Royal London One-Day Cup. Somerset v Hampshire. Final. 25th May 2019. Lord’s.
I was unable to attend the Lord’s final for reasons that transcend even cricket, and which will become apparent in the report which follows. Neither was I able to watch the live television transmission. I have however been a Somerset supporter since the days of Maurice Tremlett, and Somerset cricket runs deep through my veins. There is, therefore, no law or force of nature, from this end of the Universe to the other, which could keep my mind entirely away from cricket on such a day. What follows is a report about a day of great spectacle, at Lord’s and in Somerset. Somerset supporters, wherever they are in the world, whatever they are doing, will always find a way of keeping up with the score and getting what reports of the action they can; and when they can, of watching some footage of the play, on the day or afterwards. From my doing all those things emerges this report of a day of hope, anticipation and joy unbounded at Lord’s and in Somerset …
Somerset. T. Banton (w), Azhar Ali, P.D. Trego, J.C. Hildreth, T.B. Abell (c), G.A. Bartlett, L. Gregory, R.E. van der Merwe, C. Overton, J. Overton, J.H. Davey.
Hampshire. T.P. Alsop (w), A.H.T. Donald, J.J. Weatherley, S.A. Northeast (c), R.R. Rossouw, G.K. Berg, J.K. Fuller, C.P. Wood, K.J. Abbott, M.S. Crane, F.H. Edwards.
Toss. Hampshire. Elected to field.
What a day!
Well what a day that was! Always a worry in the lead up to such major outdoor events, the weather was perfect. Key players played their parts to perfection, and everyone involved made key contributions at key times. It was a truly astonishing day. One to be endlessly remembered, and doubtless endlessly recounted by all who made the trip. By those that is who made the trip from the South West, and all parts, to Lord’s to watch Somerset in the Royal London One-Day Cup Final; and by those who made the trip from all parts to the South West for the wedding. For that is what happens when the wedding fixture list comes out before the cricket fixture list. It turns out to be the year in which you find yourself at your son’s Somerset wedding on the same day as Somerset are at Lord’s determined not to be bridesmaids again after ten successive second-place finishes in the various domestic competitions. Fixture congestion is a common occurrence in sport, but it surely is not too much to hope that the ECB might have avoided a fixture clash with my son’s wedding.
There is, I am told by some, a solution to every problem. There was none to this one. At least not one that would get me to the wedding and to the match. I missed the 1979 Gillette Cup Final too. Sixty overs in those days, the forerunner of 50-over competitions. I had been forced to watch Viv Richards’ 117 and Joel Garner’s 6 for 29 on television as Somerset won their first-ever trophy. Not a Somerset member at that time, I was in my third exile over 200 miles from Taunton, tickets from Somerset’s allocation were a forlorn hope, and tickets faithfully promised by another county had failed to materialise. No one-click purchases in those days. And no spare seats on the day. Tickets were sold out months in advance except for a few held by non-participating counties, and the non-participating county which had promised tickets did not deliver on its promise. I had not missed a Somerset Lord’s final since. But my son’s wedding was my son’s wedding, and hard though it is to believe, there are more important things in life than cricket. And unlike for that 1979 final, I had no trouble getting a ticket for the wedding. Front row too. It was a ticket to be treasured, although, even with Somerset at Lord’s, it did come with an instruction not to wear my wide-brimmed wyvern hat. Is nothing sacred?
So, no trip to the final, and I do not possess a smartphone on which to sneak a look at the score or instant highlights. I retain my aversion to carrying my life in my pocket. Although, I must confess, the ability to carry the Somerset score in my pocket has its attractions. Fortunately, weddings tend to have guests. And these days, guests tend to have smartphones. And at a wedding in the West Country there is unlikely to be a lack of Somerset supporting smartphones. In 1979 smartphones were part of an undreamt-of future. What did people at weddings do for the score then?
