2018 tinged with 1976

County Championship Division 1. Worcestershire v Somerset. 22nd, 23rd, 24th and 25th July 2018. Worcester. Second Day.

Somerset’s overnight score had seemed a good return given the impression of most on the first day was that the pitch had provided some help to the bowlers. It remained to be seen if Somerset could take advantage on the second day. 

Overnight: Somerset 324 for 9. 

Well, the cluster of street lights against which I finished yesterday’s report, six in an inner ring, three spread around the outer edge and no slips was not, mercifully, a harbinger of today’s play. In fact, for most of the Worcestershire innings Somerset had three slips, or two and a fine gully, and, as often as not, four. No lights necessary either for the sun burned down all day with the intensity of the original ‘long hot summer’ of 1976. The thermometer on the Graeme Hick Pavilion started the day at 29 degrees, climbed to 33 at the day’s peak, edged back to 32 for most of the afternoon, occasionally easing back to 30 if a cloud breezed across the sun and finally settled on 28 as we left the ground at around 6.20 p.m.

There is very little shaded seating at Worcester. A couple of rows of seats in the bottom ofthe New Road Stand, a sort of stable contraption behind the arm, nearly half of which is obscured behind the sightscreen; and a few under a tree just beyond the boundary at the other end of the ground and that is about it. Otherwise you sit in the full glare of the sun the whole day although the seats in front of the Pavilion collect some shade late in the day.

The outfield had the look of 1976 about it too with large brown areas interspersed with areas where a brown tinge was breaking through from a burnt green. Some straw-coloured matting on one of the pitches looked as if a plaster dressing had been applied to a wound. Worcester has no floodlights and there is neither rhyme nor reason in the hotch-potch of buildings and stands which surround the ground. It, and the arid outfield, speaks more of the age gone by than the one coming.

As to the cricket, that was 2018, but from time to time shades of 1976 broke through. A tail ender hit a six when Davey struck Ali back over his head, as Hallam Moseley might have done in the 1976 match here. Moseley ended Somerset’s first innings six not out so we can dream. In 2018 Somerset were all out for 337 which felt a good score on this pitch, 38 more than in their first innings in 1976 batting second. Somerset missing out on the occasional bonus point is nothing new it seems.

Worcestershire started their innings ‘circumspectly’, as it might have been described in that halcyon long hot summer, at a pace to match the cricket of those days. They had worked their way to 8 for 0 when Head edged Davey to Craig Overton at third slip in the sixth over. Overton has quietly become a safe pair of hands there. It was so nearly 8 for 2 when Moheen edged his first ball from Davey perilously close to a diving Davies.

Somerset applied pressure the whole morning. Those slips, the constant rotation of bowlers and an intensity of attack which was almost palpable were the instruments applied. Worcestershire wilted as the intensity matched the heat of the day. Davey again showed he is a better bowler than he was a year ago. Craig Overton turned the screw with spells of searing accuracy and the wicket of Mitchell which put Worcestershire on the rack at 14 for 2. 35 for 3 when Clarke turned Davey neatly to Byrom at short mid wicket.

Jamie Overton bowled fast. And I mean fast. His duel with Moheen Ali was one of those pixels which make up the picture of a day of cricket and which sparkle in the mind. Ali’s cover driving was reminiscent of his innings at Cardiff on the second day of the 2015 Ashes series, one of my very few forays into Test cricket. His playing and missing here was evidence of the evenness of the duel and increasingly of Overton gaining the upper hand. The duel reached its climax when Ali, who had begun to wave his bat outside off, edged a wave of a cover drive to Davies who took a sharp high catch.

And for those who wonder if Jamie Overton has anything other than sheer pace to offer, and he has plenty of that, the ball that trapped D’Oliviera lbw was not only fast but it jagged back viciously off the pitch. 82 for 5 and a much-needed Lunch break for Worcestershire.

In 1976 another D’Oliviera had played in the Somerset match here. Basil, Brett’s grandfather, had been Moseley’s only victim in the first innings. There would have been many at Worcester for this match who, like me, started at the thought of having watched a current player’s grandfather play. Like Craig Overton in this innings Moseley, in the 1976 match, had bowled at the miserly rate of two runs an over.

After Lunch Jamie, and then Craig Overton, made Milton’s debut innings one to remember. They bowled at him quickly and with persistent accuracy. ‘Baptism of fire’ is an overused phrase but Milton probably thought he had had one. He found the boundary once but otherwise barely scored a run in over half an hour at the wicket. Barnard, who had hugely impressed with bat and ball at Taunton, scored more freely, mainly off Davey.

Within four balls both were gone. Barnard bowled by Davey for 29 and Milton lbw to Craig Overton for 8. Worcestershire were 120 for 7 and talk in the stands and among those who perambulated around the boundary was of whether or not Somerset should enforce the follow-on. I was quizzed for my views three times as I sought an ice cream as some small defence against the blistering heat, the thermometer on the Pavilion now stuck on 33. For aficionados I can report that, unlike at Chelmsford, the Worcester van has scoop ice cream from the start and they do not sell out of vanilla. Pure 1976.

