A Rye look at the cricket

T20 South Group. Hampshire v Somerset. 8th August 2018. Southampton.

I did not travel to this match and so watched the live broadcast. It brought back unnerving memories of a very tight match at the same ground nearly a decade before.

Somerset won the toss and elected to field.

I am in trouble at home. Ruining the edges of seats at cricket grounds all around the country whilst watching Somerset is one thing. Ruining one at home is viewed less kindly I have discovered. Watching Somerset at home is far more gruelling than actually being at the match. When you are at home you have only your own feelings and reading of the game to go by. There is no benchmark like that provided by the thousands of other people at a match. No reactions from other people against which to judge your own reactions. If you get carried away there is no-one to bring you back down to Earth. If gloom sets in there is no-one to put the game into perspective. If the edge of the seat gets worn it tends to get worn very hard.

On Wednesday of last week as I sat staring intensely at my computer screen like an overworked air traffic controller, but with no control over what was happening on the screen, Somerset proceeded to put me through the usual purgatory. It is what my membership subscription pays them for I suppose. I do understand that a Hampshire total of 129 for 8 hardly heralded the end of the world but it wasn’t that total, of itself, that worried me. The problem was Somerset’s 104 for 7 off a full 20 overs batting first at the same ground in 2010. That pitch was so poor Hampshire were docked points.

The pitch for this match was not in that league but it did seem to be playing like a pudding. Some balls were keeping low, none seemed to be coming onto the bat and batsmen were struggling to find the boundary. Not the easiest pitch on which to chase I thought. And I couldn’t get that 2010 game out of my head.

I had followed the 2010 match via a faint, at times intermittent, radio signal whilst cocooned in a holiday chalet situated in the midst of a salt marsh near Rye at the far end of Sussex. Had we been ornithologists it would have been an ideal location for a holiday. But we are not and the reasons for having a holiday in a salt marsh are lost in the mists which are inclined to greet you in the morning in such places.

I was surprised to get a signal at all but if I huddled in my chair, covered one ear with one hand and held the radio close to the other ear with the other hand I could catch most of the goings on at Southampton. It was not the most relaxing of experiences but then following a Somerset match rarely is.

In that 2010 match Somerset batted first and struggled to make headway. A peek at the scorecard tells me Somerset lost their sixth wicket for 61 in the 13th over. Most of the detail is lost in the disorderly clutter of Somerset matches horded in my memory but I do recall imagining a pitch at Southampton looking not unlike the salt marshes which surrounded our chalet.

I remember a few other flashes. I recall Trescothick opening the innings and batting forever for not very many. The scorecard tells me he was out at 61 for 6. He had made 27 off 40 balls. Only James Hildreth, bowled by Chris Wood for 10 off six balls, scored at more than a run a ball. Wood was the only Hampshire player to play in both 2010 and 2018. Hildreth was one of only two Somerset players to play in both matches. The other was Peter Trego who made two off nine balls. It was that sort of match and that sort of pitch.

In 2018 Hampshire batted first and struggled to make headway just as Somerset had in 2010. They scored a little faster than Somerset had then but teams generally do these days. Somerset’s bowlers, Taylor apart, bowled impressively. Jamie Overton bowled a tight off stump line while Taylor tended to drift onto leg. Waller, his first ball long hop apart, bowled his usual teasingly serendipitous kaleidoscope of deliveries. Van de Merwe examined the batsmen with the accuracy of a dentist probing with a drill. He imposed the same disinclination to make any rash movements on the batsmen as a dentist does on a patient.

Gregory meanwhile removed Rossouw, brilliantly caught by Overton jumping high to his right at mid wicket, as he middled a yorker length ball. And then Alsop, beaten by the bounce of a lifting ball, caught at cover by Myburgh as he tried to pull. I don’t know if Dawson is rash at the dentist but when he tried to clip van de Merwe to leg he was caught at backward point by Myburgh and Hampshire were 74 for 4 in the 12th over.

