Trego and Azhar make their mark

Royal London One-Day Cup. Somerset v Essex. 26th April 2019. Taunton.

Toss. Essex. Elected to field.

Trego and Azhar make their mark

The text I sent said, “Lost toss. Batting. Green pitch. Lights on. Overcast. Rain forecast.” The unspoken part of it referred to the conventional wisdom that in one-day cricket with the DLS system in play and rain about it is best to bat second when any effect of the weather might be better known. In this match, and the last, Somerset have shown that where the first innings is uninterrupted and a large score is posted the loss of early wickets by the team batting second can have a devastating effect on their prospects.

There was a decent-sized crowd given the unpleasantly cold conditions and the forecast. Larger at the start than a good Championship crowd and it grew a little. I did my best to juggle the imperative to be at the cricket with the increasingly pressing need to catch up on bits of the administration of life which accumulate when you spend your time following Somerset around the country and writing match reports when you get home. Using the evidence of my eyes, snippets of news from the Club and the weather forecast I contrived to delay my departure and diminish the administrative backlog and still arrive at the ground half an hour before the delayed start. That completed nine days of cricket this season and I have not been late for one. Regular readers of these reports will know that is something of a record. Nine days out of nine on time for me. Six wins out of six for Somerset. I trust the second does not depend on the first.

I was in time to disturb a row of people in the top of the Somerset Pavilion and find a seat still vacant towards the very end of their row. The Quantocks looked damp but resplendent in their spring outfit of green, maroon and yellow. The Brendons could be seen too which held out the prospect of some cricket. Music, for the first time this season as far as I can recall, disturbed the anticipation that hangs over a cricket field as the start of a match approaches. Then the umpires and players emerged to applause, took up their positions and with a total lack of ceremony, which always takes me by surprise, Essex’s Sam Cook ran in from the River End and bowled to Banton. Banton got an inside edge, ran through for a single and we were underway.

It was not to be Banton’s day. His spectacular century in the first match in this tournament still sticks in the memory. Here it remained a memory as he drove at a ball from Peter Siddle and got right under it. The Somerset heart sank, Banton began his walk to the Pavilion, and Walter took the catch at cover, in that order. “Slower ball,” someone said. Trego arrived at the wicket on the back of a failure to score at Hove. Before the start one nor two I spoke to wondered how long he would keep his place in the side given the growing pressure from Somerset’s young blades. He began the task by turning his first ball neatly towards fine leg and hurtling down the pitch for a sharp single. The fielder was sharp too. He threw at the bowler’s stumps, the ball arrived just after Trego, hit the stumps, ricocheted and Trego ran through for a second run.

From the stands 39 overs, for that was the length of innings the remaining time permitted, does not seem to allow much time to build the foundations of an innings given the size of scores which one-day cricket demands these days. Azhar and Trego made the time, although no opportunity was missed to push for runs where the slightest opportunity arose. In the second over they ran three when Ali steered past short fine leg. In the third, six singles were pushed or nudged with careful placement. In the fourth Siddle demonstrated his skill by restricting the scoring to three and Essex supported him with two slips. Somerset were 18 for 1 and the buzz as the crowd engaged with the cricket and fended off the cold could be heard above the music.

The first boundary came in the sixth over when Azhar pulled Siddle through midwicket to the Caddick Pavilion. The buzz turned into a cheer and then fell back to a slightly more animated buzz than the one from which the cheer had erupted. At the end of the sixth over Somerset were 25 for 1. At the end of the seventh they were 43 for 1 and a sea of chatter rolled around the stands, the backwash from the cheers which had erupted when, in successive balls, Trego had hooked Cook into the Somerset Stand, driven him through the covers to the Caddick Pavilion boundary and then over the Trescothick Stand and into the Tone. Suddenly 39 overs did not seem so lean a ration. The strokes had been clean, true and reminiscent of the Trego ‘specials’ of old. The assault drove Cook out of the attack.

When Quinn replaced Cook Azhar played a scoop fine of third man for four. He looked in perfect touch and a set of metaphorical fingers were crossed as hope of a large Somerset score tried to break out. Too early. ‘Count no chickens’ the iron rule of the hardened cricket supporter. A lavish drive from Trego which did not disturb the ball and resulted in shouts of “Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!” and a hook from Azhar which bobbled over the keeper’s head for a single, were reminders that a wicket takes but one ball.

Gradually Trego and Azhar accelerated. When Trego succeeds he is inclined to blast through the opposition defences. Azhar seemed more inclined to infiltrate them. There were the singles placed neatly into the gaps but also boundaries as carefully finessed. Bopara was turned perfectly past the fine leg fielder to the Colin Atkinson boundary for four. A straight drive flat along the ground off Quinn brought an admiring cry of, “Shot.” Azhar was not though afraid to use the hook. When Quinn bowled short he hooked behind square and into the Somerset Stand. For the next ball it was back to finesse. He drove just fine of the backward point fielder for four to bring up his fifty. The six had brought shouts of “Hooray”. The fifty brought extended and warm applause and music which in this format of the game seemed somehow irrelevant.

