Somerset fight back

County Championship Division 1. Warwickshire v Somerset. 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st August 2019. Edgbaston.

Overnight. Warwickshire 419. Somerset 167 for 5. Somerset trail by 252 runs with five second wickets standing.

Third day – Somerset fight back

There are days when a team stands up to be counted. This was one such for Somerset. And for Essex. Warwickshire, and Kent, had a harder time of it. Whether Somerset did enough, and it is difficult to think they could have done more, will only be known when the fourth day has become part of the history of this year’s Championship. The question that rattled around in my perpetually worrying Somerset mind as I left the ground was: what does Warwickshire 146 all out on the third day of this match mean for Somerset chasing 258 to win on the fourth. I fervently hope that question plagues me for at least two and a half sessions on the final day for anything less than that will mean defeat for Somerset. With only three rounds of matches in the Championship a defeat for Somerset will mean an 18-point lead in the Championship for Essex. Victory will cut that to two. The final day here is that important.

As to that pulsating third day, completing my second day report meant I did not arrive at the ground until 40 minutes into the morning session. Regular readers of my reports will know I live in the 20th century and so do not possess a smartphone. In consequence I travelled to the ground in ‘radio silence’. There was no silence in my head though as wickets tumbled in my endlessly worrying Somerset mind. Edgbaston does not keep you wondering like other large grounds do as you walk interminably behind huge stands or through a tunnel to your seat. It has television sets carrying the live stream of the cricket in the tunnel. And there, before my eyes, was the figure ‘5’ in the ‘wickets’ column. Somerset had not lost a wicket. The sense of relief was palpable. The runs didn’t matter for an unlikely draw was the extent of my hope for Somerset in this match.

As I left the tunnel I ran into another Somerset supporter leaning on a fence between the Pavilion and my refuge in the Hollies Stand and intently watching the cricket. “How are we doing?”, the inevitable question. “A lot of studious defence,” the answer. 187 for 5 the score. Somerset had added 20 runs in three quarters of an hour and Davies had reached his century. When he launched into a straight six off Patel he lifted the spirits. And immediately dampened them when he drove at Patel’s next ball and was caught by Rhodes at slip as it turned a fraction. Of such ups and downs have my 61 seasons of watching Somerset cricket been made. But they have carried such weight as they do in this season in very few of them. Somerset’s interminable quest for the Championship weighs heavy on Somerset minds.

“Essex 41 for 4,” said a Somerset supporter who appeared ‘out of the blue’, and who I had never seen before, attracted presumably by the Somerset wyvern on the front of my wide-brimmed white hat. It attracts Somerset supporters all over the country, whether I am at the cricket or not. That really did raise the hopes for Kent had made 226 in their first innings.

And so to my usual home at Edgbaston. Square of the wicket in the Hollies Stand, today about half way up. Bess had scored seven from 49 balls as part of Somerset’s “studious defence”. Now in two balls off Rhodes he drove through the covers and through point for two boundaries. The second took Somerset to their first batting bonus point. Bess has scored runs before for Somerset, and for England, when it has really mattered. He was to do the same here as he helped steer Somerset through five lower order partnerships worth 143 runs. He made just over a third of those runs but his protection of one end whilst he and the lower order fought to close the gap on Warwickshire was vital.

The heart sank when van der Merwe, on one, advance down the pitch to Rhodes, launched into an expansive drive and edged to Ambrose. 202 for 7. Still 217 behind and 68 short of avoiding the follow-on. Craig Overton can bat and he and Bess now applied themselves to the task. Overton showed immediate intent with two successive boundaries of Rhodes, an off drive and a pull behind square and Bess drove Patel to the short cover boundary. 214 for 7. 56 short of the follow-on. “Essex 62 for 6” said the incoming text. “70 for 7” said a Somerset supporter with a smartphone. Hope.