But, back to the 2019 wedding. I put myself forward myself for the role of fixer-for-the-day in case any urgent errands needed to be run. I am like that. Always eager to help. Have car – Will travel is my motto. For cars have radios. Radios, even in this slave-to-the-internet age, broadcast commentary on top cricket matches. Not, of course, that that was anywhere near the forefront of my mind when I made the offer. Perish even the thought on my son’s wedding day. A day that was one of brilliant sunshine with high white cloud to decorate the sky. In Somerset and at Lord’s. In Somerset, the wedding guests would meander the tree-surrounded grounds of the venue all day as they soaked up the sun, for this was an outdoor wedding. At Lord’s the stands, as is the case in these days for these finals, were only half full, but the roar of the Somerset contingent in the crowd would make up for that, for they would fill the skies with their cheers. Ear-splitting if you were in the middle of it for certain. I know. I have never been at a Lord’s final where the Somerset supporters did not drown out the opposition supporters and on this day the noise would last all day.
As the morning took shape the atmosphere rippled with anticipation. Hearts beat faster as the clock ticked inexorably round. Then, on the dot of half past ten, anticipation turned to concentration. All thoughts were on the match. Not since the London Olympics, as far as I know, has an archery competition taken place at Lord’s. But at the wedding, all eyes were on bows being drawn, for half past ten marked the beginning of the morning festivities, and the morning festivities started with an archery match. And at Lord’s eyes turned to the centre or to the big screens as a coin was tossed skywards. As the coin came down the first arrow sped towards the target.
Archery, I soon discovered to my cost, is a bit like cricket. If you do not get your line and length right, things go awry. My first attempt, had it taken place in a cricket match, would have resulted in me being penalised for a height no-ball, or whatever the penalty is for clearing the batsman’s head on the full; my second would have yorked the batsman, or in all probability, as the commentators say, pinned him to his crease.
At Lord’s the coin came down Hampshire side up and Somerset found themselves in the field. In Somerset I was asked not to loose any further arrows. Not by the archery tutor, who had been transfixed by my performance, but by a request to run an errand. Oh, that I could time a cricket ball as well as that request was timed. No sooner was I in my car than, in the fourth over, the radio was on. “Davey runs in, bowls, Donald drives hard … and straight to cover,” said a distant voice. Caught by Roelof van der Merwe. The first blow to Somerset. Hampshire were 16 for 1 and the cheer in the car was thunderous and as unbounded as the one emitted through the radio by the thousands of Somerset supporters at Lord’s. No matter where you are in the world, as a Somerset supporter when a match is on you are there.
Replays show the ball might just have deviated up the Lord’s slope. It was a better ball than it looked at first sight, and Davey is a better bowler than he looks at first sight, although his worth is known in Somerset. That hint of deviation was precisely what it takes to deceive a batsman intent on an emphatic cover drive and expecting the ball to deviate the other way. The result: the ball travelled off the bat like a rocket in a slightly upward trajectory rather than in a slightly downward one. From the batsman’s perspective, there could be no more dangerous place to lift the ball, even like a rocket, than straight into the hands of van der Merwe. I did not need to be at the match for the eye that watches the imaginings of the mind to see van der Merwe metamorphose into the personification of joy unbounded. It is what he does if he is involved in taking a wicket. There is no more wholehearted or committed cricketer, and Somerset are fortunate indeed to have him in their side.
As Alsop and Weatherley attempted to steady Hampshire, punctuating their defence with a couple of boundaries, I was confronted by a row of people with guns pointing at targets. I was offered the opportunity to build on my performance in the archery by taking part in the pistol shooting match. Whilst I was contemplating what wonders I might achieve someone wandered by peering anxiously into a smartphone. I decided that my archery achievements were sufficient unto the day and cornered the smartphone user.
“35 for 2 after eight overs,” he said without being asked. There was no need to ask. There are as many people who want to impart a cricket score as there are those who wish to receive one, even when they are on their way to the gin tasting event which had been laid on to help minds swim through the morning. “Alsop caught at slip by Hildreth off Davey,” he added. There was a glint of hope in his eye and a lift in the beat of my heart. I have no idea what the Somerset bowlers would be like at archery, but it seemed they knew how and where to direct a cricket ball. There was a story to tell too. Davey had forced a defensive stroke from Alsop who had edged the ball low to Hildreth’s left at slip. Hildreth, slightly off balance, had got his hands down to the ball and dropped it. “Hildreth does not drop slip catches,” was the thought that sprang to mind. Until Somerset are in a Lord’s final it seems.
