Business end

County Championship Division 1. Nottinghamshire v Somerset. 24th, 25th and 26th September 2018. Trent Bridge. Second Day.

Somerset started the second day 47 short of a fifth batting point with three wickets standing and needing two more points to secure second place in the County Championship if Essex took maximum points against Surrey. Nottinghamshire were still not safe from relegation as Lancashire, on 123 for 4 after a shortened first day, needed to reach 300 to overtake them and take sixth place. Essex had bowled Surrey out for 67 at the Oval and ended their first day on 197 for 2.

Overnight: Somerset 353 for 7.

The overriding memory of the first day of this match was of Hildreth repeatedly dancing down the pitch to get to the pitch of the ball with the precision required to play through the field and on to the boundary. The overriding memory of the second day was of the Somerset bowlers, and Craig Overton in particular, pitching the ball precisely enough to repeatedly confound the Nottinghamshire batsmen.

From directly square-on high up in the Fox Road Stand you rarely see any evidence that the ball has ‘done something’ except the disconcerted response of the batsman. The picture that emerged was of Overton endlessly running in from the Radcliffe Road End, the ball homing in, like an arrow guided along a string, testing the batsman time and again. When Overton was not running in from that end the picture was of Gregory running in from the Pavilion End, the other half of a pincer movement which held Nottinghamshire in its grip and tested their innings to destruction.

But before the bowling there was the small matter of the destruction wrought by the Somerset bowlers wielding bats.

I had contrived to arrive for the day’s play five minutes late due to some slightly awry ‘sleep management’. That is, for those averse to modern management speak, I set my alarm too late after last night’s post. I then encountered a lengthy queue at the ticket window which belied the meagre crowd of perhaps 500 which presented itself on my arrival.

A peek between two stands at the scoreboard revealed Somerset and Craig Overton had each added 10 to their overnight score in the five minutes of play I had missed. Putting together my knowledge of mathematics and Overton’s batting I deduced, correctly it turned out, that a six and a four had been scored.

A meander behind the stands as I made my way half way around the perimeter of the ground to reach my seat saw Overton take Somerset to within six runs of a fifth batting bonus point and reach 23 for himself. No sooner had I sat down and made myself comfortable than he drove Gurney low to the right of Wood at short mid wicket. Wood took off, parried the ball one-handed inches above the ground and caught it at the second attempt with the same hand. Overton bowed his head in disappointment as if he had expected more of himself before walking off.

Davey promptly settled the batting point issue with consecutive drives to the boundary meaning Somerset would need one bowling point to cement second place in the table. Nottinghamshire needed three more points of their own to deny Lancashire any opportunity of overtaking them in the scrabble to avoid relegation.

Jamie Overton, with Davey in close support, set about making Somerset’s position in the match as impregnable as possible. In the process they denied Nottinghamshire their third bowling point. As Overton drove through mid off, square and straight and pulled in front of square for more boundaries a nagging doubt about how difficult it might prove to bowl Nottinghamshire out began to burrow away.

As Somerset passed 450, still with eight down, the thought of how Nottinghamshire would respond to the scoreboard pressure began to balance the thoughts about the pitch. Then suddenly Fletcher trapped Davey lbw and Overton drove Patel to Carter at long on for 55 and it was over. Somerset 463 all out and the business end of the match about to begin.

It began almost at once, perhaps with the scoreboard pressure trumping the pitch, as Libby edged his second ball from Gregory to slip where Leach, at fourth slip, palmed the ball into the diving hands of Craig Overton at third slip. 0 for 1. “Brilliant!” said the Somerset supporter next to me as we walked towards our seats from a between innings meander.

Then, it seemed, the pitch might trump the scoreboard as Slater and Mullaney made progress, seemingly with little difficulty and at some rate. Davey and Gregory were driven, cut and clipped for a succession of boundaries as the scoring rate soared towards five an over, one glance at the scoreboard showing it to be 4.89.

Craig Overton began his sixth, and what might reasonably have been expected to be the last, over of his opening spell. I still have this vision of him running in, looking completely at one with his bowling and impressionistically taller than his advertised six feet five inches. Mullaney seemed to shrink as he defended the over until he jabbed, almost apologetically, at the last ball and Hildreth took a characteristically understated catch, low at first slip, to send the players off for Lunch at 50 for 2.

To Overton’s first ball after Lunch Duckett edged straight into Trescothick’s hands at second slip for a golden duck. 50 for 3, Somerset guaranteed second place in the Championship, Overton on a hat trick, and suddenly 463 looked menacingly distant. Even the 200 needed for Nottinghamshire to put some more pressure on Lancashire was barely a comfortable prospect.

When Jamie Overton hobbled out of a delivery and left the field in his first over there were anxious looks on the faces of Somerset supporters. They were relieved somewhat when he returned to the field a few overs later although the fact that he did not immediately take up the ball left doubts about his fitness. Gregory completed Overton’s over and forced Slater to edge short of slip. It was a harbinger of more Nottinghamshire woes queuing up around the next corner.

Slater himself was the subject of the first woe in the queue and of the apparent dominance of Craig Overton. Or perhaps the ball was moving. Impossible to be sure from a, in comparison with Taunton, distant square. From where I sat Slater looked to be about to leave a full ball, hastily tried to jab down and was bowled. 69 for 4. Somerset, mainly in the form of Overton, were imposing their will on the game.

