Strange times ~ Willis Trophy ~ Somerset v Glamorgan ~ First day

All Willis Trophy matches are being played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus restictions in place. This report was therefore written following a day watching Somerset CCC’s live stream of the match. The stream was watched with the commentary muted and with notes being taken to enable the author to replicate as far as possible his experience of watching matches live. He would like to pay tribute to the excellence of the Somerset CCC multi-camera live stream without which the writing of this report would not have been possible.

Bob Willis Trophy. Central Group. Somerset v Glamorgan. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th August 2020. Taunton.

Somerset. E.J. Byrom, T.A. Lammonby, T.B. Abell (c), J.C. Hildreth, G.A. Bartlett, S.M. Davies (w), C. Overton, R.E. van der Merwe, J.Overton, J.H. Davey, J.A. Brooks.

Glamorgan. N. J. Selman, C.R. Hemphrey, W.T. Root, C.B. Cooke (c) (w), D.A. Douthwaite, G.G. Wagg, K.A. Bull, K.S. Carlson, M. de Lange, M.G. Hogan, R.A.J. Smith,

Toss. Somerset. Elected to bat.

First day. 1st August – Strange times

When Tom Lammonby turned Ruaidhri Smith into the on side for a single in the second over of the day it was Somerset’s first run of the 2020 season. The calendar recorded the date as 1st August. We live in unprecedented times and cricket is trying to adapt. A drinks break after six overs would have been cause for raised spectator eyebrows in previous times. A sanitiser break every six overs does not come as a surprise in these times. Neither do the masks worn by those who bring the sanitiser onto the field. Coronavirus normality in cricket, at least for the 2020 season.

Other signs of the times were there too. The Somerset players emerged from the Colin Atkinson Pavilion and the Glamorgan ones from the Andrew Caddick Pavilion. Empty stands of course, as desolate as they are if you take a peek into the ground in January. The only exception was for those who had invested in one of the flats which overlook the ground from behind the Somerset Stand. The occupants watched the cricket from their balconies, or the roof terrace, just as they have for the last ten years. They were among the very few live spectators at county cricket anywhere in the country in this first round of matches of the Bob Willis Trophy, itself a product of these times. And perhaps, if the news on coronavirus transmission deepens further, they may remain the only live spectators at the Cooper Associates County Ground this season. At Taunton, otherwise, and everywhere else, the stands were empty as the players and umpires stood for a minute’s silence for the victims of the virus. Then, before the first ball was bowled the umpires and players took a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. It all reflected a new order with which the world is having to come to terms.

The backdrop to the cricket though was the same as it has always been. The Quantocks, standing proud in alternate hues of green and their own version of Somerset maroon. It is an ageless view, forever synonymous with Somerset cricket. It helped this Somerset supporter, as he sat at home, laptop primed, that the camera which took the wide-angle views of the Quantocks and the River End seemed to be located very near the seats where he habitually takes up residence on match days, and would have done on this day had the new world order allowed. At the top of the Trescothick Pavilion. Although even that meant change, for the last time spectators were permitted to sit there it was called the Somerset Pavilion. Change, it seems, is all around.

And more change too. The overnight news that Jamie Overton was to leave Somerset at the end of the season and move to Surrey would have been the talk of the crowd, had there been a crowd to talk. For the Somerset cricket supporter, it was a jolt in solely cricketing terms on a par with some of the other jolts people are feeling in these times. Soon, that flowing, energy-building run up and torso-twisting action which imparts immense pace and energy into the ball, those gloriously destructive late-order innings with their huge driven sixes and those searing boundary runs and dives will be seen no more in Somerset colours. Overton has a different future to build for himself now, and I wish him every success and good fortune. I will too keep half an eye on his progress as, I imagine, will many a Somerset supporter. As to Somerset, there will be a void to fill, young blades eager to fill it, and the world will move on as the team, as all teams do in these situations, re-shapes.

As to team re-shaping, the coronavirus has already had a say in that, at least for the moment. Players called into the England squads are not available for their counties, whether they are playing for England or not, and because of the coronavirus situation overseas players are in short supply. Somerset are without Jack Leach, Dom Bess, Lewis Gregory, the lynchpin of the side, Tom Banton and an overseas player, hence the new opening partnership of Eddie Byrom, in his first four-day match for Somerset for over a year, and Tom Lammonby on his first-class debut.

And so, to the cricket. After Lammonby had taken that first run the pair looked confident as they worked to establish the Somerset innings. Some waywardness in the opening Glamorgan overs perhaps helped. It has been a long time since these players last played competitive cricket at this level. Then, as both sides settled, Byrom began to take the game to Glamorgan. He showed more freedom of stroke than he had during his run in the side in 2018. A neat deflection off Smith and two scintillating cover drives to the Caddick Pavilion boundary off Wagg revealed a Byrom we had only rarely seen in first-class cricket before. In other times he might have had the crowd beginning to sit up and take note had a third drive off Wagg to a ball a little closer in, and perhaps a little fuller, not taken the under edge and cannoned into the leg stump. Byrom had gone for 22 but he had left a sense that there might be more to come. Somerset 36 for 1.