But salvation follows a fall. Davey’s next ball was virtually identical to the first. Alsop essayed a tentative drive at it and edged it to precisely the same place the previous ball had gone. This time Hildreth, weight perfectly aligned, took the ball perfectly. Perhaps, just perhaps, I thought, this might be Somerset’s day. Plato would have something to say about the way in which Hildreth takes slip catches, for when Hildreth gets it right, as he usually does, he challenges Plato’s theory that perfection does not occur in the physical world. Hildreth’s technique in the slips is understated, the smoothest of movement of the body as the arms carry the hands, almost imperceptibly, into line with the approaching ball. Then, when the ball disappears from view, the fielders celebrate another demonstration of calm personified.
Calm personified. It is a phrase that fits as neatly to alpacas as it does to Hildreth taking a slip catch. Nothing seems to ruffle alpacas. At least nothing seemed to ruffle the three at the wedding. They were there to entertain the guests by being spoken to, patted on the back or marched around the grounds of the venue. In fact, they were so calm and untroubled by the comings and goings of the guests, the flying of the arrows, the whizzing of the pellets and the prospects of gin that I concluded they were not Somerset supporters. Not even an alpaca could have been that calm with Somerset on top in a final after all those second places if it were a Somerset supporter.
While the alpacas marched, Hampshire tried to resist Somerset’s early grip. Perhaps the Somerset bowlers should turn their arms to archery, for despite Hampshire’s efforts they pinned Weatherley and Northeast down to the tune of 15 runs in five overs. And all the while the wedding festivities and the conversation flowed. The gin tasting was on everyone’s lips. Beneath the morning sun a light breeze fuelled the atmosphere as a smartphone-wielding Somerset supporter floated by with the news that Gregory had drifted a ball into Weatherley who had edged it into his stumps. “Hampshire 67 for 3 off 15 overs,” the crucial information. “Gregory went for 12 straight afterwards mind,” the less than welcome reminder that cricket can be a fickle game. Twelve precious runs. If nothing else, Somerset know how to keep their supporters perpetually perched on the edge of their seats.
Four and a half runs an over after 15 overs with three wickets down gives the bowling side an edge in a 50-over match. The butterflies of hope began to stir in the pit of the stomach, and if I perked my ears I fancied I could hear, beyond the rustle of the wind through the trees, the sound of the familiar Taunton buzz rustling through the stands at Lord’s. Somerset were giving their supporters something to talk about and talking about it they would be. The source of Hampshire’s troubles was revealed by a peek at a meandering smartphone before it continued its odyssey in search of the gin. Davey 7-0-21-2. That, if not match-winning bowling because it came so early in the piece, is a tremendous foundation on which to build. And no doubt Davey had held the Hampshire batsmen in check and then pushed them back in his usual quiet, unassuming but effective way. This was Somerset at their best. Someone always steps up.
As I meandered among the pre-ceremony activities the guests talked and laughed, circulated and gathered; the alpacas continued to parade, and the arrows and the pellets continued to fly. There was though no relaxing at Lord’s. There the intense tussle continued. “Hampshire 83 for 3 off 17.4,” reported another smartphone user. Rilee Rossouw had come to the wicket and was taking Somerset on, finding the boundary. That tightened the stomach muscles. In 2017 Rossouw had destroyed the Somerset attack at Taunton with an innings of 156 off 113 balls. But Somerset have destroyers too. “Jamie Overton has replaced Davey,” said the smartphone user. If ever there was an intent to fight fire with fire that was it, I thought. And Tom Abell is a captain who is not averse to confronting fire with fire.
Somerset fire there was, and as so often when Overton bowls, things began to happen. “99 for 4 from 20 overs,” announced the best man as he and his smartphone swept by. Jamie Overton had angled a ball across Rossouw who, having struck six fours in less than half an hour at the wicket, attempted to repeat a devastating cut. The ball moved away from his bat, he reached too far and the inside edge diverted the ball perfectly onto his stumps. It was as if a miraculous arm had reached out and deflected an arrow into the centre of the target.
