Someone Always Stands Up – Somerset v Middlesex – County Championship 2021 – Taunton – Day 4

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 Middlesex. 29th and 30th April, and 1st and 2nd May 2021. Taunton.

Somerset. T.A. Lammonby, T. Banton, T.B. Abell (c), J.C. Hildreth, G.A. Bartlett, S.M. Davies (w), L.P Goldsworthy, C. Overton, L. Gregory/J.A.Brooks*, J.H. Davey, M.J. Leach.

*J.A. Brooks was substituted for L. Gregory under the ECB COVID-19 Protocol from the third day.

Middlesex. M.D.E. Holden, S.D. Robson, N.R.T. Gubbins, P.S.P. Handscomb (c), R.G. White, J.A. Simpson (w), M.K. Andersson, L.B.K. Hollman, T.J. Murtagh. S.T. Finn, T.G. Helm.

Overnight. Middlesex 357 and 117. Somerset 268 and 104 for 4. Somerset need another 103 runs to win with six wickets standing.

Final day. 2nd May – Someone always stands up

Someone always stands up, or so they say about successful sports teams under pressure. In this match, for Somerset, virtually everyone stood up at different times, the more so the more critical to the outcome the situation became. Almost as many stood up for Middlesex across the match. The difference was that those standing up for Somerset did not wilt when the pressure on them was at it greatest. In an evenly balanced match, it is the team that best applies and absorbs pressure that wins. On a final morning of the most intense pressure and tension it was Somerset, in the form of the old master Steven Davies and the young debutant apprentice, Lewis Goldsworthy, who stood firm. Although it has to be said, the apprentice seemed to have as much to teach as to learn about dealing with pressure, and a head for it as old as any.

With the match balanced on the sharpest of knife edges, Middlesex began with their main hope, Tim Murtagh, and Tom Helm after George Bartlett had safely dealt with the remaining ball of Stephen Finn’s unfinished over from the night before. Batsmen not out overnight, particularly those with runs already on the board, have a tendency to be out early the next morning. At least that is what my anecdotal memory tells me, or perhaps it remembers the dismissals more easily than those occasions when a batsman built on his overnight score. There was also the issue in this match of batsmen who made a start mainly being dismissed between 30 and 50. Thus far eight of the eleven batsmen to reach 30 had been out before they reached 50. Abell began the final day on 43.

It was therefore a tense start, in my mind at least. Abell began well enough, turning Murtagh to fine leg for two. In the next over Bartlett settled the Somerset nerves a little more with a fine example of the cover drive to Legends Square off Helm. He thereby performed the service of awakening the old Stragglers ghosts early, although I doubt they would have complained of being awoken at any time by such a stroke. The contest really began to take hold in the next over when Abell turned Murtagh back towards those ghosts for two and, two balls later, was struck on the pad prompting Murtagh and the Middlesex players to let forth a mighty appeal. Abell, still short of 50, survived but the wait for the umpire’s finger not to be raised seemed interminable. When so much might depend on a decision time becomes elongated as fear or hope, depending on which side the watcher supports, grips and twists the nerve ends that govern the pit of the stomach.

When Bartlett, with one of his characteristic one-legged pulls, dispatched a ball from Helm square to the dugouts outside the Caddick Pavilion, Somerset had reached 116 for 4 and the runs required had fallen to 91 from the 103 at the start of the day. Just four overs had passed but it seemed like one of the ages of man. Murtagh’s next over to Abell tightened tension’s screw another half turn. Abell offered no stroke as he thrust his pad down the pitch to the first ball and was struck on the thigh to another huge appeal. Two balls later he played and missed at a ball which cut away off the seam. The final ball of the over he edged just short and wide of third slip. 91 runs suddenly felt an uncomfortably long way off, to the Somerset supporter at least.