IMG_1066
Somerset attack at Worcester. The Graeme Hick Pavilion to the left. The New Road Stand, which provides the only real shade in the ground, to the right.

Worcestershire were on their knees but there was not much support among Somerset supporters for enforcing the follow-on. The reasoning was straightforward. The bowlers were operating in extreme heat and were cornering Worcestershire against the potential of having to chase a large fourth innings target and extended time batting on a pitch providing help to the bowlers.

No sooner had I finished my ice cream than there was an announcement to the effect that from 3.00 p.m. ‘Tea and Cakes’ would be on sale in The Ladies Pavilion. Subsequently a fairly lengthy queue formed up the steps. Later there was another announcement. A request for the return of dirty crockery and cutlery so that it could be washed in good time for more tea and cakes on the third day. 1976 come to visit in person I thought and I was sorely tempted but, for the record, the temptation was successfully resisted.

Back to 2018. Where cricket is concerned 2018 is not 1976. In 1976 Worcestershire had lost their last three first innings wickets for 16 runs. In 2018 their last three wickets added 137. There are very few, if any, tail-end ‘rabbits’ these days. And gone are the days when, ‘nine, ten, jack,’ was a meaningful concept.

In 2018 the ‘tail’ has been replaced by the ‘lower order’ and lower order batsmen have learned a couple of stock attacking strokes and can dig out a fast yorker. They often come to the wicket when the bowlers are beginning to tire and the ball is going or has gone soft. Here Whiteley, Pennington and especially Wood, applied themselves, dug in, got some measure of the pitch and then attacked. Wood in particular played exceptionally well and struck 10 fours. It was frustrating as he and Pennington added 84 for the ninth wicket but the advantage Somerset had built up in the first four sessions was enough to withstand the strain.

Abell shuffled his hand of bowlers but none looked much more like taking a wicket than any of the others. Eventually Abell turned to Leach but to no avail. Not a hint of a problem for the batsmen. In the end Jamie Overton, continuing unabated to bowl fast, hurried Pennington’s attempted cut, found the bottom edge and the ball found the stumps.

Perhaps not all bowlers are ‘lower order batsmen’. Magoffin quickly skied Davey to Ahzar and Somerset had a first innings lead of 80. Their first innings lead in 1976 was 79. In 2018 Jamie Overton, on the watchlist of many as a potential England bowler, took 4 for 61. In 1976 another young hopeful with the name of Ian Botham took 4 for 77. I have no idea how well Botham bowled in that match but I can tell you Jamie Overton looked the part in this.

And then for the last hour and a half of the day we were treated, there is no other word, to travel through a time warp back to 1976. The heat of that summer we had had all day. Now we had an exhibition of what its cricket was like. For 24 overs of sheer application of will Trescothick and Byrom, protecting a precious lead and conscious that wickets in hand for the third day would be crucial to Somerset’s chances, ‘batted for the morning’.

They scored 47 runs in 24 overs. But above all they protected their wickets. With one exception there were no loose shots. Immediately after the one exception Trescothick walked down the wicket and spoke to Byrom. Byrom did not err again. This was intensely defensive single-minded risk-free cricket played for a purpose.

In 1976 in none of the first three innings of the match did the scoring rate exceed three runs an over although in one it touched it. In 2018 scoring rates only rarely drop below three an over and it is not uncommon for them to exceed four an over. Indeed, Worcestershire’s first innings in this match shaved past four. In 1976 Somerset’s second innings reached three and a half an over but almost certainly because for part of it Brian Rose and Mervyn Kitchen put on 137 in a run chase that fizzled out into a draw.

It was not quite all defence in Somerset’s second innings. In Magoffin’s second over Trescothick drove just wide of the cover fielder for four. “Look at that. He’s still got it. What an opportunity for someone like Byrom to be able to bat with someone who plays like that,” one of the people I was with said with a gasp. The gasp was even greater when off the next ball Trescothick shaped as if to defend and found the time to change the stroke into a late cut that brooked no argument. Trescothick took 14 from the over.

There were a lot of Somerset supporters at Worcester. The trains, roads and hotels had been busy. They would, to a person, be hoping that that Magoffin over was an omen for what might come on the morrow. If it was it will be a treat to remember. Trescothick is 42 years old and he finished on 33 not out. In 1976 Basil D’Oliviera was 45. In Worcestershire’s second innings he finished on 108 not out.

Close (2018): Somerset 337 (SM Davies 72, TB Abell 70, JC Hildreth 57, MM Ali 3-63) and 47 for 0. Worcestershire: 257 (L Wood 65*, J Overton 4-61, JH Davey 4-68). Somerset lead by 127 runs with 10 second innings wickets standing.

Result (1976): Worcestershire 220 (PA Neale 80, Imran Khan 54, D Breakwell 4-22, IT Botham 4-77) and 315 for 4 dec (BL D’Oliviera 108*, Imran Khan 81). Somerset 299 (GI Burgess 58, PW Denning 48, DJS Taylor 44, AP Pridgeon 5-63) and 177 for 6 (MJ Kitchen 79, BC Rose 63). Match drawn. Somerset 7 points. Worcestershire 3 points.

The original version of this report was first published on grockles.com on 24th July 2018.