The Five Pacemen of the Apocalypse – Yorkshire v Somerset – County Championship 2021 – Scarborough – 5th and 6th September – First Day

Due to being unable to travel to Scarborough for this match this report was written following a day watching Yorkshire CCC’s live stream with Yorkshire being informed. Without the live stream 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 Division 1. Yorkshire v Somerset. 5th and 6th September 2021. Scarborough.

Yorkshire. A. Lyth, G.C.H. Hill, T. Kohler-Cadmore, G.S. Ballance, H.C. Brook, D.M.Bess, H.G. Duke (w), J.A. Thompson, D.J. Willey, M.D. Fisher, S.A. Patterson.

Somerset. T.B Abell (c), T.A. Lammonby, Azhar Ali, J.C. Hildreth, G.A. Bartlett, S.M. Davies (w), T. Banton, B.G.F. Green, M.J. Leach, J.H. Davey, M de Lange.

Toss. Somerset. Elected to bat.

First day. 5th September – The five pacemen of the apocalypse

Somerset are discovering the strength of the first division of the second phase of this year’s County Championship. A crushing three-day defeat by Nottinghamshire at Taunton has been followed by a superior, if not yet dominant, first-day performance by Yorkshire at Scarborough. Somerset are without Craig Overton and Lewis Gregory, both key to their pace attack, and Overton might have been devastating on this pitch. As it was, Josh Davey, as so often, put his heart and soul into his bowling and came away with three wickets. He is largely responsible for keeping Somerset, if barely, in this match. The Yorkshire attack, even though it was lacking Ben Coad, looked decidedly the more effective of the two on this pitch. All the Yorkshire bowlers bowled with gnawing accuracy and testing bite throughout the Somerset innings. By the end of the day, Yorkshire were beginning to grip the match while Somerset were fighting to hold on.  

At the start Somerset won the toss and elected to bat on a morning of bright sunshine, sharp shadows and an array of cricket hats. It was the sort of morning that was absent throughout Somerset’s match against Nottinghamshire. Light cloud visited later in the day, but it looked for all the world a day for watching cricket, and there were perhaps in excess of two thousand people in the stands if my eye for crowd counting is as effective through the looking glass of a laptop screen as it is at a match. Even through the screen the ground generated a festival atmosphere and seeing expanses of wooden bench seating transported me back to watching cricket in an earlier age. Bradford Park Avenue in the early 1970s sprang to mind with Brian Close captaining Somerset and Peter Denning taking a John Player League innings out of reach of a Yorkshire side containing an in form John Hampshire. Brian Close, of course, was run out attempting an impossible run.

I was soon catapulted back into the twenty-first century when the looking glass revealed the ball to be moving, mainly off the pitch. The testing bounce traditionally associated with this ground was in evidence too. The questions such a pitch asks of batsmen were not long in coming. Tom Abell, opening again for Somerset after some time and some success at number three, tried to defend against Matthew Fisher, bowling from the North Marine Road ground’s Trafalgar Square End. The ball lifted, seamed away, took the edge and Duke took the catch. The opening partnership has been problematic for Somerset all season with several combinations tried. Most recently, Steven Davies had held one of the spots, if briefly, with some success. But now, with Davies back at number six and Abell walking off at 2 for 1, a sensation of déjà vu set in.

During two hours at the crease in the second innings against Nottinghamshire, Tom Lammonby survived for much of the time by leaving anything not on or near the stumps. He employed the same tactic here. By way of attack, he drove Fisher and Willey through the on side for four. When he tried to repeat the stroke, Willey swung the ball away and Lammonby edged it to Brook at second slip. It was the perfect new ball dismissal and Somerset were 14 for 2 in the sixth over. Déjà vu indeed.

Somerset nerve ends were still jarring when James Hildreth arrived at the wicket. He joined Azhar Ali who has returned to Somerset for the last three Championship matches of the season. The two soon hinted at an air of calm punctuated through attacking strokes which kept the scoreboard busy. Fisher continued to look threatening and swung a ball away from Hildreth. Hildreth, equal to it, steered it through backward point for two. As the partnership developed, Azhar proved to be the more assertive of the two batsmen. Twice in succession he drove Willey to the boundary, once through the covers and once past Hildreth as he backed up. But the Yorkshire bowlers held firm. Some deliveries held their line, but many moved, mainly away from the bat and mainly off the pitch. It was bowling to keep a batsman on his mettle. Hildreth found an attempt to drive Patterson, who had replaced Fisher, turning into an ugly reaction stroke as the ball flew off the inside edge and into his pads. An attempt to cut Thompson, who had replaced Willey at the less favoured Peaseholm Park End, failed to connect at all.

