All Wright on the night

T20 Finals Day. Second Semi-Final: Somerset v Sussex. 15th September 2018. Edgbaston.

I was one of those lucky enough to obtain a ticket for T20 Finals day at Edgbaston. A nailbiting wait and a lot of redialling in a hotel room in Leeds on the first morning of Somerset’s match against Yorkshire at Headingley. Then a coach journey as long as a T20 match and enough razzmatazz to relaunch Billy Smart’s circus. Not everyone’s idea of a good day at the cricket but I enjoyed it and not just for the razzmatazz. There was some startlingly good cricket too.

For anyone who can bear it here is my report on Finals Day as it happened. Or at least as I saw it which is not necessarily the same thing…

It is quite a sight, Edgbaston on T20 Finals day. Bumble bees wearing Lancashire red furry headbands. Franciscan friars wearing the faces of Somerset cricketers not playing on the day. Sussex supporters sporting friendly looking sharks. Worcestershire foresters wearing turquoise furry headbands. Turquoise? Foresters? Well, yes. And all that replicated in different forms around the ground. And, for a while, a gargantuan conga wending its way in and out of the aisles of the Hollies Stand.

Domestic cricket’s biggest party. And watching over the whole jamboree five sets of brooding floodlights set atop pylons, bent precariously at the waist as if they had acutely bad backs and had dropped their sticks. And above the floodlights a slightly uneasy looking drone drifting from side to side as if it was unsure of quite where to look. Well, this is the 21st century.

Given the official attendance was in excess of 24,000 getting to and into the ground was remarkably easy and quick. Our coach had been given a route which led to the car park with no delay. We were through the entrance within a minute or so in spite of pretty stringent searches. Edgbaston really do know how to organise this event.

The stewarding all day, in the Somerset and Worcestershire part of the Raglan Stand at least, was effective and as unobtrusive as stewarding can be. A tape was quietly pulled across the entrance whenever an over started to hold people entering the stand until it ended. People waited quite patiently, although it was a struggle to get them all through before the start of the next over such is the pace at which T20 is played.

Towards the end a spectator, who had made more trips to the bar than most, tried to leave during an over crossing in front of a row of spectators. A steward asked him to wait until the end of the over. He declined more from inabilty to think than anything else as far as I could see. “Sit down,” said the steward as she put her hand on his head and gently sat him down where he stood.

And then there was the music. Always the music. Loud, all pervasive and, curiously in the context of everything else, somehow not feeling out of place at the cricket, at least at this great festival of T20 cricket. And, overriding all the other music, ‘Sweet Caroline’, the unofficial anthem of T20, rousing the crowd to communal renditions at will. Hardly ‘Abide With Me’ at the FA Cup Finals of yore but this age has a different zeitgeist and ‘Sweet Caroline’ at T20 Finals Day captures it perfectly. And finally, the flamethrowers belching flame right in front of the Raglan Stand close enough for spectators to feel the heat in their faces. Welcome or unwelcome depending on whether the sun was shining or had been hidden behind cloud.

Then as the party built up a head of steam the turquoise cricketers of Worcestershire and the bright red ones of Lancashire took the field to the music, the flamethrowers and applause from the crowd. The atmosphere seemed to demand some spectacular and noisy piece of showmanship in the middle to get things started and it seemed slightly incongruous that all that happened was that the umpires took their places, the fielders took their positions, a batsman took his guard and a bowler ran in. So incongruous I almost missed it.

Lancashire had won the toss and put Worcestershire in as seems to be the modern way in white ball cricket. Worcestershire started well enough, 56 for 1 at the end of the powerplay. Moheen Ali, trading in fours rather than the standard T20 currency of sixes, an apparent island of calm amidst the bubbling sea of humanity encircling the boundary. Among that sea of humanity, alongside the Somerset contingent, the Worcestershire supporters found voice with, “Come on you Pears.”

Then the harbinger of all that was to follow. Cricket on a slow pitch. Against the spin of Parkinson and Zahir Khan Worcestershire sank from 70 for 1 to 97 for 6 with just six overs remaining. The batsmen struggled to get the spinners away and the flamethrowers and the Lancashire cheers marked their departure as silence fell upon the Worcestershire section of the human sea.

It was here I sent a text, “Slow pitch. Par 160. Not sure we don’t have too much pace in our attack.” When Lancashire returned to seam Worcestershire, mainly in the form of Cox, supported by Barnard, struck. And struck to the tune of 74 runs off those six overs, Cox hitting 55 off 34 balls and taking three sixes in an over of 27 runs from Lester. 169 for 6 the final score and “Come on you Pears,” rang out again although it took a bit of time to attune ancient ears in the land of ‘Come on you Bears.”

