Outclassed

County Championship Division 1. Surrey v Somerset. 20th, 21st, and 22nd June 2018. Guildford. Second Day.

Somerset’s decision to forgo a toss and insert Surrey had foundered. Surrey’s harvest of four bonus points to Somerset’s one on the first day had taken them above Somerset and to the top of the Championship table. Somerset had come to the second day with much catching up to do if they were to have any prospect of reversing those positions.

In the morning Surrey had taken their overnight score to 459 and Pope had scored a century. My report focuses on what followed. The last two sessions threatened to define Somerset’s Championship season.

Overnight: Surrey 351 for 5.

Sometimes you remember every detail of a calamitous or momentous event that happens in front of your eyes. Sometimes all you remember is a blurred flash. I can remember every ball of Alfonso Thomas’ momentous four in four. I can remember too much detail of Somerset’s calamitous collapse at Horsham a few years ago. The Ryan Patel spell of six wickets for five runs here falls into the blurred flash variety. It seemed as if it was over in an instant, some of the detail lost to or blotted from the memory.

Perhaps a blurred flash because, in those fleeting moments, we witnessed all of the following. The shock of the event itself, the prospects of saving the match disintegrating at lightning speed and, in front of our eyes, the bringing into sharp question Somerset’s hopes of the Championship.

In that instant the worries that Somerset had not yet played the best teams in the competition were made real. Surrey were missing five first team players and could still field a team capable of topping 450 and a fourth seamer, who had barely bowled a ball at this level, who could produce a spell of shock and awe.

And Somerset travel to Chelmsford next week to play the County Champions. Somerset’s Championship season may just have been resting on its season defining pivot in those few short overs.

And so from that jumble of collapsing hopes and burgeoning nightmares emerge slithers of memory which capture some of the events vividly whilst others are buried in the general blur of a disorientating event.

Byrom’s dismissal flashes clear in the mind, perhaps because it came just as he and Davies looked to be at least building a position from which Somerset could avoid the follow on. I had though been half expecting it. I had only just commented that Byrom had often got into the 40s, and occasionally the 50s, but never beyond. The dogged, and apparently slowing pace, of his defensive innings caused me to suggest it might be destined to be another such. Rarely, to my mind, do slow 50s go on to be centuries. He made 52 and was fifth out at 169 for five.

I can see him, as I write, leaving a ball, as it at first seemed to me, through to the keeper. Only slowly did it dawn on me that it had clipped the pad on the way through. Only slowly did it seem to dawn on Byrom that he had to leave in the face of umpire Blackwell’s accusing finger. The reluctant departure spoke of disappointment not dissent.

Gregory’s dismissal is clear too. He had just played a beauty of a drive through mid wicket for four when he jabbed hard at a shortish ball outside off. It might just have reared a little as he edged it straight to slip. He seemed surprised. Perhaps at the ball, perhaps at the outcome of the stroke or perhaps at the stroke itself. The picture of the promise of a Gregory innings once again not realised depressing the spirit.

With Davies I remember my surprise more than anything. He seemed to have been playing pretty well, had been building Somerset’s innings with Byrom, and had kept the score moving in his 33. I don’t remember at all, or missed, the wicket. I do remember, vividly, him standing, momentarily, on the crease looking bemused and disappointed before walking off. Perhaps that is what sticks in the memory because it seemed to encapsulate the bewilderment of Somerset supporters all around. There were a lot of Somerset supporters at Guildford, perhaps drawn by the attraction of an outground as well as its proximity to the Somerset supporters who live in this region of the country. It didn’t register immediately but Davies’ wicket put Patel on a hat trick.

Davey’s wicket I don’t recall either. “Caught Clarke,” said the announcer so it must have been at slip. My mental image is of him trudging off. It seemed an interminable, dejected, walk from wicket to Pavilion. More dejected than the normal dismissed batsman’s walk. It had a deeper sense to it, or perhaps that was just my mood being projected onto the player. It also, by now, seemed an inevitable walk back. Things were happening so fast it was as if we were watching a two-way travellator continuously carrying batsmen to and from the wicket.

Groenewald was back on the travellator before he had barely had the chance to step off. His dismissal is crystal clear in my mind. He walked into the ball, tried to turn it to leg, missed and up went umpire Blackwell’s finger, rising and falling now with a regularity that suggested the need for an ergonomic assessment to prevent the risk of repetitive strain injury. “He’s on a hat trick again!” someone said.

