County Championship 2017 ~ So Close

SO CLOSE 

~   YORKSHIRE   ~ 

“Yorkshire eyes perked up although the couple in front of me could not bear to applaud. Too tense. Too close. Somerset faces looked at each other. So close and yet now a little further away.”

Specsavers County Championship. First Division. Taunton. 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th June 2017. Somerset v Yorkshire.

In this match Adam Hose replaced Peter Trego. This was the first sign that the guard might be changing in the Championship batting line up.

9th June. First Day.

Farmer White (IP Logged) 10 June 2017 8.30 a.m.

“Isn’t it time Ryan Sidebottom retired?” said the incoming text just before the close after he had taken three Somerset wickets in his first five overs. And that after he had batted 18 overs to help add 31 for the last Yorkshire wicket with more ease than virtually any of the Yorkshire batsmen had shown. He is a remarkable player.

I sat square of the wicket today so it was difficult to detect movement but it is the first place suspicion goes when Sidebottom is taking wickets.

Elgar did not look quite so secure as he has. An extravagant swish of that non-connecting drive which very occasionally punctuates his batting followed a perfectly driven four. Then caught at slip. His less than perfect start did not make his wicket a total surprise. A review of video footage revealed a near perfect ball from Sidebottom which swung perfectly to take the edge. A bowler’s wicket rather than a batsman’s error.

Tom Abell fell to one that Sidebottom bowled across him. No real sign of movement just a perfectly angled ball to get second ball although a batsman in better form might have survived. Trescothick’s shot, through which he was bowled, looked loose from square but he had scored but 6 in nearly 9 overs. That sort of pressure takes wickets and leads batsmen to try to break free. The video footage seemed to confirm the looseness of the shot but also the quality of the ball. And so Somerset closed somewhat precariously on 43 for 3 having earlier looked on top having bowled Yorkshire out for 202.

We will miss Trescothick when he eventually retires and we will remember him for better innings than this. Some perhaps yet to be played. We will too miss a bowler of the quality of Sidebottom. Players of such quality, of such longevity as these two are rare treasures and they make differences in matches as Sidebottom did last night. A mere 22 Tests for England for such a bowler as Sidebottom has been Yorkshire’s and Nottinghamshire’s gain. He received generous applause when he reached the Gimblett’s Hill boundary and he deserved it. We should all treasure this match for we will not see him again.
           

I arrived at the ground late due to having stayed up until 4 a.m. waiting to see who won the General Election. It seems they have draws there too. I walked in through the Brian Rose gates to see the ball flying to Gregory at gully off a ball from Jamie Overton. Yorkshire 34 for 1. I had barely settled than I found them 34 for 2, Bess already on at the River End had accounted for Lees.

A bit like the election campaign watching the cricket today was like falling through a time warp into the 1950s. Two spinners, a genuinely fast bowler and by the end of the day less than 250 runs. Someone said to me as I left, “What dirge.” But I had brought my anorak and I have to confess to thoroughly enjoying the whole day. It was good intensely competitive cricket. Not perhaps though a day to introduce someone to the game and not a game for batsmen against the quality of bowling we saw.

And not just from Sidebottom. Jamie Overton bowled a spell to match that of the one he bowled at Lord’s. Fast, accurate and he spooked the batsmen. He pushed Hanscomb almost onto his stumps with sheer pace and then an over or two later pushed him back again. I saw this from a meander behind the arm and I have never seen a more plumb lbw. He then rushed Leaning so fast into a tucked up pull that the ball looped to Craig Overton at backward square leg. A true fast bowler’s wicket. 15-4-30-3. He really does seem to be improving by the match. Further to travel yet perhaps but over the last two or three matches he does look like he might be on a road that could end in the England dressing room.

