A classic T20 encounter ~ Somerset v Middlesex ~ 2017

NatWest T20 Blast. Taunton. 23rd July 2017. Somerset v Middlesex.

Somerset won the toss for the fifth time in succession in their 2017 T20 campaign after a long delay for a wet outfield before the match got underway. There had been a colossal downpour an hour or so before the match was due to start. There was concern about the area in front of the Somerset Pavilion which remained wetter than the rest of the outfield. The match was reduced to 16 overs a side. 

Well what a game and what a collection of smiling faces of all ages around the ground afterwards. And what a performance by the Somerset team with Middlesex almost matching it. What a game you get when two teams go hammer and tongs at each other like that. And what an atmosphere. And a cricket atmosphere at that. Not even a hint of a Mexican wave. Just a couple of ripples of ironic pantomime cheers from the Somerset Stand at a mystified Middlesex miss field.

Credit to a near capacity crowd too for the patience with which they awaited the start which came an hour and a half late. A long time to wait with only occasional light rain and a few persistent puddles in front of the Somerset Pavilion to apparently justify the delay. For most had missed the lunchtime ‘colossal deluge’ as it was described to me when I arrived although the outfield did look unpleasantly wet. Near capacity because there were empty seats. I wondered if some members and ticket holders stayed away because of the weather. If so they missed a match of rare drama, skill and intensity.

Credit too to the Umpires for their apparent determination that this match should go ahead if at all possible. I imagine they must have agreed to or requested the Somerset Pavilion boundary be brought in to dryer turf. Excellent judgement and timing of the start too for no-one, to my mind, gave any quarter in the field and no-one slipped or fell in the process.

The ground staff kept hard at it throughout, even at times when the rain was falling. Their job it is true but there was some skill in getting it right this time for there was no leeway for error. Perhaps too some credit to the new drainage for when I arrived at 1.20 p.m. the puddles seemed to be restricted to the area in front of the Somerset Pavilion. In the past, from recollection, I think they may have been somewhat more extensive after the rains of Friday and the Sunday morning deluge.

A couple of thoughts did occur and have been mentioned by others. Would a second blotter have got the match started earlier? I don’t know the answer to that. Perhaps the difference it would make might only be marginal for an outfield is a large area to dry out. However even if it would not greatly help, it might help the spirits of a patiently, in this case, waiting crowd and it could certainly do no harm. I must confess I have seen some members at Championship crowds less patient with weather delays than this T20 crowd. It was an exemplar at least as far as I could see and hear from my perch and perambulations. More timely information to the crowd about the reasons for the delays would though I think be appreciated.

That we got a match at all, and of 16 overs, was quite an achievement in the circumstances. I sat in the diminished temporary stand where the old scoreboard used to be. My rough estimate is that it could seat about 1200, perhaps double the capacity of the old scoreboard stand. The view from the back was excellent. The PA difficult for my ageing ears to hear. It may need some attention if a stand of that size is to remain.

Then of course there was the music. This was not Uxbridge so there was music. Before the start, so quite a lot of music, between overs and for wickets and boundaries and the occasional clarion call for a random cheer. Not as tuneful as The Kia Oval music I have to say at least to a time traveller from the 1960s. The children from this side of the millennium seemed to like it though and children there were in abundance at least along my side of the ground and not just in the Family Stand but in the Alcohol-Free Stand and in the stand I was in too.

 

As to the cricket here are some highlights as I saw them: Trego’s catch to remove McCullum was phenomenal. I had a perfect view from side on and not too far away. I can still run it through in full HD colour in my mind as often as I like. Somerset’s bowlers had imprisoned McCullum to the extent of three runs from 10 balls as he tried to get the Middlesex innings underway. He must have seen Nelsonian flags fluttering, ‘Middlesex expects’ for he tried to break free. He hit Groenewald for four off his 11th ball. Then, off his 12th he tried to clear Trego at mid off with a fearsome lofted drive for another boundary. Momentarily Trego moved forward, locked onto the flight of the ball, jumped high and rotated backwards at an angle of perhaps 30 degrees, started to rotate further backwards as the ball attempted to pass overhead until it was stopped dead in its tracks by a hand stuck up with all the certainty of the class swot who has the right answer. In the time it has taken to read this paragraph the entire catch could have been replayed a score of times. I am not sure it will ever leave my memory.

