Somerset’s tectonic shift

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

Final day. 6th June – Somerset’s tectonic shift

Overnight. Somerset 344 and 153. Surrey 231 and 99 for 2. Surrey need a further 156 runs to win with eight wickets standing.

What a difference a year makes! In one sense the fourth morning of this match was very similar to the third morning at Guildford in 2018. A bowling performance of such intensity that the batting just melted away before it. Except in 2019 it was Somerset who were doing the bowling and Surrey the melting away. After the 2018 match several travelling Somerset supporters found ourselves in a group behind the Pavilion and concluded we had seen the 2018 County Champions and they were not Somerset. Another group, some from last year and some others found ourselves together after this match on the Woodbridge Road boundary. None dared predict anything but all agreed something very special had happened during the morning and that this Somerset team has something very special.

That has been clear for some time now but the shift in the balance of power between these two teams over the last year had been laid bare for all to see. It was not just the win. It was the manner of the win. The County Champions fighting their way back to head the game on the third evening and Somerset finding it within themselves to come again and sweep Surrey’s resurgence away in 90 minutes of searing seam bowing, ferocious fielding, incomparable catching and overwhelming team spirit on the final morning. A sight, I suspect, never to be forgotten by those of us fortunate enough to be there or to have followed it from a distance.

And this time I was there. Not quite for all of it but for enough of it. I had cut everything to the bone overnight except the writing of my third day report. My train pulled into Guildford station a few minutes after eleven o’clock. I am not sure what I looked like as I walked at warp speed, or as near as I can get to it, leaning hard into the direction of travel with my Somerset bag and Somerset umbrella trailing behind me in one hand, my wyvern hat on at I know not what angle, and my phone in the other hand dealing with texts from people not at the match wanting to know what it was like being at the match. Thank you to Guildford Council for the lack of loose paving stones which was probably the only thing that kept me on my feet. And to the Surrey pedestrians who must take full credit for the avoidance of collisions. One text came from someone who knew I would not yet be at the ground. It said simply, “111 for 2.” It came from the owner of a smart phone (my resistance to keeping my life in my pocket is still holding out) who is a non-cricket person but one who knows there are times in life when the thing that matters most is knowing the score.

By the time I had calculated the runs still needed by Surrey (156) I was through the gate and buying my ticket (£20). Ticket in hand I swivelled, perhaps not with the finesse with which Tom Banton swivels when he plays that light-touch pull of his but swivel I did. I ended up facing the wicket to see a stump flying out of the ground and to hear a roar of such ferocity that its like has probably not been heard since the last dinosaur breathed its last breath. I assume it came from Brooks, bowling from the River End, for when I managed to get a better look around what I take to be the committee marquee he was being engulfed by the entire Somerset team and Gareth Batty was walking off. The nightwatchman perhaps but Surrey were 118 for 3 and Somerset were underway. And so was I, hurrying along the Woodbridge Road boundary and eying up a seat as near as I could guess to where I had sat on the first three days. Not a huge crowd and there were seats aplenty in the front row square of the wicket.

I sat down, put my bag on the seat next to me, extracted my scorecard to enter the wicket, and my phone to send the news to someone working with no easily accessible internet access. I looked up just as Brooks let fly another thunderbolt, saw two of Elgar’s stumps splayed and another out of the ground. 118 for 4. “C’mon lads! Come on!” roared Abell. A review of video footage suggests the ball which bowled Batty cut in sharply off the pitch and the one which bowled Elgar swung late into the left-hander to take the inside edge onto the stumps. That is stunning bowling by any standards. There followed a jumble of cricket-watching, scorecard-completing, notetaking, a text to the worker which had to be repeated to the old schoolfriend with whom I had watched the first three days as he rushed to get to the ground having been delayed whilst buying a ticket for the fifth day of the Headingley Test. The happenings in a County Championship match ripple far and wide beyond the confines of the grounds where they take place.

My domestic arrangements were sorted out just in time to see an outstanding catch from Trescothick. Brooks the bowler again. Foakes, who had given Somerset such trouble on the second day, the batsman. The ball was angled in and straightened off the pitch. Unplayable. The edge flew fast and low to Trescothick’s right. He was down and across to it in a flash and ended up full length on the ground. His whole movement was towards where I was sitting and I had a perfect, if distant, view of the lightning-fast smoothness of the movement of his hands as he scooped up the ball an inch or two above the ground. When Trescothick eventually retires his slip catching will be a jewel to be retained in the forefront of the cricketing memory cabinet. “Wonderful catch!” the comment which revealed two more Somerset supporters wreathed in smiles just along the row from me. Catches, as they say, win matches and ones like that must test the spirit of an opposition which finds itself on the rack. And Surrey, at 120 for 5, still 147 more to win, with Somerset rampant, were now on the rack.

