The Balance Shifts Somerset’s Way – Leicestershire v Somerset – County Championship 2021 – Day 2

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)/R.K. Patel*, L.J. Hill, H.J. Swindells (w), B.W.M. Mike, C.F. Parkinson, C.J.C. Wright, D. Klein, G.T. Griffiths.

*R.K. Patel replaced C. Ackermann under the ECB concussion regulations from the second day.

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.

Overnight. Leicestershire 233. Somerset 53 for 3. Somerset trail by 180 runs.

Second day 23rd April – The balance shifts Somerset’s way

This has been a good game of cricket played on a good cricket wicket. There is help in the pitch for the bowlers and the batsman who applies himself can find runs in it. At the end of the first day the game was in the balance, perhaps with Leicestershire slightly ahead, perhaps not. At the end of the second, Somerset have moved ahead thanks to a succession of individual innings, three key partnerships, which between them added 245 of Somerset’s 318 runs, and an exceptional spell from Craig Overton at the beginning of Leicestershire’s second innings. For Leicestershire, Callum Parkinson bowled his slow left arm well enough, unlucky though he was as two catches went down, to suggest he could make life difficult for Somerset in their second innings if Leicestershire could just set a target with some challenge in it. There was some good fortune too, particularly for Tom Abell who was dropped once and survived the closest of run out decisions. Oh, for the day of the opening of the gates.

As to the game as seen through the laptop screen, the morning session had some elements of the surreal about it. Twice, five runs were scored when attempts to hit the stumps, one successful, resulted in the ball crossing the far boundary. The wicket keeper was to be seen diving full length one way and then the other as the ball exhibited excessive movement after it had passed the bat, sometimes assisted by an erring line. That had something to do with the 14 byes in the Somerset innings. Twice, Swindells, behind the stumps, failed to take a catch off Parkinson’s slow left arm, the second time diverting the ball into the head of Ackermann at slip, felling him in the process. As a consequence, Ackermann will take no further part in the match due to ECB concussion regulations. Appeals and no balls proliferated too. And through it all Somerset made steady progress.

Somerset began the morning with Abell and Leach, who once again demonstrated his worth as a lower order batsman and nightwatchman. Wright and Klein opened with the ball for Leicestershire and immediately obtained movement which troubled the batsmen. Klein once emitted a huge appeal for leg before against Leach. As I feared his finger would point to the heavens the umpire remained stoically unmoved by the pleas of the Leicestershire players in a way in which only an umpire can. With the score on 67 for 3 Abell played Wright into the on side and set off for what became an increasingly desperate single. As his outstretched bat, at the end of a full-length dive, scrabbled for the crease the ball appeared from the side of the screen and shattered the stumps. The incident was replayed several times on the live stream and each time I tried to decide which side of the crease the bat was when the ball hit the stumps. After perhaps half a dozen or so viewings I was still undecided, although edging towards the bat being just short of its ground. Half a dozen viewings I concluded was in benefit of doubt land, for it was desperately close. The four overthrows which resulted must have rubbed salt into Leicestershire’s wound.

Abell’s and Leach’s progress came mainly in ones and twos helped, it has to be said, by the number of extras, although a classical on drive for four from Abell stuck in the memory. Leach survived for an hour and a quarter, and took his score to 26, during which time he and Abell added 49 to Somerset’s overnight score. Then, when Mike angled a ball across him he tried to drive and edged onto his stumps. At 102 for 4, with Bartlett walking to the wicket, the game was still as balanced as that horizontal seesaw of the first day had been at the close. Leicestershire’s prospects of pushing Somerset back in the aftermath of Leach’s wicket suffered a severe blow as those two dropped catches off Parkinson, who was bowling a particularly troubling spell, both went down between the departure of Leach and lunch.

Abell and Bartlett took full advantage. Abell twice drove off the back foot through the covers for four, pulled a short ball square for another and then cut Parkinson hard for four in the over before lunch. Three times Bartlett drove to the boundary through the off side. There were edges too, from both batsmen, as the movement in the air and off the seam continued to threaten. As the players left the field, Somerset’s score had reached 157 for 4. Abell had 64, Bartlett 25 and the deficit had been reduced to 76. The match was tipping Somerset’s way, and I rested more easily over lunch than I had overnight.

In the approach to lunch, Abell and Bartlett had added 55 runs in 12 overs. In the 12 overs after lunch they added 57. Abell drove and cut Parkinson to the boundary. Bartlett drove Klein off the back foot through the covers, swept Parkinson to long leg and steered Mike through backward point, all for four. Singles and extras kept the score moving between the boundaries. Edges and thwarted leg before wicket appeals frustrated the Leicestershire bowlers, and all the while Somerset were increasing their ascendancy in the match. Parkinson though was bowling well enough and extracting enough turn to raise the question of what size lead Somerset might need to ensure he did not put them under pressure in their second innings. Then, with Abell approaching his century, Mike swung a full ball away from the bat more than had been the norm and Abell edged it low to Harris at second slip. This time there was no mistake. Abell had 88 and Somerset were 214 for 5, just 19 runs behind Leicestershire.

