Championship hopes cloud over

County Championship Division 1. Somerset v Essex. 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th September 2019. Taunton.

Overnight. Somerset 203. Essex 25 for 0. Essex trail Somerset by 178 runs.

Third day. 25th September. No Play. Rain and wet outfield.

Championship hopes cloud over

It was a day of checking weather Apps, low fast-moving grey cloud, pulses of rain, covers coming off and going back on, umpires inspecting, ground staff mopping up just in time for another blast of mizzle or spate of heavier rain and, in the end, waiting endlessly for wet ground to dry out. The sky dropped repeated visitations of the sort of mizzle against which an umbrella acts as a trap to hold it around your face, and heavier bursts of rain. The sky brought no hope at all to Somerset supporters, just a conveyor belt of low grey cloud. Seeing no immediate prospect of play I took a more leisurely stroll around the ground than is usually possible at the start of a day’s play. The conversations were as much about the weather as they were about the cricket, for the weather was taking an increasingly strong grip on the match and in so doing tightening Essex’s grip on the Championship.

Rain delays at cricket matches work to differing parallel timescales. The delay itself seemed interminable and people had different ways of coping with it. A few read, some looked at their phones, some retreated to a bar, some meandered around the ground and in the dryer spells many sat, talked and watched the elements. Whatever the method of coping with the delay the hands on the Colin Atkinson Pavilion clock seemed at times to barely move, for at a cricket ground without cricket time can drag its feet unmercifully. And then there are the other timescales. For Essex supporters I imagine, although I don’t know, time may have travelled even more slowly as they waited for a Championship which, as the day crawled on, moved inexorably, if glacially, even further in their direction. For Somerset supporters, needing an early start to play, every look at the clock revealed it had taken another sizeable chunk out of the match.

I tend to walk, and as I come across people I know, talk in rain breaks. As I meandered under those persistent fast-moving clouds it was the faces that took my attention. Somerset faces mainly, but Essex ones too. The Essex faces were more relaxed, engaged in conversation without the anxiety of desperately needed time slipping away. In some the growing hope, even anticipation, of winning the Championship was beginning to break through. It is where Somerset faces were, briefly, in 2010 and 2016. It is a look I recognise.

For Somerset supporters the slow passage of the delay was frequently interrupted by looks at the clock which brought the realisation that more chunks, however slowly, were being taken out of the match. The faces told the tale. Distant looks, anxious looks, but still hoping looks. They were everywhere. Still hoping, against the growing reality, that there would be enough time for Somerset to work the miracle they would now need. As long as there is even the remotest prospect of a Somerset victory the heart will cling on to it, for the cricketing heart will cling on to possibility against the harsh face of probability wherever it can.

The heart may hope but the mind is not a fool. It knew the prospects of a miracle were shrinking exponentially by the hour. I spoke to several Somerset supporters. It was possible to construct a route to a Somerset victory if there were a full day’s play on the last day. Bowl Essex out quickly, a 15 over thrash by the Somerset batsmen, although Harmer and Cook might have something to say about that, and then bowl Essex out again. But just the saying of it revealed the near impossibility of it. And the still mutating weather forecast for the final day hardly built confidence.

I returned to my seat as the umpires took their final look at the conditions. The rains of the previous two nights and the first part of the day had been too much. The damp area on the Somerset Pavilion side of the square was still too damp for the umpires to feel confident enough to order a restart and play was abandoned for the day. An Essex supporter and I fell into a brief friendly conversation of the sort you can have between opposition supporters at any county ground in the country however tight the situation in the match, however much is riding on it. I know too, from talking to other Somerset supporters, it was not the only such discussion of the day. The Essex supporter acknowledged the frustration I must be feeling at the vagaries of the weather but the match was not over for certain, he thought. There was still just a chance for Somerset. I thought far too much time had been lost. “Do not underestimate our ability to collapse,” he said with feeling. “Twice?” my reply as we exchanged wry smiles.

There is no doubt, if there is play on the final day, the Somerset team will walk out of the Pavilion with fire in their eyes. They will test Essex to the limit of their powers in any short time left in this match. If there is a collapse, the Somerset bowlers will exploit it. But for Essex, who have not lost since the first match of the season, to collapse to the tune of ten wickets twice in a day, even under the pressure of the Championship trophy bearing down on them, even on a pitch helpful to bowlers would, indeed, need a miracle. That, I suspect, will not stop Essex supporters fearing one or Somerset supporters hoping for one.

Close. Somerset 203. Essex 25 for 0. Essex trail Somerset by 178 runs.