Testing Newton’s Law – Somerset v Gloucestershire – County Championship 2021 – Taunton – Day 1

This match was played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus restrictions in place. This report was therefore written following a day watching Somerset CCC’s 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.

County Championship Group 2. Somerset v Gloucestershire. 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th April 2021. Taunton.

Somerset. T.A. Lammonby, T. Banton, T.B. Abell (c), J.C. Hildreth, G.A. Bartlett, S.M. Davies (w), C. Overton, L. Gregory, J.H. Davey, M de Lange, M.J. Leach.

Gloucestershire. K.C. Brathwaite, C.D.J. Dent (c), J.R. Bracey (w), T.C. Lace, G.L. van Buuren, R.F. Higgins, G.T. Hankins, G.F.B. Scott, D.A. Payne, M.D. Taylor, D.C. Goodman.

Toss. Gloucestershire. Elected to field.

First day. 15th April – Testing Newton’s Law

It was a glorious April day. Warm sun, with just enough chill on the breeze to remind that we are still nearer the equinox than the solstice. Perfect for watching cricket this early in the season. So it felt in my Somerset garden ten minutes or so before the start of play. The expanse of the Quantocks beyond the Lord Ian Botham and River Stands visible on my laptop and the bright blue sky dappled with a legion of sheer-white tufts of cloud suggested it must be so at the Cooper Associates County Ground too. The Blackdowns, also bathed in sun, and looking on through the window beyond my laptop added to the lifting of the spirits which always accompanies the start of a County Championship match on such a day.

The fielders who emerged onto the outfield were from Gloucestershire, Somerset having lost the toss and been ‘invited’ to bat. Somerset’s opening pair, Tom Lammonby and Tom Banton, left and right-handed, have a combined age of 41, two years less than Marcus Trescothick’s age when he retired two seasons ago. Lammonby had a stellar start to his first-class career, opening the innings in the Bob Willis Trophy in 2020 and ending the tournament with three centuries in successive matches. Reality though has struck with remarkable swiftness this year. He had scored just five runs in two innings before the start of this match. In this innings he failed again to score. In the second over, playing defensively to Ryan Higgins, he edged the ball to George Hankins at second slip and Gloucestershire had reaped the first reward of their decision to insert Somerset.

Tom Abell joined Banton who in his next over drove Higgins straight back to the Trescothick Pavilion. It was a stroke which would have brought gasps of delight from some in the crowd were there a crowd to gasp. Banton had begun before Lammonby departed with what appeared to be little more than a push. It took the ball to the Somerset Stand boundary as its ranks of empty seats looked on, a stark reminder of the times we live in. Banton plays with a natural ease and keeps the score moving, an off drive for three just short of the Lord Ian Botham Stand was as good an example as any. A natural ease perhaps, but batting was not easy in spite of the progress Banton was making.

Higgins in particular tested the batsman, more than once forcing thick edges, one of which ran to the third man boundary off Banton’s bat. Although threat from the bowlers hung in the air, Abell added to a sense of growing Somerset momentum. He turned David Payne, bowling from the River End, square to the Somerset Stand and glanced Higgins towards the gap between the Colin Atkinson Pavilion and the Lord Ian Botham Stand where spectators on a circumnavigation of the ground will often stop to view the play and chat. This developing partnership might have tempted some to tarry there awhile.

Then, a reminder that batting would not come easily in the prevailing conditions. A ball from the left arm pace of Payne, angled across Banton, straightened off the pitch, barely squeezed between a fast-closing bat and pad, rolled gently into the off stump and created just enough vibration for the off bail to tumble reluctantly to the ground. The Banton-Abell partnership had rushed along at four runs an over, raising hope in the Somerset heart as it went. Now, from 42 for 2, of which Banton had made 29, the Gloucestershire bowlers gave the batsmen little leeway.

Just 27 runs were scored in the next 14 overs as I, and I suspect myriad others watched anxiously on. Hildreth did clip one boundary beautifully off his legs but also survived a particularly enthusiastic leg before wicket appeal from Higgins when the ball cut in sharply and hit his pad. Abell was under pressure too, a thick edge off the left arm Mathew Taylor flying wide of third slip to the covers store for four. Two balls later the pressure bore fruit when Abell shouldered arms to a ball angled across him from Taylor. The ball cut back off the pitch, struck the pad and Abell departed for 26. Somerset were 69 for 3 and the momentum created by the astonishing victory at Lord’s was at risk.

It began to dissipate when Hildreth, having cut Dominic Goodman neatly for four, clipped Taylor just behind square only for the ball to be brilliantly caught one handed by Tom Lace fielding at square leg. After the Banton-Abell partnership had begun to drive up Somerset hope, 80 for 4 worked equally effectively to fuel the anxiety which is rarely far away when Somerset are batting. Somerset’s immediate future, and their supporters’ nerves were now in the hands of Bartlett and Davies. They took Somerset to lunch on 94 for 4, Davies driving Graeme van Buuren’s first two balls of slow left arm square through the off side to the Somerset Stand. The four wickets, and the constant pressure from the bowling, made for an uneasy lunch.

