County Championship Division 1. Nottinghamshire v Somerset. 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th April 2019. Trent Bridge.
First day. 11th April – Momentum to Nottinghamshire
“Notts are in the ascendancy,” was the comment made by a fellow Somerset supporter as I made to leave the ground. And that is how it felt. Not just from the score but from the manner of its making. Nottinghamshire had made their 268 all out at all but four an over. Somerset’s 74 for 3 in response had been made at well under three. The Nottinghamshire batsmen attacked the bowling throughout their innings irrespective of the fall of wickets. It was rather reminiscent of Somerset’s approach in the first innings against Kent. In this match Somerset made a much more circumspect start. Nottinghamshire’s third wicket fell at 51 in the 11th over. Somerset’s at 36 in the 15th. Momentum is said to be important in shaping cricket matches. At the end of the first day Nottinghamshire have it in this one.
I arrived at the ground just before the start to find the usual queue at Trent Bridge’s two Championship pay windows. From my purely anecdotal observations Nottinghamshire seem to have a greater proportion of people pay at the gate, as opposed to enter as members, than other counties although the crowds themselvesdo not seem unduly large for the Championship.
I passed a Somerset member as I walked to a seat. “No toss. We’ve put them in.” I am always anxious when Somerset insert a side in the Championship, whatever the conditions. It puts the pressure of expectation on the bowlers and takes it off the opposition batsmen. It creates a different dynamic than having a toss and opting to bat if you win it. Psychology is important in cricket. In the first two matches of 2018 and the first of 2019 Somerset were inserted by the opposition and won all three.
I sat square, in the Smith Cooper Stand, which is where I normally sit at Trent Bridge although on this occasion it was some considerable way from the wicket. Before I had settled Brooks let forth a huge appeal and Duckett departed lbw for nought from the second ball of the second over. It was a start but one Nottinghamshire immediately set about pushing back. Off the last ball Nash square drove Brooks to the far boundary for a lightning-quick four. The stroke, so soon after the wicket which immediately preceded it set the tone for a punch and counter-punch innings.
Nash and Slater did not hold back and were particularly harsh on Brooks but occasionally attacked Gregory too whilst the Somerset bowlers countered with some testing balls. The batsmen’s driving was particularly impressive as the Somerset bowlers searched for movement. In the seventh over Slater drove Gregory through the covers for four. In the eighth Nash twice cut Brooks for four. In the ninth Slater twice played and missed as Gregory hit back. For the tenth Davies replaced Brooks, who had conceded seven an over, and immediately ran in with that smooth, almost stealth-like run-up of his. Almost immediately he induced a feather of an edge from Slater and the ball duly carried through to Davies’ gloves. Nottinghamshire were 51 for 2. Off the last ball of the next over Clarke edged Gregory, and Davies, having to dive hard to his right this time, took his second catch of the innings. 54 for 3 with just 11 overs gone. Boundaries had come and the bat been beaten in roughly equal measure. Neither side pulling back from the attack. The question of whether the insertion had worked still hung in the balance but leaned in favour of Abell’s decision.
Overton replaced Gregory as the sun, which had been breaking up the high cotton wool balls of white cloud all morning, finally gained the upper hand. It retained it for the rest of the day. The crowd, applauding boundaries apart, had been pensive, or at least quiet, throughout the opening proceedings. It was a Championship crowd in a Test ground, with gaps, sometimes large gaps, between individuals or small groups everywhere except behind the arm. Perhaps the opportunities for chat were fewer. They were virtually non-existent in the sparsely populated Smith Cooper Stand which was mainly in the shade and bore the brunt of a chill east wind all day.
With Overton and Davey bowling in tandem the gallop in the scoring rate was briefly reduced to a canter but the return of Brooks released the brake and Nottinghamshire were away again. Mullaney pulled him in front of square for six and in his next over drove him viciously through midwicket for four. Nash brought up his fifty with a lofted pull through midwicket off the returning Gregory but before the over was out Gregory, who consistently tested the batsmen, had defeated Mullaney’s attempt to turn him to leg, the ball hit the pad and the umpire’s finger pointed to the heavens. 106 for 4 in the 25th over as the match rushed pell-mell towards lunch.
