Overton Leads the Way – Hampshire v Somerset – County Championship 2021 – AGEAS Bowl – 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 Hampshire 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. Hampshire v Somerset. 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th May 2021. AGEAS Bowl.

Hampshire. J.J. Weatherley, I.G. Holland, T.P. Alsop, S.A. Northeast, J.M. Vince (c), L.A. Dawson, F.S. Organ, L.D. McManus (w), K.J. Abbott, K.H.D. Barker, Mohammad Abbas.

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

Overnight. Hampshire 79. Somerset 142 for 5. Somerset lead by 63 runs with five first innings wickets standing.

Second day 7th May – Overton leads the way

Craig Overton has produced some wonderful performances for Somerset. Too many to pick one out from the rest. But, if there were picking to be done, this day would stand proud among the front line of candidates. With bat and ball Overton first drove Somerset forward, then held the line as Hampshire attempted to rally, and then broke through the Hampshire defences again just when a fighting Hampshire second innings was at its most determined. It was an exceptional performance. In the evening session, as Hampshire put up their sternest resistance of the match with the bat, Overton, ball in hand, seemed to grow larger in cricketing stature by the over. The harder Hampshire fought, the more determined he became and the more hostile and challenging his bowling became. It was a performance of which any Somerset heart could be proud. It was a performance which stood out more and more as the day progressed. But, above all, it stood out as an exemplar of the performance of the entire Somerset team.

The day began with Somerset very well placed, 63 runs ahead with five first innings wickets standing, but facing a Hampshire pace attack which, on a helpful pitch, was more than capable of making headway very quickly through the remainder of the Somerset order. Tom Abell, a battling 52 not out overnight, was at the crease with the nightwatchman, Jack Leach, Somerset to the core both. Leach began the day as it soon became apparent Somerset meant to go on. He drove the fourth ball of the morning, from Mohammad Abbas, square of the wicket for four. In Abbas’s next over he drove him past mid-on for four more. Against Abbott, off successive balls, he pulled the ball over square leg and drove through the covers, both times for four. As is so often the case with this team, this was the Somerset spirit from down the ages come to visit and it infused the rest of the innings. Fours past the slips and again through the covers followed as Leach and Abell carried the Somerset score past 180 and the lead past 100.

Abell had batted masterfully on the first day, providing the cornerstone of Somerset’s overnight score from which Leach launched his second-morning assault. While Leach was driving the Hampshire bowling back, Abell added 12 runs of his own. But even Abell’s sterling effort had its term. His off stump was knocked back by a ball from Abbott which pitched perfectly, cut in markedly and went between bat and pad. Abell had made 64 in over four hours. During that time he had faced, survived and profited against some testing pace bowling on a pitch on which Somerset’s pace bowlers had dismissed Hampshire for 79. It was an exceptional innings. A true, to use the old term, captain’s knock. Somerset were 189 for 6, 110 runs ahead. All innings would have their term on this pitch, and so Leach’s time came. He tried to cut a ball into which Barker had induced some extra bounce and was caught at slip by Dawson who plucked the ball from the air just above his head. Leach had made 34 from 47 balls. Somerset were 193 for 7, 114 ahead.

Now Overton strode to the wicket, ‘walked’ being an inadequate term to describe the intent with which he cut a swathe across the outfield. Whenever I see him coming to the wicket I breathe a sigh of relief that he is playing for and not against Somerset. He batted first with Davies, and then with Gregory, a daunting enough pair even without the prospect of Overton for any opposition to have coming in at nine and ten after the slated number eleven had already done his worst.

Overton saw out the rest of the over from Barker and then turned his attentions to Abbott and the job in hand. He clipped his first ball to fine leg for two, was beaten by movement off the seam by the second, and then lofted his third through the off side for four. It brought up Somerset’s 200 and their second batting point. A single followed off the last ball off the over before he cut the first ball of the next, from Barker again, just forward of square for another four. He was promptly beaten by Barker’s next ball and then took a single off the next. It was a somewhat rumbustious start to his innings, and predictive of what was to follow. Every innings on this pitch faced the prospect of being ended abruptly by a ball cutting one way or the other. Like every other, Overton’s innings would have its term. But, batting as he did brought the hope that while he was at the wicket the maximum reward might be realised.

Davies, as is his way as he lays the foundations for those innings of his which work with the batsmen beneath him to retrieve or advance a situation for Somerset, was slow to start. Now he began to make more headway, although of a more measured kind than Overton’s full-blooded assault on the bowling. First, he drove Abbas square on the off side for four. When Dawson replaced Abbas with his slow left arm, Davies cut or late cut him three times in an over, each time for two with the delicateness of stroke that is his trademark. As he did, so Somerset’s lead moved through the 150s. He took it into the 160s with a beautifully played turn square into the onside off Holland, this time for four. I cannot speak for the rest of Somerset’s online crowd, but such progress were Somerset making that this member of it had left the edge of his seat and was threatening to float on air, aerodynamically challenging though such an event would be.

