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 Somerset CCC’s excellent multi-camera live stream of the match without which the report 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. Somerset v Gloucestershire. 22nd, 23rd, 24th and 25th 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.
Gloucestershire. C.D.J Dent, B.G. Charlesworth, G.L. van Buuren, T.C. Lace, G.T. Hankins, R.F. Higgins, G.H. Roderick, G.F.B. Scott, D.A. Payne, J. Shaw, M.D. Taylor.
Overnight. Somerset 237. Gloucestershire 13 for 4. Gloucestershire trail by 224 runs with six first innings wickets standing.
Second day. 23rd August – “Most satisfactory”
This was another day of stunning Somerset success. In the first three matches of this competition the opposition has been overwhelmed. It might have stood against Somerset early in a match but by the end it had been, in cricketing terms, devastated. There is still cricket to be played in this match, Gloucestershire still have seven wickets standing, but they are 371 runs short of victory in a competition in which no team has thus far scored more than 166 in an innings against Somerset. Only two opposition batsmen have passed 50, whereas six centuries have been scored by Somerset batsmen. On the basis of those statistics there will be many bruised arms in Somerset and beyond as supporters repeatedly pinch themselves to seek reassurance that they are actually awake.
There are harder yards ahead. Worcestershire, top of Somerset’s group at the beginning of this round of matches, are yet to be played on their own ground. Should Somerset be successful there and gather sufficient points to reach the final at Lord’s over five days, then the test in that match will be as great as any faced in the County Championship in recent times. Whatever the outcome of those days ahead, there is a growing sense that Somerset really have developed a team capable of beating any other county in the land. These are heady days to be a Somerset supporter.
If the large online crowd that had formed on the first day to watch this match had finished pinching itself after the stunning performances of George Bartlett and the bowlers on the first afternoon and evening, it was soon exercising its index fingers and thumbs again. For all that had gone before, there was more, much more, of the same to come. The second morning played out like the night before, but in slow motion. At the end of the first day, Gloucestershire lost their first four wickets in the space of 26 balls. On the second morning they lost their last six in the space of 26 overs. Symmetry of a sort I suppose. “Most satisfactory,” said the incoming teacherly text. “It is becoming the way of things this season,” my reply.
The wickets of the night before had come from a burst of inspired bowling in deteriorating light. The ones of the morning after came from bowling which consistently pressurised the batsmen across, what must have seemed to them, the endless expanse of a session. There was the odd loose delivery, and one uncharacteristically loose over from Davey in which the ball repeatedly pitched on or just outside leg stump, but for the most part the Gloucestershire batsmen found themselves under constant threat. The Somerset slip cordon, which rarely misses a thing, was three strong, sometimes four, occasionally five. It was as if the batsmen were being driven into a net by some irresistible force that just kept coming.
Craig Overton, spearhead of that force, was still moving the ball away, although, at first, the bowling didn’t seem to have quite the intensity it had had on the previous evening, and batting seemed a little less frenetic. Perhaps it was just an overnight change in the mood of the watcher, or perhaps bowlers cannot be expected to reach the heights of the previous evening all the time. Perhaps it was that Lace and Taylor began to get the Gloucestershire score moving, Lace with a cover drive off Overton for four, and Taylor with a clip through midwicket off Davey. It was a chimera. Those strokes were but sandcastles setting themselves against the power of an incoming tide.
Persistence pays, would not be a bad motto for a cricket team. It paid handsomely for the Somerset bowlers in this match. The ever-persistent Davey eventually persuaded Taylor to drive at a ball pitched wide of off stump. Another four perhaps the thought, but the ball flew to Lammonby at point and Gloucestershire were 29 for 5. Lace and Hankins tried to rebuild the Gloucestershire sandcastle, and for a while it tried to take shape. In that rare wayward over from Davey in which he repeatedly veered onto or outside leg stump Hankins drove him to the Ondaatje Stand boundary, and three times he was turned behind square for easy runs. At the end of the over he sank to one knee in disappointment, or disbelief that he could have been so profligate.
But matches are made of more than single overs and it was soon apparent that the Gloucestershire lower order could not stand against a Somerset tide that was threatening to run at flood. When Jamie Overton joined the attack he began to move the ball away from the right-handers. Hankins attempted to defend a ball which was angled in and moved away a shade off the pitch. It was enough. The ball flew off the edge of the bat into the hands of Craig Overton diving to his left at second slip. 48 for 6. There is no respite against this Somerset attack. No easy runs, no quiet periods. The ball is constantly attacking the batsman, applying pressure, threatening a wicket.