Patel took up the challenge for Nottinghamshire as he drove Brooks square for four. I made a note that batting looked easy, the wickets and some playing and missing against Gregory in particular apart. Nash promptly failed to properly time one of his lofted pulls. It flew over midwicket in a higher arc than the others. Leach ran hard around the boundary from deep square leg with ball and fielder not quite scheduled to converge. Leach made up for the discrepancy with a brilliantly-timed lunging dive to get his hands under the plummeting ball and take the catch. 119 for 5. Lunch at 125 for 5. It reflected both the headlong charge of Nottinghamshire and Somerset’s determined assault with the ball. Gregory’s lunchtime analysis of 10-3-32-3 reflected the crucial nature of his contribution to Somerset’s cause.
My concerns about the consequences of an insertion were beginning to fade. They faded even more when I began my lunchtime circumnavigation and met another Somerset supporter. He said the boundary on the far side was very short and it had probably been worth 20 runs to Nottinghamshire. The same of course would apply to Somerset when they batted, which point raised the question of Somerset’s top order. It is a question on the lips of many Somerset supporters if you stop to talk for long. Concern is expressed about Trescothick’s form and whether he can still turn it around, about how Azhar will cope with early-season English conditions and questions about the wisdom of promoting Hildreth to bat at three with his naturally attacking game which has proven pedigree at four.
I always incline to the view that those running the team and playing in it know better than those of us on the outside what is the best available option when all the aspects of the situation, many of which are known only to them, are considered. And when a chosen option fails it does not, of itself, mean there was a better one. There is no straightforward immediate alternative to the current one. But a good and sustained start to an innings or two would help settle supporters minds.
For the afternoon session I moved to the Fox Road Stand on the other side of the ground. The wind had virtually cleared the Smith Cooper Stand of spectators, including me. That created another climate problem. The Fox Road Stand faces west. Whilst that protects it from the wind it meant I was looking increasingly full into the sun and enduring its heat, and the sun did not lack heat in spite of the youth of the year.
Here I have a confession to make. I forgot my wyvern hat. I never forget my wyvern hat. A heated debate with myself before I left home about whether or not to bring my umbrella was the cause. My hat lives on top of a coat stand and my umbrella lives at the bottom of the coat stand. There was no rain forecast for the match so it was a choice between carrying my umbrella around for four days and not using it or leaving it behind and getting wet. At least, I usually suffer one or other of those options when there is a good forecast. A decision had to be made. I decided, under the time pressure of a shortly departing coach, to leave the umbrella behind and my brain must have included my hat in the decision.
So I spent the afternoon session being driven further up the Fox Road Stand as the sun sank lower in the sky and I and the shade retreated. It rather reflected Somerset’s first hour or so after lunch as Patel and Moores began to push Somerset back. It was reminiscent of the morning’s batting but without the wickets. The driving was powerful and precise, straight on occasion but more often square or through the covers. Once Moores drove Gregory so powerfully to the short boundary that Leach had moved barely five yards before the ball crossed the rope.
Eventually I decided to try the age-old ploy of the desperate supporter when a wicket will not come. I headed for the ‘gents’. I stopped before leaving sight of the play to watch ‘one more ball’. And what a ball. Gregory used it to remove Patel’s off and middle stumps. 177 for 6. Patel 33. I waited for the next ball before continuing my journey. I have already missed one hat-trick at Trent Bridge and did not intend to take the slightest risk of missing another. But there was no second wicket.
Now Moores and Wood took up the charge as the pace of the Nottinghamshire scoring continued unabated. Davey was driven twice in an over for four, once through the covers and once straighter. There was now quite a buzz among the Nottinghamshire supporters as their side lifted them. Moores twice drove Brooks for four in an over and was once beaten by him. A straight drive produced the first call of “Shot!” I had heard. As if in response Abell, from cover, called, “C’mon,” and “C’mon Brooksie,” and then in the next over, “C’mon Craig O.” as he tried to rally Somerset in the face of the onslaught.
