A Seesaw of a Day – Leicestershire v Somerset – County Championship 2021 – Grace Road – 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 Leicestershire 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. Leicestershire v Somerset. 22nd, 23rd, 24th and 25th April 2021. Grace Road.

Leicestershire. M.S. Harris, M.H. Azad, H.E. Dearden, C. Ackermann (c), L.J. Hill, H.J. Swindells (w), B.W.M. Mike, C.F. Parkinson, C.J.C. Wright, D. Klein, G.T. Griffiths.

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.

Toss. Leicestershire. Elected to bat.

First day. 22nd April – A seesaw of a day

As far as could be told through the lens of the live stream camera at the start of play it had looked a good toss to win. There was not a cloud in the sky, at least in that part of the sky which the camera revealed above the houses stretching along the edge of the ground. Neither, from the distant view offered by the camera, could I see any sign of grass on the pitch. It looked white when compared to the deep green of the two strips on either side of it, but had more of a brown hue when the camera produced a closer view.

The heart, at least this Somerset one, sank therefore when Abell lost the toss. If Somerset are to build a challenge for a place in Division One of the second phase of this competition they may need to win this match, for Hampshire and Gloucestershire have already opened up a significant gap at the top of the Group 2 table. By the end of the day there was still not a cloud in the sky in Leicestershire, or in Somerset for that matter. The perceived advantage of batting first however, had faded in the face of 13 wickets, the fall of which was aided by movement in the air and off the seam.

Leicestershire started brightly enough as Hassan Azad and Marcus Harris negotiated the opening overs from Overton and Davey, although both bowlers caused the batsmen more trouble with movement than the early score suggested. When Azad steered Overton safely over the slips for four and Harris drove Davey through the covers for four more it seemed a long day in the field beckoned for Somerset. When Harris edged Gregory short of slip at one end and Azad edged Overton short of and past a diving slip fielder for four at the other, I edged a little forward in my armchair. Only a little, because long decades of cricket watching teach the seasoned supporter that such narrow escapes for batsmen can be both harbingers of wickets to come or mirages of hope which fade with the passing overs. Somerset supporters would have been glued to their screens hoping for the one, Leicestershire ones for the other. And so, the thoughts of rival supporters sit at opposite ends of an emotional seesaw.

At 39 for 0 after 15 overs Leicestershire hopes might have been a little higher than Somerset ones. When lunch was taken at 68 for four after 29 overs, the seesaw of emotions would have had Somerset supporters riding high in relief or hope, depending on whether they were of the glass half empty or glass half full variety. Leicestershire supporters, their end of the seesaw sinking, might have been awaiting the resumption of play with some anxiety, for the Somerset bowlers had shown some skill in using the movement in the air and off the pitch as they broke through the defences of the Leicestershire batsmen during the second half of the morning.

That shift in fortunes began when the left-handed Harris, perhaps trying to break the tight lines of the Somerset attack, had attempted to drive Gregory through the covers. The ball was perhaps a little wide for the stroke, he overstretched and edged the ball into his stumps. Now Azad, Leicestershire’s second left-handed opener, pushed back at Somerset. A square drive, when Gregory overpitched, raced to the boundary. In his next over Gregory struck back at Leicestershire with a nicely directed inswinger. It hit the pad of Harry Dearden, another left-hander, and the umpire raised his finger. Leicestershire were 56 for 2. I breathed an audible sigh of relief, for Leicestershire had been building an ominous base for the conditions.

Azad, now joined by Leicestershire’s captain, Colin Ackermann, continued to resist as Leicestershire inched forward at just over two runs an over. Seven overs passed before a ball reached the boundary, Azad cutting Tom Abell, Somerset’s fifth bowler of the morning, square for four. It was quiet in front of my laptop, and it would have been quiet in a populated ground in pre-coronavirus times, applause for the boundary apart, for with the loss of the second wicket there was nothing between the sides. Then, Somerset struck again. A full ball from Marchant de Lange, in a testing and quick spell, defeated a slightly late stroke from Ackermann. The ball struck the pad in front of middle and leg stumps. 68 for 3 with lunch fast approaching was beginning to look like Somerset’s morning. There was no doubt when Azad attempted to cut and edged a wide ball from a spectacularly delighted Abell into the gloves of Davies. The score 68 for four as the players left the field, with the four wickets being taken in the last 14 overs of the morning for 29 runs, the wicket of Azad bringing particular relief as he had looked capable of building a significant innings.

Lunch was barely over when a piece of pure cricketing slapstick must have had screenwatchers looking on agog. Harry Swindells was surprised and badly beaten by a sharply lifting ball from Overton. He ducked away to leg whilst apparently trying to swat the ball with a flailing bat as if it were a marauding wasp. He only manage a glancing blow. The ball flew fast towards Leach’s midriff at second slip. When the ball arrived, Leach, rather as you might an unwelcome wasp, diverted it towards James Hildreth’s head at first slip. Hildreth just managed to get a hand between it and his head from where it flew towards his ankles. Finally, his hands, following, caught it six inches above the ground. Whether the screen watchers following the two sides had collapsed in laughter, gasped in horror or cheered with joy Leicestershire were 74 for 5 and the day was moving quickly Somerset’s way.

The Somerset bowlers did not relax. Overton and de Lange continued to probe away at the batsmen in the 40 minutes or so after lunch. The last six overs of their post-lunch duet cost just five runs. Lewis Hill and Ben Mike were given no leeway and took none as they fought Leicestershire’s corner equally hard. When Gregory and Davey took up the attack the batsmen began to look more settled, runs began to flow and Hill in particular began to look for attacking opportunities. Davey was driven through extra cover while Gregory was clipped off his toes and then cut, all to the boundary. When Abell and the left-arm Lammonby took up Somerset’s cause they briefly applied the brake, with just one run coming in four overs, before Hill and Mike again began to move the score along. Mike brought up the fifty partnership when he drove Abell through extra cover for four. Leicestershire had reached 127 for 5 and their scoring rate was rising towards two and a half an over. The Leicestershire end of the seesaw was slowly rising, if still some way below the horizontal.

