Valiant charge – the 2017 RLODC quarter-final at Taunton

The latest in my series of ‘Farmer White’ match reports written during Somerset’s 2017 season.

VALIANT CHARGE

~   ROYAL LONDON ONE-DAY CUP QUARTER-FINAL   ~

“It was now that Elgar showed how a classical batsman can adapt to fast scoring in one-day cricket.” 

RLODC Quarter-Final. Taunton. 13th June 2017. Somerset v Nottinghamshire

A match in which well over 800 runs were scored in 98 overs. Supporters were on the edge of their seats until the very end as Somerset launched a ferocious assault on an impossible target.

I drafted this post during the two days or so after the 50 over Quarter-Final but, tired after five days continuous cricket and the resulting early hours or early mornings posting, I was not satisfied with the result and did not post it. Two months later when Somerset found themselves facing another (T20) Quarter-Final against Nottinghamshire I re-read it. I found it in better condition than I had remembered, tidied it up a little and posted it as a curtain-raiser to the NatWest T20 Blast Quarter-Final, hence the ten-week gap between the match and the date on which the post was logged.

Nottinghamshire had been inserted by Somerset and promptly racked up a gargantuan score even by 2017 standards. The post is written primarily from the perspective of Somerset’s run chase although from that perspective it does make reference to Nottinghamshire’s whirlwind of an innings. The issue of short or full-pitched bowling was still an issue among some supporters. The report ends with some basic analysis of the outcomes of full or short-pitched bowling in this match.

Farmer White (IP Logged) 23 August 2017 11.03 p.m.

“Somerset’s assault on a target of 430 turned the 2017 Royal London One-Day Cup Quarter-Final against Nottinghamshire into an epic of Homeric proportions. In the end the assault failed as virtually every other assault on a total of over 400 has failed in List A/ODI cricket. 50 times a target of 400 or more has been set. Only twice has the team batting second reached the target. South Africa managed 438 for 9 to beat Australia in 2006 and Queensland 402 for 3 to beat Tasmania in 2014. On only 6 occasions has a team including the two mentioned above and Somerset in this Quarter-Final, passed 400 batting second. That is the scale of Somerset’s achievement in getting as far as they did. They may have been within a run out mix-up of making history in English List A cricket.

At Taunton we are getting used to such days. The wafer-thin Somerset victories in the County Championship against Surrey, Durham and Warwickshire and for good measure another against Gloucestershire in the 50 over Cup in 2016 would have been related as the stuff of legend by Homer had he been lucky enough to be there. The defeats this season against Yorkshire in the Championship at Taunton and this one in the 50 over cup would have been grist to his mill too.

Heroic defeats do as well as stunning victories where legends are concerned. Leonidas and his 300 Spartans at Thermopylae and Roland at the pass of Roncevaux spring to mind. Marcus Trescothick’s 322 for the Somerset Second XI in a total of 605 chasing a target of 613 in 1997 still receives mention long after some of his first team centuries have been forgotten.

This time there was no single Somerset player who stood out much above the others. It was a stirring team endeavour that, after two early reverses, was sustained and so nearly carried Somerset over an almost impossibly distant line. Cricketing heroics indeed.

Johannes Myburgh was first into the fray with a mission within a mission: to take Somerset as far as he could as quickly as he could. Chasing 400 plus is a relay race not a sprint or a marathon. No one batsman can chase a total such as that. If Myburgh had an injured hand as rumoured before the match it was not evident in his stroke play. He flew at the bowling intent on its destruction and the ball, encountering some phenomenal bat speed, hurtled to most parts of the boundary.

He was bowled still hard on the attack at the beginning of the 6th over for 44 from 19 balls with 10 fours hit with tremendous ferocity whether the ball was full or short. The reception he received as he walked off reflected the fact that he had shown Somerset were not daunted and intended, true to their traditions, to make a buccaneering but resolute attempt at the 430 target. Michael Lumb had played an aggressive opening role for Nottinghamshire but his 47 from 28 balls dimmed by comparison with Myburgh’s 44.

