Another Somerset miracle against Surrey

NatWest T20 Blast. Taunton. 6th August 2017. Somerset v Surrey

“Another full house, although as always with full houses there were groups of empty seats visible in the Trescothick and Somerset Stands. The lower deck of the Somerset Pavilion was tight packed, mainly with County Championship age members including, for a change in this form of cricket, me. The family stand bristled with furry headbands and inflatable batons and the temporary stand was pretty well full. I had time to count another 42 watching from the flats including a good impersonation of a row of parrots on a perch at the front of the roof terrace. It was a crowd that buzzed in anticipation of another classic game. I am not sure it was a classic but it certainly held the attention and as far as I could see no-one left.

The buzz settled a bit as Surrey got off to a solid start after three successive boundaries in van Meekeren’s first over. 30 for 0 off three overs was not though running away with the game in a T20 powerplay and Roy seemed to be struggling to get the ball away. Then two boundaries off Groenewald’s first over started to raise the anxiety in Somerset hearts before Finch tried for a boundary too many. 39 for 1 off four overs. Craig Overton followed up perfectly by tying Roy up and then bowling him with a perfect length arrow straight ball that went straight through his cross batted shot and upended the middle stump. Is there a sight in cricket to match that of a middle stump heading for the keeper?

The crowd were buzzing again and then cheering as Stoneman looked bamboozled by a Waller leg-break which pitched middle and hit the left-hander’s leg stump. I had the perfect view of the perfect leg-break. If Waller had developed such a ball as his stock ball over the years he might have found himself playing in the Championship today. From my seat behind the arm it looked a thing of beauty. I am still replaying it in my mind. 53 for 3 in the seventh over and the game in the balance. Somerset pegging back Surrey’s solid start. The Family Stand celebrated with its own private Mexican wave for it went no further but was as exuberant as any full-blown Mexican Wave you will see. A Mexican wave celebrating good cricket. Now there’s a thing.

Now the fielders started to play their part, seemingly missing nothing. Myburgh diving hard and long to his left at mid wicket to stop a fierce drive in its tracks. Abell racing in the deep to intercept two strokes marked for the boundary. All the time Somerset’s rotating bowlers keeping things as tight as they can be kept in a T20. 69 for 3 off 10 is almost miraculous for the bowling side. The Public Address announcer gave another turn to the screw, “At the current run rate Surrey will score 138 off their 20 overs.” Both batsmen, Pope and Henriques, perhaps jolted looked simultaneously at the scoreboard.

An impression was beginning to build, at least in my mind. Perhaps batting was not quite as easy as it might be. Perhaps the pitch not quite as easy as it could be. The batsmen were not batting with quite the freedom associated with T20. Too many balls were finding the fielders. Although sometimes the fielders, the inner ring in particular, were finding the ball with some exceptional stops. Not always, Overton once ran in from the Colin Atkinson long off boundary for one of those ‘is it a catch or isn’t it?’ lofted balls off Waller’s bowling, finally opted to save the boundary only for the ball to spin viciously off the turf back past him in the direction he had run around from.

Now Henriques and Pope started to get the measure of the pitch. Henriques rotating the strike and Pope hitting out. Pope scooped one perfectly from Overton for four and then only just dug out a fearsome yorker the next ball. Those two balls perhaps exemplifying the tussle between bat and ball that was developing. Only the best would do. The fielders too straining every sinew. Myburgh a brilliant diving stop at backward point. Abell once running impossibly far along the front of the Family and Alcohol-Free Stands in front of the Ondatjee Pavilion to dive full length for a catch only just failing by inches but getting enough hand on it to prevent four. The two stands applauded him all the way back to his mark. This was battle royal. By the end of the 15th Surrey were 113 for 3. Hardly riches but a growing recovery against all the Somerset pressure and Pope was looking dangerous.  

Cometh the hour cometh Roelf van der Merwe. Pope charged him, missed, Davies took it cleanly and the bails were off. Cue relieved cheering for Pope’s had been the innings of the match so far. 46 from 31 balls. He had been the only Surrey batsman seemingly capable of taking on the Somerset attack with profit. It occurred to me though there had been no sixes and getting the ball to the boundary had not looked easy for anyone. When Henriques fell to Gregory trying for the boundary Surrey were 123 for 5 in the 17th over. Sam Curran made no headway as Somerset closed in removing him for 3. 135 for 6 in the 18th.

157 for 6 at the close was due to Rikki Clarke, to my mind, deciding to play within the pitch’s capacities. He started to hit the ball softly to the deep field initially for a brace of twos. He and Tom Curran settled for rotating the strike and the score might not have passed 150 but for a slightly ragged final over from Gregory which included a wide and the first 6 of the innings from Curran.

“We can do this can’t we?” someone asked me not with an entirely confident tone. I wasn’t sure. 158 in T20 these days is usually within range of a chase. I was worried that the pitch, whilst not holding any demons, might not be letting the ball come onto the bat. It had not looked easy hitting boundaries and I did wonder if Surrey had actually played quite a clever game, kept their heads and posted a tricky total.

The people in the flats must have thought there was a game on for by now there were approaching 80 people watching from the balconies and the roof terrace. One for every 100 in the ground. There was a real hubbub about the place as some stretched their legs for there is not much time to do anything else in the interval of a T20 match. A queue of precisely four furry headed children waited for balloons to be twisted into animals and a couple of others passed by with theirs already made. The queue for hot drinks and pies in the back of the Somerset Pavilion was more like twenty long and the queue at the bar in the car park about half a dozen.

