Bob Willis Trophy 2020 ~ Warwickshire v Somerset ~ Third day ~ The broadsword and the rapier

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

Third day. 17th August – The broadsword and the rapier

Batsmen not out overnight are always vulnerable first thing in the morning, either to a good ball or to a lapse in concentration. At least, anecdotally to my mind, it has seemed that way over the years. It was Hildreth on the second day here, Gregory on the third. In the second over, Bresnan bowled an innocuous-looking ball wide of off stump, Gregory essayed what had all the appearance of a speculative drive and the ball, from the direction in which the players looked across the screen, was caught at mid-off. Somerset 215 for 7. Van der Merwe joined Davies and drove a straight ball from Hannon-Dalby off the back foot through point for four. He attempted to steer the next ball to third man, the ball cut away off the pitch and the faint edge carried straight to Burgess behind the stumps. Somerset 226 for 8, a lead 105, and the previous evening’s hopes of a score of 300 were receding.

It was another crucial point in the game. Somerset’s best chance of minimising the impact on the match of a variable and varying weather forecast would be to build that score of 300 and give themselves the opportunity of only batting once. And so, 74 runs short of that hope, two of Somerset’s most in form players with the bat came together. Had they been soldiers in bygone days, Davies might have come onto the field carrying the finest of rapiers. Jamie Overton might have wielded a two-handed broadsword. I suspect if they were to sit down together to discuss batting style there would be little meeting of minds. But when their respective styles met on the field of Edgbaston the resulting cricketing chemistry led to something extraordinary happening. It took Somerset to the brink of victory and in the process overwhelmed Warwickshire. In the hour and a half up to lunch and the 40 minutes or so after it, they added 180 runs at nearly six and a half an over. It was devastating batting and it was Somerset batting to the core. It was just three runs short of the Somerset first-class record for the ninth wicket of 183 set in 1963 and equalled in 1990.

It began with the most delicate of steers through backward point off Bresnan. The rapier glinted smoothly in the sun and the ball did its bidding as it raced to the Stanley Barnes Stand boundary. It set the tone. At least it set the tone for the Davies half of the partnership. All precision, placement, lightness of touch, delicacy of stroke, certainty of outcome. The tone of the other half of the partnership was set when Bresnan pitched a ball up to Overton a foot outside off stump. The broadsword swung in a low arc, twisted as it met the unfortunate ball which fled to the boundary between midwicket and mid-on as if pursued by all the devils in hell. It was soon followed by an on drive, straighter and along the ground. The mid-on fielder conceded the four before the ball was past him. Perhaps to the Warwickshire eye, the stroke had an ominous look about it. To this Somerset eye it had the look of intent about it. As if Overton meant business. As if he intended to drive Somerset’s advantage home and to drive it hard. When Davies drove forward of point to the Priory Stand the gentle smoothness of the swing of the bat belied the speed with which the ball flew to the boundary. It was as if the laws of nature had been suspended. The ball was in the air for some time, but there was never any risk of it disturbing the air around a fielder. The foundations for a prolonged assault on the Warwickshire bowling, by the main force of Overton, and the invisible force of Davies’ perfect timing had been laid.

As the momentum built, twice in three balls Overton sent a ball from Brookes to the boundary, once with a sharply jabbed steer between backward point and gully and once with a vicious pull through midwicket. Neither gave the fielder a chance. When Davies pulled a ball from Miles in front of square the swing of the bat seemed to have none of the force of Overton’s and yet the ball travelled just as surely to the boundary. A beautifully controlled drive off the next ball was sent just wide enough of midwicket for the two runs it realised. When Overton found himself facing Miles, with the burgeoning partnership now past 50, the ball was driven like a bullet back past Miles’ head to the Pavilion for six. A drive for four by Davies off Brookes, beautifully executed and perfectly square flowed through point. It was followed by Overton pulling Miles savagely and just as square into the Hollies Stand and, there being no crowd, requiring a fielder to open the boundary gate into the stand to retrieve the ball. What sights that stand has seen in this match, and what a joy it would have been to be in my old seat to watch two Somerset players of such differing skills and styles driving the Somerset cause forward with such a combination of force and style. You cannot get much more Somerset than that.