After 6 overs Somerset were 57 for 1 to Nottinghamshire’s 55 for 0, Wessels making up for Myburgh’s phenomenal charge by outpacing Somerset’s Allenby yet Somerset were still toe to toe with their opponents. Then they faltered, Nottinghamshire taking the initiative by removing Allenby and Davies soon after the fall of Myburgh. After 8 overs Somerset were 68 for 3. Nottinghamshire had been 68 for 0. Here was a match winning opportunity for Nottinghamshire. Here Somerset’s innings might have crumbled. The pressure of another 362 needed in 42 overs with only 7 wickets left crushingly intense.

“This has all the feel of 120 for 8,” someone said. It is in situations such as this you need your heroes. Someone needs to stand firm against the pressure; and, with over 8 an over needed all the way to a distant end, needs to attack, and continuously attack, the bowling. There are times when a Charge of the Light Brigade is needed to shock the opposition out of their own advance. This was one such occasion. A badly out of form Peter Trego and Dean Elgar who had already given more than his all for Somerset this season and in his last match for Somerset for a while, stood shoulder to shoulder and looked straight into the eye of the colossal task which faced Somerset.

It was now that Elgar showed how a classical batsman can adapt to fast scoring in one-day cricket. Nottinghamshire may have assisted him by bowling for wickets to finish Somerset off. That meant pitching the ball up to Elgar’s strength. Stuart Broad, Nottinghamshire’s best, was thrown into the fray against Somerset’s best. Two of Elgar’s sixes came off Broad. He hit three in all. Five of his 11 fours were classic drives through mid off. Only three went behind square. It was exhilarating precision attacking batting worthy of a cricketing hero.

When Elgar reached his 100 in the Championship at Lord’s he had held his helmet up to the dressing room and touched it with the face of his bat. My reading of that gesture was that during his stay he had taken Somerset to heart. His innings in this match a worthy finale. When his partnership with Trego reached 100 Elgar had contributed 62 to Trego’s 32 they having come together when Elgar was on 1.

From the completion of the 100 partnership Trego found his form and took more of the strain scoring at twice the rate of Elgar. It was the Peter Trego of old. He hit 4 sixes in all in his innings, all between straight mid on and mid wicket. As the score passed 200 for 3 without mishap Somerset supporters were beginning to dream of what might be. Hope tinged itself with disbelief that this could be possible. By 205 for 3 with only 23 overs gone (Nottinghamshire had been 172 for 2), the politely optimistic smiles of the Nottinghamshire supporter a few seats along which he had tried to suppress at 68 for 3 had turned to worry lines and his conversation hinted at anxiety. For Somerset’s heroes were taking on Nottinghamshire’s with true Homeric steel and flair and were pushing them back.

Then Trego overreached himself against Patel. The peppering of sixes that those of us in the Ondatjee Stand had received all day suddenly accelerated. Two sixes along the same line crossed the sky above our heads and cleared the stand like two meteors on the same string. Then a four a bit straighter. Samit Patel is a wily old hand and batsmen trifle with him at their peril. The next ‘six’ came down the line of the previous two but instead of crossing the sky fell out of it into the hands of Lumb a couple of yards inside the boundary. Such slim margins can be the difference between epic victory and epic defeat. 221 for 4. 209 needed. 26 overs left.

After the two sixes and the four I had worried about that fifth ball of the over. So many times I have seen batsmen reach for one big hit too many in an over against an experienced spinner. In a Benson and Hedges group match in 1980 Somerset had been set the then virtually impossible target of 283 in 55 overs by Middlesex. No hope. Then 40s from Peter Denning and Phil Slocombe helped Sunil Gavaskar to get Somerset a good start. At 217 for 1 with enough overs left the game was in Somerset’s control. Then Slocombe and Botham went quickly. 220 for 3. Gavaskar tried to wrest back the initiative. He hit Edmonds over long on into the Cowshed. Gavaskar 123 to his name. The next ball an identical stroke. Stumped. 227 for 4. Somerset lost by one run. I have never forgotten it. I remembered it after Trego’s second six. Then Lumb held that catch.