 

Steven Davies, opening for Somerset, did not really answer the question about the pitch for he turned his first legitimate ball straight into the hands of short fine leg. 2 for 1. Two ducks have now followed his brief renaissance and this looked all too like his early season form. Gregory struggled against Dernbach playing to deep point with a stroke which seemed not to be timed and then edged much more quickly through the empty first slip for four. Next he tried to cut but played over the ball which had perhaps not bounced as much as he was anticipating.

Sam Curran followed up by knocking Myburgh off his feet with a spearing yorker before Gregory finally middle a pull for four, the first really clean stroke of the innings off its 10th ball. Off the last ball of the over Gregory tried to hit the ball into the Botham Stand only to get under it and sky it well short of the boundary and the approaching fielder. Dernbach mixed pace, line and length in as many combinations of those three things as it is possible to do until Myburgh popped one up and wide of mid off but not wide enough. Allenby could only defend his first four balls from Sam Curran, then square drove beautifully for four, took a single for the strike, could not score off the first three from Tom Curran before lifting the fourth to Finch. 31 for 4 in the fifth over. This was either hard work or Somerset were making heavy weather of it.

Myburgh and Allenby had both gone to what I tend to call slow pitch catches at least when they keep happening in the same innings. Neither got hold of an aggressive shot which looped to the fielder. Now Gregory got under one from Clarke and Abell pulled one straight to midwicket. 47 for 5 in the ninth. All five wickets caught. At least four with insufficient power in the shot due to being mishit. Why, I have always wondered and it is not only Somerset that do this, do batsmen having seen the other side struggle to get the ball away and their own side looping catches continue in the same mode? Easy to be wise from beyond the boundary I suppose. A bit harder against a rising required run rate. Harder still to recover from 47 for 5. Dernbach and the Currans it has to be acknowledged had bowled with considerable skill and even greater effect and in my view Dernbach’s first three overs in this match were as good as you will see in T20 cricket.

Somerset’s batsmen had all batted in the same mode, that is until Hildreth established himself. Not without a couple of alarums. He was dropped early off a not too difficult chance and he was perilously close to losing his wicket again with a reverse sweep. After that he played with a mixture of placement in front of the wicket and, particularly, with deft deflections behind especially on the off side. Again and again as the ball came through, the bat angled and the ball travelled Hildreth’s chosen route. It was a joy to watch. I trust in the Championship match he remembers there will be slips in place. Here it was a match turning performance.

Somerset were 47 for 5 at the start of the ninth over. Hildreth’s deflections kept him well ahead of a run a ball but they also gave van der Merwe and then Overton the strike. The result was explosive and decisive. Off 38 balls van der Merwe and Overton scored 71 runs. The join between the Hildreth van der Merwe partnership and the Hildreth Overton partnership seamless. They hit five sixes to Surrey’s one. No sign of a slow pitch now. Even one or two of the members who must have seen cricket before the Gillette Cup were singing along to a tune from their youth and there was not a seat to be had in the lower deck of the Somerset Pavilion or a face anywhere that I could see without a smile. The person a couple of seats along from me, looking astonished at what he was seeing asked where one of Overton’s sixes had gone. It had gone straight over the top of the Caddyshack and the pitch was dead centre for this match. Whether he saw van der Merwe’s six head off in the same direction I don’t know.

The crowd had stayed to the end. 47 for 5 had not daunted them or they were just having a good time or both. The only section of the crowd that seemed to have stayed away in numbers were the seagulls. Normally circling as a match comes to a close the few that were visible stayed well beyond the perimeter even of the Trescothick Stand where they are normally at their most persistent. Perhaps they were fazed by eight thousand cheering people or perhaps they had seen Overton’s huge six and decided discretion was the better part of valour.

Not for the first time Surrey had a game at Taunton as good as wrapped up only to find the wrapping unravelling before their eyes and when Overton and van der Merwe were on strike being torn to shreds. Somerset got home with ten balls to spare.

“I never thought that would happen,” said the woman next to me. I don’t think anyone did at 47 for 5. Many more games like this and the people who own the flats will have a little more equity in them than they thought. At the very least 80 of them and their visitors had had quite an afternoon. So had we all if the bubbling throng that left the ground was anything to go by. Even the sun, which had stayed resolutely behind the clouds for most of the match, came out to watch those last two partnerships.

There is something deep in the heart of this Somerset team that sometimes stands up to be counted when backs are hardest against the wall. It appears as if from nowhere and when it does it is formidably invincible. When it shows itself it can leave the opposition stunned. It happened in the County Championship in those nail-biting matches at the end of last season, not least against Surrey. It happened against Surrey in the Royal London Cup earlier this season. It happened again yesterday.

I will sleep more easily this week if Somerset do not try to rely upon it once more against Surrey in the Championship. Three times in succession is testing it, and my nerves, far enough.

The folk concert I went to in the heart of the Quantocks after the match was much more restful.”

Result. Toss. Surrey. Elected to bat. Surrey 157-6 (20 overs) OJ Pope 46(31 balls), TD Groenewald 2-26(econ 6.50). Somerset 158-6 (18.2/20 overs) JC Hildreth 45*(33), RE van der Merwe 36(19), C Overton 35*(19), J Dernbach 3-29(8.70), R Clarke 2-31(7.75). Somerset won by 4 wickets. Somerset 2 points. Surrey 0 points.

First posted on grockles .com on 7th August 2017

And so with another miracle win against Surrey Somerset found themselves in second place in their group. Whereupon thoughts shifted to the County Championship which was due to return for a solitary round of matches before the denouement of the T20 competition. That the Somerset match in that Championship round should be against Surrey seemed inevitable.