A numbing experience

County Championship Division 1. Yorkshire v Somerset. 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th July 2019. Headingley.

Overnight. Yorkshire 282 for 3.

Second day. 14th July – A numbing esperience

The disappointment was there to see in the face of every Somerset supporter I saw as I left the ground. It was more than the looks you see after the normal sort of ‘bad day at the office’ cricket. There was a deeper look, one almost of shock. No-one said a word, other than by the look they gave. And every last one gave the same look. For this day had the feeling not just of a heavy defeat pending but of the Championship on the turn. Not only had Somerset fallen far behind Yorkshire but Essex had forged well ahead of a Warwickshire side with batting weakened by England Lions calls and which will have to face the spin of Harmer in the fourth innings. If Somerset lose, which is where the neutral money will be, and Essex win, which they have in every other match this season at Chelmsford Somerset will fall into second place in the table for the first time since the first match of the season. Essex have had the wind in their sails since they beat Somerset at Chelmsford and Somerset have steered themselves into the choppiest of waters in this match since they set the wrong course when they did not contest the toss.

Yorkshire had built the most solid of bases on the first day ending it at 282 for 3 but it was not a runaway score. This season, on more occasions than one, Somerset have turned situations where the opposition have threatened to win and then pressed on to come away with a victory themselves. Those occasions, and six of Somerset’s seven victories, have come against sides in the bottom half of the table. Somerset did not play a top four side in the first six matches of the season during which time they built up a 30-point lead at the top of the table. This is their third match against top-four sides. They have won one, lost one and are now odds on favourites to lose another of those.

In 2018 the defining match was against Surrey at Guildford which Somerset began as Championship leaders. After that devastating defeat it was clear Somerset would not win the Championship that year. The change-around, if that is what is happening, has not been so clear cut in 2019. Even if this match is lost the winning of the Championship will still be in Somerset’s hands, as it will be in Essex’s because Somerset’s last match of the season is against Essex at Taunton. If it comes to that as it now very well might Somerset would have to overcome 128 years of expectation as well as Essex.

It is worth noting too that the last time a side won the County Championship having lost more than one match was in 2013 when Durham won ten and lost four. This match is not lost yet but with Somerset already four wickets down, still 444 runs adrift and Maharaj getting at least one ball to turn sharply they will need a performance of gargantuan proportions to avoid a second defeat and to stay at the head of the table.

I arrived at the ground, after completing my first day report, about half an hour into the day’s play. Groenewald, Somerset’s most consistent bowler in this match, keeping a tight grip on the Yorkshire scoring, had bowled the nightwatchman Shaw. As I found my way to a seat Kohler-Cadmore, with two boundaries, reached his century. As I sat down he edged Craig Overton to Jamie Overton at second slip and Yorkshire were 319 for 5. With the score on 343, Brook, on 25, edged Abell, the ball bisected Davies and Hildreth at first slip, both moved towards it and both stopped and the ball ran to the boundary. 343 for 6, with Brook gone, might just have pushed the door ajar for Somerset. Bess, as he had throughout the first day, immediately roared his encouragement from the boundary, “Come on Tommy A!”, but in the pit of your stomach it felt the moment had passed.

Brooks’ removal of Tattersall shortly afterwards with a ball which seemed to lift and take the shoulder of the bat or perhaps the glove before looping to Jamie Overton at slip had Yorkshire at 351 for 6. It was the apogee of Somerset’s day for thereafter Brook, made his good fortune count. In partnerships of nearly 50 with Fisher and over 100 with Maharaj he steered Yorkshire to beyond 500 and destroyed any prospect of a Somerset victory.

As the weight of Yorkshire runs released the pressure the on their batsmen the rate of scoring accelerated. There was one flash of hope for the Somerset bowlers. Fisher drove hard at Craig Overton and edged the ball at catchable height but it flew too wide for Jamie Overton’s dive at slip. As lunch approached Brook turned Jamie Overton to long leg to bring up his 50 and, since he had been missed, had looked in no trouble. When the lunch interval arrived with Yorkshire on 386 for 6 and Warwickshire on 57 for 4 in reply to Essex’s 245 you could feel Somerset’s lead in the Championship shrinking in front of your eyes.

