Bob Willis Trophy 2020~ Warwickshire v Somerset ~ Day two ~ Glowering skies – Glorious cricket

All Bob 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 Warwickshire CCC’s live stream of the match without which it would not have been possible. The stream was watched throughout 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; and to enable him to form his own view of the play.

Bob Willis Trophy. Central Group. Warwickshire v Somerset. 15th, 16th, 17th, and 18th August 2020. Edgbaston.

Warwickshire. R.M.Yates, R.M.H. Rhodes (c), S.R. Hain, I.R. Bell, M.J. Lamb, M.G.K. Burgess (w), T.T. Bresnan, A.T. Thomson, H.J.H. Brookes, C.N. Miles, O.H. Hannon-Dalby.

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

Overnight. Warwickshire 121. Somerset 80 for 2. Somerset trail by 41 runs with eight first innings wickets standing.

Second day. 16th August – Glowering skies – glorious cricket

A glowering sky presented itself when the live stream woke up on the second morning of this match. Then, the dread words presented themselves. “Start delayed. Wet outfield. Rain.” The wide-angle camera located in the Pavilion presented its view of the Birmingham skyline. A skyline that was doing battle with those clouds. Half-buildings with their heads in the clouds. I could almost feel the dank atmosphere. The sullen-looking outfield didn’t help. Neither did the Blackdowns, for they looked depressed and expectant of rain. Perhaps, like me, they knew of the importance of Somerset getting enough time on the field in this match to force a win. It is the halfway point of a five-match competition in which only two of the three group winners can progress to the final. Even five wins might not guarantee a place. Weather could be a crucial factor in determining the outcome, and the forecast for the final three days of this match was poor. The players would have had their own view, but the supporter dreamt of them only having to bat once, perhaps, dream of dreams, of reaching 300 and then letting loose the … . Well, not exactly the dogs of war, but you get my drift after the Somerset bowling performance of the first Warwickshire innings.

When the players emerged into the gloom, Hannon-Dalby and Bresnan began bowling under lights where they had left off the previous evening, probing away at wary batsmen. Both bowlers consistently swung the ball away from the right-hander. Abell and Hildreth responded with careful defence. Until Bresnan dropped short outside off stump. Hildreth pulled, failed to keep the ball down and was caught at midwicket. Bresnan promptly adopted the Hannon-Dalby victory jig of the night before and Somerset were 80 for 3.

Abell continued to defend, although a drive through the covers with all the correctness that Abell displays would have lightened the Edgbaston darkness for any Somerset supporter. It was Banton though who began to push Somerset forward while Abell battled to hold firm at the other end. When Bresnan veered onto leg stump Banton moved perfectly into position and glanced the ball to the small Stanley Barnes Stand boundary at the Birmingham End. The bowling though, did not allow liberties. It was four more overs before Banton found the boundary again, this time leaning smoothly into another ball from Bresnan and driving it through midwicket to the Hollies Stand. But when, tucked up more than looked comfortable, he tried to clip Hannon-Dalby furiously behind square he missed and was lbw for 13. Somerset were 101 for 4, still 19 behind with Abell firm in defence, but not scoring, at the other end against a constantly moving ball.

Davies, in quite some form this year, opened his boundary account with an edge past the slips as the ball continued to deviate and to challenge the batsmen. The edge was followed by a drive through the covers off Rhodes, the smoothness of which can only be described as heavenly. It was a stroke which would have brought gasps of delight had there been anyone in the stands to gasp. Abell followed up with a drive through the covers of his own which must have teased the fielder all the way to the boundary. The batsmen ran two runs hard before easing up as the ball must have crossed the rope, and the camera finally caught up with the fielder, in a heap between the rope and the boards, just beginning to pick himself up. And with that the next camera shot was of the umpires upending the stumps as the forecast rain fell with Somerset at 116 for 4, just four runs behind. The sky was as dark as it had looked all match and the full covers were quickly on. It was a grim outlook indeed, and a glance at a forecast did nothing to alleviate the gloom.

Instead of circumnavigating the ground while the players were off, I circumnavigated the garden and started to look for something useful to do. Having seen the sky in Birmingham and the forecast I was looking for a job for the rest of the day. Ever-anxious though not to miss the slightest chance of cricket, I took a precautionary peek at my laptop. The umpires were ending an inspection and the groundstaff were moving equipment about with a purpose. It gave me the sort of surprise you get at a match when you think you have time for a meander around the town during a stoppage in play, only to return to find play has restarted without you.

No sooner was I back in my seat than Somerset began to bat with an obviously positive intent. The spectator has no lens through which to read the thinking that goes on in the dressing room or on the field of play. There could have been a number of reasons for the sudden change in tempo. But Abell is a captain who tries to shape a match rather than one who reacts to its shape. I wondered if, during the break in play, a decision had been made to stop battling and to push to take control of the match. Whatever the reason, Abell moved onto the offensive against Miles. A drive sent the ball hurtling towards the Hollies Stand boundary, a spectacular cut sent another after it, but an attempt to turn a ball to leg resulted in it flying past the slips, albeit for another four. It was indicative of the risk of batting in these conditions.

