Back Within Range – Leicestershire v Somerset – County Championship 2021 – Grace Road – Day 3

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  and 24th 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 and 48 for 3. Somerset 318. Leicestershire trail by 37 runs with seven second innings wickets standing.

Final day 24th April – Back within range

In the end, Leicestershire, having just edged the first day, were beaten by a Somerset side which for over a decade had played its cricket in the first division of the pre-coronavirus County Championship. The first division was, and will be again if it is revived after this season, a tough, unforgiving school. The core players of this Somerset team had their skills honed in that school. Players like Craig Overton, Tom Abell, Lewis Gregory and Jack Leach have known nothing else in four-day domestic cricket.

In such an environment the ability to apply, sustain and absorb pressure is as important in winning a cricket match as are the traditional cricketing skills of the players involved. Indeed, I often say there are four basic cricketing skills: batting, bowling, fielding and the application and absorption of pressure. It is a skill which Somerset have developed in abundance over those years in the first division. In Somerset’s Bob Willlis Trophy Group there was a tendency for the opposition to match, or even outplay, Somerset in the early sessions of a match only to subside under the relentless pressure applied by Somerset as the match progressed. The only side which did not succumb to that pressure was Essex, the 2019 County Champions, and they needed an immense innings from Alistair Cook to resist it. The ability to apply such pressure through a match was, in my view, one of the hallmarks of a successful first division side. It may have been a key factor on the second day here as Abell, Leach, Bartlett, Davies and Overton put together a series of partnerships on which this match in the end pivoted. By the end of the second day Somerset had, through absorbing and applying pressure in those partnerships, established a clear ascendancy in the game.  

On the third day the key partnership was between Leicestershire’s Hills and Swindells, and theirs were the key wickets in how the day unfolded. They came together when Patel departed to the first ball of the day. Leicestershire were still 37 runs behind on 48 for 4 and in danger of crumbling in the face of the constant threat and pressure from the Somerset attack. At 126 for 4, Leicestershire were 41 ahead, still behind in the game, but with an opportunity to build a lead which might put Somerset under some pressure in the final innings on a pitch which continued to give aid to the bowlers. “What do you think we could chase with any comfort, 175?” said the incoming text. It was an uncomfortable thought.

The day had begun, again under the clearest of skies, with Overton bowling a ball of no great pace or movement but, crucially, angled in towards or close to off stump. Patel had to play it. He essayed a drive with no more apparent force in it than Overton’s ball. The ball found the edge of his bat and described a low, almost lazy, loop to Hildreth at first slip. Hildreth bent, apparently as lazily, but in reality as coolly as can be, as the ball looped. He took the catch with so little fuss the uninitiated watcher might have concluded that is what he did with every ball. The impact on the remainder of the match however might have justified at least some fuss because Patel had played with such authority and certainty on the previous evening that this Somerset supporter had worried how far he might take Leicestershire if he became set again. His dismissal from that first ball meant that one partnership which could have given Leicestershire hope had been cut off before it had awoken from its slumbers.

Patel’s departure brought Swindells to the wicket to join Hill. Swindells had been forced into desperate evasive action and dismissed by a snorting lifter of a delivery from Overton in the first innings. In this innings, within an over of arriving at the wicket, he had been spectacularly defeated by a Gregory delivery but survived the resulting leg before wicket appeal. He survived another huge appeal from Overton in the next over but did not look long for the crease. At that point, a quick finish must have been in the thoughts of many a Somerset supporter avidly looking on through a variety of screens.

Gregory and Overton, who bowled a quick over to Swindells, continued to apply pressure. Hill responded with a resounding cut backward of point for four off Gregory and before the over was out a straight drive through Swindells legs, again for four. In Gregory’s next over Hill drove again, this time just wide of the bowler’s stumps for his third boundary of the morning. When de Lange replaced Overton, Swindells, finding his feet, drove him through the covers for three to bring the scores level. Leach replaced Gregory, but Swindells continued to build Leicestershire’s momentum, neatly cutting de Lange to the boundary. Four overthrows resulting from a wild throw brought up the fifty partnership and took Leicestershire into three figures. In a curiosity, it was the third five of the match.

Now ensued a struggle for supremacy between bat and ball with pressure coming from both sides as Somerset tried retain their ascendancy and Leicestershire tried to work their way back into the match. Twice in an over the batsmen took three off de Lange, Swindells with a nicely executed drive through the covers. Immediately de Lange responded with a sharp, short ball which caused Swindells to jump in defence. A leg bye off Leach, looking as inscrutable as he ever has whatever the fate of each ball, barely missed the stumps. Hill, more in control, uppercut a short ball from de Lange over third man for six and swept Leach to long leg for four. That stroke took the score to 126 for 4. Lead 41. Hills on 47. Swindells on 31. Partnership 78. The 175 lead floated in that text looked ever more possible, and if Leicestershire could fashion a lead much in excess of 200 it would begin to turn the pressure back onto Somerset.

As that possibility began to form in the mind, Somerset, in the form of Leach and Overton, snuffed it out. Leach bowled the next ball full, flighted it into the right-handed Hills, Hills came forward, angled the bat for the on drive, but perhaps defeated by the flight, lost his balance in trying to execute the stroke, edged the ball and fell forwards. Behind the stumps, Davies withdrew his hands so as not to impede Gregory at slip, Gregory moved smoothly to his left and took the catch almost as nonchalantly as Hildreth had taken the one to remove Patel. How long Leach had waited for the moment to deliver that peach of a ball I know not, but it came just as Hills was beginning to hint at the prospect of trying to break the tight lines of the Somerset bowlers.

