Bob Willis Trophy ~ Worcestershire v Somerset ~ First Day ~ 6th September 2020 ~ Zeitgeist of an earlier age

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 Worcestershire CCC’s 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. Worcestershire v Somerset 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th September 2020. Worcester.

Somerset. B.G.F. Green, T.A. Lammonby, T.B. Abell (c), G.A. Bartlett, E.J. Byrom, S.M. Davies (w), C. Overton, L. Gregory, J.H. Davey. M.J. Leach, J.A. Brooks.

Worcestershire. D.H.K. Mitchell, J.D. Libby, T.C Fell, J.A. Haynes, B.L. D`Oliveira, M.H. Wessels, O.B. Cox (w), E.G. Barnard, J. Leach (c), J.C. Tongue, D.Y. Pennington.

Toss. Somerset. Elected to bat.

First day. 6th September – Zeitgeist of an earlier age

The cricket on the first day of this match was a universe away from the frenetic boundary clearing and wide line bowling of the T20 match that these two teams had fought out less than a week before. Nearly 450 runs in that match in what, in the Bob Willis Trophy, would be less than half a day’s cricket. The T20 was played in the modern high-sided stadium that is Edgbaston, although the R.E.S Wyatt Stand at the Birmingham End retains all the character of an earlier age. This match was played in front of the majestic Worcester cathedral on the other side of the Severn. The ground itself retains virtually all the character of old, including a small area of trees just beyond the boundary to the left of the Ladies Pavilion. I have taken shelter from a searing sun under those trees on more than one visit to Worcester. T20 has caught the sporting zeitgeist of the modern age, the huge and diverse crowds it attracts is testimony to that. The Bob Willis Trophy brings with it the zeitgeist of an earlier age.

Somerset were without the 35-year-old James Hildreth, who bats with the ease and lightness of touch of any of the great players of that earlier age. He had pulled a hamstring desperately straining for a not untypically impossible T20 run in Somerset’s match against Warwickshire at Taunton two days before this match. With the retirement of Marcus Trescothick, the departure of Peter Trego and the absence of Tom Banton, playing in the T20 age with England, the Somerset batting in this match was, according to the incoming text, “a bit fragile.”

When Ben Green and Tom Lammonby walked out to open the innings with seven first-class matches between them the text it seemed might have had a point. If so, the batsmen did not betray it. There was no great pace from Leach, a little more from Tongue, but nagging accuracy from both. From the batsmen there were considered, understated leaves, no exaggerated lifting of the bat, just a Trescothickian movement of the bat inside the line. Where the ball had to be played it was met by a correct, straight bat for which there is little time in the hullabaloo of a T20 game. Occasionally, where the ball presented itself, a well-struck boundary followed. A glance, that might have been lifted straight from a coaching manual hidden in a loft for sixty years, from Lammonby off Leach, and a straight drive from Green off Tongue settled the Somerset nerves. It was as if the old age had returned and the T20 matches had never been.

In a flash the modern age interrupted when a piece of lightning cricket, which might have come straight from T20, upset Somerset’s apple cart. Lammonby drove towards mid-on and set off for the fastest of singles. Green responded, Worcestershire’s Barnard gathered the ball, his arm flashed and the stumps at the batsman’s end were shattered with Green short of his ground. T20 has given fielding and running standards a great boost, and Somerset rarely miss an opportunity of a run. Here, the throw was better judged than the run and Somerset were 18 for 1. Run outs always leave an empty feeling in the pit of the stomach of the supporter of the batting side, especially after a promising start that might not have been expected. Perhaps Lammonby had the same feeling in his stomach too as he stood at the bowler’s end with his head hung low.

Abell has shown himself capable in both forms of the game. In the T20 match against Glamorgan he played an innings of attacking, classical correctness and, with some old-style tight wicket-to-wicket bowling from the Somerset attack, won the match for Somerset. He set out with the same purpose in this match as he drove his first ball, from Tongue, back past the bowler for four. An off drive for three off Leach quickly followed. Then, thick-edged drives for three and four off Penninton and Leach presaged batting of a more measured type as Abell sought to establish the Somerset innings alongside Lammonby. “Get your head down,” might have been the cry from the crowd in times gone by.

And get their heads down the batsmen did. They added 75 runs in 25 overs with Abell taking the majority of the strike. Lammonby demonstrated the patience needed to build an innings with some determined defence against Worcestershire’s persistence. A little more fluidity might have helped take some of the pressure off him. His runs came for the most part in ones and twos with pushes and steers on either side of the wicket as Abell looked for attacking opportunities at the other end. Lammonby did essay one pull through midwicket with his weight perfectly balanced and his timing giving the field no chance. “Lammonby has an excellent pull shot,” said the incoming text. There were some gaps in the field, for Worcestershire kept four slips in for much of the morning and three for the rest of it as their bowlers kept to a nagging length and line. It really was an excellent contest of the old sort between bat and ball.

Abell gradually became more assertive, beginning with a straight drive for four off Barnard which defeated the bowler’s hand as it reached down. Off the same bowler he leaned into an abrupt-looking off drive in which he checked his follow through as the ball raced off his bat. It is a classic Abell stroke, and this one raced to the boundary in front of the Basil D’Oliveira Stand at the Diglis End. Again, off Barnard, Abell drove perfectly square of the wicket with his bat as free flowing as the previous stroke had been checked. Off Leach, he was more fortunate as a defensive thick edge evaded the three-strong slip cordon and ran to the boundary. Somerset arrived at lunch on 83 for 1, with Abell on 41 and Lammonby on 27.