Lace, who top scored in this innings with 21, drove Brooks through the covers to the Somerset Stand for four but to no avail. Against this attack, every Gloucestershire batsman had his term. Lace’s ended when he attempted to drive Brooks straight back down the ground. It would have been a spectacular stroke, but he played around the ball and his off stump cartwheeled spectacularly. So spectacularly that it ended up re-siting itself in the ground three yards back from its original location. 56 for 7.
The Somerset tide was irresistible. In the field as well as with the ball. When Roderick drove Craig Overton hard through the covers to where the old scoreboard used to stand, Abell set off in hot pursuit, pursued by the lens of the ever-more effective live stream camera. Abell dived after the ball as it was about to reach the rope, timed his dive perfectly, flicked the ball back before he careered across, and four runs were reduced to two. This match may be being played behind closed doors, but the intensity and audacity of Somerset’s fielding is as spectacular in its application as it ever was. Such fielding gives the batsman no more respite than does the bowling; and when Roderick tried to force Overton into the on side two balls later the ball struck the pads and the umpire’s finger was raised.
Overton bowling is a sight to behold. He has a fast, straight run-up. He is six feet five inches tall, but when the camera follows him to the crease, he looks larger; he dominates the screen as he jumps into his delivery stride. At full stretch he towers over the umpire. The run-up and action exude confidence. The delivery stride exudes intent. Intent to dominate and overwhelm the batsman. The ball is delivered with a piercingly accurate trajectory these days as it carries out its master’s purpose. A Craig Overton spell is a powerful weapon in his captain’s armoury.
Gloucestershire were 71 for 8 and the Somerset tide had all but overwhelmed their innings. Abell is as proactive a captain as you are likely to find among those who bear the load of captaincy in a professional team. Now, he introduced Lammonby’s left-arm seam bowling at a juncture where it might do Somerset some good and was unlikely to do Lammonby much harm. Immediately, Lammonby swung the ball into the right-handed batsman, effectively straightening it onto the stumps. He accounted for Scott who edged the ball straight to the keeper. It was Lammonby’s first first-class wicket. 76 for 9. And so, back to Craig Overton. It did not take long. He bowled short to Higgins, Higgins pulled, the ball flew skywards off the top edge, and Davies made his way towards short leg to take the catch as if he were on his way to lift his coat off the peg to go home. Gloucestershire were 76 all out and, with an over to be bowled before lunch, the Somerset tide had swamped Gloucestershire’s beach before the sandwiches were ready.
If the morning, and the evening before, had belonged to Craig Overton and Davey, the afternoon belonged, undisputedly, to Abell and Lammonby. Somerset began their second innings 161 runs ahead of Gloucestershire with still that over to be bowled before lunch plus two days and two sessions beyond that in the match. In theory. At Edgbaston Somerset had entered the last day needing four Warwickshire wickets to win with half a day of dry weather forecast. They got one hour and two wickets. As a consequence, at the start of this round of matches, they found themselves trailing one point behind the group leaders, Worcestershire, one behind the North Group leaders, Derbyshire and five behind the South Group leaders, Essex. The forecast for the final two days of this match is, as it was for Edgbaston, variable, varying and trending towards more rain.
The afternoon session began with lowish smooth grey cloud hanging lugubriously over the Quantocks. It stayed there for the rest of the afternoon like some ancient Greek god constantly reminding the players that they might not have the only say in the outcome of this match. Somerset did not start well. When he was on four, Byrom clipped Payne neatly and forcefully off his legs but got under the ball. It left his bat at boundary speed but was plucked out of the air by van Buuren fielding at square leg and Somerset were 12 for 1. It was Gloucestershire’s only success.
What followed was an afternoon of glorious Somerset batting. It perhaps did not match the importance of Bartlett’s innings, for it was that, in a Somerset first innings with shaky foundations, which built the platform from which the bowlers launched their eviscerating assault of the morning and the night before which finally put Somerset on the firmest of footings in this match. It was, though, the most assured passage of batting in the match, as Abell and Lammonby dominated the Gloucestershire attack as much as the Somerset attack had dominated the Gloucestershire batting.
There was assurance from Abell from the start and growing assurance from Lammonby as the afternoon wore on, particularly the latter part of it. Abell began slowly, as if he was carrying out an inspection of the route ahead. In one early over from Higgins, he played out a maiden but his attacking strokes, when they came, brooked no argument. When Abell attacks a cricket ball it is done with a short, sharp movement of the bat as if the follow-through is an unnecessary adjunct to the main business. A square drive off Higgins was as good an example as any. There was minimal follow-through, but the ball found its way to the Caddick Pavilion boundary nonetheless. A full toss from Shaw, a delivery virtually extinct among the Somerset bowlers in this match, was driven straight and hard to the Sir Ian Botham Stand boundary. An attempt at a glance, Abell’s downfall too often, resulted in four leg byes. When the ball crossed the Trescothick Pavilion rope Somerset’s lead reached 200.