I received a text, “Time for Leach.” And perhaps it was. Abell soon came to the same conclusion and Leach’s first ball defeated Mike’s forward lunge and struck the pad directly in front of the stumps. It ended an innings of 26 scored in an hour and a half of determined defence. At 133 for 6 it felt, given the way the bowlers had been able to dominate, that Leicestershire had a toehold, if a flimsy one, in the game. The toes began strengthening their grip as Hill, supported by Callum Parkinson and with the ball now softening, took the attack to Somerset. Twice in an over he drove Leach to the boundary, once through point and once through backward point. Then he brought up his own fifty with a square drive for four off de Lange. With Parkinson rotating the strike, ones and twos added to the increasing momentum of the Leicestershire innings as their partnership reached four an over. If Somerset still had the edge, the Leicestershire end of the seesaw was steadily rising.

But this was a day of ebb and flow. Overton and Lammonby now applied a brake on the scoring. Two runs, and those from an edge dropped by Hildreth as it fell low to his left at first slip, came in three overs. Then, when Hill tried to turn Overton behind square, the ball struck the leading edge and looped to Banton at midwicket. Leicestershire were 180 for 7, Hill 68 ground out in over two and a half hours of determined defence and judicious attack. When Chris Wright was bowled by an exceptional ball from Lammonby which was angled across him and cut in markedly to hit the off stump, Leicestershire were 185 for 8 and Somerset’s hold on the day was tightening again as the seesaw began to lift Somerset supporters again.

Then, no sooner had the eighth wicket fallen than Leicestershire’s fortunes began to rise again. Callum Parkinson, first in a stand of 28 with Dieter Klein for the ninth wicket and then one of 20 with Gavin Griffiths for the tenth, took Leicestershire to 233 all out. Parkinson drove the miserly Lammonby square for four and Klein drove de Lange through the covers for an all-run four. Again, the call went up for Leach, and again Leach delivered to the relief of Somerset watchers. Bowling from wide of the crease he angled the ball in and bowled Klein through a defensive stroke. Twice in succession Gavin Griffiths, batting at eleven, edged Abell between slip and gully for four before Parkinson ended the over by driving him through the off side for another four. Such end of innings partnerships have their term of course and eventually Overton, heading an impressive performance from the Somerset attack, induced an edge from Griffiths to Davies with a hint of away movement.

The answer to the question of what sort of score Leicestershire’s 233 was on this pitch will, as always, become clear as the match unfolds. “That might not be too bad a score on this,” someone might easily have said had there been spectators in the ground to say it. Somerset were left with 11 overs to bat, at the end of which we were no nearer knowing the answer. Somerset went onto the attack from the first ball and plundered 53 runs before the close. It reduced the deficit to 180, but those 53 runs came at a stiff price as the Leicestershire bowlers removed three of Somerset’s top four batsmen and forced Somerset into deploying Leach as nightwatchman.

Wright’s first over gave little hint of what was to follow and cost Leicestershire 17 runs. Banton drove the first ball through the covers for four, then turned the second to leg for three. Lammonby, having failed to score in his last three innings, drove his second ball impressively past the bowler’s stumps to the boundary and edged his third wide of third slip for another four. A no ball made up the 17. Klein, bowling the second over to Banton, suffered too as an off drive and an on drive both reached the boundary. Banton had 15 from 8 balls. It is how he plays, as the saying goes, but he is yet to convince as a red ball opener, and Somerset supporters would have been simultaneously crossing their fingers and holding their breath as he attacked the bowling.

Lammonby looked less sure of himself as he faced Wright’s second over and was out to the fifth ball. It was the perfect ball for the situation, coming in, pitching on middle and straightening off the pitch. It struck Lammonby on the pad as his bat made to turn it behind square and then stopped in mid stroke. The Somerset heart sank, for Lammonby had shown enormous promise with three centuries in the Bob Willis Trophy but now looks woefully out of sorts. When Klein, bowling left arm over, swung a ball into Banton, Banton failed to adjust and was also out leg before wicket. Somerset had fallen from 25 for 0 to 25 for 2 in the space of three balls. The seesaw was fast levelling up, perhaps even edging the Leicestershire end above the horizontal.

Somerset’s two most experienced top-five batsmen were now together in Abell and Hildreth, and every Somerset supporter would have been willing them through their screens to hold on until the morning and then regroup. Hildreth rarely plays a holding game. His instinct is always to attack the ball if it offers itself up. Having survived a big leg before wicket appeal from Klein to his second ball he steered his fourth neatly wide of third slip for four. Such is Hildreth’s approach. When he is out early, he attracts criticism from some, but by such an approach has he scored 46 first-class centuries and 17,400 first-class runs at an average of 42, although that has edged back from 43 over the last two years. That average, and Somerset’s prospects in this match, suffered further damage when, with four overs remaining, he attempted to repeat the steer past third slip. Instead, it flew low to Ackermann at second and Klein had his second wicket. Somerset were 39 for 3, still nearly 200 behind. From there, some relief for Somerset supporters as Abell and Leach took Somerset to 53 for 3 at the close. Neither set of supporters will sleep easily, for there is little comfort in a match resting on a knife edge, or being suspended on a seesaw balanced precariously on the horizontal.

Close. Leicestershire 233 (L.J. Hill 68, C. Overton 3-39). Somerset 53 for 3. Somerset trail by 180 runs with seven first innings wickers standing.