Much further off when, in Murtagh’s next over, Abell again came forward again, the ball cut in and struck the pad. This time the umpire, as used to be said, answered the appeal in the affirmative. Abell had made 49, the ninth batsman to pass 30 and fail to reach 50. Somerset were 118 for 5 and still needed 89. When, in Murtagh’s next over, Bartlett failed in an attempt to drive into the on side, he was stuck on the pad and Somerset were 123 for 6. 84 were still needed with just four wickets left and Murtagh looking more confident by the ball. When the umpire raised his finger it felt like an instruction of dismissal to Somerset’s chances, and a notice to Middlesex that they might take theirs, for the ball was clearly doing the bowlers’ bidding.

Somerset’s immediate hopes lay with the highly experienced Steven Davies and Lewis Goldsworthy to whom first-class cricket was a new world. Middlesex’s lay with their pace bowlers and with Tim Murtagh in particular, for he brought the constant threat of wickets, of which not many were now needed, and the prospect of restricting Somerset’s runs, of which Middlesex would have liked more to defend. Murtagh had taken the two wickets already to fall, but it had cost him five overs from the stock a pace bowler can reasonably bowl in a spell.

Davies and Goldsworthy set out to establish a partnership and perhaps, as the phrase goes, to see off Murtagh’s opening spell, although they did not eschew the opportunity to score if it presented itself. Goldsworthy, 20 years old, batted as if dealing with the most intense of pressure was his second nature. He played Helm with apparent calm, carefully defending for the most part but once taking two from an off drive and once driving through the covers to the Somerset Stand for four. Davies meanwhile played Murtagh with the calm he always exudes, dealing with swing and the occasional movement off the seam.

Murtagh’s opening spell lasted eight overs and Helm’s seven before they were replaced by Andersson and Finn. It was the first relief for Somerset supporters and perhaps the first doubt for Middlesex ones for Goldsworthy and Davies were still holding the tension for Somerset. And hold the tension they continued to do as the foundations for a partnership were built. It is at times such as this when there is a crowd, that faces become taut with anxiety, a silence you can hear drops across the ground, and no-one dares move for fear of being the one to provoke a wicket or a sudden onslaught of runs, depending on which team each sufferer supports.

Eleven overs after the fall of Bartlett just 22 runs had been added to the Somerset total which felt as if it was growing at the pace of an oak. If any of the online watchers had moved from their chair during that time, I would be very surprised. Somerset had reached 145 for 6, Goldsworthy an interminable eight and Davies, aided by a trademark guide though backward point for four, 13. Somerset now needed 62 but, as the incoming text said, “Tense, or what?” Looking back from the safety of the day after, 62 with four wickets seems perfectly possible, if far from certain. At the time, senses paralysed by hope, it still seemed like the north face of the Eiger to this Somerset watcher.

In 2018, in the Championship against Nottinghamshire match at Taunton, Somerset found themselves in a similar position to the one they were now in while facing a target of 248. They were six wickets down, 85 short and edging their way endlessly up what had seemed, as here, a mountain. Steven Davies was at the wicket then as now. Suddenly, out of that clamping tension of three years ago, he struck three boundaries in an over with the certainty of an ancient prophet, ending with the most delicate of late cuts to the Colin Atkinson Pavilion. The timing of that sudden assault on the target was as perfectly judged as the timing of the strokes themselves. The tension was instantly dissolved, and Somerset never looked back.

Here, with those 62 runs needed, Davies struck again with timing just as exquisite as that of 2018. The bowler targeted was Andersson, the least threatening of the Middlesex attack. The stroke of choice this time the square drive, two in an over, one a little forward of the other, both played with Davies’ usual easy authority to the long Somerset Stand boundary. It reduced the target from 62 to 54. Eight runs only, but the apparent ease of the strokes and the command of their author instantly shifted the mood towards Somerset’s cause. Tension remained in the Somerset mind because wickets can fall at any time, but now it was the tension of anticipation rather than that of anxiety. For Middlesex followers those two strokes must have further accelerated the diminishing of hope that a shrinking target engenders.

