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 the ECB’s enhanced live stream of the match, without which this report would not have been possible. The stream was watched 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.
Bob Willis Trophy Final. Somerset v Essex. 23rd, 24th, 25th, 26th and 27th September 2020. Lord’s.
Somerset. B.F.G. Green, T.A. Lammonby, T.B. Abell (c), E.J. Byrom, G.A. Bartlett, S.M. Davies (w), L. Gregory, C. Overton, J.H. Davey, M.J. Leach, J.A. Brooks.
Essex. N.L.J. Browne, Sir Alistair Cook, T. Westley (c), D.W. Lawrence, P.I. Walter, R.N. ten Doeschate, A.J.A. Wheater, S.R. Harmer, A.P. Beard, S.J. Cook, J.A. Porter.
Overnight. Somerset 301. Essex 271 for 6. Essex trail by 30 runs.
Fourth day. 26th Sept. – Lammonby keeps the trophy room door open
Another glorious century for Tom Lammonby lit up the afternoon of another day of dimpsy autumnal weather. But whilst Lammonby shone brightly for Somerset, it was Essex who gained the high ground in the match by taking a first innings lead. From that moment, under the tie-breaker rules for the final, Somerset had to force victory to win the Bob Willis Trophy. For Essex, a draw would suffice. The start was not auspicious for Somerset. With Essex needing 31 runs for the lead, Somerset’s normally disciplined bowlers took a few overs to find their lines and strayed too often onto leg stump. Two balls deflected off the pads to fine leg, each for four leg byes, and a leg glance for four from Adam Wheater the result. A boundary driven to the Nursery End off Overton by the nightwatchman, Porter, added to the pressure on Somerset. A no ball from Lewis Gregory and the four byes which finally took Essex into the lead completed a dispiriting start for Somerset’s screen-watching supporters.
If Somerset wished to win the trophy, it was now incumbent on them to force the pace, for Essex had won the right to choose their own pace. Almost immediately, Gregory found the perfect line and length with a yorker and spectacularly uprooted Porter’s middle stump. Porter, who had come in as nightwatchman, had batted for a determined hour as Essex fought for the lead. In his next over, Gregory, now fully into his rhythm, generated a trace of bounce. Harmer, newly at the crease, edged the ball and Overton at second slip took the catch, reaching across almost in front of Leach at first slip. Essex were 303 for 8, just two runs ahead.
The Bob Willis Trophy rules limit each first innings to 120 overs. The rule was introduced to protect bowlers because the competition began before they had had the opportunity to reach normal levels of fitness. In the 13 overs from the fall of Harmer’s wicket to the end of the Essex innings, Somerset, despite some testing bowling, did not take another wicket. Meanwhile Wheater and Beard added 34 crucial runs to take Essex’s lead to 36. The batsmen took no risks until the final two overs, and these were successfully countered by Davey and Overton with a succession of well-directed defensive bouncers. This was hard-nosed, toe-to-toe cricket of the best kind, and Essex had succeeded in denying Somerset a precious hour of batting.
With twenty-five minutes and five sessions remaining, and bad light likely to be an issue at the end of the day, Somerset found themselves under the pressure of needing to address the age-old cricketing conundrum of scoring quickly whilst conserving the wickets needed to complete the task. Under gathering cloud, Lammonby and Green survived the seven overs, and three loud lbw appeals, to lunch. With five sessions left, Somerset were 12 for 0, still 24 runs behind. Myriad potential declaration equations would have been bouncing around the minds of Somerset supporters, with perhaps calculations on how long Essex might have to bat against Somerset’s attack whirring in the minds of their Essex counterparts. Both would have been wrestling with hope and anxiety irrevocably tangled together. Watching cricket as closely fought as this match, with so much hanging on the outcome, might have been devised as an additional trial for Tantalus.
Then, for two unforgettable hours, Somerset’s light shone bright against the increasing dimpsy of the day as the afternoon belonged undeniably to Lammonby. For five overs he and Green re-established themselves with care against Cook and Porter. Then came an all-out assault from Lammonby. If you can call a Lammonby stroke an assault, such is the delicacy of touch which he employs. Especially, an on drive along the ground off Porter. The swing of the bat was measured and apparently lacking in force, as if he were pushing the ball wide of mid-on for a single. In fact, it out-raced the mid-on fielder to the Warner Stand boundary. What might Sir Pelham have made of the audacity of what was to come from one so young? Lammonby followed the drive with a clip off his toes so understated he might have been brushing a speck of dust off the toe of his boot, the fielder’s job merely to collect the ball.