Hampshire’s greatest hope of an innings of length and destruction sufficient to take the match away from Somerset was gone. Now the heart was pumping. Cricket is the most unpredictable of all games and one-day cricket can be more unpredictable than most. Ask Surrey. At Taunton in 2017 van der Merwe took Somerset from 22 for 5 to a victory which had been still another 270 runs away when he arrived at the wicket. He had been dropped first ball by, of all people, Kumar Sangakkara, and had gone on to make 165 not out. By removing Rossouw Overton had removed the threat of such an innings from Hampshire. Now, there really was hope.
As the heart raced, the mind pulled from the memory bank images of those three finals which had brought cups home in successive seasons nearly forty years before. And then the mind put the memories back. It was too soon. “Count no chickens,” is the watchword of every lifelong cricket supporter. Too many pre-counted chickens have over the years resulted in cooked geese. The thought was enough to persuade the heart to hold its beat, for the moment at least. Helped by the water. More water was needed for the table bar and it had to be transported over some distance from the fridge. Not to mention more ice from the freezer for the ice buckets. And what a sight the table bar was. Brews of ale gathered from all over Somerset and nearby, in packed lines and in a blaze of colour, just as rows of Somerset supporters had lined the Tavern Stand in those pulsating finals of old.
In 2019 the stands at Lord’s were less well populated, although I had no doubt the Somerset supporters still managed to turn the ground into a cauldron of noise every time a Hampshire wicket fell. Somerset have a long tradition of Lord’s finals and after fourteen long years without a trophy the pent-up emotion in every Somerset heart was fit to burst at the prospect of ending that drought. But, for the moment it had to be held in check. Held in check by me as I travelled up and back along the corridor from kitchen to bar transporting the water and the ice. And held in check as the Hampshire batsmen began to travel up and down the pitch transporting runs from wicket to scoreboard. Developing opposition partnerships slowly stoke the fires of supporter anxiety.
And yet, the hope grew against all my attempts to hold it in check. For although Northeast and Berg were standing firm, keeping the ever-persistent Somerset bowlers out, they were scoring at barely three runs an over. Berg, in nearly an hour at the wicket, scored but two boundaries. “134 for 4 in 31 overs,” revealed a friendly smartphone. In the 1970s and 80s heyday of one-day cricket such a score would have had the match on a knife-edge. In 2019 it was the result of match-controlling, but not yet match-winning, bowling. Jamie Overton and Josh Davey were the destructive sharp edge of the Somerset attack, but none of the bowlers were allowing the batsmen to break away. “Oh, hope keep in thy place,” my plea to myself, for this all seemed too good to be true and, picking away at the mind, Northeast, now Hampshire’s main hope, was still at the crease on 45.
“Brilliant!” said the best man as I stood surveying the fruits of my labours with the water and ice. I thought I had done a good job but “Brilliant!” seemed too generous an appraisal. It wasn’t me he was appraising. “Jamie Overton got Berg!” he added. Now, that was brilliant. Overton, in the groove, bowled short, quick, the lift and direction slightly tucked up Berg’s hook as he tried to pick up the Hampshire scoring rate. The ball flew skywards and Bartlett moved neatly into position to take the plummeting ball in front of the gap between the Edrich and Mound Stands. Hampshire 145 for 5 in the 34th over. Brilliant indeed.
And with that it was lunch. Not at Lord’s as would have been the case in the days of yore when one-day matches kept to the intervals of the old civilisation and play broke off when lunch, or ‘luncheon’, was ready. In these days in one-day matches lunch, or ‘the interval’, comes when the match is ready. At the wedding, lunch came when the guests were ready. After the flying arrows, whizzing pellets, tasted gin, glorious weather, marching alpacas and whispered cricket scores of the morning, lunch was, for most, a tranquil help yourself affair. The calm before the main event.
For those with an eye on the intense struggle taking place at Lord’s lunch was anything but tranquil. The eyes of Somerset supporters kept meeting, hoping, questioning, “Could it really be happening? Was this finally the year?” “Yes!” shouted one. “Northeast has gone. Bowled Abell.” This time it was me saying, “Brilliant!” Northeast, on 56, had essayed an ugly drive-come-pull, a ‘hoick’ I suspect it was called in the stands, missed and had his off stump knocked back. Northeast gone. It seemed too good to be true. But gone he was and his 56 had eaten 89 balls, an indication of the control which the Somerset bowlers were exerting. 164 for 6.
