All Vitality Blast T20 matches are being played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus restrictions in place. This report was therefore written through watching the match on Somerset CCC’s newly enhanced live stream without access to which this 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.
Vitality Blast T20. Central Group. Somerset v Glamorgan. 1st September 2020. Taunton.
Somerset. G.A. Bartlett, S.M.Davies (w), J.C. Hildreth, T.B. Abell (c), E.J. Byrom, B.G.F. Green, C. Overton, R.E. van der Merwe, O.R.T Sale, J.H. Davey, M.T.C. Waller.
Glamorgan. W.T. Root, D.A. Douthwaite, A. Balbirnie, C.B. Cooke (c) (w), K.S. Carlson, C.Z. Taylor, G.G. Wagg, A.G. Salter, M. de Lange, T. van der Gugten, P. Sisodiya.
Toss. Somerset. Elected to field.
An Abell classic for the ages
As the sky darkened and the floodlights lit up the Cooper Associates County Ground for that latter day form of cricket, T20, Tom Abell played an innings of such classical splendour and dominance it would have graced any form of cricket in any age, including the so-called golden age of over a century ago. In these constrained times it may only have been visible through the medium of twenty-first century technology but those of us privileged to have seen it might have seen nothing better had we been lining the ring of the County Ground as Lionel Palairet strutted his stuff at the end of the nineteenth century. It secured Somerset a crucial victory in this tournament, but the innings will lodge in the mind long after the victory has been forgotten. Abell’s innings was something truly special.
It was a gleaming pinnacle built atop a consummate all-round Somerset performance that denied Glamorgan any hope, let alone opportunity, in this match. Before the first over had taken shape, Glamorgan’s Douthwaite was walking back to the Caddick Pavilion having been leg before wicket to an evidently cryptic, but essentially straight delivery from Max Waller which brought a crucial moment of hesitation from the batsman. Andrew Balbirnie then tried to establish the Glamorgan innings with three boundaries in two overs, two struck firmly through the covers off Overton and Sale, but those strokes stood out from a more general picture of bowling constraining batsmen in the normally fertile batting overs of the powerplay. When Balbirnie hooked a sharp short ball from Sale it took the top edge, looped high and floated beyond the thirty-yard circle from where Ben Green edged back to take a perfectly judged catch. Glamorgan were 22 for 2. “Yes!” my instinctive reaction. It would have been no different had I been in my habitual T20 seat at the top of the Trescothick Pavilion, for the Somerset performance was showing every sign that something to savour was developing.
At its best the Somerset bowling attack works as an integrated unit. When one bowler makes an impact, another follows through. Now, ramping up the pressure, Craig Overton produced an over of famine for Glamorgan. Tight, controlling bowling held the batsman virtually scoreless in front of the stumps. One ball slipped a little outside leg stump, but only for a wide and the over realised a meagre harvest of three runs in total in the heart of the powerplay. The left-handed Root tried to relax Somerset’s grip by driving at a ball which Davey slid neatly across him and which flew to Green at cover. Applause exploded from my armchair as in other times cheers would have done from packed stands as music deafened the ears. Glamorgan were 25 for 3.
In Somerset’s Bob Willis Trophy match with Glamorgan, Chris Cooke stood out above the rest of the Glamorgan batting. He did the same here as he tried to push Somerset back. He gave notice of his intent by driving Davey straight back to the Sir Ian Botham Stand boundary for four. In an over that otherwise cost three runs Cooke pulled Sale into the open area where the old Scoreboard Stand once stood. Green was similarly dismissed into the Somerset Stand. But they were strikes against an otherwise virtually impenetrable Somerset boundary. In successive overs Davey and van der Merwe conceded only singles. In Davey’s over all five singles were played without venom to the boundary fielders, so little leeway did Davey give the batsmen. When Carlson tried to emulate Cooke by pulling Green over the short Somerset Stand boundary, he was caught shin high by Waller running in. Oh, how the Somerset Stand would have cheered Waller as he returned to his mark. And how the music would have blasted. And I made a note, as I would have done amidst the hubbub had I been at the match, “Pressure tells.”
Now Waller gave the screw another turn as he bowled an over of four singles and a leg side wide. Van der Merwe, bowling against the short boundary, bowled one of four singles. Such was the tangled web of spin in which the Somerset pair bound the Glamorgan batsmen. An attempt at a break-out with a drive ended in a tangle of bat and pads and the ball lying motionless in the crease. Finally, Cooke drove Waller either side of the wicket for a pair of fours, the only ones he scored. Taylor followed with his attempt to break from the web by employing the scoop against the pace of Green. It resulted in a fortuitous single off the toe end of the bat. In another inquisitorial over that again netted but five singles, he attempted the scoop again off the last ball. The ball looped over the keeper and fell towards short third man where Hildreth gathered the ball as if he was gathering manna from heaven. “Wow!” said the incoming text from another member of the virtual Somerset crowd, “Hildreth moved into place to take that catch before the ball reached the bat.” Exceptional cricket as the Somerset team acted as one in the field.
This was not T20 cricket of the usual rumbustious kind, but it gripped all the more as Somerset in the field wove that mesmeric net ever more tightly around the Glamorgan batting. The camera picked out the Quantocks, beginning to fade in the evening light as the floodlights brightened and focused the attention on the drama below. A drama that was all the more intense for the slow meticulous pace at which it was unfolding. It sounded echoes of days in another era when 200 runs might take 60 overs and the tension be drawn out over hours rather than the latter day minutes.