After 5 overs Middlesex were 32 for 1. Six an over at the end of the powerplay in a 16 over match brings its own pressures. Two batsmen finding themselves at the same end with the ball already in the hands of Max Waller was not the best way to respond to it. Gubbins the unlucky man. 32 for 2.

Trego almost took another wonder catch in front of the Family and Alcohol-Free Stands off Simpson. Running hard along the boundary across the front of those stands towards me he dived flat out full length and whilst in horizontal flight on after burners just got both hands to the ball but not quite firmly enough. I would agree with those who thought this ‘catch’ would have attracted slightly lower ‘difficulty’ ratings had it been judged alongside the one he took. It showed though that children appreciate quality cricket when they see it for the entire Family and Alcohol-Free Stands applauded him all the way back to his mark. It was not long before Waller, running hard along the front of the Somerset Stand, caught Simpson in front of where the old Stragglers Bar used to be. Somerset were on fire in the field and Middlesex were 98 for 3 in the 11th over of the 16.

Morgan’s innings must have released all the frustration built up by the vice with which Craig Overton and Co held him in check at Uxbridge. Seeing how he batted at Taunton suggests that Uxbridge would have been a lot closer without that phase of bowling. Here he hit seven clean, as far as I can recall, sixes and scored 59 from 28 balls. He did not trouble himself with a single four. I have not seen him in an England ODI but I could see in this match what England see in him in one-day cricket. Trying for an eighth six he found the midriff of Overton running in hard from long on in front of the Colin Atkinson Pavilion. It was becoming a day of impressive deep field Somerset catches and Middlesex were 132 for 5 with two overs to go. Those two overs stretched the score to 162 for 6 and Somerset needed just over ten an over.

Justin Langer used to describe the First Division of the Championship as a continuous arm wrestle. For the hour it lasted the Middlesex innings was just that. No-one on either side gave an inch and neither side had gained an inch of advantage. It had taken an innings of real T20 quality to keep Middlesex’s arm upright. It had taken fielding of the quality of Trego’s catch to keep Somerset’s arm upright. And we were only half way through.

Gregory opened again with Allenby for Somerset. For the second time Gregory suggested he may have found a niche opening in T20 for he hits hard with quality cricket strokes and he shows no fear. His 25 from 12 balls a microcosm of T20 scoring sans sixes. He turned his and Somerset’s first ball from Southee for four to the where the old Stragglers Bar was, where Waller had taken his catch. What a day the ghosts that must linger there had. His third he drove through midwicket for another four and then took a single. Then he drove Finn between cover and mid off for another four before pulling his next ball over mid on for four more and then drove gently to square cover for a single. Every one of the fours played in front of the wicket cracked off the bat. Next over he took a single off Helm, pulled him to long on for two, tried to drive through cover but sent it screaming off a thick edge through point for four and then was caught and bowled off another drive. Of the twelve balls Gregory faced two were dot balls, both in the first over. By the end of the third he was gone and Somerset, at 29 for 1, had the momentum essential in a 10 an over chase.

Allenby again looked out of touch to me, pulling Finn in front of square perfectly for six only to be bowled for 11 next ball trying to play what looked like the same stroke to what looked horribly like a near yorker from where I sat. Trego followed soon afterwards, after a solitary four, for 6.

At 46 for 3 in the fifth over the Middlesex arm was just beginning to push the Somerset arm back a little though they must have worried about Hildreth after his gem of an innings at Uxbridge. He produced another of equal quality here. His innings eclipsed Hose’s by the simple stratagem of keeping most of the strike. Of the six full overs of their partnership Hildreth took 27 balls to Hose’s nine. Not though before Simpson had missed a stumping off a wide with Hildreth two yards the wrong side of his crease. He didn’t need a second chance although he played with some care at first scoring 10 from his first 10 balls. He took another 53 from his next 24 yet it only just kept Somerset up with the required run rate, an indication of the pace at which this match was played.

His innings contained some now classic Hildrethian T20 gems. A reverse sweep of sumptuous precision, a scintillating clip over leg and because this is T20 a sizzling scoop for good measure all for four and all perfectly directed. Sowter with his leg breaks had probably been the pick of Middlesex’s bowlers at Uxbridge and here he had not bowled badly. He could have had Hildreth stumped and forced some watchfulness out of him in his first two overs. In his third Hildreth made the watchfulness pay. He lifted the first ball over cover for four, pulled his second into my stand for six and then lifted Sowter back over his head into the base of the Somerset Pavilion for another six. He will become a Somerset an even greater favourite if he keeps doing that*.

