Perfect day

County Championship Division 1. Yorkshire v Somerset. 29th, 30th 31st August and 1st September 2018. Headingley. Third Day.

The third day started with Surrey having a real prospect of an innings defeat over Nottinghamshire. Somerset needed to defeat Yorkshire to retain even a slim chance of overhauling Surrey in the Championship. They held the advantage after the second day but not to the extent that Surrey did over Nottinghamshire. It was crucial they move from being ahead in the game to stamping their authority on the match.

Overnight: Somerset 399. Yorkshire 292 for 7. Yorkshire trail Somerset by 107 runs with 3 first innings wickets standing.

The text read, “Perfect Day?” Well, it probably was. If I had written this report before the start of play on the third day of this match in an attempt to foresee the future as I would have liked it to be I am not sure it would have looked much different than it does written after the event. There was even a small Somerset collapse to make the hardened Somerset supporter feel at home.

As with yesterday I was late arriving at the ground due to writing my second day report early on the morning of the third day. This due to my having spent the evening of the second day meeting someone with links back to my first exile, in Leeds, almost half a century ago. It is astonishing how you can suddenly find yourself transported back nearly 50 years within a few minutes and how quickly a couple of hours passes when you do.

As to cricket, when I was in Leeds the first time around I saw my first, and one of my very few, days of Test cricket. The third day of the fourth Ashes Test at Headingley in 1972. The ticket was purchased months in advance but it turned out to be the day on which England retained the Ashes on the ‘fuserium’ pitch.

Not thinking I could top that it was decades before I bought another ticket for a day of Test cricket and none has topped it. I did see another match in those far off days. Somerset beat Yorkshire in a John Player League match at Bradford Park Avenue, a ground long since disappeared from the county cricket circuit, with Brian Close (run out 25) in charge. It was truly a long time ago and, in a way, only yesterday.

Back at Headingley in 2018 it was another third day of a match that would be difficult to top. Of course I missed the three wickets needed for Somerset to wrap up Yorkshire’s first innings and take a 79 run first innings lead. The incoming texts kept me up to date even down to Brooks threatening a last wicket partnership.

I was not sorry to have missed the wickets. Had Somerset waited for me to arrive the lead would have been less. That said I was sorry to miss Davey’s first five wicket haul in first-class cricket (23-7-65-5) in itself a symbol of the huge steps forward this team has taken this year. Yorkshire all out 320.

I arrived in time to see Byrom hook Willey for four as I walked down the passageway to the East Stand. “C’mon lads. Early wicket,” was the cry as I sat down. As I looked up Willey bowled and Byrom, not getting forward, lost his off stump. “That were very nice Mr Willey. We’ll have it again thank you,” the request from the man behind me. Azhur Ali to the wicket.

“Mr Ali batted very well in’t first innings mind you.” He looked like he might bat very well in the second innings too when he turned both Willey and Brooks for four to cries of “Shot!” Then he popped one to Ballance at cover and was caught for 9. Trescothick, “Looks in the groove this lad,” (everyone is a ‘lad’ here), did look ‘in the groove’ until he edged Willey to Lyth in the slips for 15 and Somerset were 29 for 3. “Notts are six down. They may not see t’other side of Lunch,” hardly settled the nerves. 49 for 3 at Lunch. A lead of 128 with Hildreth and Abell at the wicket.

Then continued the partnership which re-established the ascendancy which Somerset had held for most of the match although, “Notts are on the verge of defeat by an innings,” put things in perspective. The possibility of Somerset overhauling Surrey in the Championship is edging further away as each round of matches passes with no appreciable closing of the gap between the two sides. Anything less than a victory at Headingley will almost certainly confirm the view formed at Guildford that Surrey looked like 2018 Champions.

It would have been easy for Somerset to fade on the third day in the heat of Surrey’s advance at the Oval. Tom Abell’s team is not like that though. It takes setbacks in its stride, focuses on the game in hand, and, as the Yorkshire crowd were exalting Hodd and Kohler-Cadmore to do on the second day, it keeps going.

“Mr Hildreth is one of the unluckiest lads in’t country for England selection. Especially wi’ t’way they’re going at present,” was the local assessment and Hildreth promptly provided evidence in support of the Yorkshire contention. A drive through extra cover, “Now that’s a nice shot. He’s a good player, Hildreth.”

With Abell, as solid as the Victorian edifice that is Leeds Town Hall at one end, Hildreth floated on air at the other. A neat turn to long leg, “That’s nice”; a rocket of a straight drive, “He’s the one we want;” a drive square into the onside, “This is getting too easy, like shelling peas.” Whatever the stroke somewhere in the crowd someone would shout “Shot!”

The Yorkshire crowd cannot be faulted for its impartiality when judging the cricket. Even a loud lbw appeal against Hildreth playing well forward met with the response, “No. Thee can’t gi’ that. He’s too far forrard.” And that when Hildreth and Abell were well into pulling the match hard Somerset’s way. When they had no evidence to go on, for example on the line of the ball or a possible edge then the humour came out. Three rejected appeals close together was responded to with, “See if his arm’s still working.” A fourth with, “Stop shouting, th’as nearly wok’n ‘im up.”

And then there was Abell’s contribution. The solid defence yes. But the periodic boundary too. A drive through mid wicket brought more shouts of, “Shot!” But above all the running. Running is crucial in pushing a partnership forward, in pressurising the opposition. With Hildreth at the other end it is particularly spectacular for he does not hold back in the run either. Abell’s running was a key contributor to Somerset’s 209 in the T20 Quarter-Final. It made a significant contribution in this partnership too.

