County Championship Division 1. Somerset v Kent. 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th April 2019. Taunton.
Final day. 8th April – The will to win
Overnight. Somerset 171 and 171 for 7. Kent 209. Somerset lead by 133 runs with three second innings wickets standing.
There are times when cricket can truly lift the spirits to the heights. If you were a Somerset supporter this was one of those times. Somerset had spent the latter part of the third day desperately trying to pull this match back from the brink of defeat. For that is what the nadir of 32 for 4 in their second innings, still six behind Kent, had represented. The faces of most in the crowd had spoken of resignation to defeat. Tinged perhaps with hope but hope limited to that which could only be provided by a miracle.
It is clear now, looking back, that the Somerset team had other thoughts. Thoughts of turning a lost cause into a winning one through their own efforts. There would be no reliance on miracles on that side of the boundary. The fightback had started at the fall of that fourth wicket. By the close of the third day Somerset had reached 171 for 7, 133 runs into the lead in bowler friendly conditions. Much would depend on what those last three wickets could add on the final morning.
Within 20 minutes of the start ten runs had been added and two of the wickets lost. Somerset led by 143 with only 21-year-old George Bartlett and Jack Brooks, on his debut for Somerset with their wickets still intact. It was perhaps an unlikely pairing for a crisis but they met it head on and drove Kent back. Bartlett played in a more measured way than I have been used to from him but he did not hold back when the ball was there to be attacked.
I have seen Brooks in these situations in his Yorkshire days. He does not hold back and he didn’t here. If his approach comes off in a tight match it can change the balance of the game, reverse the momentum of the play and help determine the eventual outcome. Two upper cuts over the slip cordon to the Trescothick Stand boundary set the tone. Two cuts to the Ondaatje Stand boundary, one past and one over the point fielder sustained the assault and a hook towards the Somerset Stand which took advantage of the short boundary to go for six roused the crowd. It must surely have given the Somerset team a lift and had the opposite effect on Kent.
Such things must of course come to an end, and the partnership did, but by then Brooks and Bartlett, with some boundaries of his own, had added 62 priceless runs. It had turned a target of 144 at the fall of the ninth wicket into one of 206. 144 would have given Somerset a chance. 206 gave them an opportunity.
The Somerset bowlers had kept their team in the match with an extended piece of testing, accurate and attacking bowling in the first innings. Now, building on the momentum from the Somerset last wicket stand, they grabbed hold of the game with both hands and wrenched it from Kent’s grasp.
Would that I could describe the fall of the first wicket. However, after finishing my report on the third day I omitted to put my notebook back into my cricket bag. It is an empty feeling when you have good cricket to describe and no sensible way of recording it. It resulted in my notes on the remainder of the Somerset innings being scrawled in the few blank spaces available on my scorecard. The space ran out just as Bartlett tried to turn a ball to leg and was given out lbw. I can report that it takes slightly longer than the ten minutes available between innings to walk into the town, buy a notebook and return to the ground.
I thought I heard a distant cheer as I left the shop but concluded it was probably wishful thinking. I definitely heard one as I came along St James Street. Then came the desperate look over the wall as I approached the ground entrance. You can see the scoreboard from there and you cannot not look. 1 for 2. That took a bit of absorbing. Then a horrible thought. Was I about to miss a hat-trick as I had done at Trent Bridge last year?
I dared not risk going straight to the top of the Somerset Pavilion. More than enough time to miss the last wicket of a hat-trick doing that. So I went straight to the covers store boundary. Both batsmen caught in the slips apparently. And one of them was Renshaw, dismissed by Brooks. Apparently Brooks set off, at speed, on a huge arc around the outfield until he was chased down and engulfed by his team mates.
