County Championship Division 1. Yorkshire v Somerset. 29th, 30th, 31st August and 1st September 2018. Headingley. First Day.
Somerset arrived at Headingley doggedly hanging onto Surrey’s coat tails in the race for the Championship. A good start was essential.
Somerset won the toss and elected to bat.
I arrived at Headingley just after Lunch. As I reached the East Stand, square of the wicket, the first thing I saw was Hildreth edging Shaw past slip for four. Almost immediately after that Ahzar Ali edged Brooks to slip who looked to have dropped it. It was very difficult to be sure but the reaction of the Yorkshire members around me was that a chance had gone down.
Then Hildreth, pulling, top edged Brooks over square leg. Fisher at square leg set off after the ball. It was difficult to see from my angle but he stretched out his arms and the ball seemed to fall through his hands. The Yorkshire crowd had no doubt if the man in front of me was anything to go by, “Aw c’mon!” he groaned in frustration.
The scoreboard had said 125 for 2 when I sat down. Hildreth 73 not out and Azhar 41 not out. The last wicket had fallen at five, Trescothick for four, Byrom had gone before that and Hildreth and Azhar, their century partnership notwithstanding, looked anything but secure. As I focused on the cricket Hildreth top edged a hook for four and then, playing straight to Willey edged to slip and was gone for 81.
“Well played lad,” said the Yorkshire voice from behind me and the Yorkshire applause reflected the comment which suggested that what I had seen was not typical of Hildreth’s innings. Yorkshire spectators are always generous to opposition players who play well. Somerset 142 for 3.
A Somerset supporter who I later bumped into opened his part of the conversation with, “What an innings from Hildreth. It’s difficult out there,” he said, “Trescothick managed one four but otherwise couldn’t score a run. Hildreth came in, reached out, cut his first ball for four and then played like a dream right up until Lunch.” Byrom, he said, had got a nasty lifter from Brooks, which he demonstrated by jerking his hand up to his chin.
Abell joined Azhar as they set about grinding Somerset forward. Batting always seems either a more difficult or more sedate game when Hildreth leaves the stage. Except for the running when Abell is in. And Azhar is no slouch between the wickets. More than once a T20 like roar of “Yes!” from Abell preceded a run out defying scamper to the other end. Judgement in running is everything and Abell seems to get the judgement right every time.
When Hildreth left the stage the scoreboard reported a run rate of around 3.6 an over. In spite of the periodic scampers Azhar and Abell scored at less then three an over as the Yorkshire pace bowlers continued to make life difficult sending the ball past defensive bats too often for comfort.
Even a glance and a square drive of perfection from Azhar and a cover drive to match from Abell, all off Fisher, failed to settle the mind of this worrisome Somerset supporter. At least the spirit worries for Somerset. It has done since 1958. The mind though kept telling the spirit to relax. The pitch wasn’t easy, it kept saying, Somerset were making progress on it and Yorkshire supporters were asking where they were going to find 20 wickets.
They found one, or at least Brooks did, when he beat Abell’s defensive bat and Hodd took the catch behind the stumps. “Abell battled,” said an impressed Yorkshire voice. “He didn’t give it away. Stuck it out while they added nearly 40 runs.” 170 for 4. Abell, as the man said, a battling 12.
Davies who, when he gets it right, like Hildreth, plays as if you are watching cricket in a dream, joined Ahzar. It was Azhar who struck first as he played a square drive off Brooks that cannot have been bettered since cricketers first walked the Earth. The gentlest of gentle bat movements produced rocket like power in the ball as it skimmed the outfield and crossed the boundary directly in front of me. “Just look at that,” another Yorkshire voice drooled.
Davies kept Somerset moving with two drives off Shaw, one just in front of square and one, with perhaps a hint of the thickest of edges, behind square. Fours both. Then a cut that bisected forward and backward point was played with a smoothness of stroke that defied belief in the speed of the ball off the bat. In Lyth’s spinner’s-over-before-the-break Azhar seemed to glide down the pitch and into a cover drive that sent Somerset to Tea on 205 for 4 and a confidence that 300 would be topped on a pitch that was still giving the bowlers’ help although not as much, I suspected, as it was reported to have done before Lunch.
We started after Tea with a backfoot drive for four from Davies which matched any of the strokes that had gone before and a yorker from Shaw so perfectly placed that it slammed into the bottom of Azhar’s stumps and straight back down the pitch as if he had played a defensive stroke with soft hands. He whacked his pad as if he was furious with himself and walked off for 89 to another generous and extended round of applause from a Yorkshire crowd which must have exceeded 3000.
