Leach unleashed

County Championship Division 1. Nottinghamshire v Somerset. 11th, 12th and13th April 2019. Trent Bridge.

Final day. 13th April – Leach unleashed

Overnight. Nottinghamshire 263 and 25 for 2. Somerset 403. Nottinghamshire trail by 115 runs with eight second innings wickets standing.

It was just after noon when I sent the text about the pitch based on the first hour of play. No wickets had fallen and the expectation of wickets felt on the evening before was no longer there. The only bowler who looked like he might take a wicket was Overton. The batsmen did not look in any real trouble although their scoring had been severely restrained by the accuracy and intensity of Somerset’s hard-running pace attack. My text suggested a long day in the field, the long Abell-Bartlett partnership still strong in the memory. It also suggested Broad might find something in the pitch with the unwritten thought that he might test Somerset if a target were too great. Such were the thoughts of an incessant Somerset worrier. The response to my text was instantaneous. “Leach”. Abell’s response was just as instantaneous. He put Leach on at the Pavilion End.

Leach’s response was virtually instantaneous too. The first five balls of his first over were played, as well as my untrained eye could tell from 80 yards away and square of the wicket, without too much difficulty. The sixth Slater advanced a yard down the pitch to play, missed spectacularly, and Davies had the bails off in an instant. You get a perfect view of a stumping from high up in a stand directly in line with the batsman’s popping crease. The efficiency of Davies’ hand movement was a work of cricketing art in itself. Slater walked back to the Pavilion to total silence from the crowd. No applause, no chatter, nothing. You could understand the meaning of the term ‘you could hear the silence’. It had looked an ugly mistake. The response of the crowd was as good a demonstration of “We are not amused” as you could expect to find on a cricket field. Or perhaps it was just shocked surprise at the sudden turn of events. Only when Slater reached the boundary did a ripple of applause run across the Pavilion terrace. 66 for 3. Nottinghamshire 74 behind. Impossible to tell from square but I did wonder if the crowd reaction underestimated the contribution of the bowler.

The concerns about a long Nottinghamshire rearguard action remained, reinforced by the solid, apparently untroubled innings of the nightwatchman, Fletcher and the apparent solidity of Slater’s innings before his downfall. Leach soon started to assuage that concern. My seat provided a clear view of his next wicket. I could see Clarke’s foot anchored to the crease as he stretched forward into a defensive stroke and lost his leg stump. Another Somerset supporter later told me he had received a message from someone watching on line who thought it a straight ball which went between bat and pad. Perhaps Leach’s ‘arm ball’. Not very long ago information about what happened at a match flowed between supporters in one direction only. From those inside the ground to those outside. Now it flows both ways. We live in an ever-changing world. 72 for 4. 68 behind.

Hot chocolate is a necessity in conditions such as those in which this match was played, especially if, hatless, you have to sit in the shade, for the bitter east wind blew across this match from beginning to end. Even the fastest push-button hot drinks machine cannot match the pace at which Somerset change around at the end of their overs. I heard rather than saw the next wicket. The cheer from the centre. Fortunately, there are enough Somerset supporters at away matches to get a report of anything you do not see. Apparently Fletcher, after an hour and a half of determined defence and judicious hitting, had finally mishit and Overton had taken the catch at mid-off. 81 for 5. 59 behind. The wicket, and the score, finally set free the growing sense of optimism and joy at the way things were going.

Then, as had happened several times in this match of falling wickets, a pair of batsmen suggested stability just as Slater and Fletcher had at the beginning of the day. Mullaney and Patel batted Nottinghamshire through until lunch with the score at 88 for 5. But the Nottinghamshire scoring rate was funereal, barely two an over. At that rate it would take them to within half an hour of tea just to wipe out the deficit, and getting through two hours of out and out defence without losing wickets would be an awful lot to ask in the circumstances in which they found themselves. Thoughts of a challenging target for Somerset had been all but banished, sent scuttling by Leach’s lunchtime figures of 8-4-8-3.