It soon became apparent that runs were at a significant premium and thoughts of 2010 and the Rye salt marshes grew large in the mind. I could even feel that radio pressed against my ear and the static through which Zander de Bruyn and Alfonso Thomas battled away in a six over eighth wicket partnership of 38 to drag Somerset to 104 for 7 after 20 overs. I can remember making a cup of coffee between the innings to console myself. The match may have been played on a salt marsh but 104 for 7? Pollard in the side too. Two, since you ask. And Ervine took two for 10 in four overs.

It wasn’t Somerset’s first innings 104 for 7 in 2010 of itself that bothered me. What bothered me was that Somerset had won the match with it. Now in 2018 Hampshire were batting first and when Weatherley moved outside off stump to the last ball of the 16th over to play what looked like a sweep to Overton’s slower ball he was bowled and Hampshire were … 104 for 7. In 2010 Hampshire lost by 7 runs trying to top that score as they imploded against Thomas and Pollard. There were four overs left in 2018 on a pitch not so difficult as the 2010 pitch but desperately slow by the look of how difficult the batsmen were finding it to get the ball away. I found myself exploring the edge of my seat.

That there were four overs left in 2018 didn’t help much in assuaging fears about the wicket either. It wasn’t as if Hampshire suddenly put on a huge spurt. 18 off the next three overs. And van de Merwe’s probing dentist in the 18th conceded just one run. Of the other five balls Berg and Steyn missed two altogether, Steyn played two more back to van de Merwe and cut one into the ground. It hardly encouraged hope for Somerset’s prospects against Hampshire’s Dawson and Mujeeb Ur Rahman, a 17-year-old spinner from Afghanistan, who is threatening to make similar waves to Rashid Khan against whom Somerset had struggled in the Sussex match.

The 14 runs off the last over from Taylor owed as much to his tactic of bowling the first two balls around the wicket thereby allowing Berg to steer them through the off side for two fours as they did to any late discovery by Hampshire about how to score on the pitch. 39 off four overs from Taylor but he rarely fails to contribute. This time his contribution was three wickets.

So, 130 for Somerset to win. Hampshire needed 105 in 2010. Myburgh set about the task as he always does. He attacked it. He plays with such bat speed and hits with such power that when you are at the match the ball almost looks like a white streak as it flies to the boundary. It doesn’t have quite the same impact on a computer screen. The camera focuses in on the ball to the exclusion of the wider backdrop which is what gives Myburgh’s strokes their majesty when you are at the ground.

Wood bowled the third over of the Somerset innings. Myburg stepped away to the first ball and lifted it over backward point for four. The second was pitched up on leg. Myburgh whipped it, normally I would say clipped but this one was whipped, square for another four. Wood tried short and wide of off. Myburgh pulled it like a bullet through mid wicket. Wood’s fifth was pitched up again and subjected to a classic cover drive. Four more. 16 from the over, Somerset were 32 for 0 off three overs and thoughts of 2010 receded into the mists of time or at least into the mists of the Rye salt marshes. Or almost, for in 2010 Hampshire had reached 93 for 4 in pursuit of 105 and were still bowled out eight short. And Somerset still had to face Dawson and Mujeeb. The edges of seats have their uses.

And then Davies was out. He had already steered Wood through backward point’s hands in the first over. Now he pulled Stevenson low to mid wicket where Dawson, diving, took the catch. 32 for 1. Myburgh 26 not out. Davies had looked completely out of touch. Then a cover drive each from Myburgh and Trego but not much else off Stevenson and Mujeeb as, just as in 2010, the slow tightening squeeze of the chasing batsmen started.

Steyn bowled an over for three and then came five overs of Dawson and Mujeeb with not a single boundary. Somerset had it under careful control I told myself. Myburgh had put Somerset ahead of the run rate and there was hardly a mountain to climb. But Mujeeb had pushed Trego back, beat him twice and then bowled him as he tried to cut the googly.

After 11 overs Somerset were 73 for 2 chasing 130. Myburgh 39 not out. Under control and victory hoving into view. Just as it had been for Hampshire in 2010. Their third wicket fell in the 12th over for 67 chasing 105. 38 needed off seven overs. In 2018 Somerset needed 57 off nine. When Hildreth hooked Steyn and top edged a steepler to Alsop behind the stumps the score became 73 for 3. The required rate, although still only just over six an over, had been rising and perhaps thoughts of keeping the score moving had started to impinge on Hildreth just as it must have the Hampshire batsmen in 2010 as they barely kept up with the five an over requirement.

