerset’s first bowling leg to such effect, with the help of a tight over from van Meekeren, that Hampshire were just 38 for 1 and the Somerset bowlers had their heads in front. Now van Meekeren and Bess took up the baton and Hampshire threatened to snatch it away, particularly from Bess who demonstrated the old adage about cricket being a great leveller. After a spectacular entry into Test cricket he was eviscerated to the extent of 34 runs in three overs and Hampshire, 93 for 1 after 16 overs, had moved ahead to mounting applause. The baton passed to Trego and van de Merwe who initially slowed Vince and Alsop with some disciplined bowling. Just six singles off their first two overs. Then three boundaries in their last two as the batsmen responded and pushed on as the steered singles began to proliferate.

Gregory, bowling with Green, took up the Somerset cause and promptly bowled the first bouncer of the innings. It was the 25th over of the match. It was hooked gently for a single. The last ball Alsop edged through the empty slips for four and Hampshire were 147 for 1 and priming themselves to pull further away. “We really need a wicket,” my companion said. “We need a bowler who can pull something from the hat like Jamie Overton or Max Waller.” Green, conceding just eight runs in his first two overs. nearly did just that when Alsop looped an edge wide of the keeper. Gregory, wicketless and needing to reserve overs for the end of the innings, soon handed over to van Meekeren who drifted twice onto Vince’s legs and twice saw the ball fly to the boundary. One over enough for at the end of 30 overs Hampshire were 182 for 1 and easing away from Somerset. Somerset supporters, looking more than pensive, were beginning to wonder if that clear blue sky was the limit for Hampshire’s score. Somerset’s relay of bowlers had some running to do yet if the batsmen were to have a chance when their turn came.

Van de Merwe picked up Somerset’s baton, ran in, conceded a four and induced Alsop to edge to Davies. 188 for 2. Overton took over from Green after three very tidy overs, Gregory perhaps not wanting the batsmen to accommodate too much to the rhythm of the bowlers. Immediately he induced an inside edge past the stumps from Vince. “Uuugh,” from a Somerset supporter with head flung back at the injustice of it all. But, “Yes!!” as van de Merwe neatly caught a rising return catch from Weatherley in front of his face. 198 for 3 in the 33rd over. Hampshire still ahead but Somerset’s ever-changing relay of bowlers now stepping up the chase.

219 for 3 after 35 overs, Hampshire regaining their stride. Green replaced Overton, as Somerset’s rapid baton changes continued, and cool as you like held Hampshire to three runs. Immediately Gregory took the baton from van de Merwe, was driven for four as he over-pitched to Vince, then pitched up a bit further and removed the middle stump. Vince, 109, furious with himself, was asked to wait as the third umpire checked for the no ball. The split second of action seen by the umpire played out in repeated slow motion for all to see on the big screen. Up went the cheer as Gregory’s heel seemed to just cut the wrong edge of the crease. “No ball,” my instant reaction as the screen image twirled interminably before announcing ‘Out’. 231 for 4 in the 37th over, Somerset’s bowlers stepping up the pressure; Hampshire beginning to strain to hold their lead, perhaps even falling back a little. Then, taking breath, easing away again at 251 for 4 after 40 overs.

Another bowling handover as van de Merwe replaced Gregory whilst Green continued the longest bowling leg of the Somerset innings, six overs, at the other end. Taylor drove back past Green and set off for the single. Gregory pounced from mid off, then, as if in slow motion, calmly threw under arm and the replay gave Taylor’s wicket to Somerset by a clear couple of inches. 253 for 5. Hampshire starting to falter; Somerset working hard to close the gap. Green, still pursuing from the other end, was persistence personified. Eventually he got his reward. A slower ball to McManus arrived after the stroke and found the stumps. “We are pegging them back when they should be pulling away,” the comment from next to me. 270 for 6 with just over six overs remaining; Somerset now right on Hampshire’s shoulder and the momentum with them.

Dawson though had been gathering himself and knew when to strike. He was joined by Berg and suddenly, together, without warning, they sprinted away from Somerset at nearly 11 an over. Out came all the strokes. The ball flew straight, square, behind square, in front of square, off edges to anywhere and the boundaries mounted. In the midst of the Hampshire charge Gregory and Overton took up Somerset’s cause but on charged the batsmen, widening the gap. With two overs remaining Hampshire were 332 for 6. Then Berg overreached himself. He tried to sweep Gregory from a foot outside off stump, missed, started to run anyway and Davies, standing back, coolly threw down the stumps. The rest of the last two overs saw both sides sprint headlong for some final gain before the respite of the interval. Wood glanced, scooped and drove Gregory for three successive boundaries; Dawson skied Overton into Renshaw’s hands at long on, Wood turned him into the hands of short fine leg and Crane drove and scooped his and Somerset’s last two balls for four.