Overton meanwhile, leading Somerset’s charge from the other end, had survived a huge leg before wicket appeal from Abbas, and pulled Barker furiously for four just as Davies had brought up their fifty partnership with a single. Barker suffered a screeching drive straight of mid-on to the boundary, and Holland did not escape as he was pulled square for four more. In the context of a ball still finding movement in the air and off the seam it was, from a Somerset perspective, gloriously outrageous stuff. Grist was added to the mill which churns supporters’ emotions through the inevitable playing and missing, appeals for caught behind and leg before wicket which such pitches and such bowling bring. There was too the inevitable ball flying off the thick edge of Overton’s bat to third man for four. Singles too, ambled and quick as he and Davies rotated the strike. Hampshire hearts must have clamped in anguish and Somerset ones missed a beat as each edge was missed, pad struck and appeal turned down by the barely shaking head or statuesque immobility of an umpire.

But, under the immutable law of batting under such conditions, each innings duly had its term. To the second ball with the new ball, bowled by Abbas, Davies attempted to cut and played the ball onto his stumps. He and Overton had added 75 runs in 16 overs. Davies’ contribution was 33 from 47 balls, a rate of scoring which belied the, at times, invisibility of his scoring. Overton was on 46 from 58 balls. The Hampshire celebration looked muted, one or two of the faces of their players almost shell-shocked. In the context of a match in which they had been bowled out for 79 that was perhaps understandable, but it emphasised the impact that Overton and Davies had had. The scoreboard emphasised it further. Somerset were 268 for 8, 189 runs ahead with lunch on the second day still an over away. Now, Overton was joined by Gregory. Overton and Gregory at the wicket together offered no prospect of respite for Hampshire as lunch was taken with Somerset on 272 for 8, now 193 ahead, Overton on 48 with power to add.

Abbas began for Hampshire after lunch with a ball just two overs old. Within three balls Overton, fortune favouring the brave, edged a defensive push to third man for a boundary which brought up his fifty. He immediately followed it with a hook. The ball flew off the top edge, over slip to third man for three. I have no statistical evidence to support it, but it does seem when luck is against a bowler, insult is often added to injury. Abbas could have been forgiven for thinking so. In the next over Overton turned his attentions to Abbott and drove him between midwicket and mid-on for yet another four. He brought up Somerset’s 300 and an unlikely third batting point with another boundary, this time lofted over mid-on off Abbott. That stroke took Overton to 67 from 76 balls, evidence enough of the sort of innings he was playing.

At the other end, Gregory, like Davies, had taken time and care to establish himself as Overton continued his onslaught. Several times Gregory was beaten and once survived a huge appeal from Abbas. So huge that on it being turned down, Abbas sank to his knees and banged his hands into the ground in frustration. It must have reflected how the Hampshire team were feeling as Somerset scored freely from a position of fast-increasing dominance while bats were being beaten and appeals for caught behind or leg before wicket being repeatedly turned down.

Now Gregory took up Somerset’s charge, and added more runs to Hampshire’s woes. In two overs, he steered Abbas wide of slip to the third man boundary, drove him through the air and past extra cover for four more and then brought up the fifty partnership with Overton with a hook to long leg. That stroke took Somerset to 320 for 8, a lead of 241 and, as it must have seemed from the Hampshire perspective, beyond the far horizon.

But all innings have their term, and Overton’s finally reached his. He came forward to a ball from Barker. The ball cut in off the pitch as so many have in this match. This time it evaded Overton’s bat and upended his off stump. He had made 74 from 93 balls, having finally slowed up as Gregory took the strain of the heavy scoring. It had been an exceptional innings spanning two partnerships totalling 135 runs. Overton had been at the wicket while Somerset’s lead had increased from 114 to 249, or from daunting to overwhelming. The lead then reached its term when Davey edged Barker, who ended with four hard-won wickets, neatly into the hands of Vince at first slip. Somerset were all out for 336, their lead was 257 and Gregory, the fifth Somerset batsman to exceed 30, remained unbeaten on 33.

It all left Hampshire with a cricketing mountain stretching into the stratosphere to climb, even to save the game, even if the oft promised rain for Saturday arrived. Even on that count there was bad news for Hampshire as the forecast began to suggest the bulk of the rain might fall overnight with little to come after the start of play. From that low point, and for the first time in the match, Hampshire began to make an impact. Weatherley and Holland started their second innings with obvious determination and intent, as much intent as the Somerset bowlers showed in their attempts to remove them.

