Match on the turn

County Championship Division 1. Somerset v Nottinghamshire. 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th June 2018. Taunton. Third Day.

Somerset had taken a 258 run first innings lead on the second day and had enforced the follow on. Nottinghamshire had fought back and significantly reduced the deficit without losing a wicket.  

Overnight: Somerset 392. Nottinghamshire 134 and 112 for 0 (f/o). Nottinghamshire trail by 146 runs.

At the end of the first day of this match I wrote we were no nearer knowing who would win it than we were at the start. We are still no nearer. However, we do know there will be a result and that focuses the mind. After Somerset’s astonishing bowling performance on the second afternoon Nottinghamshire had been virtually out of this match. Or would have been on most other pitches in the country. At Taunton a side that keeps its nerve can often bat itself back into a match, or at least save it, however far behind they are.

In the last match here Hampshire conceded a greater first division deficit than Nottinghamshire did in this one and then batted 150 overs for the loss of four wickets to save the game with ease. Given the normal progression, or perhaps regression, of the Taunton pitch, Somerset should be confident of winning this match provided Nottinghamshire’s last two wickets do not hold them up too long.

But cricket is a game of infinite variations and infinite variations generate uncertainty. Even the Taunton pitch can, just occasionally, add a chapter to those uncertainties. Most of the matches Somerset have won at Taunton over the last couple of years have been won before the third day is out, the bulk of the winning done whilst there is still life in the pitch. But there is one exception, the exception that brings that frisson of uncertainty to this match.

In 2017, in the midst of Somerset’s desperate climb from deep in the relegation zone, Lancashire came to Taunton. Somerset won by seven wickets on the fourth morning. Lancashire conceded a first innings deficit of 202 then fought back in their second innings but only enough to set Somerset a victory target of 68 on the last morning.

Somerset scored those runs in 13 overs of harum scarum high risk batting, possibly concerned that rain forecast for around Tea might come early, or perhaps wanting to make sure that Lancashire’s leg spinner, Matthew Parkinson, did not cause a scare on a pitch taking spin. He took all three wickets turning the ball significantly. Had Somerset had to chase the sort of score they will have to chase in this match the outcome might have been different.

Spinners took 20 of the 33 wickets to fall in that match. By the end of the third day they had taken 14 of the 28 to fall in this match. Six of the eight wickets to fall on the third day fell to spinners suggesting that if there is any life still in this pitch it is for the spinners.

Nottinghamshire’s Matthew Carter took five wickets in a very controlled performance in Somerset’s first innings. Samit Patel is a determined competitor. Chasing 211 plus whatever Nottinghamshire’s last two wickets add may not be a straightforward task if the fourth day pitch adds another page to cricket’s cornucopia of uncertainty by acting as the pitch against Lancashire did in 2017.

And now back to the third day…

Unable to be there for the start of play I hurried along St James Street looking over the wall as I went waiting for the scoreboard to come into view for you can see the Colin Atkinson scoreboard from the street there. What is it about the cricket supporter, or at least this one, that cannot wait seconds, let alone a minute to see the score? Nottinghamshire, 112 for 0 overnight, were 145 for 0. My heart sank convinced the pitch had flattened. I missed all but one over of Overton’s opening spell but a couple of people later volunteered that it had been a good one worthy of a wicket.

It turned out to be an itinerant sort of day for me.

I walked round to the access gap in the middle of the Ondaatje Stand to see if seats were still available in the top of the Somerset Pavilion. The very first ball I saw elicited a huge appeal, up went the umpire’s finger and off walked Libby for 69, lbw to Davey, bowling earlier than I had expected. Nottinghamshire 145 for 1.

I made my way up to the top of the Somerset Pavilion and found a seat. As I got my bearings and picked up on the feel of the day the Nottinghamshire batsmen did not seem to be experiencing too many problems. With Ross Taylor sitting in the wings that did not bode well from a Somerset perspective so I walked over to the terrace under the media centre to get a behind the arm view. Down came the first ball, up went the appeal, up went the umpire’s finger and off walked Mullaney for 94. 179 for 2. Impossible to tell whether van de Merwe, for he was now bowling, had turned the ball for my view was obscured by the batsman.

Back in my seat Ross Taylor cut van de Merwe to the Ondaatje boundary with a stroke that looked like it might have outrun a bullet. In van de Merwe’s next over he stepped back and repeated the stroke. This time the off stump looked like it had been hit by a bullet for it was lying flat on the ground. “He’s bowled him!” someone said. It was not so much a statement of the obvious as of surprise for Taylor was out for five. 191 for 3.