Craig with figures of 16-10-21-1 more than deserved his wicket taken with a ball that might have been borrowed from Sidebottom’s locker. A bowler cannot keep batsmen under pressure better than with figures such as those. Lewis Gregory pocketed his two wickets. Some of the Yorkshire wickets were self-inflicted or so it looked to me and Leach and Bess took their wickets with no apparent demons in the pitch. Keep batsmen under continual pressure like Somerset did yesterday and they will, through human nature, make errors.

The first hour will be crucial today. It always is. Sidebottom, with Patterson the miser at the other end, will ask the same questions he did yesterday. If yesterday is anything to go by every hour will be crucial in this match. 245 runs in six hours absolutely flew by.”

Close. Toss. Yorkshire elected to bat. Yorkshire 202 (AJ Hodd 59, J Overton 3-30). Somerset 43-3. Somerset trail Yorkshire by 159 runs with seven first innings wickets standing.

 

10th June. Second Day.

Farmer White (IP Logged) 11 June 2017 8.40 a.m.

“Having sat square on the first day I climbed the stairs to the top of the Somerset Pavilion, walked to the back of the stand, put my bag down, turned around and sat down. I was horrified at what I had done. I had stumbled on a seat almost directly over the Umpire’s head. I never do that when Somerset are batting. It is too excruciating. Always has been. You can see every attempt the ball makes to foil the batsman. Whether it moves, spins, bounces or doesn’t bounce it is a nightmare to watch from there. Better that though than get wet if it rains and the forecast for the second day had changed with the frequency of Tom Abell’s bowling changes.

And excruciating it proved throughout the morning. James Hildreth had batted well on the evening of the first day and started off in similar vein on the morning of the second. Then he padded up to one from Patterson too close to the line of the stumps for comfort and it moved in. Only one result from a miscalculation like that. Out in the 20s again and Somerset were 48 for 4 still 154 behind.

That brought in Lewis Gregory to join Stephen Davies one place ahead of Adam Hose who had to wait until 11.42 because of the time he had been off the field on the first day*. Gregory continued with the confidence and discretion he had shown at Lord’s. With the same exception. One airy waft outside off early in his innings. At least from my sky-height perch I could see he had missed the ball by a bat’s width or two. He and Davies then set about the bowling with positive intent accommodating for the moving ball and some good Yorkshire bowling.

Davies did edge one from Sidebottom to and through slip’s hands. Sidebottom took his sweater from the Umpire and marched at the double, all stiff-legged and bristling shoulders, to his boundary post. The best mime of, ‘We are not amused’ I have ever seen. Also at some point in the morning he chased flat out around the boundary and dived full length to stop the ball. He is a big man and it was quite a feat of aerodynamics. As unlikely and as impressive as levitation. Sidebottom cares about his cricket and it showed.

Gregory and Davies took Somerset to 113 for 4 with skill and judicious attack and had all but levelled the match when Rafiq turned one just enough to take the edge of Davies’ bat. 113 for 5. Davies 35. Somerset 89 behind.

Enter Adam Hose apparently recovered from his thigh injury of the day before, Matthew Maynard’s first replacement batsman of the season in spite of a cacophony of calls for him to drop one or more of the low scoring batsmen. Hose took three or four attempts to find his guard and I wondered if nerves were affecting him. Shortly afterwards he was horribly beaten through a tentative defence by Waite and departed lbw for a duck. 114 for 6 and the match had swung back Yorkshire’s way.

First Division cricket is, in cricketing terms, a brutal and unforgiving taskmaster. Hose will know that now. The Yorkshire attack will be circling in the second innings. And other attacks in the matches to come. There will be no mercy shown. If though he can find and bring with him to the wicket the steel and confidence to face them down, the steel and confidence which he brought to the 50 over competition this season then those attacks may have to look elsewhere for easy pickings. If they do the anticipation with which his approach to the wicket will be greeted by the bowlers in the second innings of this match will turn to respect. As others have said he is not the first to start with a duck. Graham Gooch started his Test career with a pair.

