County Championship Division 1. Somerset v Yorkshire. 10th, 11th and 12th September 2019. Taunton.
Overnight. Somerset 199 and 269 for 5. Yorkshire 103. Somerset lead by 365 runs with five first innings wickets standing.
Final day – “Yorkshire are already one down”
“Yorkshire are already one down. 8 for 1,” said the urgent voice from over my shoulder. The comment came from someone who I overtook as I scurried along St James Street, perennially late for the cricket. It’s the hat. Whenever there is a crucial score to be reported or sought the maroon wyvern on the front of my white broad-rimmed sunhat attracts Somerset supporters the country over. The confirmation of that score came from a snatched glance over the perimeter wall as I approached the J.C. White gates. It takes about 30 seconds to get from there to the boundary but the need of the supporter to know the score on days such as this cannot wait 30 seconds. 30 seconds is an eternity. There is the quandary too. You don’t want to miss a wicket so when you look over the wall you hope for 8 for 1. Then you reprimand yourself and hope for 8 for 2 and 8 for 1 becomes a disappointment. What it is to be a Somerset supporter at times such as this.
And when you can’t get to the cricket on time, what it is to have the live stream. How does anyone get anything done when Somerset are on the live stream? Not every 21st century technological development has passed me by. Somerset’s intent was clear as soon as I switched it on. Gregory danced down the pitch to Maharaj, tried to hit him into the Sir Ian Botham Stand, played around an arm ball and was bowled for 39. In the next over a ball from Bresnan moved in off the seam and hit Bess’s off stump. You get a perfect view of movement on the live stream. The movement was marked, more than had been seen on the first two days. When Bartlett came down the wicket to Maharaj to target the Sir Ian Botham Stand the ball turned neatly past his bat and he was stumped so comprehensively he didn’t try to get back. Somerset were 291 for 8. A lead of 387, Bartlett 47 and the onset of the Yorkshire innings rushing towards me.
If you live within reach of the ground there are times when you just have to get there. The Yorkshire second innings was one of these. The rest of this match would not really start until the Somerset bowlers got at the Yorkshire batsmen and that time was nigh. Not being able to find your door key slows you up. I always leave my door key in one of two places. A lesson learned from spending most of my childhood watching my father search for his door keys. My key wasn’t in either place. I know because I spent the next few minutes, knowing the Yorkshire innings was racing towards me, running up and back between the two. Searching both places and every other conceivable place where I might possibly have left my key but knew I hadn’t. And before anyone asks, that includes my trouser pockets where it normally resides when I am on the move. And all the time, my laptop now packed away, not knowing just how close the start of the Yorkshire innings was. I can report that it takes five increasingly frantic searches of every possible place a key might have been put but wasn’t, including racing up and down the stairs like Roelof van der Merwe on a quick single, before sense sinks in and you decide to take the spare key.
And then the three-minute, or one over, wait for the bus seemed to take at least half an hour. And a lost door key is a worry. Nearly as much as not knowing the score. A text to my expert summarizer who gave me a lift home after the second day revealed it had not fallen out of my pocket into his car as it might have done for I had been let into the house rather than let myself in. A bus journey to the cricket is always shorter with a book. My current one is about the seismic changes in world politics in 1946-47, nothing new there then, but somehow, in comparison with not knowing the score upon which the Championship might depend, 1946-47 failed to hold my attention.
And then that urgent, “Yorkshire are already one down,” came over my shoulder. For a third, possibly last, day the crowd was huge. To the eye it rivalled the first two. I took station in the Ondaatje Stand from where the scoreboards told me Lyth had gone for 1. Caught Overton bowled Davey. Edged to slip then, and one of the two Yorkshire batsmen I feared might play a long innings had gone. The chances of a Yorkshire victory were remote. Yorkshire needed 425 but that 128-year wait for the title demanded certainty, and of all the sports cricket is the least capable of providing certainty.
The other Yorkshire batsman who was capable of stretching the strain on Somerset hearts was Ballance. He had done it ruthlessly, and seemingly endlessly, at Headingley and he might do it again here. He certainly looked comfortable enough even beneath overcast skies. Bess was on early, as soon as I sat down. Ballance drove him smoothly through the off side to the Somerset Stand for four ahead of a fielder engaged in an unavailing chase all the way to that long boundary. Davey was pulled to the same place to cheers from the Yorkshire dressing room just over my right shoulder. Tattersall, who had opened in place of the injured Fraine, added to my unease about the ease with which runs were starting to come when he turned Davey to the Colin Atkinson boundary. By the time Ballance cut Bess to the Somerset Stand there was more than a hint of tension in the air. It was totally irrational of course; Yorkshire still needed a monumental 390 to win and Somerset still had more than five sessions to bowl them out. But the Taunton buzz was subdued as, at times, as they say, a hush descended. People were watching. Not missing a ball. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting for a wicket. Waiting, if any dared breath the thought, for the win that would keep in sight an end to that 128-year long wait.