Then, when Miles, from over the wicket, slanted a ball across Abell it passed beyond leg stump, Abell followed it, touched it and Burgess, diving down the leg side took the catch. Abell caught down the leg side, not for the first time in this tournament and far from the first time in his career. I have often wondered, because of his propensity to be out to such balls, if bowlers bowl the ball there deliberately from time to time when he is batting. The glint of apparent knowing satisfaction on Miles’ face as he caught the eye of one of the fielders did nothing to assuage my suspicions. Abell had though made 41 and he had taken Somerset into the lead at 130 for 5. It may yet turn out to be the innings on which the match finally pivoted Somerset’s way for, with a Warwickshire first innings of just 121, Somerset had assembled a batting platform from which to forge ahead.

And from that platform Davies and Craig Overton, batting above Gregory, launched a partnership that could just prove to have been decisive in this match. A 61-run partnership, driven confidently along at four runs an over. It moved Somerset into a clear-cut position of ascendancy. More, it opened up the possibility that they might be able to make up for the increasing amounts of lost time in the match by only batting once as it brought closer that dream of 300.

It was a partnership of controlled, attacking stroke play which, for one glorious hour, had the Warwickshire fielders chasing the ball around Edgbaston beneath those leaden skies. It would have had Somerset supporters dotted around the ground, perhaps concentrated near the sightscreen in the Pavilion and in front of the bar in the R.E.S Wyatt Stand at the other end applauding and cheering to the echo. The Hollies Stand symposium would not have been quiet either, for this was classic attacking Somerset batting from down the ages come to visit. It took the match a giant step away from Warwickshire, and it lifted the Somerset heart to the heavens.

Davies began the assault, if that is not too strong a word for his style of play, with a cover drive that oozed smoothness in the flow of the stroke and power in the in the acceleration of the ball as it hugged the grass all the way to the boundary. It was one of three he played during the partnership, each as good as the other. A pair of steers past the outsretched slip’s hands were less convincing but no batsman in these conditions was likely to dominate unchallenged. Then we had Overton, eschewing his usual overtly forceful shots for a brace of late cuts to the wide third man boundary, the first played with time to wait for the ball, the second a little more riskily through the air between slip and gully. And then of course there was the straight drive. It rocketed past Brookes’ outstretched hand almost before he had begun his follow-through, and the crash with the Pavilion boundary boards must have echoed around the empty ground.

But it was not just the boundaries, it was too the ones, twos and threes which kept the momentum going. And whether for one, two, three or four Davies’ bat just oozed elegance and grace as it flowed through the stroke. The sight of fielders sliding along or towards the boundary to save a run here or two there as Davies and Overton piled on the pressure while Warwickshire’s first innings score was increasingly left behind just added to the sense of growing Somerset dominance. It was the sort of partnership that rouses supporters, that gets a home crowd buzzing, or as would have been the case in another year in this match, depresses it. There was no easing up by Somerset, no respite for Warwickshire; and when the respite did come it came not from a wicket or the weather but from the tea interval with Somerset 69 runs ahead, although the weather did take a hand when it extended the interval by 15 minutes.

What the number would be in the wickets column of intervals and stoppages in play if recorded would make for interesting reading. Another may have been added here, for the remnants of the players’ tea must still have been on the table when Bresnan drove Overton back into his crease, hit the pads and persuaded the umpire to conclude the ball would have gone on to hit the stumps. 195 for 6. Overton had made 25 in that partnership of 61. Not normally numbers to write home about, but in this match, in these conditions, in this short competition, they may turn out to be priceless. Somerset were 74 ahead with still four potentially troublesome wickets in Warwickshire’s path.

Gregory is not a bad man to have walking down the pavilion steps at number eight. I wonder if he heard in his mind’s ear the words, “Come on Louis!” as I did. Gregory has had a long lay-off from competitive cricket due to his time in the England COVID-19 bubble without playing a match. You would not have thought so from the precision with which he played the leg glance when Bresnan directed two balls down the leg side. I say directed because Bresnan is as accurate a bowler as you will find. Perhaps he was testing Gregory. The first was as perfect an example of the stroke as you will find. The second was a little less controlled, stayed in the air longer but went nearer to long leg than fine leg. Neither gave the keeper a chance. I have aften wondered what the percentages are on that stroke. Not high when Abell plays it perhaps. Played like Gregory did perhaps worth the eight runs by which Somerset benefitted.

And then, with the afternoon wearing into evening, the inevitable and final exit from the field for bad light. Somerset ended on 214 for 6. A lead of 93, Davies on 56 and Gregory on 14, and a couple of firecrackers still in the box. Is 300 just a dream? As always, the morrow will tell.

Close. Warwickshire 121. Somerset 214 for 6. Somerset lead by 93 runs with four first innings wickets standing.