Day 3 Copyright Mike Williams Ross Taylor bld Roelof van der Merwe
Upended. The off stump is on its way to the ground. Ross Taylor tries to repeat a vicious cut off Roelof van de Merwe.
Photo courtesy Michael Williams

Three wickets had fallen for 46 runs, Nottinghamshire still 67 behind and I was yet to settle. It felt like Somerset might be on their way. However Nottinghamshire will not be top of the table entirely by accident although the availability of England bowlers in their early matches will have helped. Nash and, as he has so many times against Somerset, Patel now fought it out as Nottinghamshire battled through to Lunch at 231 for 3 just 27 behind.

My customary lunchtime itineracy and the conversations it involves revealed two concerns. That Nottinghamshire might be building a score which would test Somerset in the fourth innings and that Bess looked out of sorts. He had bowled three overs before Lunch but two of them had contained ‘four’ balls.

It must be incredibly difficult for a 20-year-old to be ripped from an anticipated summer of bowling for Somerset, be thrown at a day’s notice into the cauldron of a Test match, succeed beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, then to be anywhere other than on cloud nine when he returns to what had previously been his real world. Cloud nine is not the best location from which to focus.

After Lunch Patel and Nash took Nottinghamshire into the lead and beyond. For an hour Abell rotated his bowlers to no avail and Nottinghamshire approached 300 and 40 runs ahead still only three wickets down. Gregory and even Overton with the new ball had failed to make an impact. I had been invited to drop into the Ondaatje Pavilion at some point during the day so I took the opportunity of a lack of Somerset wickets to take up the invitation.

Day 3 Copyright Mike Williams Samit Patel off Lewis Gregory
No impact. Somerset’s new ball attack cannot break down the Patel Nash century partnership which took Nottinghamshire into the lead.
Photo courtesy Michael Williams

Although I tend to sit in the Somerset Pavilion to keep out of the rain and the sun I am not wedded to the view from behind the arm and I found the view from one of the Ondaatje boxes to be quite stunning. Even more so when, within five minutes of arriving and seemingly from out of the blue, Davey, who had early replaced Gregory with the new ball, bowled Nash. 299 for 4. Nash 66.

Van de Merwe had just as early replaced Overton and in the next over bowled Patel. 299 for 5. Patel 55. Nottinghamshire were just 41 ahead. In came the text. “It took some nerve to make those two bowling changes that early after the new ball.” “Tom Abell seems to have the golden touch as a captain,” I replied. I noted too that four of the five wickets to fall had fallen whilst I was away from my seat. But that seemed to be the extent of Tom Abell’s and my powers for the moment as Moores and Wessels began to take Nottinghamshire forward with some intent.

I left the Ondaatje and started back to the Somerset Pavilion via the Botham and Somerset Stands. My circumnavigations of the ground are always anti-clockwise. I am not superstitious of course. Perish the thought. But to play safe anti-clockwise it was to get back to my seat. I spent the Tea interval in the Garner gate gap eating a guilt filled ice cream with a flake. Why did it take the Club ten years to discover flakes?

Having done no good at the Garner gates I moved onto the Gimblett’s Hill scoreboard from where the umpire’s finger went up again as van de Merwe had Wessels lbw for 19. Nottinghamshire 338 for 6 but now 80 ahead. Five of the six wickets without me in my seat. It was my first ever ‘fivefer’.

Or so I thought. Whenever I tried to claim my ‘fivefer’ someone else was certain they had been responsible for one of the wickets. They had gone to the kiosk to buy a cup of coffee, gone to the bar to buy a pint of cider and in one case the method by which the wicket had been taken was shrouded in mystery. Since my ‘fivefer’ had shrunk to a ‘twofer’ I retreated to my seat before I found I had taken none at all.

And that was when Nottinghamshire really batted themselves back into this match. Moores and Root put on over a hundred helped by Hildreth, who rarely drops a thing in the slips, dropping one about as straightforward as slip catches come. Another catch might have gone to hand too had the fielder on the Trescothick Stand boundary been a little deeper as a high one bounce four went over his head.

Bess too continued to look out of sorts and went for the bowler’s century at four and a quarter an over in a three and a half over innings. Someone watching online thought Bess should be withdrawn from the attack for the sake of his confidence and Somerset’s position in the match. It was a point not without merit.

But, with Nottinghamshire nearly 200 ahead and threatening to move into the ascendancy or at least within reach of a draw, Abell brought Bess back just before the close. He bowled Root from one end and landed a full toss on the boot of Moores from the other to have him lbw for 103 and Nottinghamshire walked off at 468 for 8, 210 ahead and Bess had brought the match back within Somerset’s reach.

But… the pitch is the third team in this game, and the last day may yet be determined by how the third team plays. Will it be flat or will it turn? Or will it do just enough to keep this match on a knife edge all day. I will be a little late at the cricket for the denouement of this match. Would someone be so kind as to save me the edge of a seat.

Close: Somerset 392. Nottinghamshire 134 and 468 for 8 (f/o). Nottinghamshire lead by 210 runs with 2 second innings wickets standing. 

The original version of this report was published on on 12th June 2018.