That brought Gregory to the wicket as if he had walked there straight from the T20 tournament stopping only to change into whites. He hit his second ball from Lyth straight back over the bowler’s head for six. Davies walked up the wicket and spoke to Gregory, perhaps to congratulate, perhaps to remind him where he was and what he was supposed to be doing. Perhaps not the latter for in the next over Davies drove Brooks through the covers and then straight, both strokes resulting in boundaries.
Then he cut Shaw for four and Gregory drove and pulled him for two more. In the next over Davies cut Brooks behind square for four and executed a square drive of such exquisiteness that it brought another round of warm applause from the crowd as the Yorkshire attack, which had consistently challenged some outstanding Somerset batting all day, suddenly looked fragile.
When Gregory drove Brooks for two sixes and a four in his next over a Yorkshire couple picked up their bags and, as I moved to let them by, one of them smiled and said, “We’ve seen enough of this.” When in Lyth’s next over Gregory drove for six again, this time into the building site that is the Football Stand at the moment, someone from fifty yards away shouted loudly enough for all to hear, including the players, “Show some pride!”
When Gregory top edged Brook only for Shaw to get under the ball and drop it the “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” that reverberated around the ground had real pain in it as the man in front of me put his head in his hands and said, “Would you believe it?” I told him I would because we had all been there at one time or another. It always does well when the other side’s supporters are suffering to remind yourself of that and that those times can come again to us all. It makes you appreciate too what you are seeing and it makes you appreciate what Somerset have at the moment.
The new ball brought Yorkshire no relief. Gregory twice drove Brooks’ efforts with it for four and lofted Willey over cover for another. Then Davies turned Willey to the leg boundary and steered him twice through gully, fours all. “First that shambles at Elland Road last night and now this,” smiled another Yorkshire supporter shaking his head as he picked up his bags and left. Leeds United had lost 2-0 to Preston North End in the League Cup apparently.
“They are supposed to be new ball bowlers,” said another voice in frustration. “They are new ball bowlers,” was the reply, “but they are not fresh.” They may not have been fresh but they persevered. Several times Davies drove a yard short of the cover or mid wicket fielders and Gregory was starved of the strike. When, eventually, he faced Brooks he got under the drive and this time the fielder, Williamson, took the catch. Two balls later Davies finally drove the ball to, rather than short of, Ballance at cover, Ballance dived low and took the catch.
Somerset were 343 for 7. Davies 80 and Gregory 65 from 46 balls had brought up the rear of a cavalcade of dominant Somerset batting. And then for the first time for some time there were two Overtons at the wicket.
“The Overton’s won’t hang about,” said a Yorkshire voice but, after a couple of early swishes from Jamie, they did hang about. They began to nudge Somerset towards a still fairly distant 400 and a fifth bonus point which the Davies Gregory partnership and in particular Gregory’s frontal assault had brought into range. Craig fell to a simple catch to Hodd off the persevering Shaw when he rather ambitiously chased a wide delivery but they had taken Somerset 26 runs closer and, with Leach, Jamie added another five careful runs leaving Somerset 26 short of 400 with two wickets remaining.
“I think we did pretty well there,” said another Somerset supporter as I boarded the bus into Leeds to explore some old haunts from the long ago days of my first exile. Don Revie was in charge up here then and there were no shambles at Elland Road. Yorkshire, unbelievably at the time, were just embarking on a three-decade gap between County Championships. Oh to be so blessed!
And why did I not arrive at the match until after Lunch? An anxious half hour pacing up and down in my hotel room with a phone to my ear listening to, “Please select from the following options,” followed by the silence of the line going dead. Eleven times according to my phone, and then redial every time and listen to the options every time. Did anyone phoning the Cooper Associates County Ground yesterday really want the Commercial Office or the Centre of Excellence?
And then someone who had taken pity and had not long picked up their phone to try said, “I have music, I am in a queue ………. I have a human voice. Do you want the phone?” And so, all being well, and if I survive the mayhem of Edgbaston on T20 Finals Day, there will be a report on the end of Somerset’s T20 campaign for anyone who wishes to endure it. But, on the morrow, back to Headingley.
Close: Somerset 374 for 8.
The original version of this report was first posted on grockles.com on 30th August 2018.