As the relief of the lunch break approached Abell turned to Overton, unleashed Somerset’s spear-thrower from the Somerset Pavilion End. Ballance faced the final over. “C’mon Jamie O!” the silence shattering call from Abell. The fourth ball was a full toss. Ballance drove through point to the Caddick Pavilion to applause from the crowd. A good stroke, even off a full toss, getting acknowledgement from among the cauldron of emotion that had enveloped the Cooper Associates County Ground.
“C’mon Jamie O” the thought in every Somerset mind as Overton ran in to deliver his fifth ball. When Overton is getting it righ he runs in with a smoothness and mounting momentum that exudes pent-up power. When his arm comes over the motion is as smooth as his run up but the ball is propelled like a rocket. He angled that fifth ball in at Ballance’s off stump. Ballance moved across to defend. The ball perhaps moved a trace away, the snick was audible from sixty yards and Davies’ gloves, as smooth in their movement as Overton’s action, did the rest. The cauldron of emotion erupted. Applause. Cheers. Relief. Intense relief. Ballance was gone. The match was within Somerset’s grasp. It might take time but it would, surely, surely now, come.
Lunch was a blur. Except for the door key. No-one had handed a door key in at the Club office. Its loss was beyond understanding. I have never lost a door key in my life but this one refused to deliver itself up. I paraded out to the middle but what the pitch looked like I cannot remember. I spoke to several people but what was said floated away on the wave of anticipation that you could see in every Somerset face. Could hear in every conversation whether you could hear the words or not. And what news of Essex? 160 for 3 someone had heard. They were hardly going to lose on that Edgbaston featherbed but there seemed no way they could win either even if a doubt always nags where cricket is concerned.
I had not yet been to the top of the Somerset Pavilion in this match. A few overs watched from the roof terrace could do no harm I thought, so I climbed that ever-growing number of stairs. At least half a dozen more every year according to my legs. What a view you get from there on a sunny day and now, as if they had awaited the departure of Ballance, the grey clouds exited the scene to be replaced by high white ones attending on blue sky and the Quantocks. And what would Somerset cricket be without the Quantocks? The ever-present picture of the Somerset patchwork landscape. Lifting hearts or signalling rain. On this day there was no prospect of rain, so the lifted hearts it was.
And then as the players got back to business and the Quantocks looked on, I fell into conversation with someone who knows a bit about cricket and would see Somerset win the Championship as much as I would. What better could be wished for on a sunny afternoon? From there my notebook is empty but my memory is vivid of a Somerset performance beyond notes. For the detail of notes would diminish the sense of the all-consuming oneness of spirit which the Somerset team demonstrated after lunch. It was as if someone had made a dream-like swirling kaleidoscopic film of bowlers bowling, wickets falling, fielders diving and team mates celebrating. Runs no longer seemed to matter for as the performance unfolded the sense of inevitability about the result, that had in truth perhaps always been there, drove anxiety to flight.
First Overton ran in, away from us watching from on high. That smooth run, that smooth action, that spearing ball, Tattersall’s bat rising to avoid it, too slow, the ball flew off the face and straight into the hands of Hildreth at second slip. The cheers were of expectation of more to come. And as the bowlers continued to run in more did come. Van der Merwe, running towards us from the River End, left Brook’s off stump askew as the arm ball broke through the gap left by Brook as he stepped away to cut or drive. The shriek from van der Merwe cut through everything else, the shouts of the players, the cheers of the crowd and the emotion of the moment. It was a shriek of sheer joy.
The talk, as the two of us watching leaned on a drinks pedestal, was of Southampton and of what type of pitch might be prepared. Either pitches from which the ball seams viciously or pitches where the ball does nothing at all seem to have been the order of the day there. Back Somerset’s bowlers against their bowlers whatever the pitch was the concluding thought. And what if … There are so many ‘ifs’ in cricket. What if Somerset were ahead of Essex for the final match of the season. A result pitch or a ‘road’? Not a ‘road’, my thought. What prospect of Essex winning the toss on a ‘road’, of Sir Alistair Cook scoring 200, of Essex scoring 550 and Somerset having to bat out two days to win the Championship? Now, that would be pressure beyond endurance and cricket is played mainly in the head. A result pitch and back our bowlers against theirs for me. But such decisions are easy to make when you do not carry the responsibility for making them. Spare a thought for those who do. Who would want to be in their shoes?