With Somerset’s bowlers pursuing them to the end Hampshire reached 356 for 9. More than might have been thought, and certainly hoped, at 270 for 6 in the 44th over but perhaps less than might have been feared at 150 for 1 in the 26th. Hampshire had moved into a clear lead after their final sprint but it did not feel quite the unassailable lead it might have been. As to the performances of Somerset’s relay of bowlers. Apart from Bess, who will undoubtedly come again and make someone pay for his 11 runs an over, and Trego, who went for six an over for four overs early on; the remaining five bowlers returned a pretty even performance across the perpetual, everchanging handovers and ups and downs of the innings with economy rates not veering outside 6.5 to 7 runs an over. A team relay indeed.

Before I could return to my seat after the innings break I had a call to make so made it from the back of the concourse next to the Shane Warne Stand. It was a peculiar view of the cricket from there. Through the evermoving forest of people who return to their seats as play resumes I could just see the top half of batsmen and bowler as they went about their business. It was from there I saw the over in which Myburgh set about Steyn. I saw a drive through cover for four, another through mid on and a pull for six which seemed aimed perilously close to my empty seat. The scoreboard at the end of the third over said he had 27 and Somerset had 29 for 0. It had been a spectacular sprint start which thrilled the spirits. A moment’s thought though concluded it was probably only where Somerset needed to be in the face of that Hampshire total. It was a little chastening to realise the batsmen were going to have to chase Hampshire with that sort of intensity for the rest of the innings. It would indeed need to be a relay.

Davies had barely left the starting blocks with two runs off 11 balls in the fifth over, the scoreboard being one of those that does give you that information. At one point Myburgh seemed to put a consoling hand on his shoulder. It must have helped for Davies started to pick up the pace as he began to find the boundary. Myburgh brought up Somerset’s 50 in the eighth over with a drive, which may have owed something to the thickness of the edge, through backward point for four. It had been breath taking stuff but a glance at the scoreboard showed Somerset were only just matching the required seven an over required run rate. With the match having so far yet to run they were only stopping Hampshire moving further ahead than they had been at the start of the innings. Batting at that sort of pace involves risk. Within two overs, as they continued the pursuit, Davies was dropped at mid wicket; Myburgh looped a ball towards mid on where three fielders converged and all stopped; and Myburgh squeezed a ball straight to point and was nearly run out as he strayed out of his ground and dived back. “What was he doing out there?” asked my companion. Brain overload under the pressure of the constant pursuit of Hampshire’s mammoth total I imagine.

And so Somerset’s constant pursuit continued. It had to if Hampshire were not to disappear from sight. Myburgh pulled Berg beyond the boundary and into the stand where a spectator trying to do what mid wicket had been unable to do fell over the top of two rows of seats and laughed off the loss of dignity as his flip flops fell off. Davies was now in hot pursuit of the Hampshire total, risk Somerset’s continuous companion as they strove to close the gap. In one over Davies drove Steyn hard between two cover fielders for four, tried again and edged for four, cut him backward of point and just beat the chasing third man for another four, drove over cover for two, drove again between the two covers for another four and finally looped a simple catch straight to one of the cover fielders who dropped it. 83 for 0 off 10 overs, Somerset just beginning to close the gap. Ahead according to DLS but a couple of wickets would turn that around and I report how it felt rather than the cold statistical facts; and DLS is blind to the contribution to the batting side of dropped catches.

Hampshire turned to spin to sustain their lead. They were playing three spinners. A worry tried to break out. If they bowled as well as van de Merwe Somerset would struggle. Taylor’s second ball went straight through Davies’ sweep to the stumps. 87 for 1. This was twice any previous opening partnership. I think any Somerset supporter would have snatched at it before the match but the fall of a wicket to spin so soon grew the worry.

Trego emerged to take over the pursuit from Davies. For three overs the spinners held the batsmen back as the narrowing of the gap between the sides threatened to go into reverse. Then Trego, taking on the risk involved, accelerated into his leg of the chase. He took Dawson’s slow left arm on. In one over he swept him for four, drove him high in the air and ran two, the ball falling just short of the closing deep cover fielder. Again he drove. The ball steepled in an arc towards deep mid wicket who held it right on the boundary until, trying to check the ball’s momentum, he dropped it over the line.

Myburgh kept pace with Trego but, like Trego’s, his urgency carried risk. He drove Taylor hard in the air towards deep cover who ran in, took the ball knee high and dropped it. Hampshire and Somerset supporters in equally stunned disbelief as Hampshire continued to spill chances. Crane tried his hand with some leg spin. In one over he went for 15 runs including a huge six from Myburgh over the back of one of the single tier stands. Finally, Myburgh skied one which dropped easily into Vince’s hands. It was 141 for 2 in the 19th over. Myburgh 71. And after all that Somerset’s concerted risk strewn charge had only just kept them ahead of the required run rate. Even with two down they were closing the gap on Hampshire but with the risks they were having to take and the thought that Hampshire might stop dropping catches the finish line still seemed a very long way away.