Then came Somerset’s familiar lower order revival with a welcome return to some batting form from Craig Overton (44 not out) and combative and thoughtful contributions from Jamie Overton (19), Jack Leach (17) and Dom Bess (20). The two first innings in this match bore a certain similarity. Yorkshire went from 95 for 6 to 202. Somerset from 114 for 6 to 224. Somerset have outscored the opposition five times out of six this season in the first innings of the County Championship. On each of those occasions at Taunton the top six wickets have outscored the opposition top six wickets. 162 for 6 to 81 for 6 against Hampshire. 143 for 6 to 91 for 6 against Essex. It was the same at Old Trafford. Lancashire 42 for 6. Somerset 134 for 6. Only at Lord’s where Somerset’s batsmen had the only difficult batting conditions of the match on the first morning, and against Warwickshire when the pitch started to take spin were the top six wickets outscored in the first innings.

The second innings have of course been a different matter. Yesterday Yorkshire finished on 127 for 2 in their second innings. The pitch looked flatter than for the two first innings although it was also one of the few occasions this season when Somerset’s bowlers did not seem to be quite on song. Jamie Overton did not seem to be bowling with quite the pace of the previous day and strayed a bit to allow the ball to be played to leg. Even so Yorkshire were kept to under three an over so perhaps my impression that the bowling was not quite one hundred percent was precisely that. An impression. The ‘Champagne Moment’ of the Yorkshire second innings too was a bowling one. The ball with which Craig Overton sent Lees’ middle stump cartwheeling was at least as good as anything Sidebottom bowled. A diamond of a ball.

And now to the glorious uncertainty that is cricket. If the pitch starts to take more spin as the match progresses as it did against Warwickshire then Somerset will be facing a mountain. If it flattens as it did against Essex and the bowlers can deliver yet another pressurised containment operation which brings periodic wickets then the batsmen may have a chance to get to grips with this season and the second innings batting failures which have characterised it.”

*Adam Hose had been off the field for most of the first day with a slight strain.

Close. Yorkshire 202 and 127-2. Somerset 224(C Overton 44, L Gregory 43, RJ Sidebottom 5-56). Yorkshire lead Somerset by 105 with eight second innings wickets standing.

 

11th June. Third Day.

Farmer White (IP Logged) 12 June 2017 8.04 a.m.

“Whatever it was that caused Adam Hose to take four attempts to find his guard on Saturday it probably wasn’t nerves. He changed the mood of the day at the end of yesterday or at least he helped to in partnership with Stephen Davies. They gave Somerset hope. Somerset worked hard to contain Yorkshire in the morning but only picked up two wickets. After Lunch Bess and Leach struck quickly to take another four to bring the game back into balance. Then Ballance and Carver with a ninth wicket partnership of 51 tilted it in Yorkshire’s direction and Somerset were eventually set 262 to win. Whereupon Patterson, with a stunning piece of bowling, almost pushed Somerset over with the wickets of Elgar, Abell and Trescothick with only 38 on the board.

Enter Hose promoted above Davies and putting Davies into the more traditional wicketkeeper-batsman position of six. Whether that works remains to be seen but it worked last night. Before Hose knew it Hildreth was walking back to the Pavilion pinned back lbw for 27 by one that came in and kept low from Waite. From 49 for 4 a target of 262 seemed a long way away. Enter Davies. By the close he and Hose had added 52 with some careful defence and judicious attack.

Hose used the sweep extensively to the spinners. Often a risky stroke but he played it with confidence perhaps aided by his long reach. He showed no nerves or fear. In the space of three balls when on only eight he brought his one-day game into play and swept Carver to the Caddyshack and the monster stand for a four and a six. It was those two strokes which more than anything changed the mood. A young batsman blown away in the first innings taking on a rampant attack and with no hint of desperation.