With every ball it felt like Somerset were building the advantage they had held since the fall of that first wicket taken during that, now it seemed, long ago errand. “170 for 7,” announced a wide-eyed smartphone owner. Overton was bowling short and fast, constantly testing the batsmen. Wood faced. Overton, shortish again, obtained lift, Wood pulled, top-edged, the ball fell well-short of the boundary, Bartlett, running in hard from long leg took the catch. 170 for 7 was a Hampshire score which dared not have been hoped for at the start, and the cheering in the stands at Lord’s must have been heard the length of the St John’s Wood and Wellington Roads. “Look at Jamie Overton’s figures,” said the phone owner as he handed it to me. 8-0-28-3 jumped from the screen. That is match-winning bowling in the middle of a 50-over innings. As lunch was eaten it became ever harder to hold back that beating heart.
And then dessert. Before 2018 Abell was a serviceable fill-in bowler for a few overs. And then he announced himself as something more with four wickets in a spicy half-hour spell in the Championship match at Old Trafford which evened up a match that had been tilting Lancashire’s way. He then finished the season with a hat-trick at Trent Bridge. Now he evaded Abbott’s driving bat, passed the outside edge and rattled the off stump again. 180 for 8. Nine overs still to bowl, the Somerset innings and a wedding still to come. An afternoon to savour.
“You are doing fine,” said someone from the bride’s retinue, holding up his smartphone. But a sudden sliver of anxiety had forced its way into my mind. “If the pitch is OK,” I replied, for the prospect at last of a trophy had sowed the seeds of doubt, and the thought that a score of 180 for 8 might mean a pitch helpful to bowlers fed the seeds. “Just keep on top of them,” he replied. Oh, that it were that easy. It often seems that way when your team is not involved, but ten consecutive second places weigh heavy when your team finally gets itself into a winning position with a trophy there for the taking. “I can check on the pitch for you,” he replied. He spends a lot of time watching cricket at Lord’s and knew someone at the match. He immediately took to his smartphone. At this wedding you could have been forgiven for thinking that the smartphone had been invented for the sole purpose of keeping the Somerset guests up to date with the cricket. “Pitch is fine. Good and true,” he said. “You’re there.” “Wait until we bat before you judge,” my reply, my aversion to chicken counting in cricket to the fore. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine,” the reply. “A long way to go yet,” I insisted. “I’ll believe it if I see it in the paper in the morning,” I added.
As if they had heard me, the Hampshire batsmen finally started to get the measure of the Somerset bowling. From the Hampshire nadir of 180 for 8 James Fuller and Mason Crane began to place the ball to effect, Fuller in particular. Suddenly, runs were coming at seven an over. 64 in all in an unbroken ninth wicket partnership. That hurt. Along the way Fuller hit Jamie Overton for two sixes, one either side of the wicket, as Overton conceded 20 runs off his last two overs. Even van der Merwe, canniest of white ball bowlers, conceded 13 in one over. Perhaps there really was nothing in the pitch to worry about, or perhaps the release of pressure that an apparently lost cause can bring freed the batsmen’s arms. Whatever the reason, the match was a little less unevenly balanced than it had been when the Man of Lord’s had told me the pitch was fine.
Somerset would need 245 to win. In the days of Somerset’s great glory years cup runs only once was a target greater than that set in a final, and never achieved. In these days, such a target is not to be feared, but under the pressure of so many second-place finishes nerves would need to be controlled. The players’ nerves and mine. And it was not just Somerset I had to worry about, as if that was not enough. As Somerset prepared for the run chase, it was time for the guests to prepare for the ceremony. And for the father of the groom to go through the final practices of his reading. It was as important to get that right as it was to worry about Somerset getting their run chase right. What a time to have to multi-task!
Focus on the job in hand and the pace at which the task was to be carried out would be crucial for me and for Somerset. And we might both be at a crucial point in our respective days at the same time. As the players prepared to return to the field I withdrew to prepare. The mother of the groom too. The mother of the groom is as important as the father at a wedding, especially when she possesses a smartphone. And so there we were. Me, clutching a large-print, double-spaced version of my reading. She, not a cricket person, on sufferance, clutching her phone.
