Cricket of the old sort ~ Willis Trophy 2020 ~ Somerset v Glamorgan – Third 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/B.G.F. Green*, S.M. Davies (w), C. Overton, R.E. van der Merwe, J.Overton, J.H. Davey, J.A. Brooks.

*B.G.F. Green played as a concussion replacement for G.A. Bartlett on the third and fourth days.

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 and 131 for 2. Glamorgan 131. Somerset lead by 296 runs with eight second innings wickets standing.

Third day. 3rd August – Cricket of the old sort

Well, it didn’t take long. Three days into the season and I was late for the start. Only by about five minutes but it was enough for me to miss a wicket. I suspect I wasn’t the only one. James Hildreth had been caught behind off the first ball of the day from the bowling of Michael Hogan for 45. And by such occurrences is the ageless uncertainty of cricket perpetually renewed, for at the end of the second day I had hoped for another glorious hour of the Abell-Hildreth partnership that had taken Somerset’s advantage in this match beyond, the Somerset supporter hoped, Glamorgan’s reach.

From there, the largely controlled acquisition of runs throughout the morning suggested Somerset’s first objective was the same as Macbeth’s last. Namely, to make assurance doubly sure. With Somerset 296 ahead with eight wickets in hand overnight it was difficult to see a way back into this match for Glamorgan but, as is the way in four-day cricket, Somerset set out to ensure the door was not just shut, but locked.

Ben Green, in just his third first-class match, walked out to join Abell, Bartlett not being permitted to continue under the ECB concussion regulations after his blow on the helmet on the first day. Abell soon pushed de Lange backward of point to the Ondaatje boundary for four to bring up his fifty and Green drove Hogan through mid-on to the same boundary. Somerset were under way and the process of accumulation began. Glamorgan responded with some containing bowling, although the threat of the first day and a half, in the air and off the pitch, was not there. After 50 minutes Somerset had added 23 to their overnight score. This was cricket of the old sort, and it seemed runs and wickets would have to be hewn out of the opposition.

But, with Smith having sustained an injury whilst bowling in the first innings, Glamorgan were a bowler down and that brought the off-spinner, Bull, into the equation, perhaps earlier, and certainly more than Glamorgan might have wished. Immediately, Abell steered him to the Trescothick Pavilion for four and seven came from the over. Bull played his first first-class match six years ago and has played just 12 since. He has a bowling average of 42. The Somerset batsmen must have sensed an opportunity and took it. Bull bowled 19 overs in the innings and conceded runs for most of the time at a steady five an over, six by the end. The three main frontline bowlers averaged two and a half and Douthwaite three and a half. First-class cricket can be a ruthless game, especially when played by first division players. The runs they took from Bull gave Somerset the time to play more circumspectly against the rest of the attack, although one abrupt off drive off Wagg by Abell which was pulled up just short of Gimblett’s Hill took the eye.

As the camera followed the fielder towards the Hill and perfectly captured his pick-up and throw, the increased ease with which I was following the cricket on the live stream with the commentary muted suddenly struck me. My live-stream, note-taking crib card, “Odds overs – River End. Evens overs – Trescothick Pavilion End” was gradually being used less. Instead the progressive increase in the use of the mobile camera and the wide-angled views was beginning to give me my Cooper Associates County Ground bearings back. And the longer it went on, the more my armchair was located alternately, and subconsciously, in the Trescothick Pavilion and the Sir Ian Botham Stand. It is a wonderful way to watch cricket if you cannot go to the ground. And I can take notes without jabbing the person next to me in the ribs with my elbow.

Somerset arrived at lunch, with a few boundaries supplemented by a goodly portion of pushed and guided singles and twos, on 213 for 3. With Abell on 90 and Green on 34, they had a gargantuan lead of 378 with five sessions to play and no rain in the forecast. Oh, what Somerset heaven. And what, for a few fleeting seconds, a heavenly view of the Quantocks the camera provided. The hills, the thin band of ivory white cloud lining their upper extremity and the clear blue sky above held the eye. No wonder Samuel Taylor Coleridge did his best work whilst living in those hills. And perhaps it is no wonder that Somerset, playing beneath their gaze, have a reputation for playing cricket down the years that more than smacks of poetry.

Somerset began to pick up the pace after lunch and then to race forward. Twice in two balls Green pulled short balls from Douthwaite in front of square, one to the Trescothick Pavilion and one to the Ondaatje boundary. After the second, Douthwaite essayed an aerial kick in apparent frustration. Then, Abell reverse swept the first ball of a Bull over to the Ondaatje Stand boundary to reach 99. Next ball, a traditional sweep crossed the boundary in front of Legends Square and took some time to find as the camera followed the fielder who went to retrieve it. Abell took his helmet off, raised his bat to the applauding Somerset team in the Colin Atkinson Pavilion, although not to me applauding with them. It was Abell’s sixth first-class century. He did not pause long to savour the moment but instead turned his attention to Bull’s next delivery. The ball was deposited over the long on boundary at the River End, to be followed, straighter, by the next. The fifth crossed the rope for four in front of the Somerset Stand. The sixth seemed to be intended for the far side of the same rope, but instead dropped into the hands of deep midwicket. Abell 119. Somerset 257 for 4. A lead of 422 and a declaration beckoning.