Davies now had 21 with Goldsworthy holding firm on eight, two scores which underline the intensity of the first hour and a half of play and of two Somerset players overcoming the pressure to stand up for their team. As to the seemingly endless tension for the Somerset watcher, Davies’ two boundaries had shifted the mood. Now Goldsworthy set it in full flow Somerset’s way with seven runs in an over from Finn including a pull to the Caddick Pavilion dugouts which the incoming text called, “The most brutal shot I have seen this season.” In Finn’s next over Goldsworthy drove hard at Finn and a thick edge carried the ball through backward point for four more. Such runs when a target is fast shrinking seem to hurt the fielding side even more than ones that come off the middle. With that stroke the runs required fell to 38, another ten digit down, and the tension eased again.

That fast-reducing target was reflected on the field when Middlesex turned to Murtagh. It had been only 40 minutes since he had ended an eight-over spell, but Middlesex needed wickets if they were to change the direction of the game. But wickets have to be taken and Murtagh looked tired as he turned at the top if his run up. Still he moved the ball, but the edge and threat of his first spell was absent. Before his first over was out Goldsworthy brought up the fifty partnership with a steer through backward point to the Ondaatje boundary.  

In his next over Murtagh, fighting still, twice beat Goldsworthy with the keeper standing up, but the task was now all but beyond Middlesex. Then the remaining overs became almost academic when Davies, with his usual smoothness of touch, drove Andersson through the covers to the Caddick Pavilion boundary and glanced him to the Lord Ian Botham Stand. With a guided hook, which I doubt was audible from beyond the boundary, he retained the strike. A cover drive for three off Murtagh towards the Somerset Stand took the runs required below 20 and, with cricket’s unique compliance with the niceties, the cricketers off for lunch. Further niceties required that a few spots of rain delayed the restart but a text from someone who lives near the ground relieved any anxiety with a report that the rain had soon stopped.

Middlesex restarted with Hollman’s leg breaks and Murtagh who bowled over a third of the overs in the innings. Any echoes of the intense tension of the morning were soon silenced as Goldsworthy’s drove Somerset home. A straight drive off Murtagh had me shouting, “Yes!” as much for the certainty with which the young man was playing as for the runs the stroke brought. A full toss from Hollman was driven through the off side to where Legend’s Square meets Gimblett’s Hill thereby reminding the old Stragglers ghosts that here was a player who might make an impact on Somerset cricket for some time to come. Whether he achieves that will become clear in the fullness of time. For now, he signed off a truly impressive debut by driving the winning runs through the covers for four to the Somerset Stand.

As the players began to leave the field Umpire Gould handed Lewis Goldsworthy a stump. “Goldsworthy deserves that stump,” said the incoming text. Indeed. And, for the second time this season, Somerset, by sheer dint of will, from their bowlers in the Middlesex second innings and from their batsmen in their own second innings, had turned a match on its head. As for their supporters shredded nerve ends, the next match awaits …

Result. Middlesex 357 (R.G. White 92, N.R.T. Gubbins 75, M.D.E. Holden 49, J.H. Davey 3-33, C. Overton 3-60) and 117 (C. Overton 5-34, J.H. Davey 3-28). Somerset 268 (G.A. Bartlett 55, S.T. Finn 5-77, T.J. Murtagh 3-49) and 209 for 6 (T.B. Abell 49, S.M. Davies 44*, J.C. Hildreth 43, T.J. Murtagh 4-53). Somerset won by 4 wickets. Somerset 21 points. Middlesex 7 points.

N.B. L.P. Goldsworthy appears on neither scorecard. However, it should perhaps be noted that on debut at the age of 20 he scored 39 in a crucial partnership of 90 with T.B. Abell in Somerset’s first innings, and 41 not out in the second innings in which he participated in an unbroken partnership of 86 with S.M. Davies which took Somerset from 123 for 6 to victory at 209 for 6.

The final day report on the County Championship match against Nottinghamshire regerred to in this report canbe found via this link:

https://farmerwhite.co.uk/2018/06/12/in-pursuit-of-the-dream/