Another suffocating over of just four singles followed from van der Merwe before one of five ended with Cooke, on 42, driving Green into Abell’s hands at cover and Salter being caught behind a ball later. Glamorgan were 90 for 7 in the 15th over, a score which, in T20 cricket, paints a picture of batsmen tied to the crease by intensely accurate bowling, mainly up to and on the stumps. Only Cooke had stood long against it, but even with him at the wicket, the Glamorgan score had risen by just 68 runs in nearly 15 overs. In T20 that is a runs wilderness.
Marchant de Lange, as he has done before against Somerset with some effect, took, to use an old phrase, the long handle in the final five overs in an attempt to rescue something from the innings. He had some effect. He deposited a ball from Waller onto the terrace of the Trescothick Pavilion with a huge, straight swing of the bat. He helped a leg side full toss from Green to the old Stragglers bar area for four and Wagg drove another full toss to the Somerset Stand. But it was, as they say, too little too late. De Lange’s charge took Glamorgan to 133 for 8 at the close of their innings with 28 for de Lange and an impressive four wickets for Green.
Somerset’s start was as stuttering as Glamorgan’s had been. Bartlett, opening, began well enough. Four from his second ball against the slow left arm of Sisodiya was followed by a six off the off spin of Salter, the camera picking the ball out as it cleared the rope. But a drive off Salter was caught by Balbirnie at cover. When Davies drove Timm van der Gugten to mid-on, Somerset were 24 for 2 in the fourth over. With a target of just 134 there was not too much of a flutter of anxiety in the Somerset stomach, but Glamorgan had a toehold or at least the tip of a toe in the match.
Then came that majestic innings from Abell. It transcended the rest of the match as a great performance of Lear transcends the rest of the play and made the same impact on those watching. The camera picked out the residents of the flats, lining their balconies in numbers, eyes firmly on the cricket. Some had legs wrapped in blankets as this truncated season moved towards the equinox, as the evening moved into darkness and as the Quantocks disappeared into it. Only the lights lit the scene where Abell played out his role to perfection.
There is a certain character to most match-winning T20 innings. An element of risk-filled derring-do in the stroke, an element of peril in the running, liberal use of the bludgeon, all add to the sense of excitement which such an innings builds. In T20 it works, the risk and the proximity of a result all adding to the tension, and to the atmosphere as the music blasts from the speakers and the crowd sings along. But such an innings is a T20 specialty.
Abell’s innings was not of that ilk. It was an innings which could have been match-winning in any form of the game, in any era. It eschewed risk and the bludgeon in favour of certainty and the lightest touch rapier. There was no great need for risk it is true if the sole purpose of the innings was to win the match, for Glamorgan had not scored enough runs. Abell’s purpose was soon clear. To take control of the match and to win it early, perhaps intent on improving Somerset’s net run rate. The innings was heavenly to watch, pure classicism in its method, remorseless in its application and devastating in its impact.
His first ball, from van der Gugten, was driven through extra cover with all the classical correctness that Abell portrays and raced along the ground to the Somerset Strand boundary. From there he built a base, initially with singles, exuding intent as he went. Then, with Somerset out of the powerplay, a late cut off de Lange, backward of point, perfectly directed between the fielders, raced to the boundary beneath the Garner Gates, now all but faded into the dark as the light from the floodlights focused sharply on the outfield. Next, Douthwaite suffered. A pull abruptly punched behind square crossed the rope in front of the Somerset Stand and a classic cut, again backward of point, outpaced the third man fielder as it crossed the rope in front of the covers store. Abell’s fifty came from another cover drive. It was driven, apparently without power in the stroke, and crossed the rope in front of the Legends Square end of the Somerset Stand, beating the outstretched hand of a diving fielder by a foot. “A world class T20 fifty from Abell,” said the incoming text, “just tapping into the gaps between the fielders.” “Some lovely shots from Abell,” said another. “Pure class,” says my note.
And all the while, at the other end, was Hildreth. After a couple of early boundaries and taking a while to settle himself, he looked ever more secure as the innings progressed and he remorselessly fed Abell the strike. In the end it was a masterful display of quietly keeping an end secure while his partner systematically, and imperiously took the match away from the opposition at the other end. Hildreth still found space to remind of his capabilities with an emphatic off drive off Wagg to the Colin Atkinson boundary, his third four. But it was Abell who finished the match, first with a six driven to the Gimblett’s Hill scoreboard, just where Palairet might have lofted a drive a century and a quarter before. And then a single, cut square to neatly round off as comprehensive a performance as you are likely to see, whatever the form of cricket. It was Abell’s match. It could be no other after an innings like that, but the innings was built on the foundations laid by a consummate bowling performance, including from two players relatively new to the first team, which never let Glamorgan into the match.
Result. Glamorgan 133 for 8 (20 overs). C.B. Cooke 42 (34 balls), B.G.F. Green 4-26 (econ 6.50), J.H. Davey 2-17 (5.67). Somerset 134 for 2 (16.1/20 0vers) T.B. Abell 74* (45), J.C. Hildreth 34* (36). Somerset won by eight wickets. Somerset 2 points. Glamorgan 0 points.