Rain-spattered but Wonderful – Gloucestershire v Somerset – Nevil Road, Bristol – County Championship 2021 – Day 4

This match was played with restricted crowd numbers due to the coronavirus restrictions in place. Tickets were initially offered in a ballot but were ultimately generally available. 

County Championship Group 2. Gloucestershire v Somerset. 20th, 21st, 22nd and 23rd May 2021. Bristol.

Gloucestershire. K.C. Brathwaite, C.D.J. Dent (c), J.R. Bracey (w), T.C. Lace, I.A. Cockbain, R.F. Higgins, M.A.H. Higgins, T.M.J. Smith, M.D. Taylor, D.A. Payne, D.J. Worrall. 

Somerset. E.J. Byrom, T.A. Lammonby, 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. Somerset 300 for 8 dec. Gloucestershire 16 for 2.

Final day. 23rd May – Rain-spattered but wonderful

Hardened cricket followers know a terminal weather forecast when they see one, especially when it has remained unchanged for three days and is linked to a smooth grey sky that stretches from horizon to horizon. Billowing grey clouds bring hope of better weather to come, or at least of gaps in the rain. Smooth grey cloud from which rain falls steadily offers no hope once it has set in. The final day of this match began with just such a forecast and just such a sky. Pessimists would have expected little or no play, optimists that the match might last until lunchtime. On this day, the pessimists prevailed.

I arrived at Gloucestershire’s Nevil Road Ground within ten minutes of the start, spending a quarter of an hour too long on continuing the work on my second day report the culprit for my late arrival. My first sight of the scoreboard, always the first thing the cricket watcher looks for on entering a ground, revealed that Gloucestershire were 21 for 4. Somerset had taken two more wickets in those ten minutes. Craig Overton the culprit. In fact, he had taken them in three balls.

And so, quicker than I had hoped, it was back, if briefly, to a glimpse of some highlights for your correspondent has finally acquired a smartphone. It is a wonderful thing, full of cricket highlights and scores. No wonder they caught on. Overton’s first ball, to Tom Smith, was quick, on the mark, cut in off the pitch, and forced a desperate bat to jab down at the racing ball. The jab was in vain. The ball struck the pad and Gloucestershire were 21 for 3. Somerset, eyes on the unforgiving sky no doubt, had snatched a bonus point from the clutches of the weather gods. Tom Lace came to the crease, survived a leg before wicket appeal to his first ball, played the smoothest looking of glances to his second and was caught behind as Davies moved just as smoothly to his left to take the catch. Lace’s instant reaction suggested he thought he had not touched the ball, but the umpire’s finger was pointing at those clouds and he had to go. 21 for 4.

I was in my seat now and looking anxiously at the sky. First-class cricket is a game in which the progress of a match is measured in runs, wickets and time or, as cricket time is measured these days, in overs. The scoreboard claimed there were still 94 overs to be bowled. The sky intended otherwise. Most would-be spectators had looked at the sky and the forecast and stayed at home. Perhaps 80 or so of us had made the trip and sat huddled in anoraks against a cold wind. Winter has refused to give up its grip this year. Any hint of warmer weather has been met with a swift, gale-blown response even when the sun has shone. And now, Gloucestershire’s batsmen were being met with a bowling gale from Overton and the cold chill of Davey’s accuracy. They make a perfect opening combination. A batsman cannot relax against Overton’s hostility and dare not against Davey’s persistent probing.

In my seat now, I settled to watch one of those probing Davey overs. He bowled it from the Ashley Down Road End to Brathwaite who had been so discomfited by that Overton over at the end of the second day. Davey’s over appears in my notes as do so many of Davey’s overs, as a row of dots. At least, on this occasion, five dots, for the sixth ball consists of a ‘W’. Brathwaite had turned Davey on the full towards midwicket. The arc which the ball described through the air was a low, flat one. Coming the other way, diving as low and flat as the ball coming towards him, was Tom Abell, arms outstretched. Abell is a brilliant fielder at midwicket, or as in this case, short midwicket, or in the covers. Ball and hands met just above the ground and a clearly disappointed Brathwaite turned for the long march back to the Pavilion.

Gloucestershire were 21 for 5 but the chill on the wind had dropped a few degrees, a sure sign of more rain about to fall. Again, Overton ran in from the Pavilion End, bowling to Cockbain. Once, towards the end of the over as the rain began to come down and the umbrellas began to go up, he ran the last few yards of the route back to his mark. Cockbain took a single and then Higgins took three from the final ball. The runs were now of no consequence, but the Somerset heart twinged at the thought of two more balls slipping by.

However much the Somerset supporter hoped for another over, the rain could not be denied. The umpires took the players off with Somerset, having taken three wickets in five overs, one wicket short of another bowling point. I was now sat with my suitcase, a waterproof model bought for such exigencies on the final days of away matches, tucked under the seat next to me, my anorak hood up to protect my head from the rain, my travelling umbrella up to protect my backpack which, crammed onto my lap to keep it under the umbrella, was being used as a desk for my rain-spattered notebook as I tried to capture enough information for this report. There is nothing quite like watching cricket in an English summer.

Or watching the sky, for that is what Somerset supporters in the ground and Tom Abell were doing. As soon as the rain stopped, he appeared in front of the Pavilion. The umpires, who were out to inspect throughout this match as soon as any rain relented, were in the middle testing the conditions. A purposeful walk back was met by an enquiry from Abell, ground staff removing covers and an announcement that play would recommence in ten minutes, which is as near to an immediate restart as cricket can get.

With the threat of continuous rain hemming ever closer around the ground, Davey continued Somerset’s pursuit of the sixth wicket. Four balls Higgins kept out, one defeated him utterly as it cut in and bounced over the stumps. The other he steered to third man for two. Rain could now be felt on the air again as I hunched my backpack closer to my chest and readied my umbrella for action. Overton returned to his mark. Cockbain left his first ball. Somerset were still that one wicket away from another bonus point. The rain on the air was getting heavier by the second. Overton turned without hesitating at the top of his run and ran straight in. Cockbain shaped as if he were not sure whether to play or leave, did neither, the ball struck the indecisive bat and crashed into the stumps. Gloucestershire were 27 for 6 and another bonus point was in Somerset’s bag. By the time the next batsman, Hammond, reached the wicket my umbrella was up, the rain was becoming heavy, and the umpires took the players off.

Less than six overs Somerset had bowled in two short passages of play. They had taken four wickets and gathered two bonus points. No-one could have asked more of a side having to overcome the dead weight of two badly rain-affected matches, one played in a round when Gloucestershire, the only team above them in the table, did not have a match. It left this huddled, rain-spattered supporter with two hours to wait for a coach home under rain plummeting down with the promise of an apparently endless supply to follow. And all for the sake of five overs and two balls. Rain-spattered but wonderful, if you were a Somerset supporter. I would not have missed it for the warmest of armchairs and the highest definition laptop money could buy. Indeed, it really was good to be back.

Result. Somerset 300 for 8 dec. (T.B. Abell 132*, L. Gregory 57, D.J. Worrall 3-52). Gloucestershire 27 for 6 (C. Overton 4-16). Match drawn. Somerset 13 points. Gloucestershire 10 points.