The fall of Abell’s wicket brought Davies to the middle where his usual careful defence, measured accumulation and strike rotation were replaced by an attempt to attack virtually every ball, albeit with his usual artistry. He scored 18 from 19 balls, including 11 in one over from Bull. The smoothest of sweeps and the most delicate of late cuts both came off the bat with sufficient energy to reach the boundary. He departed when he missed an attempt at a lofted drive, perhaps to Bull’s arm ball. Green meanwhile had held an end secure for two and a half hours and reached his maiden fifty. He then drove Douthwaite over mid-on to the Trescothick Pavilion for four and was out to the next ball, caught trying to loft it straight back over the bowler’s head. Jamie Overton and Roelof van der Merwe soon perished trying to maintain, or increase, Somerset’s momentum. Abell declared on 290 for 8, halfway through the afternoon session with a lead of 455.

And then it was as if we were back on the second morning. Forlorn Glamorgan batsmen facing rampant Somerset bowlers. At this point I wish to lay a claim to the first Glamorgan wicket. I have already confessed to being late on parade on the second morning, only five minutes, but enough to send James Hildreth on his way back to the Pavilion to the first ball of the day. Now, I returned in time for the fourth ball after lunch, only to discover that Nick Selman had departed after shouldering arms to Craig Overton, lbw for nought, to the third. It looked a straight ball, slightly angled in, on the replay, another joy of the live stream.

Overton and Davey, who seemed to be getting some swing, opened the bowling for Somerset. The swing was gentler than earlier in the match, blue sky above perhaps the culprit. Nevertheless, Davies stood up to the stumps to Davey. The bowling was miserly in the amount of opportunity, or the lack of it, offered to the batsmen. The Somerset fielders, as always, added pressure of their own, the camera twice catching Byrom sliding along the Ondaatje boundary to reduce Hemphrey’s expectations from four runs to two.

Overton was forensic in his inquisition of the batsmen with some lively well-directed pace. Once, he delivered a lifting ball that hurried Carlson’s pull sufficiently for the ball to loop just too wide of Green at short leg. After six overs the Glamorgan score had only just reached double figures. Then 10 for 1 became 10 for 2 when a ball from Overton homed in on Carlson’s off stump. Carlson came forward with a straight bat to an apparently straight ball and edged it straight to Jamie Overton at second slip. Overton scooped the ball up from just above the ground without having to move his feet. Pressure tells.

Hemphrey fared little better as the relentless assault continued. He edged Overton, the ball flew towards the slips but bounced short, evaded the cordon and went for four fortuitous runs. After 14 overs Glamorgan were 29 for 2. Then 29 for 3. Jamie Overton, bowling fast, got the ball to lift, Hemphrey swivelled as he tried to unveil a guided hook, the ball found the top edge, rose almost vertically and Overton caught it as he diverted his follow-through to where it came down. In the short time left before tea Billy Root endured a torrid few balls as he played, missed, and edged wide of the slips. He left the slips with their hands on their heads in a pose that suggested they might agree with Hamlet about the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

It was a different game after tea, at least for Cooke who tried to take the game to Somerset with an innings of assurance and skill. He was perhaps helped by a change in the bowling. Jamie Overton and Brooks did not pose the same threat that Davey, and in particular Craig Overton had before tea. Brooks seemed to carry no threat at all. He bowled wide of Root’s off stump which allowed the batsman not to play. When he bowled short and straight, Cooke pulled him for four. Jamie Overton bowled a shorter length than Craig and was cut and pulled by Cooke. When he tried to bowl full, Cooke drove him as the scoring rate rose. For the first time in the match a Glamorgan batsman was consistently denying the bowlers any leeway.

When Abell reverted to Davey and Craig Overton they withheld the leeway, and the glut of runs became a trickle. Davey started with a calming, at least for the Somerset mind, maiden. Overton began with an over largely directed at, rather than wide of, Root’s off stump. Another maiden resulted. Davey forced an edge from Cooke, although it fell short of the slips. There was some movement, particularly for Davey, but it was early, gentle swing and seemed of itself to pose no threat to the batsmen. Root did manage to steer Davey past the slips to the old scoreboard boundary for four, but the bowlers managed to restrict the batsmen to just seven runs from six overs. When, eventually, Cooke took a boundary from each of Overton and Davey, Abell, never slow to respond to the opposition’s tactics turned to van der Merwe who replaced Davey at the Trescothick Pavilion End. Root, perhaps frustrated by the grip which Craig Overton and Davey had applied, deployed the reverse sweep against van der Merwe. Twice he failed to connect. The third time the ball hit the stumps. Root had scored 26 and with Cooke had added 66 runs, but, in the end, as it so often does in cricket, pressure and an interdict on runs had produced results. Glamorgan were 95 for 4.

As the day wore towards its close, another spell from Brooks achieved no more than his earlier one, a short spell from Abell made no impact, and Jamie Overton bowled a lively spell but could not break through. After the first three wickets of the Glamorgan innings batting seemed to become easier and thoughts of the Taunton pitches of old which tended to flatten significantly and suddenly at some time on the third day sprang to mind. Root’s wicket had been taken, but that seemed to owe everything to the pressure Davey and Craig Overton had applied and nothing to the conditions, either underfoot or overhead.

In the end Jamie Overton took the pitch and the conditions out of the equation. With the fourth ball of the final over of the day he released a quick ball which followed a trajectory more akin to that of a missile than of a cricket ball. It homed in on the bottom portion of Douthwaite’s pad and hit it full on, right in front of the stumps and back in the crease. What a ball! I didn’t much miss the cricket when it wasn’t on. But, oh what a joy it is to have it back.

Close. Somerset 296 and 290 for 8 dec (T.B. Abell 119, B.G.F. Green 54, J.C. Hildreth 45, K.A. Bull 3-112). Glamorgan 131 and 126 for 5. Glamorgan need 330 more runs to win.