Even more so when Patel, a perpetual thorn in Somerset’s side over the years, edged Gregory to Davies who took a good catch diving well to his right off what looked to be a perfectly serviceable defensive stroke. Nottinghamshire were 73 for 5 and their innings was disintegrating before our eyes. Gregory had continued to bowl after Overton’s return to the field. He didn’t have the presence of Craig Overton. But the thing about Gregory is the way in which he takes wickets as if from nothing and he has taken enough in 2018 to be Somerset’s top Championship wicket taker.

The fall of Patel brought Wessels and Moores to the wicket. I sensed an ephemerality about their batting. Nothing they did, to be fair to them, supported that impression. I just had the feeling they would not be there for long. Perhaps the feeling emanated from the commanding presence of Overton and the persistence of the deceptive threat from Gregory. Or perhaps it was the huge cheer from a hundred or so Nottinghamshire supporters which erupted at the top of the Radcliffe Road Stand, apparently apropos of nothing. It could, of course, only mean one thing. Lancashire had failed to reach 300 and Nottinghamshire were safe from relegation.

Whatever the cause Wessels had his off stump uprooted by Overton, and Moores, seemingly innocuously, edged Gregory through to Davies who barely had to move to take the catch. Those modes of dismissal summed up the different characters of the bowling of Overton and Gregory. The one seemingly forcing his way through defences to snatch wickets. The other quietly purloining them from unwary batsmen. They had reduced Nottinghamshire to 85 for 7.

And then the stand. There is always a stand, or one batsman who makes a score, in the middle of a collapsed innings. At least nearly always in my experience. For Nottinghamshire Fletcher dug in while Wood launched an assault on the bowling. Twice in two balls he drove Overton through the covers for four, Overton perhaps beginning to tire after a gargantuan effort. Davey replaced Gregory and received the same treatment. “Come on lads. Come on,” the call from Trescothick, supportive rather than demanding in tone.

Jamie Overton was pressed back into service off a shorter run than his normal cavalry charge. He managed to contain whereas, for once, Davey suffered at more than five an over from the buffeting handed out by Wood.

As the stand between Wood and Fletcher approached 50 Abell turned to his own bowling. With each of his first two balls he beat Wood with ones that fizzed past the edge and then completed a maiden. In spite of that start what followed was beyond the realms of fiction let alone reality. You could actually make it up but you would be laughingly dismissed as being too fanciful for words if you did.

Abell ended the Nottinghamshire innings with a hat trick from the first three balls of his second over. Or rather, as it looked from square-on, with the same ball bowled three times. Abell looks quite nippy for the length of his run up. Perhaps he surprises batsmen or perhaps he was moving the ball away from the bat. Whatever it was Fletcher edged to Trescothick at second slip for a defiant 12. So did Carter for a bemused looking 0. Gurney edged wider and Craig Overton, one of those players it is difficult to keep out of the game, dived and took a neat looking catch.

Nottinghamshire, 133 all out, remain in the First Division due, at the last, to Lancashire not being able to take advantage of their collapse. All but inevitably, with a 330 run first innings lead, the follow-on was enforced.

Nottinghamshire fared better in their second innings. Sides following on tend to. Gregory and Craig Overton had both bowled extended spells either side of Lunch and were far from fresh. The turmoil which seems, almost irresistibly, to envelop batsmen as a first innings collapse develops tends to be absent, at least in the early stages of a follow-on.

It didn’t help Libby who edged Davey to Hildreth at first slip and Nottinghamshire were 17 for 1, still 313 behind. Libby’s wicket didn’t bring with it the sense of expectation which wickets in the first innings had brought. Slater and Mullaney began to establish themselves. Suddenly batting seemed possible again for Nottinghamshire. Pads were hit not infrequently but appeals repeatedly met with indifference from the umpires.

I decided upon a prolonged circumnavigation of the ground. I stopped at every gap between stands. Occasionally I sat in a stand. I found myself conducting occasional walks to the back of the gangways between stands and back again to the boundary edge taking care always to make the turn back anti-clockwise. Whatever I did Nottinghamshire ploughed, perhaps not serenely, but steadily on. Abell worked though his deck of pace bowlers including himself to no avail. There was no hat trick this time. Just persistence.

As the day’s end approached the incoming text said, “Time for Leach.” Indeed it was, in both senses of the word. Time for him to bowl and time for him to take a wicket. Mullaney caught by Hildreth at slip. Cutting I thought but by now I was looking full into the face of the sun as it set low over the Smith Clarke Stand at the opposite end of the ground. “Driving. Reaching for it. Might have straightened a bit,” the incoming text said. 114 for 2. Mullaney 54. A stand of 97 runs. A crucial wicket. If Nottinghamshire had been able to start just one down on the third morning with over a third of the deficit knocked off it might have at least given them hope.

As it was the nightwatchman, Fletcher, tried to steer Jamie Overton to third man for four and instead spooned him to Gregory at gully. 133 for 3, still 197 adrift, some momentum back with Somerset and Duckett with a night to mull over having to face the first ball of the third day on a king pair for his new club. Cricket can be a cruel game which throws up all sorts of challenges both great and small.

Close: Somerset 463 (JC Hildreth 137, ME Trescothick 71, SM Davies 55, J Overton 55, HF Gurney 6-106). Nottinghamshire 133 (C Overton 4-27, L Gregory 3-36) and 115 for 3 (f/o). Nottinghamshire need 215 more runs to avoid an innings defeat.

The original version of this report was published on on 26th September 2018.