When again he faced Porter, a straight drive as consummate as the on drive streaked over the grass to the Pavilion. Then, as the partnership reached 50 and began to give substance to Somerset hopes, a drive off Harmer flew to the long on boundary. Lammonby’s strokes are played with a long, smooth flow of the bat which generates tremendous energy in the ball. Such strokes leave on the mind an image of a batting artist, rather than a technician, and yet the underlying technique that enables such batting against first-class bowlers must be exceptional in nature. Applause for his strokes would have filled the air had the crowd of thousands that wished themselves at this match been in attendance. And, on the terrace of the Pavilion, MCC members with long cricketing memories would have compared Lammonby’s strokes with remembered strokes of players of generations past. Lammonby’s stroke play is of that ilk. And all the while, in the coronavirus world, the online Somerset crowd would have been willing him on through their laptops and television sets, and perhaps applauding too, hoping for a performance to match his centuries against Gloucestershire and Worcestershire.
Green began in more circumspect fashion. He played maidens to Harmer’s first two overs, for the most part defending, but using his feet to get to the pitch of the ball. Twice he attempted the sweep but failed to connect, raising the battered blood pressure of those watching through Somerset screens. After 49 balls he had made ten runs, but crucially had held an end secure. Then, after turning Cook to long leg for four he attacked Harmer, perhaps the Essex bowler most feared by Somerset supporters. Green’s duel with Harmer fed the growing thought that Harmer might not be the threat in this match he had been to other sides earlier in the competition. When Green took a half step forward and drove the ball over midwicket to the Grandstand for six it added more fuel to the hope that the Essex spinner might be held, and that Somerset might score quickly enough to put them under pressure.
Essex moved Harmer to the Pavilion End, a small victory for Somerset perhaps. For Somerset, Green continued the assault, slog-sweeping him to the Mound Stand. Lammonby added to the pressure. Twice in an over he swept, once off the bottom edge to defeat the keeper, and once in more controlled fashion to fine leg. He drove Cook straight back to the Nursery End boundary, and Green swept Harmer swiftly along the ground to the Mound Stand as Somerset reached their hundred at nearly four runs an over. It was scintillating batting from a pair so new to the game at this level and it set the blood coursing through Somerset veins. And yet, if Somerset were to put Essex under enough pressure, and so much of cricket and how it is played is about pressure and the response of players to it, they would have to continue to build their lead at pace.
It was Beard, who across the match had looked Essex’s least effective bowler, who broke the partnership. Green tried to turn him to leg, the ball moved away a trace, took the back of the bat and flew waist high to Cook at first slip. Somerset were 105 for 1, 69 runs ahead. Green, who was looking increasingly confident, had made 41. He and Lammonby, with just those nine first-class matches between them, had scored at nearly four runs an over against the County Champions. Abell joined Lammonby, and immediately caused Somerset hearts to miss a beat as he attempted to glance Beard. It is a graveyard shot for Abell, and I have often wondered if opposition bowlers feed it. While I was contemplating that, Lammonby took time to recalibrate against Harmer after the loss of Green, just three runs coming from two overs. When a side needs quick runs and the scoring slows, whatever the reason, the tension bites that bit harder and I could sense faces leaning closer to screens, watching the score, calculating the overs, among both sets of supporters.
Then Lammonby struck again. It was reminiscent of the sudden explosion of scoring in his century against Gloucestershire. The recently successful Beard, the target. Lammonby began with a push to midwicket, well-enough placed for two runs. It is said it is a sign of top batsmen that they see gaps, not fielders, on a cricket field. I wonder if it is that way with Lammonby, and if that stroke was evidence of it. The next stroke was straight from the top drawer. He stood up on the back foot and drove the ball along the ground, the camera picking it up perfectly as it approached and crossed the Grandstand boundary with no fielder in sight. He immediately followed it with a leg glance off the middle of the bat, perfectly placed, wide of the keeper and far too fine for a fine leg fielder to have troubled it. I have often wondered how Ranjitsinhji, another player with a perfect smoothness of stroke, played those putative nineteenth century leg glances. I doubt they bettered the one we had just seen from Lammonby. Then came a cover drive which oozed economy of effort. He bent his knees slightly, waited for the ball, moved the bat a few short inches towards it and nudged it through the covers, at speed, to the Grandstand boundary. Involuntary gasps of delight in front of screens there must have been at such a stroke. At the very least there was one in front of mine.