As soon as Marchant de Lange joined the attack from the River End Glamorgan looked altogether more threatening. He immediately troubled Lammonby and would have removed him had it not been for a dropped catch at second slip. Abell was less fortunate. De Lange speared a ball in towards off stump, Abell half jabbed a bat at it but the stump cartwheeled anyway, and Somerset were 41 for 2. The reality of the Bob Willis Trophy was beginning to hit home. Glamorgan might be a second division Championship side but they were beginning to look competitive and Somerset breaths were beginning to be taken a little more deeply.

James Hildreth started in a more studious fashion than we are used to seeing from him. There was little sense of him playing on a different pitch or in a different match than the other batsmen, as can be the case when he is at his best. There was one heavenly cut for four off Dan Douthwaite to the Caddick Pavilion boundary. Hildreth shaped perfectly for the stroke and sent the ball rocketing away with the smoothest and apparently lightest of touches. Pure silk. It was the sort of stroke that brings gasps of delight from a crowd. When he repeated the stroke off the same bowler, with the same apparent ease, the ball flew straight to Carlson at backward point and Somerset were 75 for 3. Hildreth 16.

Lammonby, meanwhile, had been working away at the other end to keep the balance of the match even and at carving a niche for himself as an opening batsman. A drive to the off of the bowler’s stumps off Hogan must have rattled hard against the boards in front of the Trescothick Pavilion. It was another stroke that might have brought a gasp from a crowd. An off drive to the same end against the off-spinner, Bull, was almost as forceful. But it was through neat and positive accumulation that Lammonby began to build a score while those first three wickets were falling. In one over from Bull he swept fine for two, drove a poor ball through mid-off for four and swept to long leg for a single as he and Bartlett took Somerset to lunch at 92 for 3, a number of wickets which left their supporters to a slightly more fretful repast than they would have liked.

Just before the umpires took the players off for lunch, a camera had swivelled to the clock on the Colin Atkinson Pavilion. Two minutes to one, the time. The approach of lunch, and the focus of the camera on the clock, a reminder that some things in cricket do not change. Time and regulations are meticulously observed, even in these times, on a clock that has been a reference point for umpires and spectators since the times of J.C. White before the Second World War. And above the clock, lay the crest of the Quantocks, the ever-present Quantocks. It was a sight that released pangs of regret that I could not be at the ground as much as any of the cricket had, perhaps that heavenly cut of Hildreth’s apart.

After lunch, the Glamorgan bowlers began to find some troubling movement and the Somerset batsmen were forced to defend hard against it. The score hardly moved for the best part of a difficult half hour for the batsmen. It is almost a truism in cricket that if the fielding side dry up the runs, wickets will follow. Eventually, Hogan, bowling around the wicket to the left-handed Lammonby, produced a ball that swung late, straightened, and was only prevented from hitting the stumps by Lammonby’s pad. He had made what might once have been described as a compact 41, but his wicket left Somerset on 95 for 4 and in familiar territory.

It was de Lange though who led the Glamorgan charge. He bowled a testing spell at Bartlett in particular. On one occasion he hit Bartlett a nasty blow on the helmet which held up play for a considerable length of time while the team physio, in visor and apron, conducted tests. Twice more in his innings the physio came out to check on Bartlett who battled for 23 runs in over an hour and a half at the wicket. He batted in the company of Steven Davies who played in his usual understated, but impressively effective way. De Lange continued to test Bartlett, once causing the batsman to take an evasive backward half-roll, ending with his feet in the air. The bowlers did not have it all their own way though. Bartlett clipped one ball from de Lange behind square for four, and another, off Douthwaite, was dismissively cut backward of square to the Somerset Stand. But when Bartlett was eventually caught at backward point off another cut, Somerset were 139 for 5 and far from alleviating the anxieties of this distance-watching supporter.

Within four overs they were 149 for 8 as the Glamorgan bowlers built on their ascendancy. When Craig Overton emerged to bat at seven it instantly highlighted the value of Lewis Gregory, the absence of a like-for-like alternative in the squad, and the rarity of all-round players of Gregory’s quality. It brings every player in the lower order to the wicket one place above their batting confidence zone. Overton and van der Merwe were quickly dismissed, both lbw. Overton to a ball from Douthwaite that perhaps swung a fraction and van der Merwe to a straight ball from Smith. And then, Jamie Overton edged another straight ball from Smith to slip.