After lunch, two boundaries from Bartlett apart, the bowlers maintained their threat as the ball continued to move in the air and off the pitch. Then, when Bartlett jabbed down urgently on a ball from Higgins which cut into him, he was leg before wicket for 22, the fourth Somerset batsmen of five to be out for between 17 and 29 to balls that defeated them through movement. Somerset were 110 for 5 with Craig Overton walking to the wicket. It was a crucial point in the innings. 110 for 5, with Davies on 13, was perhaps not quite so bad a score as it looked when the conditions were taken into account. But it would need some bolstering if the Somerset bowlers were to have enough runs to apply sustained pressure. The Somerset heart missed a beat, and Gloucestershire hearts must have raced, when Higgins let forth a tremendous appeal as his first ball to Overton crashed into the pads. The umpire remained unmoved, and as the second or so it took for the decision to become clear dragged interminably, this Somerset supporter wondered who it was that first suggested watching cricket was a restful experience. Beyond doubt it was not someone who supported Somerset.

Sometimes an innings can hinge on a moment. Perhaps Somerset’s hinged on that declined appeal, for after it the feel and shape of the innings changed. After the first 110 runs had come in 40 overs for 5 wickets, the next 116 came in 30 overs in one partnership. A cricket ball is softer in its second 40 overs than it is in its first 40 and possibly that had something to do with the change. What is certain is that Davies and Overton had something to do with it. Whatever switch it was that was flicked, batting suddenly looked easier. Davies began by steering Payne neatly behind square for four to where the old Stragglers used to be. It was a stroke which would have given much relief to any ghosts from days gone by who still watch from there, and Somerset were in need of relief.

From there the relief began to arrive at the gallop. Davies drove Payne square into the off side for four with such grace the bowling suddenly looked less threatening. When Taylor dropped short, he pulled almost as smoothly and cleared the Somerset Stand boundary. The next ball, wide of off stump, was cut perfectly square for four. Two balls later Overton drove Scott to the Lord Ian Botham Stand, and in the next over bent his knees to cut Taylor backward of square to the Somerset Stand. As that ball crossed the rope, I calculated that the pair had added 38 runs in six overs and the relief was no longer limited to the ghosts from the old Stragglers. It must have been felt in front of screens across Somerset and beyond.

As the partnership progressed, my memory recalls, and my notes speak, of Davies repeatedly driving square and cutting. The Somerset live stream showed a wagon wheel graphic as Davies’ bat fed off the bowling. It portrayed almost all of his runs being scored in an arc between backward point and cover. It was as if the classical down-the-ground arc had slipped 90 degrees on its axis. Davies’ strokes within that off side arc are every bit as memorable as anything driven through the more traditional arc. They deliver such power with such finesse they appear to defy Newton’s third law, for it seems beyond understanding that such power can be delivered with such apparent lack of force.

Overton meanwhile, employing Newton’s third law to the full, was making an impact of his own and began to close the gap between his score and Davies’. His boundaries tended to come in the arc between the bowler’s stumps and square leg with the pull, square and in front of square, and the on drive to the fore. One drive, close to the stumps, caused Davies to jump to let it through to the Lord Ian Botham Stand. Contrasting styles, but together they more than doubled the Somerset score in a partnership played out at all but four an over. It was effective and it was Somerset down the decades to the core. When Overton attempted a glance off Taylor and four leg byes to a benchless Gimblett’s Hill resulted, I found myself shouting, “Come on! Come on!” in encouragement and then applauding as he clipped Taylor off his legs for four more. Had there been a crowd I would not have been the only one roaring encouragement. Somerset had gone off for lunch at 94 for 4. They went off for tea at 222 for 5. In the conditions, whether through the application of Newton’s third law or in defiance of it, Davies and Overton had made a world of difference.

Tea acted as another hinge in the game as Somerset managed only four runs in the first five overs afterwards and lost Overton caught at slip off Higgins at the end of the fifth. Gregory joined Davies and the free-flowing nature of the Davies-Overton partnership was replaced with a more utilitarian affair conducted mainly in singles. When Gregory finally drove Payne through the on side for four he immediately followed it with an attempt at a flowing off drive but only succeeded in edging the ball to Scott at backward point. The pair had though added 29 and taken Somerset past their second bonus point. When Davies finally reached for a ball from Payne and dragged it onto his stumps he had made 87 priceless runs. He would have been applauded from wicket to picket, and a score of 264 for 8 was beginning to give the impression of some substance given the conditions.

Marchant de Lange is new to Somerset and has a reputation for testing Newton’s law to the limit with powerful hitting at the end of an innings. He had put on a demonstration at Lord’s which, with Jack Leach, and for the final wicket, had all but doubled Somerset’s first innings score. He swung the bat again here. And connected again, this time supported by a not inactive Josh Davey. De Lange began by swinging through mid-off and finding the deep midwicket boundary. Higgins was deposited back over his head to the Trescothick Stand for four. Payne was deposited beyond the Somerset Stand boundary for six. An attempt at a lofted straight drive off Higgins flew to the third man boundary. Off the next delivery de Lange reached and cut the ball hard through backward point. He became more circumspect as Somerset’s third bonus point approached, but he celebrated its achievement by lifting Taylor into the upper reaches of the Somerset Stand as some of the residents from the flats looked on, some of only a select few live spectators anywhere in the country.

De Lange with 37 and Davey with 17 took Somerset to their final 312, a score which seemed above par given the conditions. Gloucestershire, however, were not unduly troubled in the three overs they had to face from Gregory and Overton under lights as the evening produced more familiar equinoctial conditions. Somerset’s 312 notwithstanding, those three overs will have given Somerset supporters pause for thought, and Gloucestershire ones cause for hope.

Close. Somerset 312 (S.M. Davies 87, C. Overton 54, M.D. Taylor 3-67, R.F. Higgins 3-71, D.A. Payne 3-72). Gloucestershire 13 for 0. Gloucestershire trail by 299 runs with ten first innings wickets standing.