Davies matched Hose almost run for run in their partnership ending the day on 26 to Hose’s 27. He cut Waite for consecutive fours to the Ondatjee boundary early in the partnership. He plays with a smoothness and a style that will suit the Somerset ethos very nicely if he can replicate his form before he came to Taunton as he began to do in the first innings of this match. From as much as can be assumed from an hour and a half’s cricket played under the pressure of a looming defeat when a victory is desperately needed these two may do very well at five and six. Today may tell a different tale of course with cloud hanging around as I write and Sidebottom and Patterson refreshed. But last night Hose and Davies changed the tenor of the innings from, “Oh no not again,” to “Perhaps, just perhaps”.
           

Earlier in the day there was more evidence that Somerset may have produced a spin partnership that might endure. There have been great county spinners for Somerset. Len Braund, Jack White, Horace Hazell, Brian Langford, Vic Marks. But there have never been two of that sort of quality to bowl in tandem over any length of time. It is very early days and there is a very long way to go but second innings figures of 36.2-13-80-5 for Bess and 35-12-52-3 for Leach on a pitch offering some even turn but nothing extravagant or unpredictable must at least give hope for the future. Their joint match figures to date are 98.2-33-221-12. Such talent needs to be nurtured. By comparison the Yorkshire spinners’ match figures to date are 31-5-105-2 albeit Yorkshire do not have Adil Rashid available.

There is another statistic worthy of thought in this match. Somerset’s spinners have so far taken 12 wickets to seven for the pace bowlers. Yorkshire’s pace bowlers have taken 12 to their spinners’ two. A similar pattern to the Durham match at Taunton last year if not so heavily skewed. This may reflect more on the Yorkshire spinners than the Somerset pace attack at least so far in this match about which more later.

Patterson seemed to take his three wickets at the end of yesterday with pace and movement off the seam if my reading of what I saw and the ECB highlights is accurate. The one that ‘strangled’ Elgar seemed to move away from the stroke turning a glance into a thin edge. Abell’s cut in and Trescothick’s possibly straightened a little. Impossible to tell from where I sat if Trescothick’s took the edge but the highlights reveal it either took the edge or passed perilously close. Elgar looked disappointed but perhaps with himself for there did seem to be a small deflection off the bat. Sidebottom took five in the first innings with movement in the air. The combination of him and Patterson is a potentially decisive one especially with the new ball. It has been an impressive performance by both of them so far.

Sidebottom and Patterson have played 350 first-class matches between them and they made that experience pay with joint match figures to date of 53-13-148-10. Waite is making an impressive debut with match figures to date of 14-0-61-3. The Overtons have played 94 first-class matches between them. Gregory 56. They are not left behind by comparison with the Yorkshire seamers. The combined match analysis for Craig and Jamie Overton and Lewis Gregory are 44-21-82-6. That is impressive pace bowling in this day and age. They took wickets more slowly in this match, one every seven overs to one every five, than the Yorkshire pacemen but more economically, one every 13 runs to one every 16.

There will be a result today. The outcome may depend on how Somerset’s remaining batsmen, Hose and Davies in particular, play Sidebottom and Patterson and to a degree Waite. If they can get through them to the Yorkshire spinners and the pitch does not suddenly take more spin they have shown themselves capable of deploying the sort of judicious attack which might just win this match.

Somerset’s pacemen have matched Yorkshire’s. Somerset’s spinners, so far, have out-bowled Yorkshire’s spinners. Somerset’s lower order have shown themselves capable of scoring runs. Davies, Hose and Gregory, if they cannot finish the job need to get through the first hour and then get the lower order close enough for a final assault on the target. It is a ‘big ask’ as they say but last night Hose and Davies gave us hope that it might just be possible.

I looked for an edge of a seat to sit on as the match commenced on Friday. I have been on it ever since. It would be wonderful if I am still on it as we approach Tea today. If Somerset are to have a chance I will need to be there for that long.”

Close. Yorkshire 202 and 283(GS Ballance 98*, PSP Handscomb 70, DM Bess 5-80, MJ Leach 3-53). Somerset 224 and 101-4. Somerset need another 161 to win with six second innings wickets standing.

 

12th June. Final Day.