Leach, bowling against the immovable rock of the Somerset pacemen cutting off the prospect of runs at the other end and a predatory field snaring virtually any ball which tried to escape, had brilliantly carried forward the momentum which Abell, Bartlett, Gregory and Davey with their bats had inexorably swung Somerset’s way the day before. It made lunch a rather more relaxed experience than most Somerset-watching lunches. The most difficult part of it was recognising people I had known for some years, in one case for decades. The cause was the array of bulked up winter coats, wrapped around scarves, turned up collars and pulled down winter headgear donned in an attempt to fend off the elements; all seen through the mist of my own wind-blown, sun-glared watery eyes. When I did find someone the talk was all of the Somerset performance. A performance which, as the three days had progressed, had developed into a consistently powerful overwhelming of a Nottinghamshire team which promised more than the Somerset team had permitted them to deliver.

I watched the afternoon session with an old work colleague from days when we worked within 100 yards of the County Ground. Botham, Richards, Garner et al held sway on the hallowed turf in those days. Many half hours were spent in carefully timed lunch breaks and again at the end of the day watching those three working their magic. We were to see more magic before this afternoon out. But first Mullaney and Patel tried to re-establish a platform from which a Nottinghamshire defence could at least be attempted. For perhaps half an hour they battled, although runs remained at a high premium.

And then the first piece of magic. Leach to Mullaney, ball past the bat, a minimal blur of hand movement from behind the stumps, bails off, appeal instantaneous, square leg umpire’s finger aloft. It was a moment of pure cricketing perfection from Davies and Somerset supporters’ exultant aplause punctuated the air from locations dotted around the ground. Mullaney looked in apparent and understandable disbelief as he stood at his crease, then he looked at the umpire and then at the crease again before slowly walking off, and then again looking back at the crease and at the umpire. “His heel was up,” said my friend. And as I re-ran the picture in my mind, straight down the line of the crease, the heel was indeed raised just above the crease. The speed of Davies’ hands, and the minimal distance they covered, the cause of Mullaney’s downfall. Nottinghamshire 97 for 6. 43 behind and the prospect of an innings victory was being whispered with a growing conviction that it might actually happen.

Moores joined Patel and was soon driving Brooks through the covers for four. That the ball had crossed the boundary stood out only because it of the run-scoring famine which the bowlers had imposed on the Nottinghamshire batsmen. Moores’ innings had not lasted long before he became the subject of another piece of Somerset magic. He played forward to the ever-present Leach. The ball took the edge and fell low, straight towards, but short of, Trescothick at short leg. It was never more than a foot above the ground. Trescothick dived towards it, forlornly being the expectation from a distance, and caught it. “Excellent! Fingers millimetres above the ground,” said the incoming text, inches presumably being an inadequate measure of the space Trescothick’s hands had to work in. I had the perfect view as I watched straight down the line of the ball as Trescothick dived towards me. Not all the best views are behind the arm. 111 for 7. 29 behind. Five wickets for Leach.

At this point my friend and I were joined by another Somerset supporter and we sat one behind the other with me in the middle, beaming smiles all. Even the sun joined in as it began to appear over the top of the roof of the stand and hinted it might warm our frozen bodies. Not that it was much needed. The way in which Leach, and Somerset, were overwhelming Nottinghamshire was enough to warm the spirit more than any sun could ever hope to do.

Multi-tasking is a much spoken of activity. If you want to understand the true meaning of the word try sitting in a stand, keeping a scorecard, taking notes, talking to someone in front of you, and to someone behind you, whilst sending and receiving texts about the cricket whilst Somerset are taking wickets faster than a pencil can write or a finger can text. What follows is as much as my pencil managed to write and my brain managed to record of the rest of the innings.