And speaking of bowlers, apparently Overton had hit a pair of sixes while I was on the bus. One straight, and one over long on to the right of where we were standing. It might still have been going up when it crossed the boundary and might possibly have crossed the car park and bounced out of the ground.
But that, Overton’s sixes apart, was all conjecture and all premature. There was a match in front of us to be won yet as the Somerset bowlers continued to run in and the Quantocks continued to look down. A huge six pulled over long leg somewhere in the region of the Colin Atkinson Pavilion by Bresnan off Gregory barely seemed to make an impact as burgeoning expectation filled the mind. When, in the next over Bresnan hesitated and then set off from the non-striker’s end Bess, at point, was lightning-quick on the pick-up from Kohler-Cadmore’s stroke and hit the single stump he could see at the striker’s end. Yorkshire were 94 for 5. Bresnan run out by feet rather than inches. That piece of fielding seemed to encapsulate Somerset in the field. Sharp as a razor, predatory, ruthless.
And now the forgotten man among Somerset’s bowlers. Not seen in the Championship for four months. Josh Davey took up the mantle from the Somerset Pavilion End. His run up is as smooth, if of the speed of the inside lane rather than the outside lane acceleration of Overton’s powering approach. But it was a beautiful piece of bowling, all the rust of his first spell of the match gone. The oil had worked around the system and the system delivered. Perfectly shaped deliveries homed in on the spot ball after ball. Testing the batsmen. Keeping them honest. In the end all that were left succumbed. Kohler-Cadmore came forward to a ball that might just have missed off stump and edged it straight into the waiting hands of Hildreth at first slip. For Maharaj the ball homed in on leg stump, he tried to turn it to leg, missed and only his pad stopped it from hitting the stumps.
That was the signal for me to leave the commanding heights of the Somerset Pavilion, the Quantocks and the cricket chat for the unwell Coad would not bat and my bag was waiting for me on my seat in the Ondaatje Stand. I had just reached the aisle which separates the two halves of that Stand when Fraine, batting with a runner, repeated Maharaj’s stroke. This time there was a leading edge and Davey took the return catch head high. With one wicket to fall Patterson laid about him to the tune of four boundaries and Olivier one. When Patterson tried to drive Davey for a fifth the ball steepled beyond cover, Bess hurtled after it as it must have swirled in the stiff breeze and, in his second piece of brilliant fielding since lunch, caught it, full on the run, over his right shoulder.
Yorkshire, 127 all out had lost by 298 runs and Somerset were back on top of the Championship. With there appearing to be no route to victory at Edgbaston for Essex it was a position they would hold going into the penultimate round of matches. Amongst the joyous buzz that ran around the ground now, Davey walked off, looking flushed, as well he might, holding the match ball to applause from all around for his career-best figures of five for 21, not least from his smiling team mates
Departure from the ground was slow as people stopped to talk or just sat in their seats contemplating who knows what as they stared into the middle distance. Perhaps needing to let the overwhelming dominance of their team in this match sink in. Perhaps needing to contemplate the enormity of what remained possible. Perhaps trying not to dream too hard for the dream had been dashed at the line twice before. Perhaps just needing to recharge their emotions after such a day, after such a match. And then for those of us near the Caddick Pavilion Blackbird blasted out from the dressing room.
In the end of course you have to leave. There was a bus to be caught and a home to go to. And yet such had been the emotion of the day it was only when I reached my front door that I remembered the key. The one I had lost and the spare I had taken with me. Where was that? I hadn’t put it in my trouser pocket because it had no fob. Soon remembered I was inside the house. And when I bent double to undo my shoe laces the one I had lost fell out of my top pocket. Now, who on earth would put their door key in their top pocket …
Result. Somerset 199 (T.B. Abell 66, J. Overton 40*, K.A. Maharaj 5-54). and 329 (T.B. Abell 62, J.C. Hildreth 68, G.A. Bartlett 47, K.A. Maharaj 5-122). Yorkshire 103 (R.E. van der Merwe 3-14, J.H. Davey 3-30) and 127 (J.H. Davey 5-21). Somerset won by 298 runs. Somerset 19 pts. Yorkshire 3 pts.