In spite of the wickets that had fallen the wicket looked flat as Wood clipped Overton to fine leg for four. It didn’t prevent Overton from forcing Moores to edge to Trescothick at slip in his next over as yet again a Somerset bowler hit back. Trescothick fumbled the ball, let it fall and caught it at the second attempt. Broad came in and before the over was out had driven Overton through the on side for four. Off the very next ball Overton hit him in the chest with a lifter as the toe to toe tussle continued unabated. In the next over Wood pulled Brooks straight to Bartlett at mid-wicket but this time the ball fell to earth.
It was breathless stuff as I was driven by the sun to the last refuge of shade at very top of the Fox Road Stand Stand. There was no refuge from Overton for Broad. Off the first ball of Overton’s next over a full-length ball burst through his defence and hit the stumps. “Did him up proper,” someone said. 237 for 8. And so to tea.
After tea Gregory bowled Fletcher whilst Wood added to the score with some more drives. “Shot!”. He brought up his fifty with a rocket of a straight drive along the ground off Gregory to the Pavilion boundary. When he tried to drive the next ball it took the edge and looped high towards deep point. Abell set off from cover like a collie after a stray sheep. All the way my brain was constantly calculating the distance Abell had to cover and the speed at which the ball was travelling. The outcome of the calculation was always gthe same. Abell would not quite make it. Then came the dive, out stretched the arms and the ball dropped straight into the hands. Wood 52 and the innings was over for 268. It was as if it had been played on the outer edge of a whirlwind.
Gregory finished with figures of 16.4-3-68-6. His, and Somerset’s, second five wicket plus haul of the season. It was an exceptional performance in the face of the Nottinghamshire batting onslaught. He was applauded off by the Somerset team and by the crowd.
“I think I would have settled for that at the start,” someone said but the nagging questions about the top order scratched at the back of the mind. It is impossible to know sitting square but from where I sat the pitch appeared to have no demons given the certainty of Nottinghamshire’s driving. And yet those wickets must have come from somewhere and if there had been help from the pitch Somerset would have to bat well against the Nottinghamshire pace attack to top the Nottinghamshire score.
The Somerset innings was a totally different affair to the Nottinghamshire one. Trescothick started with a straight drive to the Radcliffe Road Stand in the first over. In the fourth Azhar leaned into a drive for four and twice played and missed. That was rather the story of the day so far in an over. But thereafter the pair played with careful defence and the score advanced only lethargically. Broad bowled from the Pavilion End with a beautiful rhythm and accuracy which troubled the batsmen. He seemed unlikely to be disturbed by the pedestrian pace of the scoring, and perhaps the pedestrian pace of the scoring had something to do with the quality of his bowling.
When Azhar made to turn him to leg the ball struck the pad and the umpire raised his finger. Impossible to judge the outcome from square but the movement of the batsman, the angles and the instincts all suggested the ball might have been going down leg side. But I was probably 80 yards distant and the umpire was 22 yards away and right in line. 19 for 1. Azhar 10. Hildreth joined Trescothick and an early cover drive for four produced cries of “Shot!” but it was a case of one swallow not a summer making.
When Somerset reached 36 Trescothick attempted to defend against the outstanding Broad, edged to the keeper and, without a run added, Hildreth was ‘strangled’ down the leg side off Fletcher’s first ball. Both batsmen out for 10 and Somerset top three had scored exactly 100 runs in nine completed innings this season. Conditions are not easy at the top of the order in April and certainly not against an attack of the quality of Nottinghamshire’s but the questions will hang that bit heavier in the air after this innings.
From there Abell and Bartlett saw Somerset through to the close. There was an on drive for four from Bartlett and successive square off side boundaries from Abell but those apart they played out the day with careful defence. The runs that did come came mainly from ‘long’ singles played to the square boundary fielders as the Nottinghamshire bowlers kept a shorter length than Somerset’s probing but-vulnerable-to-the-drive fuller length. By the close Abell and Bartlett had slightly more than doubled Somerset’s score but if Somerset are to stay in this match and justify the insertion Abell and Bartlett, and those that follow, will have more much more work to do on the second morning and beyond.
Close. Nottinghamshire 268( C.D. Nash 58, L.Wood 52, T.J. Moores 47, L. Gregory 6-68). Somerset 74 for 3. Somerset trail by 189 runs with seven first innings wickets standing.