Easy to think from beyond the boundary. Harder in the heat of an 8.6 an over run chase over the whole 50 overs whilst in the ‘zone’. One of Nottinghamshire’s England bowlers had struck at a key time. Then Elgar, 91 from 63 balls, was finally bowled leg stump by Broad trying to glance having taken 27 off the 16 balls he received from Broad. One of Nottinghamshire’s all-time greats had had the last word. Somerset were 246 for 5 off 28. Nottinghamshire had been 210 for 2. 184 needed at 8.4 an over. Somerset still well ahead and scoring at more or less the required rate throughout but the loss of wickets was beginning to tell.

In the Nottinghamshire innings Patel had scored 66, the same as Trego although never approaching his speed of scoring or needing to. The difference between the two sides’ innings was Nottinghamshire’s Taylor. 154 off 91 balls with 17 fours. For good measure he added five sixes. His innings took the pressure off the rest of the batsmen. He has played 167 ODIs and it showed.

Hose replaced Trego and as was his wont charged straight into the fray just as he had against Yorkshire in the Championship the previous day. He looked confident and at home in his first team boots. When Elgar left, van de Merwe joined Hose. They picked up the baton and charged again at Nottinghamshire. Somerset were not going to give up. This was in cricketing terms do or die. The required run rate stayed below 9. Hose and van de Merwe added 39 in just over four overs, four fours and a six.

Then Hose swept and Patel bowled him. In spite of his great reach he may need to look for more alternatives to attack experienced spinners if he is to prosper. In this game though he scored more heavily on the off than he did to leg. 32 from 27 balls kept the Somerset charge going and moved them closer. 285 for 6. 33 overs gone. 145 needed. Four wickets and 17 overs left. The ground abuzz but behind the buzz hope starting to fade. 145 with four wickets is a very long way. At 33 overs Nottinghamshire had been 271 for 2. The gap closing. The Taylor Patel partnership of 133 from 17 overs proving crucial as Somerset’s relentless charge continued but continued to shed wickets as it went. Taylor and Patel have 200 ODIs between them and knew exactly how to pace and build a one-day innings to set a target.

Enter Gregory. The new Gregory at last looking at one with his batting and looking like a batsman in his last two matches. Gregory and van de Merwe would need to carry it forward from here. There could be no let up. The charge would have to continue unabated or the run rate would start to rise as quickly as Trego’s meteor sixes. And charge they did. The 50 partnership came up in five overs. Faster than the required rate. Along the way van de Merwe had continued the bombardment of the Ondatjee Stand with two sixes almost down the same line as Trego’s. 95 needed. 12 overs and still four wickets left. The required run rate still below 9. The heart pumped up the hope. The brain cruelly reminded itself: 95 at nearly 9 an over is a long way to go with only four wickets left.

Then Gurney bowled van de Merwe. Still 95 needed. Van de Merwe 43. How those two early wickets and the cost in more wickets of the relentless pursuit dragged down on the spirits now. 95 with three wickets left. Then Gregory went to Broad for 26. Somerset’s charge was now faltering just as it needed to put pressure on Nottinghamshire at the end. 88 still needed after Gregory’s departure. Two wickets and ten overs left. Somerset were 342 for 8. Nottinghamshire had been 331 for 3 with Taylor still at the wicket, still pacing the innings. But two of the remaining batsmen were Overtons and after them Tim Groenewald who knows a thing or two about last wicket stands.