As the Somerset batsmen took the field, I felt a tingle of anticipation as I imagined myself before the gathered throng, took a deep breath and opened my mouth to practice my first line. “Four for no wicket after one over,” announced the mother of the groom. Her tone was one which suggested she foresaw a long afternoon of scores to come. The score was delivered with the sort of exquisite timing that results in a four in a match and a monumental splutter at the start of a reading. But at least Somerset were underway. Any score in the first ten overs would do provided it ended in, “for no wicket.” By the beginning of the third over my first practice reading was in full flow and Somerset runs were flowing nicely too, “Eleven for no wicket,” said the dragooned scorereader.
My second attempt at the reading went smoothly enough but ended with the line, “What is the score now?” Well, two overs without hearing a score is a long time in a final. “27 for 0 after 3.5 overs.” The pace of my heart was picking up again. “Or 218 more to win.”
Meanwhile, at Lord’s, Azhar and Banton were driving the hope of their cheering supporters with some free-flowing, attacking batting. Azhar steering and driving, Banton swivelling and pulling the crispest of boundaries, one for four and another which cleared the rope. A report of another boundary from Banton, straight-driven, added to the momentum of the final practice of my reading and roused the stands at Lord’s to, “Somerset, Somerset, Somerset.” A scintillating cover drive from Azhar, and a square drive from Banton took Somerset to 64 for 0 after ten overs and me to my front row seat. Those final, quick readthroughs as we sat awaiting the ceremony with Somerset 64 for 0 chasing 244 in a cup final after ten bridesmaid places in a row were a triumph of concentration over anticipation.
There is no more uplifting sight than glorious sunny skies when Somerset are on the brink of great things and your son is about to be married outdoors. The groom, waiting on the dais for the start of the ceremony, must have been uplifted too for suddenly he leapt from the dais, held his arms out beside him like the wings of a jet aircraft and ran down the aisle between the serried rows of guests like a stray Red Arrow that had consumed too much Somerset ale. It was a display of sheer exuberance. Whether in a show of irrepressible joy at the prospect of his impending wedding or of a Somerset victory is known only unto him.
“Somerset La La La, Somerset La La La, Somerset La La La,” rang out from the stands at Lord’s, the groom returned to his place; and, as the bride and bridesmaids crossed the lawn towards the bottom end of the aisle, the Man of Lord’s, sitting across the aisle, in a demonstration of perfect synergy between two families about to become one, caught my eye, pointed to his smartphone and mouthed, “Eighty for none.”
So, Somerset 80 for 0 as the bride came up the aisle surrounded by beaming faces soaked in sun. Rather like those in the Somerset contingent at Lord’s I had no doubt. Somerset and the wedding were both in the zone. My reading, and the others, flowed as smoothly as a Hildreth on drive bisecting midwicket and mid-on; the celebrant kept things light and airy, if strictly proper; the sun continued to shine, the best man did not lose the ring, Azhar and Banton continued to strike and stroke the ball around Lord’s, Somerset’s total continued to grow, firstly by well-placed ones and twos, then through Banton cutting, sweeping and reverse sweeping to the boundary and Azhar leaning into the smoothest of drives through midwicket. In celebration, in Somerset the guests showered the happy couple with confetti as they walked down the aisle and at Lord’s “Somerset La La La,” echoed around the stands.
