Car crash – Somerset v Gloucestershire – County Championship 2021 – Taunton – Final day

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.

Overnight. Somerset 312 and 149. Gloucestershire 309 and 28 for 1. Gloucestershire need 125 more runs to win with nine wickets standing.

Final day. 18th April – Car crash

The final day, if you were a Somerset supporter, was like being involved in a car crash. It all happened in slow motion. The sort of car crash where the outcome is inevitable, it just seems to take an awfully long time to get to the crunch. When I finally got to bed after finishing my third day report I could see no realistic prospect of a Somerset victory. When my alarm began sounding as part of the dream I was in, I awoke up to find things looked no different. I was still in the midst of a Somerset cricketing nightmare.

The final day began with the match in the sort of situation in which, in times when crowds could attend, two or three hundred might turn up. Mainly diehard attenders, or those who have seen the first three days and want to see the match through. Perhaps also a few who just fancy a stress-free couple of hours watching cricket in the sun, and of course those with a final day report to write. And so, as the eleventh hour chimed, I took my seat in front of my laptop and prepared to take notes on the final rites. Of course, nothing is certain in cricket, but as the umpires emerged it did not have the feel of a day where a cricketing miracle might occur, for Somerset had been completely outplayed by Gloucestershire on that devastating third day.

When, with complete confidence, James Bracey turned the second ball of the morning, from Lewis Gregory bowling from the Trescothick Pavilion End, to the Somerset Stand boundary, even the faint hopes of an unlikely victory that supporters cling onto in these situations felt fanciful. When Bracey faced Gregory’s next over, the result removed any remaining doubts about the outcome from my mind. Twice, Gregory was driven through the off side to the boundary. Once square and along the ground to the area next to the Caddick Pavilion where wandering spectators are inclined to stop and chat as they watch the cricket. Then, if with the ball a litle too long in the air, just backward of square to the side of where those spectators would have stood. They might have exchanged glances and said, “This one is gone,” for Gloucestershire were already 40 for 1 with just 112 more needed.

At the other end the right-handed Brathwaite was playing with a discipline which, alongside Bracey’s decisive left-handed stroke play, left little doubt about Gloucestershire’s determination to retain the control of a match which they had established by lunch on the third day. Unbroken sunshine provided ideal batting conditions and offered Somerset’s bowlers no more hope of forcing a breakthrough than did Gloucestershire’s batsmen. Leach was on at the River End by the 20th over and immediately conceded six runs, including a sizzling boundary to Brathwaite cut through backward point to the Ondaatje Stand. Brathwaite, beginning to unfurl his attacking strokes, clipped the first ball of Leach’s next over through midwicket to the Somerset Stand. By the time he again cut Leach to the Ondaatje boundary, Gloucestershire were over halfway to their target and Somerset were sliding inexorably towards defeat.

Briefly, a fanciful Somerset hope flickered. In Leach’s next over Bracey faltered. An inside edge squeezed past the stumps and ran down to the Trescothick Pavilion boundary. Before the over was out he had attempted a sweep and failed to connect. Off the first ball of the next over Brathwaite’s discipline lapsed against de Lange. He attempted to cut a quick ball which pitched a foot and a half outside off stump and cut back. The result was a sharp deflection from an under edge which removed his middle stump. Gloucestershire were 89 for 2, but the runs required on the scoreboard read just 64.

If that did not bring perspective enough, Bracey put the situation into sharp relief by immediately launching an assault on Leach with a reverse sweep and a sweep, the first being struck firmly along the ground well wide of Gregory at slip. De Lange still managed to stem the flow of runs at the other end, conceding only two an over with a quick, accurate spell. But a spinner needs at least some weight of runs behind him to build pressure unless the pitch is demonstrating significant turn, and here the inadequate weight of runs in Somerset’s lead was fast falling away. After Leach’s next over, in which Bracey swept, drove and reverse swept for ten runs, Gloucestershire needed just 42 more.

Somerset brought Overton back and Leach bowled to the end, but the outcome was beyond doubt. As the inevitable became manifest, and the overs slipped by in a blur, Bracey illustrated his dominance with a sweep off Leach to the Legends Sq end of the Somerset Stand and seven were needed. The winning runs, appropriately, came when Bracey drove a Leach full toss, again to the Somerset Stand. Bracey ended on 83. That, when added to his first innings 118, which was the solid core of Gloucestershire’s first innings when it was under its greatest pressure, is testament to the power of youthful promise when it is allied to the sort discipline which Bracey demonstrated throughout this match. It should perhaps be recorded too, that in addition to his 201 runs batting at number three, he kept wicket throughout.

As to Somerset, the great heights reached by their young players in the Bob Willis Trophy in 2020 are now but a memory. After two matches, they sit fourth out of six teams in the Championship Group 2 table. When the eight-point pitch penalty carried over from 2020 is taken into account they are already 27 points behind Gloucestershire who are in second place and 29 behind Hampshire in first. That is already a significant gap in a ten-match league where draws count for half as much as a win in points terms. It needs also to be born in mind that Middlesex, the team Somerset beat in the first round of matches, are at the bottom of the table.

There is of course still time to mount a concerted challenge. There are eight matches still to be played, and Somerset’s young batsmen showed in last year’s Bob Willis Trophy that they have considerable talent, and the capacity to win. They may need time to bed that down, and as in 2017 when the current crop of bowlers were gelling as a unit, supporters may need to be patient awhile yet. However, if challenge there is to be this year, there is little leeway to allow for more car crashes, and the questions which Gloucestershire have posed in this match will have to be answered soon.

Result. Somerset 312 (S.M. Davies 87, C. Overton 54, M.D. Taylor 3-67, R.F. Higgins 3-71, D.A. Payne 3-72) and 149 (J.C. Hildreth 64, R.F. Higgins 4-29). Gloucestershire 309 (J.R. Bracey 118, M.D. Taylor 56, C.D.J. Dent 50, M. de Lange 4-63, C. Overton 3-63) and 156 for 2 (J.R. Bracey 83*). Gloucestershire won by eight wickets. Gloucestershire 22 points. Somerset 6 points.