Bob Willis Trophy ~ Worcesterhire v Somerset ~ Third day ~ 8th September ~ Lammonby’s student masterclass

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.

Third day. 8th September – Lammonby’s student masterclass

“I think we might have found a batsman,” said the incoming text even before Tom Lammonby had reached his century. In the end, Lammonby carried his bat at the age of 20 with Somerset under the most intense pressure, and with a place in the final of this competition at stake. It was a performance to rank with some of the best Somerset innings the author has witnessed in over six decades of watching Somerset play cricket.

Lammonby reached 107 not out, made from a total of 193. The next highest individual score was Josh Davey’s 21. Among the top six batsmen, the next best was 14 by Steven Davies. That is part of the measure of Lammonby’s achievement, but only part. He remained apparently unruffled as wickets fell steadily at the other end. When Somerset sank to 82 for 6, their lead was but 133. Eventually, Lammonby to the fore, Somerset stretched that to 244. Through it all the youngest player in the side worked to steer Somerset from a position of jeopardy to a position which gave them a real opportunity of winning the match and travelling to Lord’s for the final. Such pressure did his young shoulders bear.

The cricket, as on the first two days, was of a type Maurice Tremlett or Harold Stephenson would have recognised in the 1950s. Indeed, Tremlett is said to have coined an image of a cricket team constantly pushing at its opponents as if trying to push over a wall. Not relaxing in the push until the wall had succumbed to the pressure. The team that pushed the other hardest and longest would prevail in Tremlett’s image. For those steeped in the ways of Championship cricket of an earlier age, the cricket on the third day at Worcester gripped for hour after long hour as the top two sides in the group pushed relentlessly, as if the other was Tremlett’s wall.

All day long, in a grinding trial of strength, first one side then the other exerted the greater pressure. By the day’s end, had there been a wall between the two teams it would have creaked, leaned first one way then the other, and ended virtually upright, so evenly balanced was the match when the autumnal gloaming ended play even earlier than it had on the second day. Supporters of either side might have just claimed the edge, or if of the worrying type, conceded it to the other. It was a restless image on which to sleep.

The first push came from Worcestershire. Facing his first ball of the morning, Tom Abell, on whom much hope had hung when he ended the previous day undefeated, failed to get forward to a ball from Worcestershire’s Leach which swung away. The resulting edge carried to Cox behind the stumps. Somerset were 16 for 2 with the 20-year-old Lammonby and the 22-year-old Bartlett at the wicket. Both young men had learned their cricket in the T20 age, but they played from the start as if they had learned it from Tremlett himself. Neither gave an inch as Worcestershire, and Leach in particular, pushed hard at Somerset. He and Tongue began with bowling so naggingly accurate it constantly kept the off stump, or the pad in front of it, in jeopardy. The edge of the bat was at risk too if anything extravagant was attempted. Lammonby and Bartlett did not so much push back as simply absorb the Worcestershire pressure. Sometimes walls have to be supported before they can be pushed.

Twelve overs of the morning elapsed before a boundary was scored. Before the boundary just four runs came. For Somerset, resisting Worcestershire’s push through the preservation of wickets was all, for only preserved wickets could realise runs later. Rarely in these times has Tremlett’s imagery been so apposite as it has been in Somerset’s low-scoring matches in this competition. Twice Somerset tried to break from the Worcestershire pressure. Lammonby first with the neatest of drives through midwicket for four off Tongue. Then Bartlett, trying to turn Barnard behind square, failed to make contact and was lbw. The intensity of the cricket can perhaps be gauged from the fact that Bartlett had scored two runs from 41 balls in nearly an hour at the wicket. During that time Somerset had advanced their score from 16 for 2 to 28 for 3. It was gruelling stuff, and more intensity was added by the knowledge that whichever side prevailed would play in that final at Lord’s. Somerset were perhaps still ahead. Their lead was 79 and seven of their wickets still stood, but Worcestershire were pushing hard at Tremlett’s wall. It was not a morning to leave the laptop to make a cup of tea.