With intense determination being applied by both sides, one of those struggles for supremacy which can make four-day cricket so gripping developed. Clearly, Somerset held an overwhelming advantage in the match. But within the confines of the Hampshire second innings there was now nothing to choose between the sides. For forty overs of toe-to-toe slugging they battled it out. No-one gave an inch and the mayhem of falling wickets or fast-rising totals of the first two innings was no more. It was as if the reputed ‘give nowt’ attitude of a Roses match of old had come to visit both sides at Hedge End

Somerset opened with Gregory and Overton, before Overton was replaced by Davey. From the nine overs that Gregory and Overton bowled at the outset, only eight runs were scored. Those eight runs came from two boundaries, both scored off Overton. Two scoring strokes from 54 balls. It was a grimly fascinating struggle. At tea, Hampshire were 20 for 0 from 16 overs. Gregory’s figures were 8-7-2-0. Overton’s figures of 4-2-8-0 concealed an opening spell of persistently accurate and hostile bowling. Hampshire had made little progress towards reducing the deficit, but Somerset had taken no wickets. The sides had fought each other to a standstill, although Somerset’s colossal first innings lead still towered over all.

After tea Overton resumed in place of Gregory as Somerset rotated their three main pace bowlers. He began to make headway, at least insofar as he began beating the batsmen with movement off the seam. Weatherley was virtually scoreless as he concentrated solely on defence, most of Hampshire’s few runs coming from Holland. Overton was unrelenting in the pressure he applied and threat he constituted. Davey, who had conceded seven runs in his first over, kept the pressure on too as he conceded only six more in his remaining six overs. After 24 overs, Hampshire were 31 for no wicket. Glacial scoring it may have been, but as cricket it was gripping in the context of a match in which Hampshire were fighting hard to halt the relentless progress Somerset had made over the first two innings.

Then, with the first ball of the 25th over, Overton broke through. Full, it passed the inside edge of Holland’s bat as he played it and slammed into the pad. This time the umpire’s finger was raised, and Hampshire were 31 for 1, still 226 runs behind. Somerset hopes, frustrated by Weatherley and Holland’s determined resistance suddenly rose for the pressure from the bowling had finally told.  

The left-handed Alsop joined Weatherley. He brought a different approach. While Weatherley for the most part continued in stubborn defence, Alsop attacked immediately. A top-edged hook off Overton flew to the fine leg boundary, the biter bit, although the stroke would have given him hope. Abell, who had replaced Davey was struck for four fours in an over, one of them all run and the Somerset lead fell below 200. It still towered over Hampshire, but Alsop’s approach and the lack of another wicket lent a feeling of Hampshire getting some traction in the match. It brought the first faint traces of unease to Somerset hearts since Overton had launched his batting assault.

Leach replaced Abell and brought control with six overs for seven runs. Some threat too, to the left-hander at least by pitching in the rough wide of his off stump. Gregory bowled opposite Leach. Between them they stemmed the rush of runs which that one Abell over had unleashed. But, Leach’s occasional foray into the rough apart, there seemed little threat of a wicket. The life which the pitch had shown in the first two innings seemed to have gone. Batsmen with the temperament to simply stand their ground, eschew risk and attack only the ball which offered no appreciable risk seemed in little danger. After 38 overs the score was 81 for 1 and the lack of wickets was beginning to impinge on the confidence in the Somerset mind. Logically there was no realistic risk to Somerset. But where a match shows signs of tension, the lifelong cricket supporter is void of logic. A text from one said, “150 to win on the last day?”. It was sent in jest, but it contained the germ of an anxiety about the pressure Somerset could find themselves under were Hampshire, against all the odds, to forge that sort of lead.

Into that scene marched Overton. Almost immediately he beat Weatherley with some away movement. With the score on 87 for 1 he was running in with his entire body speaking the language of intent. With every ball he bowled, his torso twisted with all the power it could unleash into an arm travelling precisely through the perpendicular. From the arm the power flowed into the ball in which it generated pace and lift. As Overton ran in to deliver one such ball the anxious text said, “We need a wicket.” The ball pitched short and moved away from Alsop. As Alsop pulled, the ball rose, connected with the top edge and ballooned into the off side where Davey collected the manna as it fell from heaven. Hampshire were 87 for 2. 89 for 3 when Overton, bowling with a fierce pace, cut a ball into the nightwatchman, Abbott, and struck his pad. 92 for 3 at the close with the ever-determined Weatherley not out on 31 from 144 balls.

Hampshire had closed the gap between them and Somerset to 165, but those two Overton wickets, forced out of Hampshire’s battling batsmen as the evening shadows stretched across the outfield, had put Hampshire’s attempt at revival into jeopardy. It had been a truly immense effort from Overton, throughout the day. And from the rest of Somerset’s bowlers, for none, the six balls of Alsop’s single-over assault on Abell apart, had given Hampshire any respite. It was a performance with the ball to match that with the bat that had showered Somerset’s morning with cricketing stardust.

Close. Hampshire 79 and 92 for 3. Somerset 336 (C. Overton 74, T.B. Abell 64, K.H.D. Barker 4-67, K.J. Abbott 3-88). Hampshire trail by 165 runs with seven second innings wickets standing.