Seam from a distance

County Championship Division 1. Hampshire v Somerset. 10th and 11th September 2018. Southampton. First Day.

This was the only Championship match in 2018 I was unable to attend. I was also busy doing things which, for the most part, had been neglected during my cricket watching and writing through the summer. The amount of the first day of the match I could follow on line was therefore restricted.

I do not possess a smartphone and so was unable to keep up with the score when away from my laptop. Even when I had access to my laptop there was no live picture stream of this match so my access was limited to online scoreboards and some commentary. My report therefore concentrates on the trials and tribulations of trying to keep up with a fast-moving match as well as on the cricket itself.

Toss. Somerset. Elected to bat.

There was always going to be at least one County Championship match I was not going to get to. There always is. It turned out to be this one. It also turned out to be the one without the live stream. Not that I could have watched a lot of it. Life, irritatingly insistent in the midst of a match, demanded my attention. It was all I could do keep up with the score and hear a few snatches of commentary.

It is of course a gruelling experience being at a match. At a match you have to watch every twist and turn; every edge off a Somerset bat; every ball going past the edge of an opposition bat; every edge falling short of Trescothick in the slips. It is much worse if you are not at the match. Especially when you cannot follow the score online. When that happens you have no idea what is going on. You just have to check the score the next time you can and hope there has not been a disaster; that whoever was in last time is still in, or not depending which side is batting.

Today was a case in point and it didn’t have a very auspicious start. I turned my laptop on just in time for the first ball to discover Somerset were 36 for 1 and Trescothick was already out. Caught behind off Abbott apparently. It’s September for heavens sake Farmer! 10th September to be precise. Had you not noticed? Well yes. But 10.30 starts? 10.30 starts catch me out every year. Still, on an autumnal September morning with Steyn, Abbott and Edwards in the Hampshire side 36 for 1 after half an hour wasn’t necessarily a bad score.

I had a lot of paperwork to catch up on today. An endless summer of following Somerset around the country was finally catching up on me. Or at least on the bureau cupboards which had finally given up the unequal struggle and burst open. No point in trying to get all that paper back in. It just had to be dealt with or filed. And some of it needed concentration.

Ever tried concentrating on complicated paperwork when Somerset are batting? Or bowling for that matter. Ever tried concentrating on anything when Somerset are playing cricket? It just doesn’t work. Apparently, UK GDP has dipped significantly this year just as the live streaming of county cricket has become virtually universal. No link I am sure.

To make matters worse I am being pestered by the unpleasant aftermath of a brief cold I caught at Headingley. Every so often an extended vicious coughing bout puts me out of action and drives me in search of the herbal remedy someone bought me to ‘cure’ it. ‘Hemlock’ I call it. It isn’t hemlock of course and it doesn’t kill you either but the aftertaste is considerably worse than the cough and rather like that aftertaste you get when Somerset collapse.

The Headingley crowd were universally friendly but one of them gave me that cold. Perhaps they thought I might pass it on to a Lancashire supporter at Taunton. It certainly made its presence felt through both days of the Lancashire match and intends to play havoc with the Hampshire match too it seems.

It certainly did for Azhur Ali. Somerset were 38 for 1 when the coughing started. By the time the ‘hemlock’ had done its worst and the cough was subsiding Somerset were 45 for 2 and Azhar was gone.

At least it seemed Green was making a mark. Not very quickly but at least he was still there. Joined by Hildreth. On top of the coughing now and into the paperwork. The irritating thing about paperwork these days is a lot of it has to be done in documents on a laptop which, quite apart from the concentration issue, makes it difficult to follow the cricket at the same time. Unless you turn the commentary on and that stops you doing the paperwork.

Of course, there comes a time, however important the paperwork, when you have to find out the score. 71 for 3. Green gone for 26. Hildreth and Abell in. In but not scoring. At least not at a pace that anyone would notice. I had visions of Abbott, Steyne and Edwards bowling a stream of thunderbolts homing in on the stumps or fizzing by the outside edge. But no. Azhar and Green had gone to Holland. The bowler that is. Azhar lbw and Green bowled. Bowling full and moving it presumably.

71 for 3 with 10 minutes to Lunch might be a useful start, if the ball was doing something, was the hope. Cricket giveth hope and it taketh it away. By Lunch Somerset were 72 for 5 and the virtually runless vigils of Hildreth (10) and Abell (3) were over, Abbott and Steyn the destroyers. And in that parlous state, me as much as Somerset, I was required to accompany a visitor into the Blackdowns and on into the town afterwards for a leisurely cup of coffee.

