“Winter well”

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

Somerset entered what would almost certainly be the final day of this match and of their season with second place in the Championship guaranteed and needing seven wickets to conclude with a victory. With the now customary overrun completing my post for the previous day I was a little tardy in arriving at the ground…

Overnight: Somerset 463. Nottinghamshire 133 and 115 for 3 (f/o). Nottinghamshire trail by 215 runs with 7 second innings wickets standing.

The thought that has most often occurred to me over the years when I know I am going to be late for the cricket is, “I hope I don’t miss a hat trick…” Of course, I never did because hat tricks are not that common. I watched Somerset from 1958 to 2014 and never saw one. Never missed one either through not being in a ground when I was supposed to be.

I was only 15 minutes late into the ground on the third morning here but a niggling feeling told me this might be the day. I have no idea why. It wasn’t due to any rational deduction but the sense was real enough. It built up every time my bus was held at a red traffic light or someone wanted to get on or off. Perhaps it just reflected my sense of Somerset’s overwhelming dominance in this match.

As the bus turned into the Bridgford Road a few minutes after the start the niggle grew teeth and chewed away at the pit of my stomach as I snatched a peek at the scoreboard through a gap between two stands. 119 for 6. Three wickets gone already. The feeling that bored into me was the one that bores into someone walking to the headteacher’s office when they know they are guilty as charged. It had to have been a hat trick.

Then into the ground. The scoreboards at Trent Bridge give the fall of all the wickets. 119. 119. 119. And Craig Overton’s wicket column had three wickets in it that weren’t there the previous evening. All but conclusive. The memory of the dominance of Overton’s presence on the field and his bowling on the previous day fuelled the thought. When the text came in with the words, “Did you miss it?” there was no need to ask. “Miss what?”

As the match and the season draw to a close the Trent Bridge scoreboard still shows the evidence that convinced the author he had missed Craig Overton’s hat trick.

It was an eerie feeling watching the cricket for the next few minutes. It was like emerging into the calm after a storm when you had missed the storm. And the calm was more noticeable having missed the hat trick than it felt when I had witnessed one as I had with Tom Abell’s the day before and Alfonso Thomas’ ‘four in four’ in 2014.

There was nothing on the field of play to suggest anything exceptional had happened. Overton was bowling, Duckett and Moores were batting with no great difficulty, and the field was going in and out like the tide just as it always does with every ball from April to September. There was no buzz in the crowd although one must have rippled up and down the stands in the moments after the applause for the third wicket.

“All three caught Tres,” the next text said. I had already come to that conclusion. “Wessels c Trescothick b Overton C 0 (1)” the scoreboard said when I arrived. The whole thing had a sense of inevitability about it from the outset and there was no reason why the final piece of the jigsaw should not have fallen into place. Trescothick has signed a new one-year contract. There have been questions from some about the consistency of his batting this year. There can be few about his slip catching. In this match ‘c Trescothick’ appeared on the scorecard five times. Curiously all five contained within the two hat tricks.

As to the rest of the cricket or of the last rites, for that was all that was really left of the match, that took about an hour and a half to play out. Duckett and Moores appeared to be in no great trouble. There was the occasional defensive push which missed the ball and left the bat suspended motionless at the end of the stroke whilst the batsman tried to work out how he had failed to connect. But there was not much else to suggest a bowling whirlwind had blown through.

Duckett pulled in front of square and drove straight for a pair of boundaries as if Nottinghamshire were 135 for 2 rather than for six. Moores drove through the on side and Trescothick called out, “Come on now boys. Come on,” as if nothing was to be let slip even as the embers of the season faded away and everyone knew Nottinghamshire in this match would fade with them.

The embers of the summer seemed intent on flickering a little longer as I sat in the Smith Cooper Stand exactly opposite where I had sat on the first two days. No coat needed there as the sun cast a gentle glow through the semi-transparent plastic roof and onto the seats in the lower reaches. Meanwhile the back of the stand did its bit in preserving the idyll by fending off the wind that reminded the rest of the ground that autumn waited at the gate.

The perfect temperature produced that promise of perfect relaxation which comes with sitting in a stand in the warm with the last match of the season already decided but with a few minutes cricket still to watch.

Then Duckett leaned into a ball from Gregory and played it as confidently as he had played his earlier boundaries only for the ball to evade the bat and crash into his pads. The appeal went up and the umpire’s finger followed it. When Wood edged Gregory to Davies diving long to his left the announcement that lunch would be served in the restaurant from 12 seemed more of a plea than an expectation that diners might come forward.

Carter came in and set about the bowling for an over or two in the way of the old-fashioned tail enders, and some parts of the crowd cheered him on as crowds used to cheer on the tail enders of old. Moores had issued him with instructions when he arrived at the wicket as if there was still a match to be saved as cricket continued its age-old tradition of playing the game right to the last.

It was perhaps appropriate that the last two wickets should fall to Davey who has surprised supporters with an almost invisibly rising pile of wickets in 2018. As the match slid quietly into the mists of cricket’s records so Davey quietly took the wickets of Moores and Carter. Well almost quietly. At least I assume it was him who shouted, “Good on you,” from the middle as Hildreth, sometimes the forgotten man of the slips, quietly scooped up his fourth catch of the match.

And then, as at the end of the last match of every season, there was the reluctance of many to leave their seats as they watched, across an empty outfield, the memories of the season past. Better memories for Somerset supporters than for Nottinghamshire ones this year. The smiles were on the faces of the gradually departing Somerset supporters as the strains of ‘Blackbird’ rang out from the Somerset dressing room.

And then the goodbyes between supporters who have spent the summer riding the highs and lows together but now may not see one another for half a year. “Winter Well,” the traditional farewell as people wandered off to whatever transport home is their personal delight.

And so Somerset had scooped up 24 points to come a clear second in the table to Surrey, a team which, as became clear at Guildford, had played on a level all of its own in 2018. Even now that team are turning a 410 run first innings deficit into the possibility of defeating the 2017 Champions. What was clear at Guildford has become clearer with every match they have played since. There was only ever going to be one winner of the Championship this year and worthy winners they have been.

As to the rest. The other 16 counties all look up to a fast-developing Somerset team. That is a basis not for introspective regrets about another second place but for real hope of even better to come. If Surrey are to be caught Somerset might just be the team best placed to do it. I intend to spend the summer of 2019 watching progress and who knows how far that progress might go. And if there is another hat trick or two along the way so much the better. But chaps, after my bus gets in if you please.

Result: Somerset 463 (JC Hildreth 137, ME Trescothick 71, SM Davies 55, J Overton 55, HF Gurney 6-106). Nottinghamshire 133 (C Overton 4-27, TB Abell 3-0, L Gregory 3-36) and 184 (SJ Mullaney 54, B Slater 49, JH Davey 3-20, C Overton 3-68. Somerset won by an innings and 146 runs. Somerset 24 points. Nottinghamshire 3 points.

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

At The Oval Surrey came within a wicket of a near miraculous win over Essex and lost their unbeaten record for the season.

The season concluded with Surrey as County Champions on 254 points, Somerset in second place on 208 and Essex third on 187. Surrey had won ten games to seven each for Somerset and Essex. At the other end of the table Nottinghamshire and Lancashire finished equal on points with 133 with Lancashire being relegated because they had won three games to Nottinghamshire’s four. The other relegated team were Worcestershire with 104 points and two wins.