County Championship 2017 ~ Lancashire ~ Third day ~ Battle of wills

Specsavers County Championship. First Division. Taunton. 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th September 2017. Somerset v Lancashire.

Overnight. Somerset 335 (SM Davies 111, TB Abell 46, MW Parkinson 4-68, TE Bailey 3-40). Lancashire 133 (SJ Croft 41, MJ Leach 5-47) and 28-0 (f/o). 

14th September. Third Day.

Farmer White (IP Logged) 15 September 2017 8.31 a.m.
“Umpire Nick Cook was seen looking expectantly at the sky beyond the Trescothick Stand where the weather was coming from on this third day as a brief smattering of rain swept the ground. Groans. Then the deep rising roar of an approaching Spitfire filled the air and most eyes were on the sky. It curled away behind the flats having taken another peek at the cricket. You watch cricket at what is now the Cooper Associates County Ground for sixty seasons and never see a Spitfire, and then two come along in the same match. May it presage two five wicket hauls in the same match for Jack Leach.

The pilot would have seen an intense battle of wills and techniques being played out in slow motion on the green ovoid below. The pitch was slow, the scoring rate slower and the fall of wickets even slower in a long gruelling morning of attrition more in the way of the First World War than the Second. Had the Spitfire come later in the day it would have seen Lancashire’s hard resistance, led by Hameed and Livingstone, being steadily entangled in a web of line, length, flight and slow turning spin ever more tightly drawn by Jack Leach and Dom Bess for the second time in the match. Somerset’s gradual two-pronged spin envelopment of Lancashire’s concerted defensive operation was the story of the day.

An overnight deluge delayed the start and cost the eight overs added for the delays of the previous day, the weather dropping a gentle hint that it was still in this match. Overton and Groenewald started the day with some probing pace which served to show there was little in the pitch for them. Overton went past the edge, one from Groenewald must have sent shockwaves through the stumps as it swept by, another from Overton whistled past the edge of a stiff-armed jab from Hameed who also just got a bat down on and a foot out of the way of a piercing yorker form Groenewald. Four slips watching proceedings in unrequited anticipation.

Scott of the Antarctic would have turned down a free seat in the top of the Somerset Pavilion or been blown off the top by the gale. The ground meanwhile was wallowing in the autumn sunshine as a shower skirted along the Quantocks. Jack Leach drifted one past Hameed’s off stump as if thwarted by a force field around the stumps. Lancashire’s intent was clear. 35 for 0 at 11.30. Six runs in half an hour. Then Jack Leach, from the River End got one to spit through Davies who started prodding the pitch as if he was delivering it a reprimand for poor homework. A mangled late cut off Bess from Hameed was thwarted by the stumps force field and Leach got another through Davies. Those deliveries apart the message overall was clear. There was nothing of consequence in this pitch for the seamers and no more than gentle even turn for the spinners.

And so the morning settled down to Leach and Bess twirling away and Hameed and Davies prodding away. It was only broken by an occasional boundary if Bess dropped short. As the end of the first hour approached Lancashire were 51 for 0, a quarter of the lead eaten away, and as the overs went by, looking in no trouble at all. Then, as at Bosworth, the third force in the game, the weather, took a hand. A brief squall sent the players off for ten minutes.

Davies came back and before he had settled on drove Leach powerfully just on the onside. Leach took a sharp twisting return catch low to his diving right. 82 for 1. Davies (49) furious with himself. The weather could give Tantalus a lesson or two. It had just given Somerset a helping hand whilst all the time, the whole morning long, keeping those of us in the top of the Somerset Pavilion on tenterhooks as a succession of showers danced along the top of the Quantocks dimming the maroon fields as they went. And as if to make a point sent the players off again this time to an early Lunch.

During the Lunch interval a throwback to an earlier age in county cricket appeared. The remains of the previous day’s tombola set itself up next to the Caddick Pavilion near where, not so long ago, you used to see Ken Palmer and Mervyn Kitchen deep in conversation as they watched their modern counterparts in the middle. Perhaps this is where the past comes to visit. It was not only the past that came to visit for several of the Lancashire team emerged to chance their arm in the tombola. Then a couple of them took a selfie with the tombola as a backdrop. Perhaps they had not seen its like before.