The intent did not all come in runs from Overton and Bess. Determined defence too. One of the images I carried away from the morning was of the six-foot-five-inch Overton stretching his front leg and bat down the pitch to smother any intent from Patel. Bess fashioned his innings around defence and pushed singles. Overton fashioned his around defence and patiently waited-for boundaries. Eight in a 61 ball innings of 36, mainly off Patel who he drove, pulled and cut when that front foot was not coming down the wicket. And when it was it came with certainty. And all the time at the other end, Bess, keeping Warwickshire out and taking the occasional boundary of his own although two were off the edge. They steered Somerset through a long hour to lunch which was reached on 263 for 7, just seven short of the once distant follow-on figure. “Essex 112 for 9,” at lunch said the PA announcer. That is how we always kept up with opposition scores in the 20th century. I am never sure whether the constant jangling of the nerves from repeated smartphone scores is a good thing or not.

A lunchtime visit to the Warwickshire Members Lounge on the second floor of the Pavilion revealed a panoramic view of the Birmingham skyline in the distance. I could pick out the city’s ultra-modern library, a building which will become iconic if it is not already. You can also fully appreciate the vast expanse of the cricket ground from up there. And just how far over to one side the pitch for this match is. There are at least another 20 yards of outfield beyond the long boundary. You could also find Somerset supporters up there. I found two in particular. We spent a happy 20 minutes putting the Somerset cricket world to rights and then putting it wrong again. Not that there is too much wrong with it at present although there probably would be if we were running it.

I decide to watch an ‘over or two’ from the window. Of course, it stretched to ten. I managed to take three Somerset wickets by my dalliance, although I have not had the nerve to tell anyone. Craig Overton beaten by Hannon-Dalby and taken on the pads. 267 for 8 and the follow-on all but saved. Jamie Overton, caught at slip driving at Brookes. But not before he had scored a typically Overtonesque 22 from 16 balls including a cut behind square off Hannon-Dalby and a hook of Brookes. Fours both. He and the ever-determined Bess had taken Somerset beyond 300 and, as it had seemed during my interminable bus journey, an unlikely three bonus points. Somerset 309 all out, 110 behind Warwickshire, when Brooks drove at Rhodes and edged to Hain at slip. “Essex 112 all out,” someone shouted to me as I left the Members Lounge.

Back to the Hollies Stand for Warwickshire’s innings. I could take no more chances. Well, not quite to the Hollies Stand. At the gap between it and the Pavilion was the Somerset supporter I had chatted too when I arrived. We chatted again. Chat relieves nerves, if only in the moment. One of the points of conversation was Essex’s ability to come back from poor situations this season. Suddenly the Somerset supporter who had earlier appeared out of nowhere to give us news of the beginning of the demise of the Essex innings appeared again. “Kent 28 for 8.” Now that is what I call a conversation stopper. He was soon followed by an Essex supporter telling us Kent were 33 for 8. Hope of an Essex defeat now all but gone for they would surely complete the job.

Time to retreat to the Hollies Stand. Somerset have come back from poor situations too this season and had themselves bowled Kent out for 59 at Canterbury. And then Sibley leaned into a ball from Brooks, missed it and departed lbw. Warwickshire 26 for 1. Both Yates and Rhodes were beaten by Brooks and Somerset faces in the crowd stared to look up. Somerset’s near silence in the field of the first innings was gone too. They were not as incessantly chirpy as Warwickshire had been but there was a regular rendition of “C’mon” and names of bowlers being called out. There were boundaries, to cheers, to lift the Warwickshire score. Rhodes cut Jamie Overton between gully and point and steered Abell to third man but a straight drive was stopped by a sharp dive from Brooks at straight mid-on, and five overs for three runs showed Somerset’s intent.

When Rhodes tried to break free with three boundaries in two overs to take Warwickshire to 48 for 1, 158 ahead, the road to a declaration at the end of the day or in the morning seemed open. When Abell removed Rhodes, brilliantly caught at slip by Hildreth falling far to his left and taking the ball at head height as he went; and Hain, lbw, if playing well forward, Somerset supporters suddenly sat up in their seats. Now the heart was pumping. Warwickshire were still 158 ahead and still had seven wickets but the mood had changed, at least the mood of the Somerset supporters. Here was hope revived. It might at least slow Warwickshire up.