Against Harmer, Lammonby used his feet. He was quickly down the wicket to drive. First, between bowler and mid-on to the Pavilion boundary, and then under the dive of Browne at midwicket. Browne was furious with himself for being beaten by a ball which bisected the Warner and Grandstand boundaries, hammering the ground with his fist in frustration. Somerset had reached 135 for 1 in just 33 overs. Lammonby had 88 of those. It was glorious batting, exceptional given his age and inexperience, together with the pressure of a trophy constantly bearing down. At a match like this in the days of crowds, however far from home, there would have been a sizeable Somerset contingent. With Somerset now scoring at over four runs an over, strengthening their position by the stroke, it would have been applauding every run, cheering Lammonby on, buzzing between overs and all but the edge of the seat would have been redundant.
Now, Abell found his range. Beard again took the brunt. Abell began with drives, first through point and then the on side, square of the wicket, each for two runs. But the Somerset buzz would have turned to a gasp of anxiety as again he played the glance, and then to a sigh of relief as the ball flicked the pads and ran to the boundary for four leg byes. From the most classical of cut shots, forward of square, the ball travelled too quickly to the Mound Stand boundary for the camera to register it as it crossed the screen. When he cut Harmer, the ball crossed the Grandstand boundary and Somerset passed 150 in the 35th over. Such batting is Somerset through and through, it is one of the jewels of Somerset cricket that ensures daily Championship crowds at Taunton are measured in the low thousands rather than the high hundreds. Anticipation in the Somerset online crowd must have been burgeoning, if tinged with wondering how long this could continue.
Then, Essex struck. The bubble of Somerset anticipation burst and the starved lungs in front of Essex screens must have breathed again. Essex had replaced Beard with Porter. Within the over, Abell, on 15, attempted to continue Somerset’s charge, tried to drive into the on side, and chipped the ball into the hands of Browne at square leg. From that moment, the complexion of the Somerset innings changed. Wickets began to fall, and the pace of scoring fell away. The sense of taking the game to Essex became one of trying to stay in the game, at least as far as forging a winning position was concerned.
Byrom joined Lammonby, and from the heady six-runs-an over of the Abell-Lammonby partnership, Somerset scored 12 runs from eight overs either side of tea as Porter and Harmer worked to regain control for Essex. Byrom scored one run in half an hour at the wicket. Four and five-day cricket is a game of rhythms and moods, and both had changed. The heady anticipation of Somerset’s online crowd which will have ridden on the back of that glorious start must now have been being pricked with doubt. For Essex followers, any doubts that accompanied Somerset’s progress would now be turning to hope, for the longer Somerset took to score their runs, the less time they would have to bowl Essex out. The pitch was showing little sign of deterioration, although a scintilla of turn for Harmer would have raised Somerset hopes that Jack Leach might pose a threat on the final day.
Lammonby went to the third century of his fledgling career when he leaned into an on drive off Porter. It was a stroke typical of his innings, as naturally played as you are likely to see, with an apparent minimum of power from the bat. The ball did not quite reach the boundary, but it took a full-length dive from the Essex fielder to prevent it and it had dissected the field well enough to result in three runs. Lammonby’s century came from 134 balls with 15 fours. Those bare facts were the hard evidence of his dominance over the bowling, but they were just the skeleton of his innings. The main body consisted of a breathtaking, apparently natural ability, doubtless honed to maximum effect by the hard miles of intense practice to which modern players are subject. I wonder how many times he has practiced that on drive to produce the thing of cricketing beauty that it now is. But, warns the caution of cricket history, these are early days. The records of cricket are punctuated with the names of young players who did not realise their apparent early potential. A player’s second season is said to be where the real test of their worth is applied. The one in which weaknesses are cruelly exposed, if indeed there are weaknesses to be exposed. That will be Lammonby’s next test. If you are inclined to lay bets, do not bet against him passing it. 2021 cannot come soon enough, except perhaps for the bowlers Lammonby will face.
