My reluctant introduction to Somerset in T20 (Beckenham and Chelmsford)

Somerset played Essex in a T20 match at Chelmsford in 2017. I didn’t travel to the match. Instead, by way of a preview, I posted a description of my reluctant introduction to T20 cricket, and Kieron Pollard, at Beckenham in 2010; and my recollections of Somerset T20 matches I had subsequently seen at Chelmsford during my eastern exile. During those matches I witnessed an overpowering innings from Marcus Trescothick, an astonishing one from Chris Gayle and, at Beckenham, perhaps the moment which led to Peter Trego batting in the top three in T20 for Somerset. There is a brief note on the 2017 match at Chelmsford. 

 

“I shall not be at Chelmsford tonight. It is one of the less endearing things about Essex that unless you want to get there from Suffolk or Norfolk or bits of Hertfordshire you have to go around or through London. The same applies if you wish to escape. In fact, I shall not be at many if any more away T20 games this season.

I have watched T20 at Chelmsford though. Not before 2010 because before that I had not considered T20 worth the candle. A judgement arrived at from all the evidence garnered from never having seen a game. Even the anguish of trying to keep up with the score in the 2005 Final at The Kia Oval via BBC World in a hotel room in Warsaw had not tempted me. They gave the score hourly which hardly does for a T20 encounter. An insufferable hour I waited before I knew ‘nearly there’ had turned into ‘YES!!!’.

Then someone forced the issue by buying me a ticket as a present for the T20 encounter with Kent at Beckenham in 2010. Kieran Pollard was marked down to play for Somerset which at least introduced a modicum of curiosity. Just how far could he hit the ball?
‘We need to be there early. You need to be near the front at an outground for T20 or you won’t see a thing,’ I was told. I had not realised just how big an outground Beckenham is. Even so by the time the match started there were rows of packed seats all the way around the boundary and we were indeed in the front row.

I had come to see just what this T20 big hitting was all about. James Hildreth and a teenager by the name of Jos Buttler put paid to that idea. Hildreth scored 77 not out from 56 balls and Buttler 48 not out from 22. They managed just one six between them; and 20 fours. A feast of placement from Hildreth and powerful precision hitting from Buttler more than made up for the lack of sixes. Somerset closed on 189 for 4. Oh yes, and Pollard, the great hitter, was out for 1.

That Somerset innings revised my view of T20. It was not full of the slog strokes which were the downfall of so many batsmen trying to retrieve a match from far behind the required run rate in the old John Player League which is what I had expected to see. I was left with, and still carry in my mind, a clear impression of Hildreth and Buttler destroying the Kent attack with an array of classic cricket strokes. The difference being they were played with much more risk than they would ever be in the County Championship and therein lay the skill of the batsman and the opportunity for the bowler who holds his nerve.

As to the Kent innings. A target of 190 was beyond the normal range in those days. They never got going and crumpled for 105. Scoreboard pressure probably the main destroyer helped along by 3 for 15 from Alphonso Thomas and, never keep a big match player down, 4 for 15 from Pollard.

It was not only Kent that never got going. Peter Trego listed to bat at seven never got in and bowled just one over. Effectively Kieron Pollard was doing his bowling and the class top order batsmen in Somerset’s order were scoring the runs. After the match I saw Trego deep and long in conversation with the Somerset captain, Marcus Trescothick, on the Clubhouse balcony. I wondered at the time whether he was expressing frustration about lack of opportunity. In the next match that season Trego batted at three and he has occupied somewhere in the top three or thereabouts in T20 pretty well ever since as far as I can recall.

Appetite wetted I took myself off to Chelmsford later that season for Somerset’s T20 there. I don’t recall so much of that match except Trego was now opening with Trescothick who scored 78, Pollard finally hit a six for me and was out for 16 and Hildreth ran the ball around the field for 43 as Somerset successfully chased down 174.