Perhaps Gregory sensed it too for Anderson came in ahead of Abell. Just one run from that Steyn over and by the end of the next, as Anderson assessed the situation, the required rate rose past seven for the first time. 80 for 3, Myburgh 44 not out, and 50 needed in seven overs. In 2010 towards the end of the 13th over Hampshire were 71 for 4. 34 needed in seven. I was as much in that arm chair in our holiday chalet with the radio pressed to my ear in 2010 as I was at home in my arm chair staring at my computer screen in 2018. In neither place was I feeling very reassured.

Then Anderson pulled Mujeeb for four. Did that herald the assault I wondered. In 2010 as Somerset had worked their way through Hampshire’s first four wickets, Mark Turner taking two, Hampshire’s Jimmy Adams had held Somerset at bay. He was joined by Abdul Razzaq with 32 needed in six overs. They began Hampshire’s assault as they added 20 in two and a half overs before Razzaq fell to Pollard. The fall of the wicket didn’t really lift the spirits in Rye because Hampshire needed just 11 in three and a half overs with five wickets left and Adams still there. Fairly straightforward even on that pitch.

In 2018 after Anderson’s boundary Somerset needed 45 in six and a half overs with seven wickets left and Anderson ready to spring. Just as straightforward. It was the fact that it seemed so straightforward that made the 2010 match weigh so heavily because that had turned out to be far from straightforward for the chasing Hampshire batsmen.

At 96 for 5 with just nine runs needed, and I can remember it now, Adams miscued and Hildreth took the catch. 96 for 6 of which Adams had made 61. No other Hampshire batsman reached double figures. Pollard and Thomas held their nerve, Hampshire, presumably, froze, lost their last six wickets for four runs and Somerset won by seven.

In 2018 teams seem to freeze in run chases far less, if at all, and Anderson seems to revel in them. He and Myburgh had held the tension as they took a couple of overs to push and steer Somerset closer then he lowered it by pulling Wood over mid wicket for six and then straighter for four. Somerset 107 for 3, Myburgh 45 not out. 23 to win with nearly five overs and seven wickets remaining. A succession of carefully placed singles edged Somerset closer still against Wood and Dawson just as Adams had edged Hampshire ever closer in 2010. Then just as I was really beginning to ease back into my chair Anderson swept and was leg before wicket to Dawson for 25. Somerset 116 for 4, Myburgh 49 not out with 14 needed from a ball over three overs.

Abell is a reassuring character as he walks to the wicket and he picked up with Myburgh, still holding an end secure, and where Anderson had left off. A couple of singles and a two closing the gap further. Then Myburgh, who had steered the entire Somerset innings finally broke Hampshire and his bat in the same instant. He played an uppercut through backward point off Steyn, the ball went for four, the blade of the bat separated from the handle and Somerset needed six runs from 2 overs.

The spectre of the mists of Rye in 2010 and the minefield at Southampton faded into the night as I sank back in my chair in 2018. Myburgh had played the perfect innings for the conditions. Whilst the field was in and the ball was hard in the powerplay he had hit Hampshire to all parts of the ground and given Somerset a running start. As the field went out and the ball softened he switched from attack to accumulation and strike rotation as the low Hampshire score and his excellent start allowed him to do.

Myburgh had held his nerve as three top batsmen fell at the other end for less than 25 runs between them. And now he quietly guided Somerset home. He ended on 54 not out. No other batsman but Anderson reached double figures. In 2010 Adams so nearly saw Hampshire home. In 2018 Myburgh had gone one better and I had ruined the edge of another chair.

Result: Hampshire 129 for 8 (20 overs) (SA Northeast 30(36 balls), JE Taylor 3-39(econ 9.75), J Overton 2-21(5.25), L Gregory 2-27(6.75). Somerset 130 for 4(18.5/20 overs) J Myburgh 54(47). Somerset won by 6 wickets. Somerset 2 points. Hampshire 0 points.

This report was first posted on grockles.com on 16th August 2018.