As to 2020, Essex continued their resurgence. Within four balls of Lammonby’s century, Byrom, Somerset’s first innings centurion, drove at Porter and edged the ball into his stumps. Somerset were 167 for 3, just 131 ahead with time’s clock beginning to tick against them. Lammonby and Bartlett tried to establish a partnership. In one over from Harmer, Lammonby drove through the on side, again to the Warner Stand boundary, and Bartlett came down the pitch to drive crisply through mid-off to the Pavilion pickets. There was though no longer the sense of freedom that the partnership between Lammonby and Abell had generated. His boundary apart, Bartlett had been as constrained as Byrom. Eventually he tried to clear the inner ring fielders, but the ball flew straight into Westley’s hands at mid-on. Bartlett had made five from 21 balls. It was Porter’s third wicket in what had turned into a devastating spell for Essex. It had taken the steam, and the heart of the middle order, out of the Somerset innings. The disappointment could be seen in Bartlett’s face as the camera accompanied him to the boundary.
Off the next ball, from Harmer, Lammonby played well forward. The ball hit the pad and the epitome of disappointment could be seen in Lammonby’s face even before the umpire’s finger was raised. He was perhaps beaten by Harmer’s arm ball and departed after another exceptional innings, this time of 116. Disappointment would have marked the faces looking hard into screens across Somerset too. An hour before, those same faces had been watching the Somerset batsmen sweep all before them. The disappointment would have been etched deeper still when Gregory, before he had been at the wicket an over, played defensively to Porter, edged behind and Cook, jumping high to his left from first slip took the catch almost behind the keeper. Somerset had fallen from 155 for 1 to 188 for 6. Cricket is indeed a game of rhythms and moods, and the rhythm and the mood had swung hard Essex’s way. Somerset still had a lead of 152, and might yet put pressure on Essex, but, largely due to Porter, Essex now had momentum to add to the considerable advantage of that first innings lead.
Davies and Overton steadied the Somerset innings against Harmer and Cook, who had replaced Porter. Sometimes a cricket match seems to take a deep breath after the sort of intense punch and counterpunch that Lammonby’s innings and Porter’s wickets had constituted, and this one was no different. For Somerset, Davies and Overton took the score forward, but at less than three runs an over. For Essex, their bowlers maintained a tight accuracy, but less apparent threat, as the time left in the match inexorably seeped, over by over, away.
The slowing of the pace and ever-present possibility of the autumnal light removing overs from the end of a day added to the growing anxiety of Somerset watchers. Two cover drives from Davies and a neat leg glance from Overton briefly raised the spirits. There must too have been a huge sigh of Somerset relief, and I imagine an equally deep gasp of Essex disappointment, when Overton hooked Cook high to long leg, the ball fell out of the sky and hurtled straight into the waiting hands of the fielder, and then out again. As the ball fell to Earth, the score was 205 for 6 and Somerset were just 169 runs ahead.
The Somerset lead had reached 188 when Davies played defensively to Harmer, without really getting forward, and edged the ball to Cook at slip. He had made 19 runs in an hour as the pressure from the Essex bowlers, and the fallen wickets, continued to hold Somerset in check. An over later, the cloud that had increasingly enveloped the ground as the day wore on, and a look at their light meters, persuaded the umpires that it was time to end the day six overs early. Somerset were 227 for 7, 191 ahead with six hours or 90 overs left in the match, less any time lost to the dimpsy on the final day. It was not quite where they would have hoped to be when they started their second innings, but after Lammonby’s innings the door to the trophy room was still firmly open.
With Essex only needing to draw the match, Somerset would need time to take ten wickets while leaving themselves a big enough buffer of runs to prevent Essex from taking the trophy sooner by winning the match. As conundrums go, the timing of the declaration would be as teasing as any, in the minds of supporters at least. It would doubtless be the subject of as much discussion online as there would have been among the throng of people walking up the Wellington Road in the days when there was a crowd to walk up there on the trek towards St John’s Wood Station.
Close. Somerset 301 and 227 for 7. Essex 337 for 8 inns closed (A.N. Cook 172, T. Westley 51, L. Gregory 6-72). Somerset lead by 191 runs with three second innings wickets standing.