As the wedding guests departed their seats to have their photographs taken the Man of Lord’s said, “112 for 1. You can stop worrying. It’s going to be fine. Nearly halfway there and not 20 overs gone. You are there.” “Not until I see it in the paper tomorrow we are not,” I replied, “Count no chickens” still my motto. Banton was the man out for 69. Hampshire had begun to peg back his scoring, then Edwards, bowling much better than he had when Banton and Azhar had begun their long partnership, persuaded a short delivery to move in, it tucked Banton up, found his inside edge and then the keeper’s gloves. Trego was now at the wicket. With Azhar. A lot of experience. A lot of overs to be bowled. A lot of wickets in hand. There really should be no need to worry. But this was Somerset. Ten second places. And I am a worrier. And Azhar didn’t help. Another fast, short, lifting delivery from Edwards. Azhar, like Banton, tucked up, got more bat on the ball but only enough to pop it to Rossouw at short midwicket. Edwards was finding his mark. 121 for 2. Still 28 overs left but two wickets had been lost in short order
“Don’t look so worried,” a Somerset guest said, “there are eight wickets left.” “Time for the family photos,” someone else said. And so, as Trego and Hildreth battled hard against Edwards’ lift and pace at Lord’s, I lined up for a wedding photograph. “Smile,” said the photographer. Smile? With two wickets just gone and a cup on the line? I hoped Hildreth’s and Trego’s timing was better than that of the photographer. It was. I emerged from the photos with a beaming smile intact and as a smartphone announced Somerset were 140 for 2 in the 26th over. Relief. Trego and Hildreth were still battling. No boundaries, but Somerset’s score was edging up. The gap was closing. Another six runs would bring the target below a hundred with eight wickets standing. Hildreth attacked Edwards. A stunning off drive for four. Then Trego pulled Crane for another four. Target below a hundred. Then, “163 for 2, just 82 needed” according to a passing smartphone. Even this Somerset worrier was managing to maintain his smile and hopeful looks, and anticipatory ones were being exchanged among the rest of the Somerset contingent.
“170 for 3,” dented the anticipation a bit but there was a feeling abroad that this time it was going to be different. Trego had gone for 29 to a fine running catch by Wood off a ball from Fuller which hurried him a little. Hildreth responded by steering Crane to third man for four. He was playing an innings of determination and it was getting Somerset ever nearer. Hildreth, to my mind, is a far more determined batsman than the impression gained from the exotic appearance of some of his strokes. The determination and the intensity of his concentration is revealed in photographs of his face taken of him at the crease. Flowing strokes. Somerset steel.
While I meandered among the smiling throng the bride and groom posed for leisurely photographs in various locations around the grounds. There was nothing leisurely about proceedings at Lord’s. There, Hildreth and Abell attacked. Drove Hampshire further back. Hildreth, Somerset to the core, ten second places scorched into his soul, called upon every ounce of determination and skill he possessed to take the game away from Hampshire. He cut and drove Fuller square to the boundary and cut Wood behind backward point. In Somerset, as the afternoon moved perfectly towards the wedding breakfast, the rising Somerset score, and the innings of Hildreth revealed by the smartphones, set the butterflies off in the pit of Somerset stomachs. No longer the anxiety-strewn ones but the ones fuelled by that sense of anticipation which swells up when your team is on the cusp of great things.
At 203 Abell miscued Edwards, back in the attack, to Donald at midwicket and departed for 14. That news sent a momentary shiver through the nervous system, but with just 42 needed, 14 overs remaining and six wickets standing on a pitch that the Man of Lord’s had told me was fine, surely the cup was coming back to Somerset.
With nine needed I stood with, to be on the safe side, two smartphone owners. After fourteen years the moment could not be missed. There were still six wickets in hand but Edwards, taker of three of the four Somerset wickets to fall, was still bowling. Hildreth, with Somerset since 2003, the only Somerset player on the field when Somerset had last won a trophy those fourteen years before, was facing. A strangely calm feeling descended, perhaps engendered by the ambience of the wedding, perhaps by the inevitability of the end of that 14-year wait. The phones recorded Hildreth’s final two boundaries. For the record, one was cut and one pulled before he fashioned a single to bring the cup home. Hildreth had scored the winning runs in 2005 too. “I told you,” said the beaming Man of Lord’s. “When I see it in the paper tomorrow,” I replied.
Result. Hampshire 244 for 8 (50 overs) S.A. Northeast 56 (89 balls), J.K. Fuller 55* (48), J. Overton 3-48 (econ 4.80). Somerset 245 for 4 (43.3/50 overs) J.C. Hildreth 69* (68), T. Banton 69 (67), Azhar Ali 45 (53), F.H. Edwards 3-69 (7.26). Somerset won by six wickets. Somerset Royal London One-Day Cup Winners 2019.