Off Miles, with an edge just wide of the only slip, Overton brought up the 300 I had dreamed of when the light drove the teams from the field at the end of the second day. Fortuitous, but is not reaching 300 and another bonus point from an edge not Somerset too? And can a supporter who remembers seeing Maurice Tremlett and Bill Alley play not dream? For even that edge did not seem to dent the possibilities opening up in front of my eyes. 300 was no longer a dreamed-of target. It was a base for further advance. And that advance was not long in coming. Miles veered onto Overton’s legs, Overton stood his ground, angled the broadsword and glanced to fine leg for four as sweetly as Davies might have done with a gentle nudge of the rapier.

When Thomson introduced a hint of off spin Overton introduced a hint of caution, poking cagily at the ball as if he was being delivered some sort of suspicious package. Davies too had become more circumspect, perhaps being on 95 had something to do with that. Then, when he was on 97, Thomson pitched just outside off, turned the ball away from him, the bat quietly followed and nudged the ball past slip from where it ran down to third man whilst Davies ran a comfortable, if fast, three and raised his bat. I applauded, window to the world outside open or not, and so did the Somerset team who rose to their feet for the purpose. They were applauding again shortly afterwards when Overton drove Brookes off his legs to deep square leg for the single which brought up his fifty. His second fifty in successive matches. He celebrated with what I can best describe as a sharp, short-arm pull off Brookes which flew through midwicket and didn’t find land until it reached the Hollies Stand. It also took Somerset’s lead past 200 and, as the forecast rain continued to stay away, into the realms of a potentially match-winning position.

Thomson tried again, and again Overton struggled to get his measure. Twice he tried to shake off the troublesome ball with a sweep. Twice the ball thudded into his pads. Against Brookes he had no such problems. A ball short, outside off stump was swung unceremoniously round, wide of midwicket and down to the increasingly peppered Hollies Stand boundary for four. It took Somerset past another milestone, for the broadsword and the rapier had sliced a hundred runs out of the Warwickshire bowling. Off the next ball Overton celebrated again. This time with the crispest of pulls, the Hollies Stand again the target and again the ball entered it without touching ground.

Again, Thomson troubled the batsmen, this time finding the edge of Davies’ bat as he tried to cut. The ball instead went to the slip fielder, who dropped it. It is not an uncommon occurrence, I find, when the fielding side is being pummelled unmercifully. And the pummelling was about, as the modern parlance goes, to be stepped up to another level. Davies now withdrew from the main assault, and settled, with quietly placed singles, for putting Overton at the head of the Somerset charge.

Overton began with a ferocious six to the Pavilion. Visible behind him as he swung the bat was the R.E.S. Wyatt Stand. There is a pleasant members’ bar in that stand with a collection of Somerset supporters sitting in front of it on Somerset match days, especially when the sun shines. And how those Somerset faces would have been smiling now, and cheering as the sixes flew, for there is no other county where sixes have set the heart pumping with such relish down the generations as they have in Somerset. And sixes in pursuit of a trophy, as these now were with Somerset topping their Bob Willis Trophy group and pressing for victory here, are all the sweeter.

On the cusp of lunch Overton lofted Hannon-Dalby to the Wyatt Stand boundary for four and gathered Somerset’s fourth bonus point. Two balls after lunch Overton struck again, if with a portion of that luck set aside for the brave. A furious drive towards long on resulted in the ball flying past slip just as furiously to third man, Bresnan the unlucky bowler. Unabashed, off the next ball, Overton flicked fiercely off his legs for four more. Two balls later a full ball from Bresnan was swatted just backward of point and crashed into the Raglan Stand boards. It was a merciless and calculated assault on the bowling. Off the last ball of the over, Overton pushed a single, retained the strike and the scoreboard, which must have been as breathless as those of us reading it, recorded 93 under Overton’s name. 97 when, to the next ball, now from Hannon-Dalby, he swivelled, rolled his wrists perfectly and pulled the ball into the ground through long leg for four more. It was as if the broadsword had whipped up an irresistible whirlwind which had enveloped Warwickshire.

