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 Surrey. 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th May 2021. Taunton.
Somerset. T.A. Lammonby, E.J. Byrom, T.B. Abell (c), J.C. Hildreth, G.A. Bartlett, L.P. Goldsworthy, T. Banton (w), L. Gregory, R.E. van der Merwe, J.H. Davey, M. de Lange.
Surrey. R.J. Burns, M.D. Stoneman, H.M. Amla, O.J.D. Pope, B.T. Foakes, J.L. Smith, W.G. Jacks, J. Clark, J. Overton, R. Clarke, K.A.J. Roach.
Overnight. No play. Rain.
Toss. Somerset. Elected to field.
Second day 14th May – Advantage Surrey
Eighty-six millimetres of rain fell at Dunkeswell in the Blackdowns, beginning during the evening before this match was due to start, through the night and on through most of the first day. When play was abandoned just after lunch, pools had formed, including large ones in front of the Colin Atkinson Pavilion deep enough to provide clear reflections. Despite a huge amount of work from the ground staff, visible on the Somerset CCC live stream during the morning, play could not begin until two o’clock on the second day. As the match started, another 40 millimetres or so of rain was forecast to fall over its remainder. It was not a surprise therefore that when Somerset won the toss they elected to field.
Somerset have elected to field every time they have won the toss in the 2021 County Championship. They have won every match in which they have fielded first, whichever side has won the toss, albeit on two occasions from some way behind on first innings. That, and a distinctly green tinge to the pitch, might have given even W.G. Grace pause for thought. I have always inclined to the W.G. Grace view on the toss, in part because inserting the opposition is liable to increase the pressure of expectation on the bowlers and reduce it on the opposition batsmen. By the end of the first day, I wondered if there had been an element of that, for the Somerset bowlers, Josh Davey apart after his initial few overs, did not seem to bowl with the focus they have demonstrated time and again this season. The absence of the persistent threat and hostility of the rested Craig Overton at the head of the attack will not have helped Somerset’s cause.
Surrey’s left-handed opening pair, Rory Burns and Mark Stoneman immediately began a measured offensive. They reached 35 for 0 after ten overs, and by then were already wrenching the initiative from Somerset. Stoneman began in the first over by cutting Gregory in front of square to the Caddick Pavilion boundary. In the second, Burns drove Davey through the on side to the same boundary, although Davey twice beat Stoneman’s defensive stroke and had a concerted leg before wicket appeal turned down. Neither batsman missed an opportunity and took ready advantage of the bowlers straying onto their legs. Stoneman played Gregory to deep midwicket for three, Burns glanced Davey to the Trescothick Pavilion, the ball just evading the diving Banton who had replaced the indisposed Davies behind the stumps, and then turned him into the on side for four more.
Having settled, Stoneman continued to work on pushing Surrey forward with a cut through backward point off Gregory which ran to the Colin Atkinson Pavilion boundary. Then, as the Somerset watcher’s anxiety at the speed and apparent security of Surrey’s advance rose, Stoneman was defeated by a ball from Gregory. It was angled in from around the wicket, straightened slightly off the pitch, and Stoneman, defending, edged it to Roelof van der Merwe at third slip. Surrey were 43 for 1 to, I suspect, a collective sigh of relief from in front of Somerset screens. Stoneman had made 18, but he and Burns had given Surrey a firm base.
The wicket brought Hashim Amla to the crease. He took his time in establishing himself, scoring only two runs in his first six overs. Meanwhile, Burns continued to keep the pressure on Somerset. In two balls he took six runs from Marchant de Lange including a sharp drive just in front of point to the Caddick Pavilion boundary. Davey, who bowled 16 overs in the day for just 30 runs, brought some familiar order to the Somerset bowling with three overs for two runs. But the absence of a fourth specialist seamer in the Somerset line-up made itself felt when the batsmen began to take some toll of Abell. When he drifted to leg his frustration could be seen in response to a neat glance from Burns which took the ball to the fine leg boundary. Amla, playing with an understated smoothness of stroke, took three more runs as it became apparent that the outfield was applying brakes to the ball. Then, as he picked up the tempo, an authoritative drive through backward point off Abell ran down to the covers store and a neatly executed one reached the dug outs in front of the Caddick Pavilion.