Somerset, a typically calm-at-the-heart-of-the-storm innings from the left-handed Steven Davies apart, were in disarray. Davies had been quietly accumulating runs alongside Bartlett and, barely noticed, had taken his score into the 30s, largely it seemed through well-timed placement into and through the off side. Along the way, he reached for and drove a widish Hogan delivery to the Caddick Pavilion boundary. A similar ball from Wagg was driven straighter, to the Ondaatje boundary, and he then repeated the stroke, again off Wagg, with the same result. They were strokes of the type, when you are at the ground, that sound as if they have been caressed to their destination by a bat sheathed in velvet. Davies had some luck too. He was badly dropped in the slips off Smith. It was not the only drop there in an afternoon which the Glamorgan slips will want to forget.

On the departure of Jamie Overton, Davies was joined by Josh Davey. Together they began to repair a Somerset innings that might have served as an example of the phrase, shot to pieces. Davey is as competent a number ten as you could hope to find. He bats as he bowls. Without fuss or show. Correctly and by the book, and he is often effective in the Somerset cause when it matters most. It mattered now, and he stood up to be counted. He found the boundary four times in his 20 runs, scored in nearly an hour at the crease. A powerfully struck straight drive, just wide of the bowler’s stumps off Hogan, to the Trescothick Pavilion was as good as any you will see. He was eventually out, caught when a lifting ball from de Lange popped up off the bat and into the on side. Somerset were 189 for 9 and tantalisingly close to a bonus point.

More than once I saw Jack Brooks in his Yorkshire days come out at number eleven and swing the bat against Somerset as if he were conjuring up something akin to that immortal image of John Arlott’s, and walking through a field wielding a stick, decapitating thistles as he went. But I never saw him do anything quite like he did for Somerset on this day. Had the Cooper Associates County Ground been a field of thistles, there would be none left now. Brooks laid about him with a vengeance, aided and abetted by Davies who fed him the strike and, along the way, decapitated a few thistles of his own, albeit with finesse rather than fury.

It mattered not who bowled, Brooks treated them all the same. In an over from Douthwaite he edged a drive to the Garner Gates end of the Somerset Stand for two, drove straight of mid-off to Gimblett’s Hill for four and straight into the Trescothick Pavilion for six. When Wagg targeted him with an unpleasant lifter, he ducked away, swung the bat anyway and the ball flew to the Colin Atkinson boundary for four more. One of Bull’s off breaks was driven to the Colin Atkinson boundary. It brought Brooks to his fifty and the residents on the roof terrace of the flats to their feet in applause. When Bull tried again the ball was sent straight to the Sir Ian Botham Stand boundary. The next cleared the Somerset Stand boundary to bring up the hundred partnership for the tenth wicket. That brought a standing ovation from the Somerset team and doubtless from the residents of the flats too. And, a confession, it brought an involuntary cheer from your correspondent much to the surprise of the couple walking by his window. It could not go on of course. Eventually, Brooks misconnected with a thistle and the ball looped up for Wagg to pick up the return catch.

Somerset were 296 all out. 147 of them for the last two wickets. They were four runs short of a third bonus point but had gathered two more than they might reasonably have expected at 149 for 8. The last wicket realised 107 runs which beat the Somerset record for the tenth wicket against Glamorgan set 93 years before in another different age. Brooks walked off with 72 runs from just over an hour at the crease, and every one of those runs must have left a scar on the Glamorgan psyche, for this match at least. Davies, all but invisibly by comparison, in three and a half hours, had been at the wicket while 201 runs were scored and had gathered 81 typically silken ones himself. It left Glamorgan seven overs to bat. Against Craig Overton and Davey, they scored eight runs, four of them when an Overton bouncer cleared Davies and ran to the boundary. The batsmen looked none too convincing. “We could easily have had a wicket,” said the text I sent. “And they didn’t score a single run deliberately,” the reply.

By the close some of the shrouds of disappointment thrown over the day by the news of Jamie Overton’s impending departure had been blown away by Jack Brooks’ rollicking assault on the Glamorgan bowling, and by the altogether more classical piece of run-gathering and strike rotation from Steven Davies. Their combined effort in the evening session was like some Somerset moondust of the old sort sprinkled like balm on a newly incurred wound. It lifted the heart and the spirits to the heavens and began the process of moving on. A performance with the ball to match on the second morning would do very nicely, and if Jamie Overton could put on a demonstration of that smooth, flowing run and action to deliver a few more thunderbolts for Somerset that would be even better.

Close. Somerset 296 (S.M. Davies 81*, J.A. Brooks 72, T.A. Lammonby 41, R.A.J. Smith 3-41). Glamorgan 8 for 0. Glamorgan trail by 288 runs with ten first innings wickets standing.