The afternoon session was demonstrably Yorkshire’s. Bess, who bowled more overs than any other bowler, forced an edge from Fisher which Banton took at short leg caught. 398 for 7. That brought Maharaj to the wicket. He, with Brooks holding firm at the other end, put any remaining thoughts that Somerset might somehow find a way to win this match to flight. At five and a half runs an over he and Brook, but mainly he, finally, emphatically and at speed, took the match far beyond Somerset’s reach. In one short phase of play he drove Bess for four, pulled him over one of the long square boundaries for six and drove Groenewald through the covers for another four whilst Brook added an off drive off Bess for yet another four. Abell kept working on lifting his team with constant cries of, “Come on!” and repeated bursts of three emphatic claps of the hands. It made no difference as the runs contiued to flow like the waters over Niagara.

Waiting for a declaration, for that is what it felt like we were doing, is a dispiriting experience if it is your team that is doing the waiting. The Somerset heads kept up but it must have hurt that, for the first time in the field this season, they found themselves in a situation that looked completely beyond their control. Only when Maharaj, on 72, skied Bess to long on and Jamie Overton took the catch did Somerset regain some control in the field. Brook was on 89 with two wickets left and Somerset kept seven fielders on the boundary, constantly offering him the single in an attempt to get the tail ender on strike. Bess did remove Patterson, caught by Davies, but Brook and Olivier held their nerve for the eight overs it took for Brook to find the final runs he needed for his century.

520 is an enormous mountain to climb, five sessions in the field is an energy sapping marathon and an innings like that of Maharaj finally removing any semblance of control from the fielding side must sap the spirit. But it is in situations such as this that Championship winning sides find the strength to resist. Whether 16 overs, including the final two from the Rugby Stand End, on top of the responsibilities of captaincy is good preparation for opening the innings is a moot point. It could not have helped either that the ball from Fisher which Abell edged to slip swung perfectly away from him. He had played the same push drive in the previous over from Fisher and it had flown across the grass through extra cover to the boundary.

The ball that removed Azhar after he had scored four from 29 balls moved away but not significantly and I did notice that although the bat played forward the feet barely moved. Banton did come forward to Maharaj but the ball still took the edge to go through to Tattersal behind the stumps. Olivier seemed, if only at first, to get more bounce than the Somerset bowlers had done and when Bartlett attempted to pull a bouncer it flew straight to mid-on without much pace and Patterson took a simple catch, if any catch is simple.

Somerset were 49 for four and whilst those last three wickets spanned six overs it felt like they had fallen in as short a time as it takes to describe them. It was a numbing experience after the number of heights Somerset have reached this season and those faces I saw at the end of the day told the tale of just how numbing. More numbing than witnessing the Essex defeat for at Chelmsford losing the toss and the first innings of Sir Alistair Cook had been major factors. Here Somerset had offered Yorkshire first use of the pitch and then been completely outplayed on it.

From 49 for 4 Hildreth, who played with care and judicious attack throughout, and Davies gave a hint of permanence although twice in succession Davies was beaten by Maharaj and once Hildreth was beaten by a ball that clearly surprised him with sharp turn, confirmed by the text which said, “Huge turn there.”. It was impossible to tell from my angle whether other balls turned but the way the batsmen played a number of of them left me with the impression that they had.

With Essex 151 runs ahead of Warwickshire with nine second innings wickets in hand Somerset must draw this match to remain at the top of the table. From the position they find themselves in it will take the effort of a Colossus to do it. The bowlers have produced such efforts on a number of occasions this season. The batsmen only at Trent Bridge in the form of Abell and Bartlett and to a lesser extent at Taunton against Kent in the form of Bartlett. The size of the task and the presence of a test-class spinner in the form of Maharaj sets the odds heavily against them. It would give the rest of the season a Colossus size boost if the batsmen could pull it off.

Close. Yorkshire 520 ( G.S. Ballance 111,  T. Kohler-Cadmore 102, H.C. Brook 101, D.M. Bess 4-130). Somerset 76 for 4. Somerset trail by 444 runs with six first innings wickets standing.