A stunning Somerset performance ~ Willis Trophy ~ Somerset v Glamorgam – Second day

All Willis Trophy matches are being played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus restrictions 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,

Overnight. Somerset 296. Glamorgan 8 for 0. Glamorgan trail by 288 runs with ten first innings wickets standing.

Second day. 2nd August – A stunning Somerset performance

At tea on the first day Somerset were 164 for 8 and the Glamorgan bowlers had dominated proceedings with some persistent, often late, movement. By the close of the second day Somerset were 296 runs ahead with eight second innings wickets and two days in hand. In the process Tom Abell and James Hildreth had added 93 second innings runs for Somerset’s third wicket at five runs an over against a ball that continued to move. The transformation in the match had begun on the first evening with those 147 Somerset runs scored for those final two wickets. But it had been driven home by a performance on the second morning from the Somerset bowlers, Craig Overton in particular, that put the Glamorgan bowling performance of the first day in the shade.

The ball was still moving on the second morning, but movement alone does not take wickets. The ball has to be directed to the right place. Overton and Davey opened, and Somerset never looked back. My note of Hemphrey’s dismissal reads, “Hemphrey – late movement away – drive – edge – caught at gully. Lammonby. 15 for 1.” Craig Overton, from the River End, the bowler. The words, movement and swing appear repeatedly in my notes on the morning’s play. The Glamorgan batsmen were given no respite by Overton and Davey as ball after ball asked searching questions of their technique. The unrelenting persistence of the bowlers built up a wall of pressure on the batsmen which, in the first division of the County Championship, is as much a skill of the game as bowling, batting and fielding.

The ball with which Davey removed Selman was a perfect example of what the Glamorgan batsmen were up against. It was angled in, swung in just a little more and then, as Selman’s bat was held high above his head, cut in further off the pitch to hit the pad leaving the umpire, Ian Blackwell, with no alternative but to raise his finger. The appeal from the Somerset players was instantaneous, unanimous and perfectly synchronised with the one from my chair. “Out!” the involuntary word with which I followed my appeal. Glamorgan were 23 for 2, Somerset’s 296 was beginning to look a formidable total, and the beat of the Somerset heart was being fuelled by anticipation of more wickets to come, for the Somerset bowlers were bowling as if a wicket might fall with every ball.

The ball with which Craig Overton removed Carlson also moved late, this time away from the bat. It took the edge of a slightly tentative forward push and flew low and wide of van der Merwe at third slip. Van der Merwe dived, scooped the ball with both hands as it was about to make connection with the grass and Glamorgan were three down for 33. It felt as if they were gradually being caught in an ever-tightening Somerset net. The heart was beating faster now, for the advantage of the previous evening was being ruthlessly pushed home.

Just three balls later Overton angled the ball in again, this time into Cooke, and it swung in further. There was a moment’s hesitation before the bat jabbed down at the ball, but the batsman’s feet did not move. The ball took the edge again and flew straight towards Jamie Overton’s left ankle at second slip. His hands moved neatly to intercept and Glamorgan were 34 for 4. As Overton’s hands were intercepting the ball, mine were meeting above my head in instinctive applause. It was a two-wicket over. The camera could have chosen no better moment to home in on the River End and the view beyond of those Quantock fields and billowing white Somerset clouds surrounded by crystal-clear, blue sky. Could Somerset cricket exist without the Quantocks looking on? Whatever the philosophers’ answer to that question, they presented a heavenly sight to match some heavenly Somerset cricket.

While the Quantocks looked on, Davey took the ball from Overton, and with the first delivery of the next over produced another beautiful example of late away swing to the left-handed Root. Again, the bat jabbed down, again the ball took the edge, and again Jamie Overton moved, this time to his right, and took another slip catch. Three slip catches in succession, all perfectly taken. Glamorgan had dropped three. It makes a difference. Glamorgan were 34 for 5. “Brilliant!” the word I could not keep behind my lips, nor my hands from giving one firm loud clap.

Douthwaite did move his feet, got across to a ball from Overton, got the bat to it, but again just an ounce of away movement was enough for the ball to find the edge, and again it flew to the slips. This time, straight into the hands of van der Merwe at third slip. It was as if the ball knew its destiny and went uncomplainingly to it. Van der Merwe barely had to move a muscle and stayed in the pose he was in when the ball arrived as if to emphasise the point. Now, clapping and cheering done, I just looked on in amazed silence. Glamorgan were 38 for 6, still 258 distant runs behind Somerset’s, admittedly unlikely, 296.

It had been a stunning Somerset bowling performance. It was as if the ferocity of the momentum built by the Davies-Brooks partnership of the evening before had flowed unhindered through the night and been carried forward into the morning by Overton and Davey. Momentum though has its term and Somerset’s momentum had run its course, at least for the moment. The expectation of instant wickets which had marked the first hour ebbed away, perhaps punctured by a squall of rain which sent the players and umpires scurrying from the field, or perhaps some wayward deliveries from Brooks were the culprit. Twice in an over he presented Wagg with an opportunity. Twice Wagg grabbed it with alacrity. The first, overpitched, was driven straight back along the ground to the Trescothick Pavilion. The second, short, was pulled in front of square to the Ondaatje Stand boundary. A few balls from Jamie Overton showed his own personal momentum carrying his follow-through almost as far as the batsman. Always a sign, to my mind, of Jamie Overton in form. And then came that rain.