Farmer White (IP Logged) 13 June 2017 1.22 a.m.

“There is much that can be said about this game but what should be acknowledged first is the post Lunch bowling performance of Ryan Sidebottom on yesterday’s final day. Many things might have made the difference in this match, not least the failure of Somerset’s top order batting, but Sidebottom made the final difference. He was brought on perhaps as a final throw of the dice by Ballance with six overs still to bowl before the new ball and Somerset only 40 short with four wickets still standing. Given its consequences it was the spell of the match. Bowling with the old ball and continuing with it after the new ball was due he bowled with accuracy and movement which troubled every batsman who faced him. He is 39 years old and retirement awaits at the end of this season but he can rarely have bowled a better or more decisive spell than this although I have no doubt he has bowled many to match it.

It could be said that the batsmen he dismissed got themselves out by playing too many attacking shots. All the batsmen today were, from recollection, out that way but if Somerset had tried to push and nudge their way to victory on that pitch as they did against Hampshire I doubt they would have got within 50 runs of the target.

Hose and Davies started off circumspectly enough against Sidebottom and Patterson. No runs were scored in the first 3 overs. Neither bowler looked particularly threatening and a sigh of relief was breathed that Sidebottom’s spell at the beginning of Somerset’s first innings and Patterson’s at the beginning of the second were not repeated. Between them they removed Somerset’s top three twice for a grand total of 30 runs over the two innings. Trescothick and particularly Abell have been in poor form but nevertheless those two spells were classic examples of new ball bowling. The ball was not new this morning and perhaps that was part of the difference.

Once the change bowlers came on Hose and Davies stepped up a gear, Rafiq looking particularly vulnerable. 46 runs were added in 10 overs taking Somerset to 167 for 4 only 95 short. The Somerset crowd were beginning to wonder if their hopes of a long-awaited victory might be realised. Singles were being tentatively applauded and Yorkshire faces were showing signs of tension. The man behind me said, “Below a 100. We are in sight now.” The match was very much in the balance and a neutral might have given the balance to Somerset. Hose was batting with the confidence and forthrightness he had shown to change the mood of the innings from 49 for 4 the previous day although he missed one or two sweeps. It is a risky shot to develop as a staple but in this match he got away with it. Davies did not look entirely comfortable but he kept going, played some fluent strokes and kept the score moving. Hearts beating beneath maroon membership lanyards were beginning to pump with hope. Perhaps, just perhaps, the miracles of 2016 were to be repeated.

Then the bubble burst. So often in a run chase in whatever form of cricket, just as the game seems to be turning in favour of the batting side a wicket falls. And so it proved. Does some subconscious impulse sensing all the effort is beginning to pay off just relax a little, a gap in the concentration open up and the ball slip through it? Hose’s confidence perhaps edged into over confidence, he drove hard at a wide one from Carver and lifted it straight to cover. Perhaps too it turned a little more away from Hose than he expected. 167 for 5. Hose 68. Yorkshire eyes perked up although the couple in front of me could not bear to applaud. Too tense. Too close. Somerset faces looked at each other. So close and yet now a little further away.

Lewis Gregory had played a key role in Somerset’s highest innings of the season at Lord’s and helped rescue Somerset’s first innings here. He and Stephen Davies took Somerset to 189 for 5, just 73 short with five wickets left. Just a few more runs without a wicket and the target really would really be in sight. Then Davies pulled a short one from Lyth hard to the Somerset Stand boundary or would have done had it not kept as low as the one which trapped Hildreth lbw and with the same result. 189 for 6. Davies 59. Yorkshire supporters were really looking up now. And applauding. 73 needed with four wickets left. Somerset supporters wondering if it was all to come to nought after all. It would now need a 2016 miracle.

