Morkel and Dunn grab the momentum

County Championship Division 1. Surrey v Somerset. 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th June. Guildford.

Third day. 5th June – Morkel and Dunn grab the momentum

Overnight. Somerset 344. Surrey 188 for 5. Surrey trail by 156 with five second innings wickets standing.

I wondered if the most important thing I saw all day was an aeroplane. I was meandering around the ground during the tea interval and heard the sound of jet engines rather as you do over the Oval. I had heard the occasional sound of jet engines low over the ground throughout this match but it was the first time I had seen the aircraft. What struck me was how just how high the cloud had risen above it, and how low the cloud must have been, a few hot sunny intervals on the first day apart, during this match thus far when the engines roared but the aircraft which they powered were beyond sight.

It is surprising how often ‘poor’ batting is accompanied by low cloud and good pace bowling. There may, or may not, be a causal connection. That is something that scientists and cricketers may differ on but there is certainly a connection of some sort in my experience. Whether because of the laws of physics or the psychological response of players to varying overhead conditions or something else is beyond my knowing but it is there. It has certainly been the case in this match and more times than enough in my cricket-watching career. As the spectator I spoke to during the last session said to me as Burns and Borthwick were bringing Surrey up on Somerset’s heels, “The cloud has gone up.” And by the end of the day a watery sun was brightening the ground even further.

I had, of course, missed the first fifty minutes or so of the day, delayed by writing my second day report and the long commute across London. The news kept coming through on my phone though, sent there by text from an old school friend who lives a bus ride from the ground, does not write match reports and had managed to arrive on time. The name Overton, especially Craig’s, and the falling of another Surrey wicket the news imparted. Even though I was not at the ground and had no commentary, live feed or access to live scores, the experience of watching on the first two days left me in little doubt of what was happening. The Overton brothers were bowling and Somerset were fielding with the same level of intensity they have been doing for most of the season.

“Surrey are nine down,” the steward on the gate said as I showed him my ticket, “and the last one won’t take long.” A few blows of resistance from Patel apart, it didn’t. He was last out for 63 which may yet prove to have been a crucial contribution in the face of a Somerset attack which the other Surrey batsmen, Foakes apart, had been unable to master. My friend commented on the lift which Craig Overton had been getting and which had been a feature of the match to date when the bowling was from the Pavilion End. He also commented on, as did one or two others through the day on the “phenomenal” diving catch Jamie Overton had taken off his brother to remove Clarke. Surrey were put out for 231, a Somerset lead of 113.

There had been a curious symmetry between the two first innings. Each side had lost three wickets before they reached 40, had then passed 100 without losing another, after which the bowlers, Bartlett’s colossus of an innings with Banton’s and Davies’ support apart, had worked their way through the rest of the batting. Somerset’s second innings began by almost repeating the pattern. The second wicket fell at 28 when Trescothick was given out caught behind off Morkel although he looked surprised at the decision although unlike many in those circumstances he walked straight off. Abell, opening out of position had already gone, caught by Jacks in the gully off a ball from Morkel which seemed to surprise him with the lift Morkel generated from the Pavilion End. He seemed to be bowling with more fire than the impression I had had of him in the first innings. That seemed to be confirmed by a Surrey member who told another Somerset supporter that Morkel’s bowling in this innings had been the best he had seen from him this season.

Banton began with his customary assault on the bowling although two of this three fours flew off the edge, one straight towards Jack Russell, which would have been terminal at one time. This time though Russell had erected his gazebo on the third man boundary to sell his artwork. Early edges for four had helped Banton along in the first innings but there was to be no ‘riding of luck’ this time as Dunn went through his defence to remove him lbw for 12. Somerset were 50 for 3 as the Surrey bowling began to take on the sort of intensity with which it had destroyed the Somerset batting at this ground a year before, and for that matter the batting of every other county in the first division in 2018.

Hildreth had come to the wicket on the departure of Abell and, as so often, looked to be batting in a different match and in different conditions to everyone else. He was aided by Bartlett who seems able to bat to the situation of the match. Here, as before lunch on the first day when he batted in support of Banton, he quietly faded into the background to keep an end secure whilst Hildreth caressed the ball to take Somerset forward. The smoothest of on drives brought forth cries of “Hild!” from the Somerset team. A cut streaking to backward point brought forth, “No point in chasing that,” from someone just along from me. An off drive off Morkel brought forth an awe-laden comment, “Wasn’t that a fabulous shot.” “Wasn’t it just,” the reply. A cover drive off Clarke raced over the boundary before the fielder, ten yards further along, could get near it.