Soon after lunch, Lammonby, leaden footed, attempted to drive Pennington through the covers and chopped the ball onto his stumps for 28. Somerset were 93 for 2. Shortly afterwards, with a neatly clipped four to the gap between the Graeme Hick Pavilion and the Ladies Pavilion, Abell brought up the Somerset century at the end of the 38th over. One hundred runs in 38 overs was an indication, overall, of the accuracy of the Worcestershire bowling and the care in the Somerset batting. Bartlett took most of the strike in his partnership with Abell and began to take the game to Worcestershire. A straight drive of Leach went to the boundary, A beautiful flowing hook shot and a more orthodox pull in the same over from Pennington realised two miserly singles when the long leg fielder intercepted them, but the laziest looking of drives off Tongue flew along the ground to the cover boundary.

When Bartlett tried to cut a ball from Tongue, wide of off stump, it cut in off the pitch and he chopped it onto his stumps. When, on the same score, Abell tried to steer a straight ball from Pennington through backward point he connected only with the edge and Cox took a straightforward catch. Somerset were 120 for 4. Abell 59. Bartlett 18. When D’Oliveira was introduced into the attack, his second ball turned markedly into Davies. The third, perhaps turned more, defeated Davies’ defensive stroke and bowled him. When Barnard moved a ball neatly away from Overton, again batting above Gregory, he edged to Mitchell at slip and Somerset had slipped from 120 for 2 to 136 for 6. Persistently accurate and skilful bowling tells in the end.

As so often with this Somerset side when its back is to the wall someone steps up, often from the middle and lower order. First it was Gregory and Byrom. They added 59 runs in 15 overs, largely due to Gregory taking the attack to the Worcestershire bowlers. It was a typical Gregory innings of studied defence, use of the feet against spin and forceful attack. He began with a powerfully lofted on drive which cleared the straight long on boundary and followed it by neatly clipping Barnard’s next ball off his legs to clear the square boundary. The second six must have landed somewhere in the vicinity of the Ladies Pavilion from whence those reportedly heavenly cakes used to emerge before the coronavirus changed the world. It also brought up Somerset’s 150.

In an over from Mitchell, in successive balls, Gregory drove to long on, once for four and once for six. Against D’Oliveira’s leg breaks he was much more circumspect, as was every other Somerset batsmen. My note describes Gregory as, “watchful” against the spinner. After seven overs D’Oliveira had conceded just eight runs and taken Davies’ wicket. It was a reminder of days gone by. Two generations ago, another D’Oliveira might have bowled such a spell of containing bowling and taken a wicket along the way on this very ground. Although the grandfather bowled suffocating medium pace and the grandson bowls leg breaks the effect on Somerset was the same. I even thought I caught sight of a sliver of the old walk back to the mark. The initials are the same too, B.L. Memories.

Now, Gregory began to use his feet to D’Oliveira, searching for an opportunity to attack. Eventually he launched a ball over wide long on for six. More common were thwarted attempts to get into an attacking position. Finally, he reached to drive a ball wide of off stump and was caught at backward point by Pennington. Gregory had made 37 in under an hour at the crease and, with Byrom, had taken Somerset to within five runs of a batting bonus point that at 136 for 6 had been but a doubtful hope. Perhaps the sanitiser break, that all too ubiquitous sign of the current age, which had been taken immediately before the fall of Gregory’s wicket affected his concentration.

Byrom batted nearly two hours for 30 precious runs. In addition to his runs, he was invaluable in support of Gregory’s assault. His innings was not entirely defensive. Three times in an over Barnard slightly overpitched to him. Twice he was crisply clipped over midwicket for four and once driven back along the ground for another. That 12 of his 30 runs were scored in one over gives an indication of the intensity with which he defended his wicket for most of his nearly two hours at the crease.

Byrom was eventually out, caught at point, driving square, by Barnard off Pennington, but one key Somerset objective had been achieved. Davey had just belied his position in the batting order by driving Pennington through the covers for four to register Somerset’s first batting bonus point in a competition in which, with so few matches, bonus points may be critical in determining which two sides reach the final of this competition at Lord’s. The potential positions at the top of the three tables at the end of the group stage of the competition are devilishly tight.

There followed one of those glorious Somerset late order partnerships which have so often made a significant impact on Somerset’s prospects in a match. Jack Leach, of whom asked the incoming text, “When was Leach last on a cricket pitch?” joined Davey. Leach has certainly not been on a cricket pitch in anger during this season of coronavirus bubbles as he has sat out England match after England match whilst denied the opportunity of playing for Somerset. You would not have known. He and Davey added 39 runs in 35 minutes and took Somerset to within eight runs of a second bonus point that was barely a dream at 134 for 6. Davey was particularly severe on D’Oliveira. He pulled him through midwicket for four and then, in the space of an over drove him back over his head for six and then four. Leach, meanwhile, having re-established his bearings, was as confident as anyone playing D’Oliveira. Worcestershire’s Leach, he hit to the boundary three times. A clip and a pull behind square, and a straight drive which Leach failed to get down to quickly enough. The days of ‘nine, ten, jack’ are perhaps gone forever.

Eventually, Davey was caught at square leg off a short ball from Barnard. It left Somerset eight runs short of what could turn out to be an invaluable bonus point. Somerset have fallen short of bonus points, perhaps too often in recent times, but a straight drive from Leach off his Worcestershire namesake took Somerset to 250 just before he was lbw to Barnard trying to clip him hard off his legs. In the five overs before the close Worcestershire reached 14 without loss, although the first ball of the innings from Overton was edged only marginally short of third slip. As the players walked off it felt like an even day of cricket, although perhaps by not losing a wicket in those final few overs Worcestershire just edged it. As always, the morrow will tell.

Close. Somerset 251. Abell 59, D.Y. Pennington 3-49, E.G. Barnard 3-53. Worcestershire 14 for 0. Worcestershire trail by 237 runs with ten first innings wickets standing.