Leach was next, and last off the travellator. He avoided the hat trick. When he got to the other end he couldn’t avoid a lifter from Morkel which hit him square, and ferociously, in the helmet. Even with the helmet it looked a sickening blow. It held up play for several minutes but Leach got himself back together and carried on. I don’t remember his wicket at all, now merged into the overall blur, but it was Patel’s, and umpire Blackwell’s fourth lbw; a sure sign of the well pitched up, late moving ball. What Bess made of it all as he held out to the end I wonder. Somerset 180 all out. 279 behind.

The pitch at Guildford. Lunch Day 2. Cropped.
Feet to the pitch. Lunch on the second day. The pitch on which Somerset were bowled out.

The two Somerset supporters and the one Surrey supporter I was with were all in a state of jaw-dropped bemusement. Too jaw-dropped to say anything. Not even my friend, who I had met at school at the age of four, and I said anything to each other. The looks of disbelief etched in our faces presumably enough.

Then I was descended upon from all sides. That can happen to you at an out ground as people pick their way through the individually scattered seats in their little groups of twos and threes. Someone who I had worked with 35 years ago and re-met a decade ago at the cricket appeared from my right and looked stunned. Someone I met in a hotel in Newcastle where we had found ourselves during one of Somerset’s trips to Chester-le-Street came from behind and said something which has disappeared in the blur. He had the same look on his face as the rest of us. Someone who I regularly chat to at Taunton appeared from my left, sat in the empty chair next to me and asked, “Well, what do you make of that?”

Difficult to know what you do make of something like that. My thoughts were as jumbled and fragmentary as the images. I wondered if the end of the Somerset innings had its genesis at the start of the match. Surrey had batted four sessions and scored 459 having been put in. The realisation of the error of that decision must have weighed more heavily as the innings progressed. By the end of it a draw must have been the height of Somerset’s ambition. That must dampen the spirit.

The opposite applied to Surrey. They had been presented with an opportunity and grabbed it with both hands. Morkel nearly wasted it by bowling consistently short allowing the batsmen not to play at the new ball. Dernbach was more on the mark and twice had Renshaw dropped in an uncomfortable looking innings of 39, punctuated though it was with some classic drives.

As so often, when he plays against Somerset, it was Clarke who opened the door for Surrey, in the form of Patel, to charge through. Clarke bowled a long spell on a persistent nagging length causing the Somerset batsmen to play and miss as the Surrey batsmen had on the first morning. He took the first four wickets. Renshaw caught at slip. Bartlett lbw before he had got his bearings. Hildreth caught off a leading edge or the back of the bat as he tried to turn him to leg and Abell for 26 to a thin edge to Pope just as he appeared to be stabilising Somerset’s innings with Davies.

All suggested Clarke was moving the full-length ball just as Groenewald appeared to have been in the morning as he removed three of Surrey’s last five wickets including Pope, who had reached his century, just as I walked through the gate.

The decision on the toss and Surrey’s first innings batting may have set things up. Clarke may have opened the door to provide Surrey with an opportunity, but it was Patel who made the crushing difference. He might come off a shortish run and he might hardly have taken a First Class wicket previously but his short spell had the look and feeling of Craig Overton’s astonishing two over pre-Lunch spell against Nottinghamshire at Taunton. That too was bowled following an insertion that had backfired.

Patel didn’t bowl with Overton’s pace of that morning but for the length of run and a fourth seamer he looked impressively nippy. It was reminiscent of Abell’s surprise spell that kept Somerset in the match at Old Trafford earlier in the season. Whether Patel was that nippy or just created the impression it was a hugely impressive piece of bowling. One of those rare occasions when a bowler looks uncharacteristically invincible and when that happens batsmen tend to wilt in the shock of the unexpected fire. Not always easy to understand but just occasionally it happens and it happened to Somerset on the second day of this match.

And so, as the third day dawns, Patel’s devastating spell and Clarke’s persistently probing one leave a heavy question mark hanging over Somerset’s Championship ambitions. The answer to the question of whether those ambitions are still viable may now come at Chelmsford next week.

At Guildford, 261 behind and following on with six sessions left leaves an enormous hurdle to face. Overcoming that hurdle may be more than can be hoped for. However, the way in which Somerset tackle it against a rampant Surrey attack on a pitch which may not be as easy as the one on which Nottinghamshire, following on, topped 500 at Taunton may help point the way to how Somerset will fare against the best of opposition in the rest of the season.

Close: Surrey 459 (O Pope 117, S Borthwick 83, R Burns 66, T Groenewald 4-85). Somerset 180 (EJ Byrom 52, RS Patel 6-5, R Clarke 4-32) and 18 for 0. Somerset trail by 261 runs with 10 second innings wickets standing. 

The original version of this report was published on grockles.com on 22 June 2018.