A leisurely cup of coffee. Leisurely? With Somerset 72 for 5 and no access to the score? Such is life when you don’t possess a furtive smartphone. Well, the visitor had coffee. I had rooibos tea. I became used to rooibos tea in my flask at the cricket because however lukewarm it becomes it tastes as good as it does hot. And it tastes just the same however Somerset are doing.  Or if you are drinking it without access to the score.

On the way back to the car after our drinks my white wyvern hat attracted another Somerset supporter. It does that. “38 for 3 the last I heard,” he said, “What is going on?” “It’s worse than that,” I replied, “we were 72 for 5 at Lunch.” It was worse than that. “Not us. Them,” he replied. “They are 38 for 3. We were 106 all out.” There was no answer to that. “They were 12 for 3,” he added, which did not inspire confidence for 38 for 3 suggested things might be settling down.

A heart stopping ride home. Visitor niceties suspended it was straight to the laptop. 59 for 3. A deep intake of breath. By the time the breath reappeared Hampshire were 59 for 4. There the score stayed frozen. Then it dawned on me. Tea. Early because of the month and I had not realised my perambulations and rooibos tea consumption had eaten so much time.

“Yes!!!” rather startled my visitor as Alsop went lbw to Jamie Overton just after Tea, not playing a stroke apparently. If the subsequent replay was anything to go by Bradman and Sobers combined, left and right handed, could not have played that ball. It cut back from about five stumps outside off. 62 for 5. Five down and 44 behind. Hope!

It wasn’t the best time for a light bulb to fuse. I popped out to the garage to get a replacement bulb. Does anyone keep their car in a garage these days? ‘Search’ for the bulb would be more accurate. Light bulbs don’t fuse very often these days. Is ‘fuse’ still the right word? Where I had put the box of spares the last time one fused was not something to which I had an immediate answer. No more of an answer than the batsmen seemed to have to the bowling on the Southampton pitch. At least they weren’t searching for the ball on a pitch full of the sort of booby traps I seem to have created when I filled the shelves in the garage. At least I assumed they weren’t.

The spare light bulb fitted, it was back to my laptop for a quick score check. 68 for 6. Jamie Overton had bowled Holland. The replay of that seems to show the pitch didn’t get a look in. Just a good, fast leg stump yorker.

Visitor gone. Time to listen, finally, to a bit of commentary. Hampshire 77 for 6 when I turned it on. It seemed all edges as the ball moved off the pitch. Outside edge. Four. Outside edge. Four. Inside edge. Four. Edges that go for four, especially those that fall short of slip or just miss the stumps hurt in a low scoring game. They whittle away the remains of a small lead like a car overtakes a bike. Northeast and Dawson were closing the gap fast. And off had to go the commentary. Back to the paperwork.

You can’t work on paperwork and listen to the commentary at the same time. But you can keep an eye on the tab at the top of the screen as you try to bring order to the contents of a dilatory pile of envelopes prior to working on them. Hampshire 114 for 6. I am sure I heard Abell in the back of my head clapping his hands and shouting, “Come on boys!” and an echo of his applause around the inner ring. It has been like that this year. No reason why it should be any different here.

126 for 8 announced the tab. Two more wickets. Nothing for it but to click on it. Green’s first first-class wicket. Northeast too, for 53. Caught and bowled apparently. “What does Green bowl?” asked the text. Why isn’t Gregory bowling might have been the more pertinent question, for a peek at the bowling figures revealed he had bowled barely half the number of overs of the other pace bowlers and that, in addition to Green, Abell had been bowling, unlike Green, without success.

The ever-persistent Davey removed Steyn at 135 for 9, all 19 wickets in the day to seam bowling, but Abbott and Edwards saw Hampshire through to the close at 143 for 9. A lead of 37 on a pitch off which, according to the highlights I saw, the ball moved laterally at pace could be telling. Those which removed Green, Gregory, Jamie Overton, Vince, Alsop and Steyn moved sufficiently to have made Leach green with envy.

As for me, time for another glass of the dreaded potion.

Close: Somerset 106 (KJ Abbott 5-31, DW Steyn 3-37). Hampshire 142 for 9. Hampshire lead Somerset by 36 runs with 1 first innings wicket standing.

The original version of this report was first published on on 11th September 2018.