I sent the news in a text to someone who was not at the match. He is as avid a Somerset supporter as I. “That’s a relief,” came the response. “I was worried Renshaw might do for us with one of those innings of which we know he is capable.” Me too. Perhaps similar thoughts had been part of the trigger for Brooks’ celebration. There was no hat-trick to report. Gregory had taken the first wicket, Dickson, with the first ball of the innings and things settled down after Renshaw’s departure. After an over or two I decided to return to my seat at the top of the Somerset Pavilion, half hoping that the climb, out of sight of the play, might provoke another wicket. It would not be the first time I had missed a wicket climbing those stairs. But not this time.
I had not long sat down before the floodlights were on. They played a significant part in keeping this match in play on all three days. It would be an interesting calculation to discover whether without them there would have been enough time to win the match.
It soon became apparent that Gregory was bowling an exceptional spell. He seemed repeatedly to beat the bat of Bell-Drummond with testing movement and also had a huge lbw appeal turned down. At the other end with his consistent full-length bowling Brooks released some of the pressure on Kent when he was driven.
In a low scoring match the spectator’s eye is never far from the scoreboard. Subtracting a score from a target is one of the very few forms of mathematics at which I, and I imagine many other cricket supporters, excel. 36 for 2 left Kent another 170 to win. A long way still to go but the lack of another wicket was beginning to gnaw away at the mind.
Then there was one of those appeals that leaves no doubt as to what the umpire’s arm will do. Bell-Drummond lbw to Gregory for 18. My seat was pretty well over the keeper’s head so an obstructed view of an lbw. However, the evidence I did have, the angle of the ball and the movement of the batsman suggested a delivery that came in. The cheer from the crowd seemed to be borne of a combination of the normal joy at Somerset taking a wicket and a realisation that Somerset were beginning to take control of a match they had had to fight hard to hold onto on the first two days of play.
As Overton replaced Brooks I started to compose a text to my correspondent not at the match. Five balls is not long enough to report the details of a wicket. I know because that is how much of the next over Overton, who had replaced Brooks, took to find his way through the newly arrived Kuhn’s defence and find his pad. Overton’s celebration reached backward point before he was engulfed by the rest of the players. 40 for 4. The cheers were now beginning to hint at expectation that Somerset might win this match and were reaching a volume that must have been heard at the far end of St James Street. Between the cheers the ground was alive with the sort of chatter that is born of that expectation.
At the same time I was beginning to develop the art of multi-tasking: watching the cricket, making an entry on my scorecard, making a note of proceedings for this report, thinking about a text about the Overton wicket whilst still working frantically on the Gregory one and all the time trying not to get ahead of myself in thinking about a possible victory. It was about as much as my ageing mind could bear. Gregory was of no help for within two balls he had forced Crawley to edge the ball low to Azhar at fourth slip and the score was 41 for 5. Crawley 21. Kent still 165 from victory and too far from the end of the day to contemplate holding out for a draw. Somerset were closing in as lunch gave Kent some much-needed respite and saved my multi-tasking from complete disarray.
There is something about a cascade of opposition wickets when the game is tight in the balance and nerves are on the thinnest of edges. It sets the blood coursing through the veins, the head racing with possibilities and a well of pent up emotion bursts forth from the heart. This was one such moment. It was not just the wickets which unleashed the emotion. It was the manner of their taking. It had been a sustained exhibition of bowling of intensity, hostility and forensic skill. It was stunning in its appearance and in its effect. It was backed up by a display of slip catching which convinced with its precision and its certainty. Hostile intensity in the bowling and certainty in the catching gives the new batsman little opportunity to settle.
Gregory had been the cutting edge of the pre-lunch overs and immediately afterwards Robinson edged him to Overton at third slip. No doubts as the ball flew to him. “Hooray!!” shouted a voice in the crowd in amongst the usual roar which follows a wicket. 45 for 6. 160 behind. I think those of us at the top of the Somerset Pavilion could have floated without its support such a lift had the performance given us after the tenseness of the anxiety of the first two days of play. Gregory completed an opening spell of ten overs, bowled either side of lunch, for figures of 11-4-13-4. “Look at Gregory’s figures,” one comment I heard.