Burns and Amla added 50 runs in the ten overs before tea. Playing under dark skies with the lights on Surrey were building an advantage that was beginning to feel uncomfortable from a Somerset perspective. There was some luck for the batsmen. Burns was surprised by a ball from Davey which found the thick edge of a defensive bat and flew past backward point to the Colin Atkinson boundary. Amla benefitted from four overthrows when a throw at the stumps missed its mark. At the same time, there were, to my mind, a higher proportion of twos as the outfield, after over a month’s worth of rain had fallen in 24 hours, worked to drag back boundary-bound balls. Even so, quality will out. A square drive from Amla off de Lange sent the ball skimming to the Caddick Pavilion dugouts with the outfield powerless to stop it. A neat clip off the legs from Burns off Gregory as easily reached the Somerset Stand boundary and brought up Surrey’s 100 in the 29th over. With tea arriving three overs later at 116 for 1, Surrey already had already established, in spite of the conditions, a firm grip on the day’s play.
The forecast had threatened more rain, and it would not have been a surprise from skies that had promised so much for the Somerset bowlers. But the cloud was passing over the ground on an apparent conveyor belt. It maintained an even height, perfectly demonstrated by the live stream re-running footage of the afternoon skies at high speed. In effect, the conditions never changed, and the promised rain, which at the outset had seemed a threat to Somerset’s prospects, but which now might provide relief, never came. Above that passing belt of glowering cloud perhaps sat W.G. Grace with eyebrows raised. If not at the decision to insert Surrey, at the failure to profit from it.
Then after tea, for a moment, the Somerset heart beat faster as it seemed the course of the day might be reversed, or at least checked. Amla pulled Gregory, the ball looped behind square towards the boundary in front of the Colin Atkinson Pavilion scoreboard where, as Amla stood watching, frozen in the stroke, Eddie Byrom took the catch. It was Gregory’s 300th first-class wicket. An over later, Burns only half brought his bat down from its backlift to a ball from Marchant de Lange. The ball struck the face of the bat, flew straight down onto the pitch, bounced high and fell onto the top of the stumps. Burns 55. Suddenly, Surrey were 119 for 3 with Ollie Pope and Ben Foakes together at the crease with both yet to score. Still Surrey with the advantage, but a door had opened for Somerset.
From there Pope, by attacking the bowling, and Foakes with intense defence, began to close that open door. Before the bails had had chance to settle comfortably back on the stumps after the fall of Burns, Pope had shown his intent by clipping Gregory behind square for four and again for two. An over later he drove de Lange square through the off side to the Caddick Pavilion dugouts, a popular recipient of Surrey boundaries in this innings. When Abell returned, Pope drove him through the covers to take Surrey to 150 for 3, a score which looked a good bit more healthy than the conditions suggested it should. Pope already had 26. In the next over, Foakes temporarily roused himself from his defensive slumbers to cut and clip Gregory to the Somerset Stand and the Caddick Pavilion. It took Surrey to 158 for 3.
Pope’s assault eventually foundered when he attempted to pull Abell, connected with the top edge and the ball steepled straight back over the stumps, and over and beyond the skyward-looking Banton. Banton, eyes fixed firmly on the ball, ran backwards a dozen yards and accepted the manna as it toppled into his gloves. Pope had made 33 of the 49 runs which constituted his partnership with Foakes. He had been at the crease for just over an hour and had taken Surrey to 168 for 4.
Jamie Smith joined Foakes and immediately took up where Pope had left off by driving Davey through the on side to the Ondaatje boundary. A boundary which flew past backward point off de Lange to the covers store was more fortuitous judging by the sharp swing of the batsman’s head as he tried desperately to locate the ball after it had flown off the bat. There was nothing fortuitous however about the four driven square to the Somerset Stand as Smith rose on his toes to a Gregory delivery. Or about the neat turn off his legs off de Lange which again found the Somerset Stand boundary just before the umpires finally gave best to that never-ending conveyor belt of cloud and ended play for the day.
Smith and Foakes had added 23 runs in eight overs, of which Smith had contributed 18, to Surrey’s mounting advantage. Foakes had been at the wicket for over an hour and a half and had faced 64 balls for his 13 runs. He had though kept an end secure as Pope and Smith had taken Surrey from the jolt of being reduced from 119 for 1 to 119 for 3 to the close of play score of 191 for 4. In the prevailing conditions, and in the context of a match which now has only two rain-threatened days remaining, that leaves Surrey with a considerable advantage.
Close. Surrey 191 for 4.