The Overtons showed they knew a thing or two about pacing a long lower order run chase. Both can hit the ball a very long way. Both, instead, placed the ball and tried to drag Somerset closer. Keep the score moving, get within reach before bringing out the big shots seemed to be the way of it. And for three overs they did just that. From 342 for 8 they stretched the score to 364 for 8. 65 needed. Seven overs left. Just under 10 an over. With seven overs left Nottinghamshire had been 362 for 4. The gap had shrunk to nothing. Nothing in it in terms of runs but the wickets. Oh the cost of the wickets and dismissed Somerset heroes strewn about the place. And yet the charge of those still standing still met the Nottinghamshire’s bowler’s charge head on.

The Overtons’ spring was being coiled but it was Nottinghamshire that pounced. Craig Overton caught behind off Pattinson for 16 just as the final charge had been primed. So a last wicket stand of 2016 proportions was what it would have to be. At least Somerset had a pair at the wicket who had been there before and seen Somerset home. For an over Groenewald and Overton, calm as you like, at least from 70 yards away, advanced in singles the run rate edging up. All eyes on the scoreboard after every ball. Every ball a single, a dot or a two. Upwards accelerated the required run rate past 10.

The final assault on that gargantuan total could not long be delayed. It wasn’t. Groenewald steered the strike to Jamie Overton who played with a combination of assurance and ferocious assault finding the weak points in the Nottinghamshire attack. For four overs the two of them took the fight to Nottinghamshire. Three sixes from Overton’s bat and careful manipulation of the strike from them both. Closer they edged to the target. 53 needed off 5. 45 off 4. 35 off 3. 25 off 2.

Or it would have been 25 off two had a desperate run out mix up not ended the match off the last ball of the 48th over with Jamie Overton run out for 40 off 26 balls. Somerset’s glorious prolonged cavalry charge at the historically impossible had ended in defeat. But what a charge it had been. As to the run out. These things happen under that sort of pressure.

 

And a thought for the future. The impression on the day was that Somerset’s pace bowlers bowled more short balls than the Nottinghamshire ones. When I saw the post-match wagon wheels of the two innings Nottinghamshire scored distinctly more runs and boundaries square of the wicket than Somerset. Whilst that is not irrefutable evidence of more short-pitched bowling from Somerset it suggested there was and from recollection the difference was sufficient to suggest the bowling may have been to plan.

What difference did it make which length was bowled? In terms of scoring virtually none. Nottinghamshire scored 429 in 50 overs. Somerset scored 405 in 48. Each side hit 41 fours. Nottinghamshire hit 15 sixes. Somerset 13. Had Jamie Overton not been run out at the end of the 48th over he and Tim Groenewald may well have evened up the sixes.

It may have made a crucial difference however in terms of wickets. Nottinghamshire lost their fourth wicket at 355. By the time they reached 355 Somerset were eight down. Four of them had been bowled. None of Nottinghamshire’s eventual nine wickets were bowled or lbw. Pitching the ball up may make no difference at all to the rate of scoring. It may make achieving that rate costlier in terms of wickets lost because if the batsman misses a full-length ball he risks being bowled or leg before wicket. If he misses a short-pitched ball there is no risk. Full-length balls accounted for Myburgh, Allenby, Elgar and van de Merwe.”

Result. Nottinghamshire won by 24 runs. Nottinghamshire progressed to the Semi Finals. Toss. Somerset elected to field. Nottinghamshire 429-9 (50 0vers) BRM Taylor 154(97 balls), MH Wessels 81(62), SR Patel 66(69), L Gregory 4-60 (econ 7.50). Somerset 405 (48/50 0vers) D Elgar 91(63), PD Trego 66(47), JM Myburgh 44(19), Gurney 3-71(7.88).

And so ended a match the like of which I had not seen before. It was every bit as nail-biting an affair as those tight low scoring one-day matches of red ball and ‘whites’ days. There is something about the rejuvenated 50 over competition of high scores and big hitting which makes the edge of the seat the preferred seating option. In this match it was the only option.

Somerset’s 50 over white ball odyssey was over. Next, they were to encounter a pink ball as the County Championship attempted to experiment with some of the newer developments in the game.