It was not all perfection, no batting had been in this match, and there were couple of edged boundaries but it was batting of a quality and a pace which brings forth in my mind attempts to imagine great batting down the cricketing ages. When, eventually he fell, lbw to Patel for 64, with Somerset on 114 for 4, and Bartlett edged Clarke to Foakes two runs later there was tension on the air. The sort of tension that reflects a match coming into balance. Somerset had five wickets still standing and were 227 runs ahead. But the intensity with which the Surrey pace bowlers were bowling had changed the atmosphere. “County Champions rousing themselves to defend their title after an indifferent start to the season,” someone said.

And now that intensity ripped through the Somerset lower order. It was exemplified by the ball from Morkel from which he generated such lift that it took the shoulder of Craig Overton’s defensive stroke and shot straight and high up into the air as if someone were practising catching a tennis ball on a beach. It fell into the hands of Morkel who had run through to take the catch. Just as he had opened up the top of the Somerset innings he had now opened up the door to ‘tail’. It was enough. Dunn, who makes no fuss, creates no image of the fearsome pace bowler, almost invisibly runs in and lets his bowling make his statement, rushed through the gap Morkel had opened up to take the final four Somerset wickets. Davies resisted for a while for 16 but Leach and Groenewald were bowled and Jamie Overton caught behind for 17 between them and Somerset had ‘set’ Surrey 267 to win.

It is a curious crowd at Guildford. Almost emotionless in its response to the cricket at least in terms of any noise it makes. There is chatter but is at a lower level than at most other grounds and certainly than you will experience at Taunton. There is little or no shouting from the crowd to players. I have not heard “Come on Surrey,” or as is often the case in the Peter May Stand at the Oval, “Come on the ‘rey.” No, “Come on Somerset.” Nothing of that sort. The applause for Somerset wickets seemed muted and yet there is no doubting the commitment of Surrey supporters to their team if you talk to them. South eastern reserve? The festival atmosphere? I don’t know. And yet as this match came into balance after the fall of Hildreth and Bartlett the feeling of tension in the air was palpable. The quiet chatter had all but faded away. At times you could hear the silence or a solitary conversation some distance away. As I made a comment to my friend he only just restrained himself from saying, “Shhhh.”

And then that aircraft and the continuation of the Surrey revival. Brooks took the inside edge of Stoneman’s bat and the ball cannoned into the base of the stumps but by then Surrey were 26 for 1, the target had shrunk from 268 to 246, and somehow the Somerset bowling did not seem to have quite the intensity of the first innings. Whether that was the case or whether it was just the impact on the supporter’s mind of the momentum snatched for Surrey by Morkel and Dunn I cannot say but that is how it felt, and was reflected in the increasingly worried faces of the Somerset supporters.

I walked around the ground between and after the innings and saw Jamie Overton running in from the Pavilion End. All the flowing smoothness of his run-up and action and the pace of the ball from the first innings were there but somehow the menace did not seem to be quite there. Inexplicable because his bowling looked no different. The effort was certainly no less. It just felt different or perhaps the lack of success made it seem so. It was no different whoever bowled in spite of Abell shuffling the pack. The bowling looked the same as the first innings, from square at least, it just felt different. Perhaps that departing cloud really had made a difference. There were edges from the batsmen including some to the boundary but that had been par for the course for this match. Burns looked particularly dangerous and there was a cheer of relief from the Somerset contingent when Burns edged Brooks into the hands of Hildreth who took an excellent diving catch at first slip.

And so to the final day. With Surrey needing a further 168 runs with eight wickets left  the suns shines bright as I type this on the wrong side of London. Somerset have some ground to make up in conditions which may well suit Surrey. Surrey have forced themselves ahead in this match. It is what Champions do. It is what Somerset have done before this season when they have been behind in a match. At Guildford, as they did last year at this time of the season, they face their greatest challenge yet. Whether they can create the sort of atmosphere and tension Surrey did on the third afternoon and reverse the current momentum in this match on a day when the aeroplanes will be clearly visible is what I am soon off to Guildford to see.

Close. Somerset 344 and 153 (J.C. Hildreth 64, M.P. Dunn 5-43, M. Morkel 3-41). Surrey 231 R.S. Patel 63, B.T. Foakes 57, C. Overton 5-38, J. Overton 3-46.) and 99 for 2. Surrey need a further 168 to win.