Tea. “Kent 226 and 40. Essex 114 and 28 for 1,” said the eternally calm tone of the announcer. I doubt there were many calm Somerset supporters in the ground. I took myself out to the middle to look at the pitch. There were some footmarks just inside the ‘prohibited area’ and I worried about Davies facing Patel in the second innings. As I turned, the Essex supporter one who had brought news that Kent were 33 for 8 was scurrying out to the middle to tell me, “Kent all out 40!”

To get a different perspective of the ground I left the outfield via the Wyatt Stand and watched a few overs from there. It is a popular stand and was bathed in warm sunshine but, with the pitch so far over towards the Hollies Stand, the cricket seemed a continent away. As I made my way back to my seat I was passing behind the Barnes Stand when I heard a cheer from the middle. The sound of the fall of a wicket is like no other in cricket. The roar from the players is unmistakeable. Hose caught behind off Brooks for seven, the cause of the cheer. He had driven at a ball that looked like it might have moved away from him apparently. 65 for 4.

Yates, centurion in the first innings, now tried to take Warwickshire forward in the second. Eight boundaries, including a perfectly middled cut off Bess to the long boundary took him to 49. “I think we should allow him one more,” said a passing Somerset supporter. He was “allowed” four more before Jamie Overton hit his pads and the umpire’s finger was raised. Yates had had some match and he was applauded off the field by both sets of supporters. Within two balls Burgess had fended Overton straight to van der Merwe at gully. Warwickshire were 107 for 6. 217 ahead. “There is going to be a result here,” was the instant thought. Essex 86 for 5,” said a Somerset supporter with a smartphone, “life is starting to get interesting.”

Somerset were ‘on fire’ now, and Overton in particular. He was running in with that smooth powerful run that ends with him following through nearly to the batsman that he has when he is at his best. “Essex 88 for 6. “Who are in for Essex?” I asked. “Wheater and Harmer,” the reply. “Harmer is a tough competitor and Wheater can bat,” my response. My thoughts returned to Edgbaston where Overton forced an edge from Brookes. Warwickshire 113 for 7. “Come on boys,” demanded Abell. When Ambrose glanced Craig Overton for four and Patel clipped him over long leg for six someone in the Warwickshire crowd twice shouted, “Come on you bears!”. The partnership put on what must have felt to Warwickshire like 24 precious runs, every one of them cheered by the Warwickshire crowd. There were Somerset cheers when on 135 Ambrose was lbw to Craig Overton, “That one jagged back,” said the incoming text from an online watcher, and Patel was lbw to Abell. “Essex 114 for 6,” said the man with the smartphone. “They are getting close now,” my response.

When, to, “Come on you bears,” Hannon-Dalby drove through the covers to the long boundary after four overs of defence Warwickshire were 141 for 9 and Essex 123 for 6. When Hannon-Dalby was caught at slip off Abell Somerset needed 258 to win. Abell and Davies came out to bat in the sort of Stygian gloom that usually spells the end of play and after two firmly-struck boundaries from Abell the umpires took the players off.

As I walked through the tunnel with a couple of other Somerset supporters there was the Essex supporter, “Essex have won, sorry boys,” his parting comment. And as I left the ground contemplating those 250 runs Somerset needed I worried about the ball that Patel turned to dismiss Davies and the one that Craig Overton jagged back to dismiss Ambrose. Oh, what a day of purgatory will lie in store if Somerset are to win.

Close. Warwickshire 419 and 146 (R.M. Yates 53, T.B. Abell 4 for 39, J. Overton 3 for 26). Somerset 308 (S.M. Davies 109, D.M. Bess 52*, W.H.M. Rhodes 3 for 37, O.J. Hannon-Dalby 3 for 65) and 8 for 0. Somerset need another 250 runs to win with ten second innings wickets standing.