As the partnership wore on Abell and Lammonby were assiduous in their accumulative running. No opportunity was missed, and the wider camera angle began to show the batsmen powering to and through the crease as the ball was thrown in. They were as assiduous in defence as they were in looking to build Somerset’s lead. It was increasingly positive batting, but there was no sense of a rush to a declaration, the normal conservative inclination of those with the actual responsibility for making decisions overriding any concern about the threat from the forecast. And two and a half days is a long time, as someone once nearly said about something else, in weather forecasting.
For the moment, Abell continued to take Somerset forward, if at his own pace. A cover drive to the Somerset Stand off Taylor was so correct in its design, so powerful in its application, so unanswerable in its outcome that Abell looked in complete command of the entire situation. The pace of Somerset’s progress was doubtless too slow to satisfy much of the virtual crowd watching this match, for crowds are always more impatient for declarations than captains. But what could not be denied was that Abell knew where he intended to take Somerset in this innings, and he was not going to be deflected or denied.
Somerset reached tea at 93 for 1, a lead of 254. Within the parameters they had set themselves the batsman seemed by then to be scoring runs almost at will and the weight of the match seemed to be bearing down on the Gloucestershire fielders. When the ball was struck to the boundary, unless it seemed certain they could overhaul it, they gave the appearance of following rather than chasing it. No Somerset fielder would do that. Just watch Abell chasing a ball to the boundary. There is never a prospect of him giving up the chase until it is beyond clear that it is impossible. Never. No Somerset fielder would field a ball looking like it was his job merely to return the ball to the keeper. That is the impression some of the Gloucestershire fielders gave. When a Somerset fielder fields a ball, it is to save every possible run, to put pressure on the batsman and, if possible, to run him out.
Somerset’s dominance continued unabated after tea. But now Lammonby, who had looked becalmed before the interval, at least in comparison to Abell, began to assert himself, to take his toll of the Gloucestershire attack. A cut off Shaw to the Somerset Stand caught the eye and a drive through Abell’s legs brought a single which registered his first first-class fifty. A pull off Charlesworth was not quite a classic, and it took the aerial route, but it reached the Somerset Stand safely enough.
Abell meanwhile, for the pressure on the bowlers and fielders was coming from both ends, began to accelerate towards a century. Nothing is certain in cricket, especially centuries, but the confidence and command with which Abell was playing turned anticipation into expectation. He was particularly severe on Charlesworth. As he approached his century he clipped him down to the region of the old scoreboard boundary, clipped a fuller ball to the same place and finally, on 98, steered a ball through backward point, completing the second run as the ball landed in the keeper’s gloves.
And then the royal icing on the Somerset cake. When Abell reached his hundred, Lammonby was on 65. Abell spoke to Lammonby. I know not what he said but the effect was electric. At least, it was as if someone had flipped a switch in Lammonby’s cricketing brain. Suddenly the air seemed full of cricket balls. Over midwicket off Scott and then through the covers, both for four with the bowler looking on in apparent despair. Then Higgins, who had given the Somerset batsmen much trouble in the first innings, was unmercifully treated. In one over the tally was: Hook – six – Garner Gates. Lofted drive – six – Somerset Stand. Cover drive – four – Caddick Pavilion. Behind square – one for the strike. A combined dash for a century and a declaration it may have been, but it was uplifting stuff from one so early in his career. It left him on 91. In the next over against the continuing Scott, three successive balls took him to his century. My notebook reads: Ov 53.4. Lamm. Scampered 2. 94. Ov. 53.5. No ball. Scampered 2. 96. Ov. 53.6. Scoop to fine leg. 4. 100. Standing ovation from flats. And from me I might add. Another single and Lammonby had 101, the same as Abell who had reached his century 35 runs ahead of Lammonby.
It left Gloucestershire 385 to win, 219 runs more than any side has scored against Somerset, in either innings of any match, this year; and 309 more than Gloucestershire had scored in their first innings. And if that were not measure enough of Somerset’s dominance, more was to follow. “What do they feed Davey on?” asked the stunned text. Charlesworth caught behind off a lifting ball that caused him to instinctively jerk his head back as it flew off the edge, and a yorker of such perfection it squeezed between the bottom of Lace’s bat and the toe of his boot. With Chris Dent already out, lbw to a fast, straight ball from Craig Overton, that ended Gloucestershire’s woes for the day on 14 for 3. Most satisfactory indeed, at least from a Somerset perspective.
Close. Somerset 237 and 223 for 1 dec (T.A. Lammonby 101*, T.B. Abell 101*). Gloucestershire 76 (C. Overton 4-25, J.H. Davey 3-21) and 14 for 3. Gloucestershire need another 371 runs to win with seven second innings wickets standing.