Lancashire started quickly, Livingstone to the fore, as they reached 55 for 1 by the end of the six over powerplay. Then Livingstone edged a drive and D’Oliviera caught a brilliant one-handed fast-running catch at backward point. And there started a slow unremitting strangle as the Worcestershire bowlers demonstrated how they had topped the Northern group.

Keaton Jennings (51 not out) played a virtually lone hand as the Worcestershire supporters’ cheers and Brown and Ali, 8-0-37-6 between them, undid Lancashire who could only struggle to 149 for 9. The faces of the Worcestershire support were wreathed in smiles of sheer delight at what seemed a performance of serene calm in the field under that apparent epitome of calm, Moheen Ali.

~

Somerset’s Gregory called tails when it was a head, Luke Wright opted to bat citing a used pitch and the experience of the first match weighed heavy in my thoughts. It was smiles all around the Somerset contingent though and so I took a deep breath and crossed my metaphorical fingers as Waller ran in. Two fours off his last two balls was not the most auspicious of starts but when Salt drove Taylor straight to him at mid-off in the second over a communal guttural, “Yesssssssssssssss!” erupted from all around me, the flamethrowers erupted in front of me and the music was more decibel than tune.

The comment was a plaintiff, “Oh no…” as Jamie Overton pitched short to Wright and the ball landed in the Hollies Stand. When he pitched up the ball disappeared over the extra cover boundary. A yorker only just dug out was a relief but the threat from Wright was clear for all to see as the Bungee Blast behind the Raglan Stand shot two people 100 feet in the air somersaulted them head over heels and then plummeted them earthwards again. Some view of the cricket that must have been.

“C’mon boys,” the cry as Gregory held Sussex to nine and Taylor held them to two and took the wicket of Evans. 55 for 2 at the end of the powerplay, virtually identical, although with one wicket more, to the powerplay score in both innings of the first match.

Now Somerset turned to spin. As van de Merwe took the ball a cheer went up from the Somerset support, a beach ball floated over my head, bounced off the head of someone a couple of rows in front who seemed not to notice, was patted away square to the Worcestershire supporters in the next block and Rawlins drove van de Merwe’s second ball over long on to the Pavilion for six as the flamethrowers shot their blasts into the air.

It was not an auspicious start to Somerset’s spin assault upon which much might depend on this pitch. A four and another off Waller followed before Waller induced Rawlins (18) to edge to a height where the bungee riders might have had a horizontal view, were they not upside down with their backs momentarily to the play at the time, and Davies took as simple a catch as a keeper can. A wicket but Sussex 73 for 3 in the eighth over. In my bones I felt more tense than I suspect Sussex bones felt.

Two overs from Waller and one from Overton for a total of 20 left Sussex on 98 for 3 after 11 overs. No Sussex breakaway but the lack of wickets weighed on minds as the prospect of a torrent of T20 runs building up behind a dam gnawed away. And Wright was still there, a perfectly driven four off Overton backward of square testament to his destructive power and a straight four would have preceded it had Overton not got down to a fearsome drive.

Then the Somerset dam burst. Wiese, at the end of van de Merwe’s third over, the 12th of the innings, unleashed a cut behind square for four and a drive over long on for six. Next Wright charged through the breach as Overton’s radar failed. Two off side wides searching for the offside yorker followed by a slog swept six, a beamer looking for another yorker and the free hit driven for six. 31 off the over in the end and Sussex were 141 for 3 with seven overs left.

When two overs later Gregory was swept and pulled for consecutive sixes by Wright, a spirited burst of ‘Somerset La La La’ tried to puncture the Sussex cheering. It didn’t help. Wiese cut and drove Gregory for two fours and lifted him to the distant third tier of the Pavilion. 177 for 3 with five overs left and a score of nearer 250 than 200 beckoned.

“I think this game is over,” someone said in a tone of desperate resignation as the music blasted, the flamethrowers flamed, the cheers rebounded around the ground and a six-foot banana bounced along the Hollies Stand. But somehow it all seemed detached and distant from a numbed Somerset mind trying to make sense of an unfolding cricketing disaster.

As all must have seemed to be collapsing uncontrollably around him Gregory fell back on Anderson. Anderson had previously only bowled three, largely unsuccessful, T20 overs for Somerset. Now he bowled two for 11 runs and removed Wright, 92 from 53 balls, caught by Waller to another strain of “Somerset La La La” after an innings of overwhelming power and precision.

Taylor bowled two overs for nine and removed Burgess, caught at long on again by that perennial catcher of manna from heaven, Waller. Then Wiese (52) was caught brilliantly by Myburgh running hard and long back from short third man to make the catch at the end of a perfectly judged run under a teasingly swirling ball.