Most T20 innings have a term but Hildreth hit Helm for two fours in the two balls before he finally succumbed to an edge reaching for the third, wide outside off, increasingly the bowler’s response to an onslaught in T20 as they try to find ways of countering the aggressive stroke play and heavy bats. It is often effective especially bowled full.

Meanwhile when Hose finally had what looked like an over to himself in the midst of the Hildreth hurricane he drove over cover for four, pulled behind square for another and then square drove the third to deep cover and departed for a run a ball 14. This had been Hildreth’s day. Hose has had days enough to remember this season and if he continues to play as he has he will have more in all forms of the game. Even so those two fours before his demise helped keep Somerset’s momentum and every bit of momentum gained was crucial in this match.

And yet, in spite of the tremendous pace at which Gregory and Hildreth especially had gone, with three overs left Somerset were only just on the required run rate. It was a testament to the ferocity of the Middlesex innings, Morgan’s in particular, to the tenacity of the Somerset response and to the sheer intensity and panache of T20 cricket at its best.

From the fall of Hildreth’s wicket at 130 for 5 Anderson and van de Merwe, perhaps Somerset’s two biggest hitters, needed to find the pace of the pitch and score 33 runs in three overs perhaps with help from Overton, surely padded up, to get Somerset home. The arm wrestle still an even bet. Anderson, looked to my eye a little cumbersome, whether due to his back, or perhaps strapping for it, or perhaps it is just his way, or a trick of my eye I cannot say. He looked intent but this was not to be done with a sudden fusillade of sixes either from him or van de Merwe. They looked almost constrained by Southee in the 14th over although two successive off side wides to Anderson perhaps betrayed Middlesex’s fear of what he might be capable. One van de Merwe four but 24 were still needed off two overs. A boundary at the beginning and the end of Higgins’s final over and some bits and pieces in between left 13 needed off the last. No movement in the arm wrestle, the arms still bolt upright.

Had though the pressure of such a herculean encounter told on McCullum? He had relied on five bowlers to reach the final over and still hold the match in the balance but he had used them in such a way that none could bowl that final over. With the fates about to decide the day he had to turn to a sixth bowler to pit against Somerset’s heaviest hitters. Pressure indeed.

Anderson responded best. He hit Franklin’s first ball back over his head and into the Somerset Pavilion for six. Franklin tried to respond with some accurate balls but it was difficult to prevent the singles and under the pressure he strayed with his foot for a no ball and with the ball for a wide until van de Merwe finally pushed the Middlesex arm flat with a trademark scoop for four towards the gap between the Botham Stand and the Atkinson Pavilion with nine fielders trying to save the final run. It was a classic T20 stroke to win a classic T20 encounter concluded in glorious sunshine, the trials and tribulations brought about by the morning deluge a distant fading memory.  

The atmosphere in the ground, smouldered through the Middlesex innings, flared in Morgan’s, was fully ignited by Gregory’s, blazed through Hildreth’s and erupted with the win. This was an atmosphere driven by the cricket and particularly the boundaries. Adults applauding with their hands, children with their inflatable batons all rising to a crescendo as Hildreth’s innings raced Somerset forwards. The Family Stand a sight for sore eyes from where I sat. I chanced to look after one boundary and it was as if the stand was one living celebrating being rather than several hundred individual adults and children.

The Family Stand in this match is a memory that will not fade. Throughout but particularly in the later stages of the match it was a picture of pure joy. Adults and children applauding the cricket in unison, the whole stand as one. The children dancing joyously to the music between the overs and then sitting to applaud the cricket as it restarted. It may not have been like that in every seat for I was perhaps 60 yards away but that is how it appeared to me and it was wonderful to behold for perhaps just perhaps here was being generated interest in cricket in a generation seemingly lost to other forms of county cricket. A generation without whom cricket as a spectator sport may struggle to survive.”

Result. Toss. Somerset. Elected to field. Middlesex 162-6 (16 overs) EJG Morgan 59(28 balls), TD Groenewald 2-28(econ 9.33). Somerset 166-5 (15.5/16 overs) JC Hildreth 63(34), TG Helm 2-24(8.00), ST Finn 2-31(10.33). Somerset won by 5 wickets. Somerset 2 points. Middlesex 0 points.

First posted on grockles .com in July 2017