I have no idea how their luck ran but Somerset’s changed with Lunch. The showers ended their shift and the rest of the day was passed mostly in sunshine. Hameed and Livingstone dug in and made the bowling look less and less challenging hard though they had to concentrate to do it for the bowlers quietly persevered. This would be one of Justin Langer’s arm wrestles, the pitch more of a spectator to the contest than a second in Somerset’s corner or so it looked from the couple of overs I watched from the Sir Ian Botham Stand.

I moved to the gap between the Botham and Trescothick Stands. It looked little better there until an edge off Leach barely looped at all and dropped short and wide of Trescothick at slip. Trescothick’s response was to field on his knees perhaps the better to reach the catch which does not carry. From the Garner Gates the stalemate continued. The gates seemed in anguish at what they saw. The wind was so powerful as it passed through them, the only thing that can for they are forever locked, it caused such a high-speed vibration the gates wailed like banshees as if urging Somerset on.

On past the Brian Rose Gates to the old Stragglers area. Discussed the insistence of the Taunton pitch on flattening out on the third day and passed on through Gimblett’s Hill. Nothing seemed to be working. I climbed the stairs back towards my perch and in the process of sitting down saw Hameed drive Leach straight to Abell at short cover. All that perambulating and I may as well have stayed put. We didn’t know it at the time but it was the beginning of a Lancashire slide. They went from 144 for 1 to 247 for 8 at the close. Croft started to undo all the benefits of the Davies, Hameed, Livingstone grind by trying to slog sweep Bess into the Somerset Stand only to feel the ball to slam into his pad and see Billy Taylor’s finger go up. 151 for 3.

This brought Chanderpaul and Livingstone together. A brick wall of the type Maurice Tremlett used to talk about pushing over in a tough battle. Somerset would have to get through them if they were to make progress. The 80th over was bowled and the Somerset Brains Trust met. Abell, Trescothick, Overton, Leach and briefly Bess. The result one more over form Bess. In it he bowled Chanderpaul. Ian Botham used to have a golden arm they said. Does Abell have a golden brain when it comes to captaincy? 171 for 4. Tea.

Abell did not persist with the spin after Tea. He took the new ball and Overton shot out Vilas with the help of Davies. 189 for 5. I had not manged to regain my seat after Tea by then and saw that one from behind the covers store. It looked just as good. Back to the spin as Somerset started to have the feel of the Essex side that had overpowered them At Chelmsford. Perhaps there was just a little more in the pitch for the spinners than earlier but things were starting to have the feeling of Lancashire’s will starting to wilt under the persistent pressure. Even McLaren did not seem to stand quite as tall in defiance as he had in the first innings. The same confidence was not quite there.

It was there for Somerset though. They seemed to be all over Lancashire. The fielding was electric. The sense of oneness as a team palpable. A good as I have seen Somerset in the field all season. Still Leach and Bess probed. Even Livingstone succumbed, 57 off 165 balls indicative of the Lancashire innings, although he gave the clearest of indications that he thought the catch which Davies took of Leach had not touched the bat. 215 for 6.

The evening sun gradually sank over the flats, the fervent hope of the Somerset support that it would take Lancashire’s final wickets with it. It took two of them. McLaren turned Leach helpfully straight into Trescothick’s hands at short leg. Parry pushed Bess to that other old Somerset stalwart, Hildreth, at silly mid off. And I thought those were young men’s fielding positions. Perhaps Trescothick and Hildreth think they still are young. They certainly reacted like young men to the catches.

And so Lancashire closed on 247 for 8. A lead of 45. As I type this on the final morning the sun shines bright on the Blackdowns. May it do so on Somerset today.

Perhaps if the Spitfire returns it will have a glint on its wings. If it does I shall spare a thought for those, 77 years ago, who made it possible for me to watch Trescothick, Hildreth and all the others on this Battle of Britain Day.”

Close. Somerset 335. Lancashire 133 and 247-8 (f/o).