Gregory was joined by Craig Overton, two of the saviours of the Somerset first innings. It was asking a lot to expect them to do it again. They batted all but 14 overs of steady 3 an over accumulation. A push for a quick single here; a pull for an ambled one to the boundary fielder there; dot balls played with care; boundaries a very occasional glint of gold dust and one six to stop Somerset hearts as it rose and lift them as it fell beyond the boundary. For the most part the two of them looked in control and as, over by over, single by single, they bore down on the target Somerset’s hearts beat a little faster and Yorkshire faces grew a little longer. Somerset supporters were starting to applaud individual runs but hesitatingly, not quite believing it.

Gregory and Overton had reached 231 for 6. A look at the runs required number on the scoreboard. Just 31. Another look to check it really was only 31. It was, and still four wickets left. “Do we really only need 31?” said the man behind. Visions of Surrey 2016 pushed forward from the back of the mind. Hearts really were now beating hard, breaths were being taken deeper by the ball, few dared speak the hope and around the ground the edges of seats were under intense pressure.

Enter Sidebottom. An innocuous first couple of overs were ended by Gregory repeating Hose’s lifted drive to cover from a similar wide ball with a similar result. 231 for 7. Gregory 26. That little relaxation or over confidence impulse had perhaps struck again and that is all it takes in situations like this. Still 31 needed. Somerset supporters sank a little deeper in their seats. The applause for singles shrank punctured by the loss of the wicket. In 2016 the applause built up to a crescendo through long last wicket stands. No wicket fell to deflate them. Yorkshire supporters sat up and looked at each other. Could it yet be? Sidebottom thought so. He was getting the ball to reverse swing. At 80 overs the new ball was cold shouldered. The old ball apparently carrying out Sidebottom’s will well enough.

After the fall of Gregory Craig Overton, joined by brother Jamie, started to attack Sidebottom or at least tried too. One boundary but two swish drives past Sidebottom’s out swinger, then a third feathered the ball to Hodd. 242 for 8. Overton 34. 20 needed. Two wickets. Yorkshire supporters bubbling, Somerset supporters edgy.

Jack Leach into the fray. Six singles and a two from him and Jamie Overton. Four overs taken. Sidebottom cannot bowl forever but he looked like he just might. 12 needed. Two wickets. Yorkshire supporters a little lower in their seats. Somerset ones wondering again. Then Jack Leach played across one. Lbw! 12 needed. One wicket left. Dom Bess in. Sidebottom, tail up, a man on a mission, charging in, ball moving beautifully. Dom Bess all at sea. Why wouldn’t he be? Sidebottom in his element, 225 first-class matches worth of experience and on fire. Bess in his 6th first-class game, 19 years old and no 11. He survived but any ball could have been the end.

Jamie Overton eyed up Adam Lyth’s part-time off spin. Lyth, who had tied one end to less than three runs an over, preferred over Yorkshire’s two inexperienced front-line spinners. Attacking Lyth perhaps a better option than risk facing another over from Sidebottom with one wicket left.

The first ball flew up towards the Colin Atkinson Pavilion a fielder waiting if it fell short. A hush. It cleared him. Somerset voices were heard now. Six needed. Neither set of supporters confident. Both catching their breath. A huge lbw appeal, the ball skimming past the bat, off the pads and past the keeper, Overton racing back for two. Somerset hearts racing with him. Voices cheering too. The throw late. Four needed. Two sets of supporters numb with anticipation. Overton went for it again, connected. Held at mid wicket. A query over a bump ball. Umpires debate. OUT. Over. Yorkshire supporters on their feet. Somerset supporters shaking their heads for the fourth time this season.”

Result. Yorkshire won by 3 runs. Yorkshire 20 points. Somerset 4 points. Yorkshire 202 and 283. Somerset 224 and 258 (AJ Hose 68, SM Davies 59, SA Patterson 3-28, RJ Sidebottom 3-59).

Somerset ended this match still in seventh place 13 points behind Middlesex in sixth place but still having played that one game more.

And from there Somerset needed to pick themselves up to face Nottinghamshire in the Quarter Final of the Royal London Cup starting at Taunton the very next morning.