Then, briefly, the normal cricketing world was restored, on the field at least. Overton and Davies swapped singles, Davies steering, Overton edging, edging the ball, edging closer to a maiden century. Then, off Hannon-Dalby, after the mayhem of the fours and sixes, it came incongruously with a matter-of-fact dab to third man and a gentle single interrupted by a jump towards the heavens and a punch of the air in celebration. It had come from 84 balls in two minutes over two hours with 13 fours and five sixes and coincided with the 150 partnership for the ninth wicket. Davies then added to the partnership with the shortest of short-arm jabs off Bresnan which sent the ball rocketing through the covers for four.

Now, as if there had not been wonders enough for the Somerset supporter, Somerset’s fifth bonus point was registered when Overton brought up the 400 off Thomson with, of all things, a reverse sweep. The straight drive just past the stumps which took Overton to 120 was as good as any you will see. Finally, he stepped away, tried to drive Bresnan through the off side and edged to the keeper. It was an innings which in other times would have had every Somerset supporter in the ground who could stand, standing with hands applauding high above their heads. And those hands would have stayed applauding until Overton had crossed the boundary, climbed the long set of steps to the dressing room and disappeared inside. The buzz among Somerset supporters which would have followed the applause would have resonated around the ground for long after Overton had disappeared from view, and the innings would have been discussed in cars, on buses into Birmingham, trains home, on telephones and in texts, in bars and restaurants the evening long; and the memories would have been stamped on the brain for life. 413 for 9 declared, Somerset’s final tally with Steven Davies undefeated on 123. Another innings which would have had people on their feet applauding for as long as it took him to leave the arena and for long afterwards.

Warwickshire began their second innings 292 runs in arrears with Matthew Lamb suffering from a badly injured and very painful toe. Somerset would need to take ten, or perhaps nine, wickets in four and a half sessions minus any time lost to rain. How much time that would be was anyone’s guess, but the forecast leant a degree of urgency to Somerset’s task and provided a sliver of hope to the Warwickshire cause. When the rain, which had unexpectedly kept away for most of the day, finally drove the players from the field Warwickshire had already lost six wickets in spite of a stubborn one and a quarter hour partnership between Rhodes and Thomson.

Somerset’s dominance in the match saw them begin the Warwickshire innings with four slips and some accurate, persistently testing bowling from Craig Overton and Davey. In the second over, Davey, bowling around the wicket to the left-handed Yates, angled the ball in, Yates left it, the ball hit the top of off stump and Warwickshire were 3 for 1. Rhodes and Hain resisted the pressure from the opening bowlers, although neither looked entirely comfortable. When Jamie replaced Craig Overton, he moved a short ball away from Hain off the seam, Hain cut hard, edged the ball and Hildreth at first slip jumped high to pluck it out of the air above his head. Gregory replaced Davey, strayed from time to time, perhaps evidence of this being his first competitive match this year, but produced an absolute beauty of an outswinger. It was slightly angled into Bell, straightened as Bell moved to defend it and Davies did the rest. Warwickshire reached 54 for 3 at tea. The wickets had gone elsewhere, but what contribution had Craig Overton made with figures of 7-4-7-0?

Tea did not long stand in Somerset’s way. Almost immediately after it Burgess looped a ball from Davey to Abell at cover. When Bresnan pushed at Davey’s next, he edged it straight to Hildreth and Warwickshire were 58 for 5. And then came that partnership between Rhodes and Thomson which was only ended when Rhodes popped a ball back to Gregory just before the rain came.

Somerset have, ostensibly, a day in which to take four wickets to win this match and stay top of their group. But the weather to come is as uncertain as the future course of a cricket match. No Somerset supporter will rest easy on the morrow unless the last wicket falls before the first rain. But for now, a final thought on the third day. I suspect none of us lucky enough to have watched a screen for a couple of hours one wet August day in the midst of a pandemic will forget the sight of the broadsword and the rapier working so brilliantly together for two glorious hours to produce a piece of true Somerset cricket for the ages.

Close. Warwickshire 121 and 104 for 6. Somerset 413 for 9 dec (S.M. Davies 123*, J. Overton 120, T.B. Abell 41, T.T. Bresnan 4-99, O.J. Hannon-Dalby 4-104). Warwickshire trail by 188 runs with four second innings wickets standing.