Not for long, and Brooks had only conceded two boundaries, but the wicket-taking spell was broken, Somerset’s momentum was halted for the moment at least as Wagg and Bull attempted to establish themselves and regain a foothold in the match for Glamorgan. After the rain, Brooks developed some control and Jamie Overton hurried the batsmen with some well-directed deliveries, although a no-ball bounced over Davies’ head and went for four byes. The last ball before lunch, bowled wide down the leg side by Brooks, also reached the boundary and Glamorgan lunched at 71 for 6. It was hardly a recovery, but the Somerset mind wanted the Glamorgan bubble lanced soon after lunch.

On the resumption, Wagg and Bull carried Glamorgan further forward, or at least a little closer to that still-distant Somerset total. Wagg drove hard at the returning Craig Overton and edged the ball to the Ondaatje boundary for four. When Jamie Overton strayed outside leg stump, Bull guided him to the Colin Atkinson boundary. For the most part though, the brothers tested the batsman, and although the constant first-hour expectation of a wicket did not return, it came as no surprise when Craig Overton moved another ball away, this time from outside off stump. Wagg’s defensive jab chased it and sent it flying straight at Hildreth’s head at second slip. Hildreth’s head held firm as his hands took the catch, just as they might a tennis ball tossed to him by a child on a beach. No fuss, no hurry, no mistake, and Overton had taken five wickets in the innings. Glamorgan were 91 for 7. Wagg 28. Wagg’s was Glamorgan’s top score, and none of the six batsmen above him in the order had reached double figures. He and Bull had added 53 runs.

That partnership was the high water mark of the Glamorgan innings, for now Jamie Overton’s accuracy and pace, he conceded just 16 runs in nine overs, began to tell and the expectation of a wicket began to grow again. Overton forced an inside edge from Bull which went to fine leg for a single, but it could have gone anywhere, including into the stumps. When Overton once veered to leg, de Lange clipped him to the boundary, but when, two balls later, he cut a ball into de Lange, the batsman, in reacting, lost control of his bat and the ball ballooned back over Overton’s head to where Davey ran from mid-on to take the catch. When Brooks, finding his range, persuaded a ball to swing back late and home in on leg stump, Ball departed, lbw, for 23. The momentum was fully back with Somerset, and Glamorgan were 107 for 9.

There was a brief flurry from Smith, batting with a runner, which produced three fours and a six in an over from Davey. Momentarily, it raised the spectre for Somerset supporters, and perhaps hope for Glamorgan ones, of a Brooks-type innings. But, almost inevitably it seemed, Jamie Overton restored order for Somerset with a short ball to Smith. Smith pulled, the ball looped skywards, and Davies ran around from behind the stumps to take the catch. Glamorgan had made 131 and Somerset led by 165 runs. The follow-on was not an issue because under the regulations for the Bob Willis Trophy it had been increased to 200 runs following the lack of preparation time for bowlers because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

In relation to the pandemic, there was a curious postscript to the Glamorgan innings. I received a text from someone who had been walking by the ground late in the innings. It said, “I checked the score on my phone and saw that Glamorgan were nine down. I was outside the ground when the Glamorgan last wicket fell but being unable to see into the ground at that moment I only knew when I got to the Vivian Richards Gates and could see the scoreboard. There was no crowd to applaud the wicket, no sound to be heard.”

The Somerset second innings was delayed by some squally showers and 12 overs were lost from the day’s play. When eventually, Byrom and Lammonby started for Somerset, the Glamorgan bowlers bowled with discipline, found the movement that had been there for most of the match and made Byrom and Lammonby work for their runs. For an hour the bowlers held Somerset in check, in spite of the huge Somerset first innings lead, for still the ball moved. Then Lammonby was out. He turned Wagg towards the Somerset Stand for two, repeated the stroke and succeeded in getting a thin edge. He was caught, acrobatically, down the leg side by Cooke. Somerset were 26 for 1. Lammonby 8.

Abell joined Byrom who, in the first hour of the innings, had struck a couple of scintillating fours off Wagg and Hogan, both through the covers. But so constraining was the bowling of Douthwaite and de Lange after Lammonby went that they were able to hold Somerset to 12 runs in seven overs before de Lange angled a ball across Byrom and he too was caught behind for 27. Somerset 38 for 2.

And then that sublime unbeaten third wicket stand between Hildreth and Abell lit up a gloomy evening session during which the floodlights were called in aid. The Somerset pair started slowly at first but picked up the pace. They took Somerset along at nearly a run a ball as the Glamorgan bowlers seemed to lose their edge. With Abell and Hildreth at the wicket, it was a picture of classical correctness from one end and apparently effortless brilliance from the other. The words in my notes are the same for each batsman: “drove through the covers – four,” or, “four – driven square,” or, “pulled square – four.” But a drive through the covers from Abell is a thing of the finest cricketing technology. It could be drawn by a design engineer as a model for others to learn from. A drive from Hildreth is a thing of artistic beauty. It could only be drawn by an artist and would be beyond copying. It was a glorious hour and a quarter of Somerset batting which finally carried the momentum of the match so far in Somerset’s favour that Glamorgan will need the effort of a Hercules to find a way back. Another hour on the third morning like the last on the second evening will be fervently desired by every Somerset supporter, and feared by every Glamorgan one.

Close. Somerset 296 and 131 for 2. Glamorgan 131 (C. Overton 5-38). Somerset lead by 296 runs with eight second innings wickets standing.