Pace bowlers cannot bowl for ever and Brooks eventually had to retire to the field. He was replaced by Groenewald who had only Batty’s first innings wicket to his credit so far in this match. His first ball uprooted Borthwick’s off stump. Borthwick, out for 45, had resisted for a long time, as he had in the first innings. “Brilliant. Did it with a yorker,” said my friend. Not just a yorker but an in swinging one which left Borthwick looking up and down the pitch as if trying to work out just what line the ball had taken. I said nothing but I do have to confess it was now not only the players who were roaring like dinosaurs when the stumps flew. I am usually quite restrained when Somerset take wickets, the occasional cheer, a lot of vehement clapping, the occasional punch of the air for an important wicket, but roaring is not really my style. But something special, perhaps pivotal, in Somerset’s 128-year quest for the County Championship was happening in front of my eyes. So a roar it was. Followed by, “Come on. Come on!” There was something about the fall of that wicket. Perhaps its effect on me was being projected in my mind back onto what was happening in the middle but it looked to me like Surrey were bending before the sheer intensity of the cricket Somerset were playing. It looked exactly like the reverse of the defeat that had befallen Somerset a year before at this ground. It was as if a tectonic shift was happening in front of our eyes. Surrey 127 for 6.

When Jacks was lbw to Groenewald to a ball that jagged into him off the pitch Surrey were 131 for 7 and the recovery for which the Surrey bowlers had worked so hard the previous day was in ruins. It was hard to credit. Less than an hour before I had received that text with the report that Surrey were 111 for 2. The text I sent with news of Jacks’ wicket resulted in, “We need Clarke, he is an England player when he plays against us.” It would be difficult to find a Somerset supporter who would disagree with that assessment of Clarke whether playing for Surrey or Warwickshire. And, with Patel, he did start to settle things down. A cover drive for four off Groenewald flew to the boundary as did a pair of cuts backward of point from Patel off Craig Overton. Suddenly it was looking easier to bat but it never felt remotely like Patel and Clarke could stage a recovery from more than 100 runs behind. The caterers had obviously come to the same conclusion for they walked along the boundary selling sandwiches and pieces of cake for “only £2”. I withstood the temptation having brought enough food for lunch and tea, not daring to tempt fate by bringing less in case it suggested I was assuming the match might finish earlier.

Then Clarke became the first Surrey batsman of the day to look like he might have contributed to his own downfall. He was brilliantly caught by a diving Steve Davies but he had tried to cut a ball well outside off stump. 153 for 8. With that any remaining tension was replaced by anticipation of a victory which had been forged out of the sheer will to win driving exceptional cricketing skills. The catches of Trescothick and Davies, those wicket-taking balls of Brooks and Groenewald and the pressure applied by the entire pace attack had taken its toll on Surrey.

The fielding too had played its part. There were the usual stops by Abell in the covers and the searing boundary runs to reduce fours to twos and, not uncommonly on this small ground, ones. When Patel drove through the air but wide of Abell at cover Banton ran long and hard along the boundary towards us and, seemingly impossibly scooped up the ball two feet inside the boundary and kept the batsmen to two. I record it here not because it stood out as piece of fielding but because it was typical of Somerset’s fielding. It surely must put pressure on batsmen that their strokes do not seem to get full value and that they have to take that extra bit of risk to reach the boundary.

And then, within two overs it was over. Patel cut Craig Overton neatly into the hands of Jamie Overton at gully. It could as easily have been the other way around. What value do you put on two players who can bowl as the Overton’s do, field so exceptionally as they do, whether in the slip/gully cordon or on the boundary, and wield a bat with some effect in the lower order. They are exceptional players on the county scene although not necessarily so exceptional in this Somerset team. When Leach accepted the catch looped to him by Morkel off Overton Somerset had won.

It had been an extraordinary morning in an extraordinary match of extraordinary Somerset performances. The batting of Bartlett in the first innings and of Hildreth in the second. The bowling of Craig and Jamie Overton in the first innings and of Brooks and Groenewald in the second. The catching of Trescothick, Hildreth, Jamie Overton and Davies across the match. Not a single catch was fumbled let alone dropped. I don’t recall a single misfield. When Somerset play as they did in this match there really is nowhere for the opposition to go. It must wear teams down until they wilt in the face of it. Perhaps we saw something of that on the final morning when, after all their efforts on the third afternoon and evening, Surrey were suddenly faced with a bowling and fielding performance straight from the land of dreams.

As to my third day anxiety about expected lack of cloud cover on the fourth day reducing the propensity of the ball to swing. There was no cloud cover to speak of. It made not a jot of difference to the Somerset bowling. “Don’t overthink things,” someone said to me. Perhaps on this occasion that was wise advice.

Somerset ended this round of matches 15 points clear at the top of the County Championship. No Somerset supporter I spoke to would presume anything about the position at the end of the season. We would dare to dream but we would not dare to speak the dream. There is a long way to the end of the season. The table does not lie but it also reveals a truth. Somerset’s five games have all been against the bottom four counties although those counties are where they are in part because they have played Somerset. All three of the other counties in the top four have yet to be played. But they will be playing a great Somerset team. One of the greatest in the Club’s history. Where this team will end up this season I cannot say but it has the potential to become the greatest of them all.

Result. Somerset 344 (G.A. Bartlett 137, T. Banton 44, S.M. Davies 41, M. Morkel 4 for 64, R. Clarke 3-72, M.P. Dunn 3-85) 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 164 (R.J. Burns 48, S.G. Borthwick 45, J.A. Brooks 5-33, T.D. Groenewald 3-29). Somerset won by 102 runs. Somerset 22 points. Surrey 4 points.