Over 200 runs away as Hildreth joined Trego for the next leg of Somerset’s breathless pursuit. They had steadied the Somerset innings five times in this competition. Now they were needed to start to push home the chase. Previously Trego had chased the runs while Hildreth secured the other end and rotated the strike. Now they charged after Hampshire in tandem. They pushed singles and ran hard for twos, keeping the pursuit going, dot balls an increasing scarcity, never letting up. Boundaries they hit where they could find them; a cover drive, a thick edge through slip, a glance and a pull for Trego. A pull and two on drives for Hildreth. Hildreth, in a reversal of roles from earlier matches, hit the sixes, and big sixes at that. Three of them well up into the stands. One an unbelievable reverse sweep. “Incredible!” said my companion and it was. Shades of Simon Ecclestone when the reverse sweep was played less than it is now.

For 16 overs of dazzling, controlled, attacking batting they drove Somerset forward and past Hampshire, or so it felt, matching or heading the required run rate as Hampshire mixed pace with spin to no avail. As they reached 251 for 2 in the 34th over with 105 needed in 16 overs, Somerset now clearly in the lead, Hildreth was promptly stumped trying to steer another run as Mcmanus stood up to the pace of Wood, the replay suggesting the just ball cut in. Renshaw picked up the baton and, although he never looked totally comfortable, battled on, exchanging singles with Trego. As they strove to hold on to Somerset’s lead Trego pulled Wood in the air to the square boundary just along from where I sat. The charging, intent boundary fielder dived full length, got one hand around the ball … and dropped it. It was a brilliant effort as much as a drop but what had preceded it overrode the effort and the Hampshire groan put it in the bag of despond with the others.

The Hampshire bowlers persisted, pursued Somerset, tried to close the gap. Steyn, now constraining batsmen after much earlier punishment, and the spinners increasingly difficult to force as they passed the Hampshire baton one to another. Gradually the require rate started to rise as Hampshire closed in on Somerset. Renshaw tried to re-open the gap, skied the ball to deep cover, three fielders converged, one of them dropped it and Renshaw ran three. “That’s six gone down,” someone said as most stared into the disbelieving middle distance.

Then as Renshaw started to find his feet, driving Berg and Crane to the boundary, the bowlers strove to tighten their grip. Trego reached 100 and promptly lifted Dawson to long off who held the catch. 301 for 4, seven overs left, 56 runs needed. Renshaw battled on, hit Taylor for six, never looked comfortable, before finally falling, sweeping, lbw to Dawson for 40. 315 for 5. Five and a half overs left. Renshaw looked back hard and long at the replay as he left. With those two wickets the momentum that Trego and Hildreth had built up to take Somerset past Hampshire swung the other way and, almost out of the blue, Hampshire were neck and neck with Somerset.

Gregory and van de Merwe, now with Somerset’s baton, tried to recharge Somerset’s momentum. But in the final powerplay there are five fielders on the boundary and with the bowling holding firm the fours just would not come. The long singles, occasional well-placed twos and a three not quite enough to hold the required rate down. As they fought to hold Hampshire off van de Merwe had an astonishing let off. He charged three yards down the wicket and missed the ball, McManus dropped it, failed to pick it up and could not knock it onto the stumps because his feet were in the way. Tears of sorrow or laughter depending on your view of the world.

Yet still Hampshire came kept going. With three overs to go Somerset needed 23 runs from 18 ball’s, perhaps still a crease width ahead. Then Gregory was yorked through a reverse sweep aimed at a fielderless boundary. It was a beauty of a ball. Tossed up by Crane and flighted to pitch under the stroke. Overton replaced Gregory. With Somerset needing 17 off 12 balls, and neck and neck with Hampshire, he was almost yorked by Steyn. The ball rolled back to the stumps but either did not quite make contact or did not dislodge a bail. Hampshire must by now have been wondering if some malign influence with a peculiar sense of humour had fixed on them. Steyn, now on song and with the line in sight for both sides, just inched Hampshire ahead when van de Merwe drove him to deep mid wicket where the fielder, defying Hampshire’s mocking fielding demons, held an excellent catch.

When the last over came to be bowled by Wood Somerset still needed 11, Hampshire still fractionally ahead. They edged further ahead as Overton and Green, now with the baton for Somerset, ran just four from the first three balls. Eight from three needed. Boundaries needed. The line in sight but Hampshire closer. Overton’s foot down the wicket. Drive. Four. Four needed off two. Overton pulled, didn’t get it quite right, deep mid wicket dived, not easy but catchable, down it went. Two runs. In came the field, over the top went Overton, over the line went Somerset and it didn’t matter that it took the best part of an hour to get out of the car park.

Result. Hampshire 356 for 9 (50 overs) J.M. Vince 109, T.P. Alsop 95, L.A. Dawson 76, C. Overton 3-69). Somerset 360 for 7 (50 overs) P.D. Trego 100, J.G. Myburgh 71, J.C. Hildreth 56. Somerset won by 3 wickets.