Kent were now in the hands of Blake and Stevens, probably their last hope of mounting an unlikely challenge. Overton, who had replaced Brooks at the River End, continued the examination. Twice he went through Stevens and a lifter was fended away. Davey replaced Gregory and bowled with his usual control but the intensity of the pre-lunch blitz was gone. Intervals can change the mood like that and the gradual lifting of the cloud perhaps played its part.
Blake and Stevens began to look more secure. The ball would still pass the bat but it didn’t raise the same expectation as it had before lunch. Overton tested the batsmen but they kept him out. A cover drive from Blake and a glance from Stevens, both off Davey, found the boundary. As Blake drove Overton through the covers for another the sun, which had begun to make the occasional foray from behind the clouds, put in a more permanent appearance. As Davey beat a Blake cut to cries of “Ooooh” I noticed the Quantocks had adorned themselves in patches of their best spring maroon.
“Boys, keep coming here,” shouted Trescothick. As if in response Overton, who had delivered some persistent attacking bowling, beat Blake’s defensive stroke, shaved the edge of the bat and Davies does not miss those. The appeal was instantaneous, the cheer from the crowd tinged with relief because a partnership had been building, the celebration from the players tumultuous and Kent were 82 for 7. Overton’s first ball to Podmore, who replaced Blake, was short and hit his helmet so hard the ball cannoned almost to cover. The concussion tests, inspections and replacement of equipment took some time before Podmore, to applause, resumed. He did not survive long before he was lbw to Brooks who had replaced Davey. “Well done Jack,” was the shout from the crowd. Kent 93 for 8.
By the time the score had reached 105 for 8 the crowd had settled into a gentle chatter, and it was a good-sized crowd for a final day. The ground was by now bathed in sunshine and people were dotted along the perimeter and chatting in the gaps between the stands. Stevens was quietly pushing the ball around for ones and twos and Milnes looked in no trouble at the other end. It would have been totally relaxing had it not been for the fact that the ball had virtually stopped moving and the score was gradually progressing. With Kent still needing nearly 100 anxiety, even in small doses, was an irrational reaction but supporting a cricket team is not a rational occupation.
Davey, then Gregory, returned to the attack. “Come on Louis,” someone in the crowd shouted. “Come on Louis,” Abell implored. “Come on Lou,” from somewhere else on the field. “Come on boys,” from somewhere else. I sent a slightly anxious text, “These two don’t look like getting out.” Milnes promptly edged Gregory to Hildreth at slip and Gregory had opened Somerset’s list of ‘fivefers’. 124 for 9. 131 all out when Claydon edged Davey low to Hildreth’s left. It was a good, neat catch which summed up the part the slips had played in the innings. Gregory’s figures of 13-4-18-5 will take some topping this season. But having seen the Somerset bowling in this match I will not be betting against it.
For the second season in a row Somerset had started with a win. It was a win forged out of adversity and pursued with determination and a tremendous will to win until a losing position was turned into a winning one. If Kent had any illusions about life in the first division they should have none now. As to Somerset, the intensity and skill of the bowling and fielding and its effect on the opposing batsmen reminded me of the Essex bowling and fielding at Chelmsford in 2017 and the Surrey bowling and fielding at Guildford in 2018. Those were Championship winning attacks and sustained their intensity throughout the season. If, one season, Somerset are to win a Championship that is part of the challenge ahead.
Result. Somerset 171 (T.B. Abell 49, M.E. Claydon 5-46, M.E. Milnes 3-40) and 243 (G.A. Bartlett 63, M.E. Claydon 4-66, D.I. Stevens 3-34). Kent 209 (S.R. Dickson 43, L. Gregory 3-26, C. Overton 3-46) and 131 (L.Gregory 5-18). Somerset won by 74 runs. Somerset 19 points. Kent 4 points.
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