I do remember clearly one curious incident in the field which made me wonder if Trescothick had magical powers. Scott Styris was playing for Essex and came in with half a dozen or so overs to go. Essex were only two down and Ravi Bopara was stacking up runs at the other end. Styris was capable of taking the game completely away from Somerset. He had hardly arrived at the wicket when Trescothick, fielding inside the circle backward of square leg, motioned to the player inside the circle forward of square leg. He moved the open palm of his hand forward outward from his waist, then raised it in an arc away from his body and back over his head. The other fielder ran to Ben Phillips who was bowling. Phillips duly bowled. Styris duly drove hard. The ball duly went up in front of him, curved back over his head and fell straight into Hildreth’s hands at short third man.

I thought I would give T20 another punt in 2011 so off I toddled to Chelmsford again. Essex never got a look in. Trescothick and Hildreth put on an unbroken 127 for the third wicket in just under ten overs and Somerset finished on 225 for 2. Trescothick hit six sixes in his 108 not out and Hildreth three in his 64 not out. Trego back at three helped Trescothick get Somerset going with 36 off 21 balls. Somerset’s overseas player, Roelof van de Merwe didn’t get a bat. The domination of the Trescothick Hildreth partnership and the total collapse of the Essex innings from 36 for 0 off three overs to 82 all out in the 11th leave an impression still.

Somerset did not play T20 at Chelmsford again until 2015 but in view of my successful run their and still in my exile I decided to risk it again. It was only a calculated risk because Somerset had a new opening batsman by the name of Gayle. I was not entirely relaxed though for Essex had Jessie Ryder at the top of their order and he could hit a ball. Gayle seemed to dominate proceedings from the minute he walked out onto the field to warm up. He had a real presence whether in reality or manufactured in my mind by the publicity he has attracted I have no way of knowing. Ryder was the first to dominate. He carried Essex to 90 for 0 in the 9th over and towards a score that might test even Gayle. It is not always the star that changes a game. Jim Allenby promptly shot out three of Essex’s top four, including Ryder and Bopara in the space of three overs. Essex battled on and finally set Somerset 177.

I had never seen Gayle bat and was bemused as he assessed the angles by pointing his bat down the pitch, defended for an over, pushed a single or two for an over and then hit two classic drives to the boundary. All very well but the require run rate was rising. Then, like a superhero donning his uniform, in an instant he erupted and the ball had turned into a projectile being fired from a Roman Army standard issue ballista. I remember those two drives, as good as any you will see, and after that the white ball bisecting the sky, time and again, as it travelled far beyond Chelmsford’s narrow confines. It is not as difficult to hit a ball out of Chelmsford as it is out of most grounds, including Taunton. Gayle would have found it a greater challenge to hit a six which remained inside the ground.

He didn’t quite get Somerset all the way. 92 the limit of his endeavours. It came down to the last ball. Somerset needed one run. Gregory managed to hit the ball towards square leg but with no force. The fielder pounced and threw to the keeper. Max Waller, as fast between the stumps as in the field somehow managed to get his bat across the crease before the keeper got the ball to the stumps. Another of those Duke of Wellington moments in which Somerset seem to specialise.

I am at home tonight listening to commentary but I know that ground well enough to be there for every ball and every twist and turn.”

The 2017 Chelmsford match     

In the match Somerset were outplayed by Essex for the third time in the season; each time in a different competition. Five Somerset bowlers each took a wicket and three batsmen passed 20 with none reaching 30. Essex’s total of 170 was never seriously threatened as the spectre of the previous two T20 seasons began to loom.

Result. Toss. Somerset. Elected to field. Essex 170-6 (20 overs) RN ten Doeschate 56(37balls), Ashar Zaidi 35(25). Somerset 148-9 (20 overs) PI Walter 3-28(econ 7.00), SR Harmer 3-39(9.75). Essex won by 22 runs. Essex 2 points. Somerset 0 points.

First posted on grockles.com in July 2017