Harmer has been a thorn in Somerset’s side in recent years. Not in this match. Azhar’s attempted steer gained enough purchase to evade the keeper and run down to the Sir Ian Botham Stand for four. In his second over Harmer beat Trego but the ball again ran through to the Sir Ian Botham Stand, this time for four byes. Then the batsmen found the middle of the bat. Trego drove straight to the Somerset Pavilion for six. It brought up his fifty, another round of extended applause and a “Well done Pete,” spoken rather than shouted but it probably summed up the feelings of everyone present. When Harmer bowled a no ball Azhar struck the ‘free hit’ perfectly through midwicket and over the Ondaatje boundary for another six. The first ball of Harmer’s third over seemed to tuck Trego up but he managed to steer it to the fine third man boundary for four. Harmer’s next ball he drove over long on where it landed on one of the covers. Harmer had conceded 34 runs in three overs and Somerset were 150 for 1 after 20 overs. Harmer did not bowl again in the match.

Now the batsmen turned their attentions to Walter who had bowled two fairly tight overs. An off drive from Trego to the Colin Atkinson boundary brought up the 150 partnership with Ali on 75 and Trego on 67. “From 116 balls,” said the announcer to re-ignite the applause which had rippled around the ground as people made their own calculations when the ball hit the boards. This was heaven indeed for a Somerset supporter and a glow could be seen in the frozen faces wherever you looked. Now Trego pulled Walter through midwicket for four and, in his next over, drove high towards the Colin Atkinson Pavilion where the ball landed just inside the rope before crawling over the line. Before the end of the over Azhar had turned the ball neatly to the area of the old Stragglers for another four and another Essex bowler had been removed from the attack. 176 for 1 from 23 overs. Trego’s assault had taken him to 87.

When Azhar drove Quinn over extra cover to where the old scoreboard used to stand he brought up his hundred from 84 balls and registered the two hundred partnership. Within a second or two people were standing and applauding all around the ground, Trego was congratulating Azhar and the Somerset team were on their balcony applauding. Somerset were 207 for 1 with 12 overs still to be bowled and the chatter was supercharged by what had passed and by the anticipation of what might be to come. When Trego scored the single he needed to reach his own hundred, from 79 balls, the ground and the players’ balcony were on their feet again and Azhar was running up the pitch to congratulate him, giving a short-arm jab of celebration as he went.

As the assault continued Azhar mishit the returning Walter to long on and Somerset were 220 for 2. Azhar was applauded from stumps to boundary. This had been a special innings scored with aplomb against the threat of rain with no certainty about how many overs Somerset would face. After Azhar’s departure Somerset had a full ten overs still to bat and a string of big-hitting batsmen queuing to get to the middle. At the head of that queue emerged Gregory with a developing reputation for explosive batting. Somerset had faced a formidable challenge when Essex had bowled the first ball. Now it was Essex who faced the challenge.

Gregory survived nine balls. He scored 21 runs. He was off the mark with a pull for two off Lawrence’s leg spin, drove the next ball for four to Gimblett’s Hill and the next back over Lawrence’s head to the Somerset Pavilion boundary. He deposited Walter onto the roof of the Sir Ian Botham Stand to thunderous cheers. When Essex turned to Siddle he was pulled through midwicket for three before Gregory mishit him in a high arc towards the Caddick Pavilion where Lawrence took the catch. The disappointment at the lost prospect of a big Gregory innings was evident in a collective sigh. The appreciation of the way in which his contribution had carried Somerset forward was evident in the applause he received as he walked off. Somerset 255 for 3 and still more than seven overs remaining. It was difficult to credit this was a match of just 39 overs.

Now it was Hildreth who emerged from the Pavilion on the back of his brilliant acquisitive innings on a difficult pitch at Hove. It had helped lay the foundations for Somerset’s victory. Here the foundation had already been laid and so this was a different Hildreth. At first he batted in support of Trego who attacked a Quinn over with repeated ferocity to cacophanus applause and cheering. He drove an attempt at a wide off side yorker through the gap between the deep cover and wide third man fielders. The next flew over the Sir Ian Botham Stand and into the river. The onslaught caused Quinn to bowl two successive wides as he tried to pitch yorkers at the permitted limit. When Bopara returned he was hit for six into the end of the Somerset Stand next to the Garner Gates.