Now the Somerset contingent, never totally silenced, rallied as the ferocious Sussex momentum imploded spectacularly in the face of a Somerset counter attack. Each wicket greeted by ever louder renditions of “Somerset La La La.” And “Sweet Caroline” when it came was swelled by as many Somerset voices as Sussex ones.

Gregory mopped up with a final over which was bowled to a continuous chorus of “Somerset La La La”. Five runs, Jordan caught at deep midwicket by Craig Overton substituting for Taylor (4-0-20-4) who received a huge round of applause as he walked past the Somerset contingent on his way back to the dressing room, and finally Archer run out by a sharp throw from Abell running in from the boundary. Davies taking the ball and calmly and smoothly breaking the stumps. No T20esque flourish. Just clinical execution.

Sussex had, in the end, stumbled to 202 for 8. Perhaps 30 short of where they might have hoped to be five overs earlier but perhaps 40 more than par. “If momentum means anything we have a chance,” someone said, and Somerset had picked up momentum at the end of the Sussex innings as fast as the Bungee Blast was shooting people into the air. Whether Somerset could turn the match on its head as the bungee did its spinning victims was another matter.

As Myburgh and Davies walked out to bat Gregory was applauded as he walked, padded up, past the Somerset contingent to the dugout. By the time he had made himself comfortable the momentum had passed back to Sussex. It was impossible to differentiate the Sussex cheers from the rest of the crowd because their contingent was seated some way from the Somerset one. Their animated response to Davies edging Archer to backward point to end the first over was though unmistakable as Davies walked off to end a disappointing season with the bat in T20.

Myburgh, drove and pulled with alacrity as has been his way in T20. This year though, a couple of notable exceptions apart, he has not been as effective as previously and here he cut Archer to backward point on 22. He walked off to a great ovation from the Somerset contingent and a standing one as he walked past it on his way back to the dressing room. Trego drove a full toss to mid on and Hildreth edged to backward point off Briggs.

By the over after the powerplay Sussex were rampant and Somerset were 48 for 4. “Somerset La La La” still rang out in response to a boundary or in an attempt to raise spirits. But it took Abell and Anderson to do that. In an over Abell demolished any suggestion that he does not have the firepower to play T20. Whether he can sustain it we shall see next season. Here he made a statement of such fire and power that it would be a rich or foolhardy person who would bet against him. Briggs the unlucky bowler.

Off successive balls Abell swept Briggs square for six, behind square for four, drove through extra cover for four, top edged a sweep high to the square leg boundary into the hands of the retreating fielder who touched the boundary marker with his boot, six, and reverse swept over the short third man fielder for four. 26 from five balls and repeated cheers from the Somerset contingent. Somerset had needed something dramatic if they were to threaten to wrench back the initiative.

For two overs Beer and Jordan, the pick of the Sussex bowlers, restored order for Sussex. Then Anderson, after two more fours from Abell, took the lead for Somerset. The pair after the required rate had risen to 12 an over held it there, virtually at the limit for a successful chase, over the next few overs. Anderson pulled and drove Wiese for two successive sixes. “Believe boys!” the shout from the Somerset contingent as “Somerset La La La” rang out louder and longer as the stand went on.

The permanently marauding beach balls, the constant waves of spectators released back into the stands at the end of each over, the all-enveloping music, the flamethrowers, all now incidental to the Somerset chase as Somerset supporters found the edge of their seats for the first time in the match. Mills took up the Sussex baton, Anderson cut behind square, third man misfielded badly and the ball ran over the rope. “Somerset La La La.” And again as Anderson drove over long leg for six. 131 for 4. 72 needed. Six overs left. The strength of Sussex, perhaps Wright apart, their ‘death’ bowlers, to come but Somerset supporters really could believe. In the possibility at least.

And then a fantastical quirk of fate, together with the Sussex bowlers, sealed Somerset’s fate. Anderson drove Briggs viciously back down the pitch straight at the non-striker’s stumps. Briggs dived, got less finger tip to the ball than you would risk to dunk a ginger nut in a steaming cup of tea and found it was just enough to keep the ball on track for the stumps. Abell’s tremendous charge was over for 48 off 29 balls just as the Sussex ‘death’ bowlers were about to start their charge. As the light began to show signs of dimming Somerset were 132 for 5, 70 short, in the 15th over.

“Come on Corey,” the cry that rang out, followed by, “Corey, Corey, Corey Anderson,” and, Somerset La La La,” as the supporters tried to drive their team on. Anderson fought on but the mixture of full and slower balls that now rained in on the batsmen quickly told. A cut and a straight drive both for four ticked the scoreboard over but with four overs to go Somerset still needed 62.

Gregory and Anderson were at the wicket, so often the late innings destroyers for Somerset in T20 in 2018. Not this time. Jordan the grim reaper. Six balls he bowled. Gregory failed to lay a bat on the first four. It was a surreal experience added to by watching it though the fading light of the early autumn evening. Two leg byes followed and Jordan had, almost miraculously for the latter stages of a T20 innings, bowled a maiden and Somerset needed 60 from three overs.