Firstly, another piece of magic. Brooks prepared to bowl to Wood who must have come to the wicket when Moores was out although he did it without my noticing as I tried to keep all my disperate attempts at communication and recording on track. Trescothick moved to short midwicket to the left-hander and Woods popped Brooks’ first ball straight to him. 120 for 8. 20 behind. Disbelief again. But with Abell as captain those sorts of things tend to happen. Pencil, finger and voice now competing to be the first to register the next miracle from the middle.

To have Leach, in this sort of form taking wickets with this sort of frequency, constantly running in at you, with no leeway being given at the other end, must be a daunting task for any batsman. Patel has been around a long time and he has had a tendency to be a thorn in Somerset’s side over the years. Here he managed to sweep Leach, and then sweep him fine, perhaps edge the latter, both for four. It was the end of the resistance. There followed a disappointed walk off as Leach found his pad and the umpire raised his finger. 126 for 9. 14 behind. It was not just the conversation and the recording. The excitement at the now inevitable prospect of a second Somerset victory in the first two matches was also difficult to keep up with so quickly had the end approached.

Patel had fallen to the last ball of Leach’s over. The final wicket, his fourth, fell to Brooks in the next over and it was immediately upon us. Broad decided to hit out at Brooks’ first ball. It flew high towards the long off boundary. Azhar, on the boundary, ran in and took the ball, threatening to fall short, neatly in front of his shins. It was a consummate exhibition of outfield catching which nicely summed up a consummate Somerset performance in the field and that once fanciful thought of an innings victory was no longer fanciful.

There followed a celebratory huddle from the players before they left the field and then the strains of Blackbird ringing out. Dotted about the ground Somerset supporters, including this one, note-taking duties suspended for the while, stood applauding. Then there was the usual reluctance to leave the scene of such events before Somerset supporters started to move slowly towards the exit. I dawdled in front of the Pavilion as one or two players came out to do press interviews. Someone pointed out the Somerset flag on the Pavilion. It looked a little rough at one or two places around the edges. I doubt it will be replaced by a new one just at the moment.

And then, as I made my way to my bus stop, I reflected on what had passed. After a toe to toe first day Somerset, first in the form of Abell and Bartlett, had methodically taken a grip on this match and then wrenched it decisively from Nottinghamshire’s hands. The determination of that partnership over a total of four hours to turn the momentum of the match; the decisiveness of Gregory, supported by Davey, in pushing back the challenge of Broad and ensuring a significant lead late in the Somerset innings; Brooks breaking through the top of the Nottinghamshire innings on the second evening; the endless intensity and control of the bowling and the fielding in the second innings exploited so incisively by Leach; all pointed to a ruthless will to win and the capacity to see it through.

It was a performance of a type which is not untypical among Championship winning sides. There is a long way to go from here to the end of the season and some powerful sides to be met along the way, not least Surrey in Somerset’s next Championship match. The type of performance against Nottinghamshire will have to be repeated many times if Somerset are to mount a serious challenge this year. There have been false dawns before and there may be again but as I left the ground this result had a different feel to it. That perennial hope of the Somerset supporter that the Championship might actually be won one year seemed a little closer. Whether this year remains to be seen, there is an awful lot of cricket still to be played, but the dream did not seem an entirely fanciful one, particularly if some top order runs can be found.

Oh yes. One other thing. Perhaps insertions do work sometimes.

Result. Nottinghamshire 263 (C.D. Nash 58, L.Wood 52, T.J. Moores 47, L. Gregory 6-68) and 126 (J. L. Leach 6-36, J.A. Brooks 4-22). Somerset 403 (G.A. Bartlett 133, T.B. Abell 101, L. Gregory 50, S.C.J. Broad 5-73, L.J. Fletcher 3-66). Somerset won by an innings and 14 runs. Somerset 24 points. Nottinghamshire 4 points.

Nottinghamshire subsequently deducted one point due to slow over rate.

This report has also been posted on grockles.com