If you blinked you might miss a single. If you watched idly you might assume a two when three had been run. Inevitably there was a comment, “They run their threes a lot better than we did.” They ran their ones better too. Twice Willey seemed so irked that he chased the non-striker down the pitch, picked up the ball that had been played into the ‘no man’s land’ just on the onside and threw at the stumps with no back up. One run and four overthrows both times. A third time third man saved his blushes. “Ee, we’re getting a bit over excited here,” the comment. Abell’s running hastens the score along and pressurises the opposition, this time into adding to the score. Whether it fires up the Somerset players I have no way of knowing but it certainly fires up the supporters.

But even players that float on air must come down sometime. Hildreth tried to steer Lyth into the offside, the bounce seemed to surprise him and he was caught behind for 72. He and Abell had added 135 and Somerset led by 243 with six wickets remaining. When, almost immediately after Tea, Davies drove at one angled across him that perhaps moved a fraction further off the pitch Somerset were 184 for 5 and led by 263.

There was speculation among Somerset supporters during the Tea interval about when Somerset should declare and what sort of target they should set Yorkshire. Davies’ departure heralded a partnership between Abell and Gregory which rendered all the speculation obsolete.

Yorkshire introduced Leaning’s occasional off spin, “About time too,” was the shout from the stand. Leaning lasted one over for Gregory drove him through the off side for four and into the Football Stand construction site for six. And that was just the start. In the next over Abell clipped Shaw behind square for four and drove him to the square boundary for another four. Brooks was straight driven by Gregory, “Well done lad,” and Fisher for another four, “Shot!”

An inside edge from Gregory shot past the stumps for four. “Lucky that but luck’s what you get if you play like he does.” As the lead rocketed past 300 I speculated with another Somerset supporter as to how far Somerset would like to go. “Thee has enough on’t board already,” the opinion of the Yorkshire supporter in front of us.

Running commentary 3. Author’s notes. Gregory’s ferocious assault on the Yorkshire bowlers earned this comment from a Yorkshire supporter.

Abell begged to differ and Gregory pulled a ball from Brooks half way up the East Stand for six. A drive over the covers off Fisher disappeared straight down the passageway where I had seen my first ball of the day each day. I made a note not to stand there when Gregory is batting. Abell, helping things along, cut Fisher behind square for four twice in two balls.

It was Gregory who hit the big shots as he moved his score along at well over a run a ball and he hit them as cleanly as any stroke you are ever likely to see. It was spectacular and brutally effective. Abell, in comparison, seemed to be playing in the background and yet those last two boundaries had taken his score to 97. It is said that one thing that makes the top batsmen stand out from the rest is the way their score mounts without spectators really noticing. Abell’s score had left the spectators. or at least this one, way behind.

Gregory had reached 57 off 40 balls when he popped one to Ballance at cover. He received some very generous applause from the supporters whose team he had just bludgeoned. When Abell drove through the on side to bring up his century the roar from the player’s balcony preceded the applause from the crowd by a split second and was audible at the far end of the ground in spite of the noise from the building site. The hug he received from Craig Overton was so enthusiastic I doubt it would have passed a Health and Safety at Work risk assessment.

Fortunately, Abell survived intact and proceeded to stroke the ball all around the wicket with a vengeance. One cover drive which could have passed muster as a cannon shot received the accolade, “That’s a lovely shot that.” His pulls went in front of square, a cut behind and a drive straight. He even employed the upper cut. Craig Overton joined in with an on and a straight drive and then pulled Brooks into the East Stand for six. When Overton was run out as Somerset went for one two too many Abell declared and Yorkshire needed 419 to win off a minimum of 105 overs with nine still due before the end of the day.

The perfect declaration equation when you looked at it. Yorkshire needed four an over for 105 overs. Somerset had nine overs with the new ball before the close and at least as many again in the morning before its value began to dissipate. And then another 25 with the second new ball at the end of the match if needed. You can’t organise a declaration much better than that.

It must be gratifying when your plans bear immediate fruit. In those nine overs at the end of the third day Gregory removed both Yorkshire openers, Brook’s off stump being uprooted in the process. Yorkshire will face the new ball again on the fourth morning with their score on 8 for 2 with Williamson and a nightwatchman at the crease to face Somerset’s opening bowlers fresh from a night’s sleep.

The debate I heard among Yorkshire supporters as the day drew to a close centred on whether Somerset would win before or after the 3.15 kick off in the Leeds Rhinos v Hull KR Super Eights Rugby League match. That match will take place in front of a packed house of 10,000 on the pitch on the other side of the Football Stand. Somerset supporters were more conservative in their estimates and the draw, given the number of runs the pitch had delivered up, was still feared.

I make no predictions but I will say this. If there is a way to win on that pitch this team will find it. There is a strength of will, an intensity and a unity of approach that marks great teams. This team, under Tom Abell, Andy Hurry and Jason Kerr is fast developing just those attributes and they grow by the match. Someone always seems to step up. The message to Yorkshire is: ‘If Gregory don’t get you, Davey will. Or one of the Overtons. Or the other. Or Jack Leach. Or any combination necessary thereof.’

Close: Somerset 399 and 339 for 7 dec (TB Abell 132*, JC Hildreth 72, L Gregory 57, DJ Willey 3-72). Yorkshire 320 (AJ Hodd 85, T Kohler-Cadmore 81, A Lyth 45, JH Davey 5-65, C Overton 3-59) and 8 for 2. Yorkshire need a further 411 runs to beat Somerset with 8 wickets standing. 

The original version of this report was first published on on 1st September 2018.