Virtually impossible in any circumstances. Against the Sussex ‘death’ bowling attack it was impossible. Anderson (48 off 32 balls), Gregory and Overton foundered and van de Merwe could not, unusually for him, find the boundary. Somerset lost, in the end by 35 runs, and ended 167 for 8. “The Sussex bowlers have been brilliant today,” someone said, and in truth they had. And so had Wright, the only batsman on either side to get beyond the 50s.

~

The Final was played between two teams dressed in turquoise although the Sussex kit had black sleeves. Sussex won the toss again and Wright elected to bat, this time citing the importance of runs on the board. A sound enough theory. If you get enough runs on the board. In short Sussex didn’t. Although no-one did, someone might have noted that the Worcestershire bowlers had bowled brilliantly. Understated, quietly running in, doing their business. Brown bowled four overs for 15 runs, Wood four overs for 24 and Ali took three for 30.

Wright tried to get going but was out charging Ali for 32. Evans did get going but not fast enough, 52 from 44 balls, pedestrian for a 50 in T20, even on a slow pitch. Even so at 104 for 2 from 12 overs Sussex looked like they might post a significant target but the Worcestershire bowlers held firm and Sussex became bogged down on the slow pitch to post 157 for 6. Barely par but with the advantage of Worcestershire having to chase on a pitch that was unlikely to get any quicker.

With Somerset not participating the surroundings made themselves more known to Somerset supporters than when they were. The cricket seemed to take place not in front of us but beyond a mist of noise and extraneous activity. And the music, always the music. “Sweet Caroline” now being sung by virtually the entire crowd. The beach balls jagging their way first this way and that like a panic struck crane fly. And, of course, the ever rising, spinning and plummeting bungee plumbed the depths and scaled the heights.

It also became apparent that most of the Somerset players were gathering with players who had not played in the match and perhaps close family in the seats just behind the Somerset contingent. They came along the boundary from the dressing room and walked up through the Somerset supporters being applauded and having their hands shaken as they went.

And then to the Worcestershire innings. I have no way of knowing how Moheen Ali approaches an innings but from beyond the boundary all I could detect was calm. It was the same at Cardiff on the second morning of the first 2015 Ashes Test when he converted a reasonable England score into a match winning one. Here he and Clarke added 61 for the first wicket as the Sussex attack seemed less potent than in the Semi-Final or perhaps they just had a less defensible total and Worcestershire were not to be denied.

A man walked past, looked at me with a huge smile on his face, pulled back his coat to reveal a Worcester City FC badge. There was no edge or gloating in his smile. Just growing hope and huge pride. It was impossible to begrudge him that hope and pride.

Sussex kept going. When Ali fell to a lofted drive straight to long on Worcestershire were 90 for 4 with eight overs remaining and another 68 runs needed. Cox replaced Ali. Carefully at first he and Whitely began to close the gap. The confidence of the Worcestershire supporters gradually grew. “Come on you Pears,” rang out more often. “Sweet Caroline,” was echoed from their ranks with increasing gusto. When Whitely was out with just over three overs remaining Worcestershire still needed 32.

Cox, who had batted with a firmness of purpose and a sureness of shot, put the matter beyond doubt. In less than two overs he had hit both Jordan and Archer for a six and a four and Worcestershire were home with nine balls to spare. Comprehensive. And they never really lost control of that Final.

The group of foresters, when I looked around, were not cheering or chanting, just trying to absorb the atmosphere and come to terms with what their Club had achieved. I didn’t see the man with the Worcester City FC badge again. I imagine his smile had spread far enough and wide enough, and with justification, to stretch from Evesham to Kidderminster.

First Semi-Final. Result. Toss. Lancashire. Elected to field. Worcestershire 169 for 6 (20 overs). Lancashire 149 for 9 (20 overs). Worcestershire won by 20 runs and progressed to the Final.

Second Semi-Final. Result. Toss. Sussex. Elected to bat. Sussex 202 for 8 (20 overs). LJ Wright 92 (53 balls), D Wiese 52 (29), JE Taylor 4-20 (econ. 5.00). Somerset 167 for 8 (20 overs). TB Abell 48 (29), CJ Anderson 48 (32), JC Archer 3-32 (8.00), CJ Jordan 2-17 (4.25). Sussex won by 35 runs and progressed to the Final.

Final. Result. Toss. Sussex. Elected to bat. Sussex 157 for 6 (20 overs). Worcestershire 158 for 5 (18.3/20 overs). Worcestershire won by 5 wickets.

This report was first posted on grockles.com on 18th September 2018.