When, two overs later, Bartlett pulled Mike to Dearden at square leg and departed for 48 Somerset were 219 for 6, still 14 adrift. Still with an edge in the match but needing runs from the lower order as insurance against Parkinson in the fourth innings. In a classic Steven Davies innings runs are scored quietly, without fuss or fanfare. He plays with a style that has spectators speaking unequivocally of class. The ball is inclined to leave his bat, especially when it is en route to the boundary, as if the bat were sheathed in velvet. It travels none the less quickly for that. He played just such an innings here, largely in partnership with Overton.

Overton got the partnership off to a typically Overtonian start when he drove Mike forcefully through the covers for four before the over in which he had come to the wicket was out. When Davies turned Griffiths to fine leg for four it was as if that normally workaday stroke had been crafted anew by an artist. A drive through midwicket off Klein looked as if it had insufficient power to leave the square and yet it raced to the boundary. When Overton drove Griffiths through the onside it was with a smoothness that suggested some of the Davis magic had rubbed off on him. Klein raised his arms in frustration at the ease with which Davies steered a ball past the slips to the third man boundary. By such methods did Davies and Overton add 70 glorious runs in just over the hour before the increasingly effective Parkinson drifted a ball into Overton. It turned away just enough for him to edge the ball past the keeper’s gloves and into the hands of Patel in Ackermann’s place at slip. Somerset were 289 for 7, a lead of 56, with Overton making 24 crucial runs.

It takes two teams to make a good cricket match and now Leicestershire struck back. Gregory misread Parkinson’s flight and was returning to the Pavilion, leg before wicket, before Somerset’s score reached 300. Then, after a brief partnership with Josh Davey, Davies’ innings of 59 ended when he pulled Griffiths as neatly as ever, but to Harris at square leg. One run later de Lange was bowled, seemingly through his legs, by a perfectly directed outswinger from Wright which straightened onto the stumps. Somerset had reached 318, a lead of 85. Less than they might have hoped for at 289 for 6, but a distinct advance on the 53 for 3 with which they started the day. The question was: would it be enough to counter having to bat last on this wicket?

It seemed so when the Leicestershire second innings faltered badly at 2 for 2 and then 21 for 3 as Overton bowled the spell of the match thus far. The ball with which he removed the left-handed Dearden from around the wicket reared up at the batsman who fended it to a diving Abell at third slip. Davey had already removed Azad with a beautifully angled-in ball which threatened the off stump, demanded that it be played, perhaps moved away a shade off the seam, took the edge of the bat and flew straight into the, as always, perfectly positioned gloves of Davies. Against the left-handed Harris, Overton angled the ball in as he had against Dearden, pitched it shorter, Harris hooked, the exceptional bounce generated by Overton found the top edge and the ball looped to Lammonby at square leg. Leicestershire were still 62 runs behind and facing defeat.

Rishi Patel is 22 with a first-class batting average of 17 from a handful of matches. You would not have known it from the assurance with which, alongside Lewis Hill who had provided the backbone of Leicestershire’s first innings, he steered Leicestershire through to the close. He had such a presence at the crease I only became aware of his inexperience by checking his statistics. A cut through backward point off Gregory was played with such bat speed and timing it might have outpaced an eye watching from the stands as it raced to the backward point boundary. In Gregory’s next over he drove through the off side with equal panache and with the same result. Gregory’s next ball was again driven through the off side for four as Patel’s precision matched his style. Gregory has not always been at his best in this match, but given the match situation those were strokes which spoke of a batsman with nerve and a batsman to watch.

Leicestershire ended the day still 37 runs adrift and in need of at least one major partnership to put Somerset under pressure in their second innings. Their supporters will hope for much from these two batsmen, for if any sort of lead can be established with wickets in hand the pressure will shift onto Somerset. Somerset supporters will hope for more from the, at times, devastating Overton, and from the in-form Davey and de Lange. From Leach too if needs be, although he has not quite found his mark in this match thus far. All in all, Somerset should have enough in hand to win this match, but this is cricket, and in cricket, years of hard experience say nothing should be taken for granted.

Close. Leicestershire 233 and 48 for 3. Somerset 318 (T.B. Abell 88, S.M. Davies 59, G.A. Bartlett 48, B.W.M. Mike 3-50). Leicestershire trail by 37 runs with seven second innings wickets standing.