Trego’s running of singles and twos roused the crowd too as he repeatedly sped through the crease as the ball thudded into the keeper’s gloves or bowler’s hands. It was an astonishing innings ended when, perhaps with a hint of tiredness, he stepped away to leg, tried to drive through the off side and the persistence, skill and accuracy of Siddle finally proved his undoing as the ball hit the stumps. Somerset were 305 for 4 and Trego, with Hildreth, who had pulled Siddle over the old Scoreboard Stand boundary and into the broadcast lorries for six, had added precisely 50 runs in four overs for the fourth wicket. He received a standing ovation which lasted until he crossed the boundary and the resulting swell of chatter lasted for some time after that. The young blades may have to wait a little longer yet.

The Somerset innings had but three overs to run. For two of those overs Hildreth piled on the pressure. A six, off Cook, hit the ridge tiles near the centre of the Sir Ian Botham Stand roof. The ball carried enough momentum to run horizontally along the roof just beneath the ridge until it fell off and disappeared behind the Trescothick Stand to tremendous cheering. And there was more to come. Siddle, easily the pick of the Essex bowlers, suffered too. Bartlett, who had replaced Trego, dropped the first ball of the over at his feet and Hildreth beat Siddle’s charge down the wicket. The second, Hildreth pulled square for six over the Caddick Pavilion boundary. The third, he lifted over third man for four. The fourth he drove to long on for a one bounce four. The fifth was a straight drive for two. The sixth he edged and was caught at third man. Siddle had taken four of the five wickets to fall but Hildreth had taken 40 runs from 18 balls and Somerset ended on 353 for 5. In the interval a presentation was made to Hildreth to mark his 625th appearance for Somerset, the Club record. He may add a few more to that yet.

353 for 5 was a truly monumental score in 39 overs. Within five balls Essex’s reply was disrupted by rain. When the players returned, the Essex target had been reduced to 311 but from only 33 overs, a required run rate of well over nine an over. When Walter was ‘strangled’ down the leg side off Davey they were 4 for 1. The Essex score barely moved until Alistair Cook drove at a ball from Davey which flew over third man for six. When he pulled Overton straight to Gregory at midwicket the ball went down. “Ohhh! Gregory of all people,” the response. When Cook tried to steer the next ball to third man he was caught behind and Essex were 12 for 2.

Somerset were closing in but faces were now as much on the sky and on the surrounding hills as on the cricket. The cloud was thickening in line with the forecast. When an Essex batsman asked for a drink after less than five overs at the crease he was met with jeers. As the wind picked up someone said, “There is rain in the air.” Someone asked how many overs would constitute a match. “Ten,” the reply. Somerset turned to van de Merwe’s slow left arm perhaps as much for the length of his run-up as for his bowling. Eyes turned towards the Brendons but they had disappeared into a band of low grey cloud. Westley tore into van de Merwe’s over and took 14 runs as Essex tried to close the DLS gap which had opened up alarmingly for them after the fall of the two wickets. He took more from Davey including a six into the Trescothick Stand. The gap was still wide but Essex were closing it.

As rain started to envelop the rest of the Quantocks van de Merwe found his rhythm and bowled the ninth over for seven runs. The over was as interminable as it was effective. As the rain moved along the Quantocks and the cloud thickened the batsmen seemed to find endless ways of delaying the next ball. Off the final ball of the over the stumps were broken after the tightest of tight singles. Umpire review. There could have been no more than millimetres in the decision for the camera footage was played, replayed and played again with eyes as much on the sky and the fast-disappearing Quantocks as on the big screen, no longer a fount of hope for the supporters of the fielding side but one of anxiety strewn frustration.

Gregory bowled the tenth over off a short run. It cost ten runs but a match had been constituted with Essex on 71 for 2, 34 runs adrift on DLS. The relief was palpable. In the next over van der Merwe dried up the runs, only four singles, Lawrence was bowled off the last ball and the DLS gap became a chasm into which the rain finally fell at the end of the 12th over. It looked terminal and the ground gradually emptied, only for the rain to stop and the umpires to decree that a final five overs would be played with Essex needing a further 109 runs. “I think we can start counting chickens,” said the text. Lawrence, ten Doeschate and Harmer tried to the last, hitting six sixes in those five overs, but the revised target was never a realistic proposition. Somerset’s astonishing 353 for 5 in 39 overs had put the match beyond Essex’s reach.

Result. Somerset 353 for 5 (39/50 overs) (P.D. Trego 141 (101 balls), Azhar Ali 110 (93), J.C. Hildreth 40 (18) P.M. Siddle 4-60 (econ. 7.50).  Essex 154 for 6 (17/17 overs. DLS target 191) D.W. Lawrence 51 (33) T.D. Groenewald 3-34 (11.33). Somerset won by 36 runs DLS method. Somerset 2 points. Essex 0 points.