Byrom replaced Bartlett, and immediately tried to relieve the pressure on Somerset with three boundaries: a drive through the covers, a clip off his legs and a drive that resulted in a thick edge to third man. An attempt at a fourth, aiming to clip a straight ball from Barnard of near-yorker length to leg, resulted in the ball hitting the pads and the inevitable raising of the umpire’s finger. Somerset were 42 for 4, their lead was 93 and their advantage on first innings was slipping away. It was not just the wickets, there were too a higher proportion of thick edges than the norm, and one or two under edges too. This was attritional cricket and Somerset’s wall was beginning to creak under the strain.

Lammonby now began to shape Somerset’s innings. He moved from total focus on resistance to the application of pressure of his own. In an over from Pennington he drove straight for two, the fielder just chasing the ball down, a drive beat the midwicket fielder and ran to the boundary, and a shorter ball was pulled through midwicket for another four. The pull is a stroke marked by its brutality, but Lammonby’s pull is a thing of easy-flowing beauty. His timing was such that the ball crashed into the boards as hard as any. D’Oliveira had kept Somerset to two an over in the first innings with his leg spin, less at the start of his spell. In the second, Lammonby attacked him from the outset. His first ball was swept to long leg for four, his second driven over long on for six. The six was so well struck it took some time to find the ball. Somerset were on the move.

It was Worcestershire’s turn to feel the pressure as Somerset, or Lammonby, kept pushing and Somerset’s lead began to rise. Davies responded to Lammonby’s charge with two boundaries of his own off Pennington. But the intensity of this match arose from both sides pushing equally hard, neither wilting for long under the pressure from the other. When Davies tried to lift a full ball from D’Oliveira over the long on boundary he played around it and was bowled. It was perhaps the ugliest stroke I have seen Davies play in a first-class match and perhaps D’Oliveira saw him coming. It was reminiscent of a T20 dismissal. Then, when Overton played back to a D’Oliveira googly, or perhaps a top spinner for it kept quite low, he too was bowled. In Tremlett’s day the word to describe Overton’s dismissal would have been comprehensive. He is perhaps batting too high at seven, and here at least he had been unable to resist D’Oliveira pushing back at Somerset after Lammonby’s assault. Somerset were 82 for 6. 133 ahead with, suddenly, just four wickets standing.

Lunch came at 90 for 6 with Somerset 141 ahead, and afterwards the cricket returned to the intense struggle of the morning as the Somerset batsmen re-established themselves. Gregory had joined Lammonby for the first of two partnerships played out over nearly two hours which gradually tilted the match back towards Somerset. For the first 40 minutes there was no give from either side. Then Gregory, who had replaced Overton, drove Tongue to long on for four and Leach over long off for six, a stunning stroke. Lammonby leaned smoothly onto a ball from Pennington which drifted onto leg stump and drove it to the deep square leg boundary. Somerset were 120 for 6, 171 ahead, and the prospect of a lead that would put Worcestershire under pressure in the final innings was beginning to emerge. When, one run later, Gregory tried to clip Pennington into the on side for runs, he got a leading edge and the ball ballooned into the offside where Libby took the catch. Push and counter push.

The match was back in the balance as Davey joined Lammonby. Together, they added 55 runs. Three fours from Davey in an over from D’Oliveira, including a perfectly timed on drive and a cut neatly played into the ground through third man, spiced the mix. But it was here that Lammonby really built on that grinding start to his innings. He had scored 21 runs from his first 100 balls before picking up the pace, and now he moved Somerset into a position from where they could hope to push for victory. Some of his strokes spoke of sheer batting class. The sort of strokes that would have brought gasps of delight and wonder from around the ground in days when there were crowds in grounds to gasp in wonder. As it was, there would have been gasps, and applause aplenty from Somerset’s digital crowd. There were, I assure the reader, in the lee of the Blackdowns.