It must have felt like a major blow to Leicestershire but Swindells and Mike responded by attacking the bowling. In the process, Mike clipped Davey to long leg for four, uppercut him over backward point for another and drove Leach through midwicket for four more. Three times in an over Swindells found the boundary off Davey, twice with the drive and once with the edge. But, with lunch approaching, Leach and Lammonby regained some control for Somerset by bowling three overs for one run and lunch was taken at 159 for 5, a lead of 74, 101 short of that 175.

After lunch Leach and Overton returned to apply pressure with bowling of unerring accuracy. Overton bowled with an intensity matched by the concentration and intent etched in his face. The first four overs realised one run and a huge leg before wicket appeal from Leach against Mike. The umpire stood as unmoved as the Rock of Gibraltar, as they have often done in this match. Overton, once again, was bowling with telling pace and threat. He has bowled in this match as well as I have seen him at any time in his career. In the fifth over his accuracy and pace, and the pressure which it built told. Swindells, not for the first time against Overton, jerked his head back from the line of a swiftly lifting ball but continued with his stroke. The ball found the edge and Davies took the catch chest high only a little more animatedly than Hildreth and Gregory had taken theirs. It was as if Somerset were expecting the wickets as due payment for the calm but intense application of pressure. The impact of playing all those years in the first division should not, in my view, be underestimated. The score was 162 for 6. Swindells 49.

Parkinson joined Mike, played out a maiden to Overton but was badly beaten by a ball which cut in and lifted into his belt. In Overton’s next over he drove through midwicket to the boundary. In Overton’s next he was taken on the pad by a ball which moved in and the Rock of Gibraltar stirred itself into raising a finger. Leicestershire were 168 for 7 with a lead of just 83 and Overton had five wickets in an innings in which he finished with the unanswerable figures of 18-10-25-5.  

There was some more resistance from Mike with boundaries off Leach and de Lange but Somerset’s grip on the match was now complete. Wright was defeated by Leach and caught behind, Klein lifted Leach straight to de Lange at mid on, and Mike was last out for a spirited 37 when an attempted drive off de Lange flew off the edge and was caught at deep point by Lammonby. Somerset needed 115 to win and there were no concerned texts.

Somerset’s innings began with Banton twice trying to turn balls from Wright to long leg. The first found the back of the bat and flew past the slips for four, the second went where intended for four more. Then Wright hinted at what might have just been possible for Leicestershire had they manged to double Somerset’s target. He angled a ball into Banton, pitched it on off from where it straightened, passed the bat as Banton played defensively from the crease and hit the off stump. It was an absolute beauty of a delivery and Somerset were 10 for 1.

Abell joined Lammonby who was initially given a torrid time by Klein. Klein did not bowl with the pace of Overton, but the movement he obtained when targeting Lammonby’s off stump left this Somerset watcher recalling Lammonby’s nightmare start to the season of 13 runs in five innings. Lammonby was badly beaten when a ball from Klein cut away, and reaped a fortuitous boundary when an edge flew over the slips. In Klein’s next over Lammonby was forced up onto his toes in defence and ducked into a ball that was perhaps not quite as short as he had anticipated. He looked as out of sorts as he has all season. Then Klein bowled a thigh-high full toss on Lammonby’s legs. Lammonby helped it to the long leg boundary with a touch as sure and smooth as any you will see from Steven Davies. The stroke seemed to release the pressure on Lammonby as if a tourniquet had been loosened to allow the runs of 2020 to flow again.

For a while he was still troubled by any movement on off stump, but Klein could not keep the ball away from Lammonby’s legs and he was unmercifully played into the leg side as a result. In one over Klein was clipped off Lammonby’s legs for two, hooked for four with the smoothness of stroke with which Lammonby plays the hook, and driven neatly off the legs to the square leg boundary for four more. Lammonby’s doubts, if indeed he had had doubts, flowed away with the runs and he was once more lighting up a cricket field with his stroke play. Parkinson was paddle swept to fine leg, Griffiths clipped to long leg and Parkinson cut through backward point with flowing arms releasing power and timing into the stroke. A pull off Griffiths straight of midwicket was played with a beauty to match anything he had portrayed in 2020. I would as soon watch a Lammonby pull played like that as a cover drive played by many another batsman. He finished the match with a cut and an on drive from Dearden’s off breaks, Somerset were home by nine wickets and Lammonby had taken 70 from 80 balls.

All the while Abell had stayed with Lammonby for a solid 36 of his own, taking boundaries where the ball presented itself, but this was Lammonby’s afternoon. The player that walked off the field with 70 to his name was a different one to the one who walked onto the field with 13 in five innings. The uncertainty in the face of wicket-threatening balls had gone and the mastery of the bowling of which he is capable, and which had marked the end of 2020, had found its place again. An ideal opportunity perhaps with a target of only 115, but the pressure would have been heavily on him nonetheless and he had come through it with, in the end, some aplomb. As for Somerset, they have now won two matches and lost one. There is still a long road ahead, for with eight points for a draw, gaps in the table will be harder to close, but qualification for the first division in the second phase of this competition is at least back within range.

Result. Leicestershire 233 (L.J. Hill 68, C. Overton 3-39) and 199 (H.J. Swindells 49, L.J. Hill 47, C. Overton 5-25, M.J. Leach 3-43). Somerset 318 (T.B. Abell 88, S.M. Davies 59, G.A. Bartlett 48, B.W.M. Mike 3-50) and 118 for 1 (T.A. Lammonby 70*). Somerset won by nine wickets. Somerset 22 points. Leicestershire 3 points.