A glance to fine leg was played with perfection. It left the middle of the bat, went down and evaded the keeper with ease. It is not an easy stroke to play as the number that miss the ball altogether or are caught down the leg side testify. Lammonby played the stroke with aplomb. It was of a class to match his pull. A six over long on off D’Oliveira was struck with a flow of the bat that brooked no argument as to its class. And all the while the singles and twos were played into the gaps with a certainty that belied his years. This was a batting masterclass from a student learning his trade.

When Davey was brilliantly caught at midwicket by the substitute fielder off a full-blooded pull for 21, Somerset were 176 for 8, a lead of 227. Throughout the partnership with Davey, Lammonby’s score had continued to rise through the 70s and 80s and from there into the 90s. As each run was added Somerset supporters far and wide would have been glued ever more steadfastly to their screens, willing him on. Willing him on to take Somerset as far ahead of Worcestershire as possible. Willing him on towards a second century in successive matches. And willing him on, at the age of 20, to carry his bat under the most pressurised of circumstances. For those watching, it was dreamland. For Lammonby it was intensely serious cricket as he pushed ever harder at Tremlett’s wall.

Those of us watching need not have sweated so much nervous energy or clung quite so tightly to the arms of our chairs. Lammonby had the measure of the situation and knew the bowler to target. D’Oliveira had been much less effective for Worcestershire in the second innings than he had in the first. On 96 Lammonby danced two steps down the wicket, turned a decent length ball into a half volley and deposited it spectacularly over the long on boundary. There before us was a century worthy of a standing ovation. I have no doubt one would have been instantaneous and extended had there been a crowd to stand. As it was, the Worcestershire players, at least those visible on the screen, applauded generously. In matches as tightly balanced and unremittingly hard-fought as this one, respect for the opposition’s efforts often shines through when great milestones are reached. And not just recognition from the Worcestershire players. I wonder how many of those of us watching our screens applauded too. One at least.

Somerset’s final two wickets added 17 runs as Worcestershire, applause over, continued pushing. Leach was lbw to Barnard playing across his pads and Brooks edged a ball from Pennington to Cox behind the stumps. That left Lammonby not out on 107, and a member of that exclusive club of players who have carried their bat in a first-class match. For his 107 runs he had batted two minutes less than five hours under the most intense pressure and against persistently accurate and testing bowling. It was an innings of technical class played with a powerful temperament. It was an innings of which I imagine Maurice Tremlett at his most determined would have been proud. In terms of his arrival as a first-class batsman, Lammonby had pushed his personal wall over, and Somerset had indeed found a batsman.

And after all that, with emotions stretched to the limit, there was still time for Worcestershire to face the Somerset attack for over an hour and a half before the gloaming of the first two nights descended early and adjourned the settlement of the main issue until the final day. That each side continued to push as intensely as ever at their Tremlett walls was evidenced by Mitchell batting 37 minutes for three runs. Even then he was only removed by a scorching ball from Gregory that moved in and bowled him through a defensive stroke tangled by the movement of the ball. Libby took the game to Somerset with four boundaries but tried once too often as he drove at a ball, again from Gregory, outside off stump. He became one of a number of batsmen in this match to play on as the ball hit the leg stump.

Worcestershire were 30 for 2 in the 16th over, still 215 short of their target. It was a rate of scoring which, in spite of Libby’s boundaries, betrayed the continued intensity of the cricket. Fell took up where Libby had left off with four more boundaries. But still, intensity of defence remained the main aim as the score continued to move at little more than two an over. With Gregory recapturing his breath, Somerset could not penetrate the defence of Fell and Haynes as once again Worcestershire fought to re-establish the balance of the match. Somerset still perhaps have the edge, and they may be assisted by the fact that of the 32 wickets to fall thus far in this game, twelve have been bowled, six lbw and four caught behind as the full ball has persistently troubled batsmen from both sides. And on the morrow both sides will need to continue pushing unrelentingly at that wall if they wish to prevail.

Close. Somerset 251 and 193 (T.A. Lammonby 107*, E.G. Barnard 4-25). Worcestershire 200 and 58 for 2. Worcestershire need another 187 runs to win with eight wickets standing.