But, for the moment, the batsmen prospered. Hildreth played the most delicate of steers which guided the ball past the slip cordon towards the corner of the ground where the large North and West Stands meet. In the next over he cut Thompson hard and perfectly square to the Popular Bank with its wooden bench seats. When Hill replaced Thompson the ball fizzed again, and Azhar was forced to jab down on it outside off stump. It bounced short of first and second slip before running down to the Trafalgar Square End seats for four. That took Azhar to 24 and Somerset to 53 for 2. Somerset’s fifty brought some relief, for with just two wickets down against tight bowling on a helpful pitch, the thought dared cross the mind that Somerset might be building a base for a competitive score.

Against that thought, the relentless Yorkshire bowling continued unabated like the winds of an October gale. Whoever was thrown the ball, the outcome was the same. A persistently attacking line and length with troubling movement buffeting the batsmen. Azhar resorted to intense defence with his score frozen on 24, the spectator eye occasionally seeking confirmation that the 24 had indeed not moved. Hildreth’s score moved, but only glacially, as an occasional single was run against the prevailing wind of the Yorkshire bowling. Eventually, in an over from Thompson, Hildreth found the boundary, if only off an edge which raced along the ground to the Peaseholm Park End before a controlled steer went wider but was hauled in for three. It brought some symmetry to the scoreboard and fed the Somerset hope, for Hildreth had caught the resolute Azhar and brought up the fifty partnership in the process. At 64 for 2 Somerset had ground their way to parity.  

Then, the relentless bowling forced its way through. Hildreth drove at a ball from Hill which pitched a little wide, swung away a little more and found the edge. Lyth at second slip leapt spectacularly and plucked the ball from the air. Hildreth walked off for 24, flicking his hand in exasperation. Now, Bartlett walked into the face of the storm. In eight balls, he survived a loud appeal, drove convincingly for four, was beaten outside off stump, and then caught at slip off Hill hesitantly dabbing at another ball which moved away. Next, Azhar’s determined innings ended when a ball from Thompson forced its way through. It lifted, followed the bat as Azhar attempted to leave, struck the inside edge and then the leg stump with Azhar still on 24. With the Yorkshire gale now in full force, Banton tried to defend his first ball. It was directed just outside off, swung away, took the edge and flew to Duke behind the stumps. Banton walked off and Somerset were 68 for 6, having lost three wickets for no runs in six balls. Davies and Ben Green survived until lunch, Davies managing a well-directed steer wide of third slip from where it ran down to the Pavilion, at third man to the left-hander with the bowling from the Trafalgar Square End. They took Somerset to 77 for 6 at lunch. The incoming text did little to raise the spirit. “Oh dear,” it said.

The North Marine Road Ground is a throwback to earlier times. For all that the world has reached 2021, it could have been Taunton in 1961 or 1971. Wooden benches without backs were in abundance. But the sense of a warm, relaxing cricket-watching atmosphere was overwhelmingly projected from the looking glass through which I watched. A hotch-potch terrace of white, cream and grey four-storey Victorian houses with a miscellany of window types, sizes and shapes line the perimeter of the ground beyond the Trafalgar Square End. Their design, combined with a medley of added-on kitchens and occasional attics speak of an age without planners. The houses, the added-on kitchens and one or two sash windows brought back childhood memories of such windows suddenly sticking in mid-flow when I stayed at my grandparents’ house in Somerset. In front of the houses at North Marine Road sits a small partially covered stand, which looked to be of the same vintage as the old Cowshed at Taunton. Yorkshire likes its enclosures. Headingley boasts the modernity of its Trueman Enclosure, Scarborough the idyll of its Trafalgar Square Enclosure.

Somerset began brightly after lunch, Davies guiding Thompson’s first ball to fine leg for four and then driving his second square to the off, past Bess at point and across the Popular Bank boundary. But before Somerset supporters could begin to wonder if something might be salvaged from the depredations of the morning, Davies attempted a push drive at Fisher and edged the ball to Kohler-Cadmore at first slip. Somerset 86 for 7. Davies 15. And so, minutes after lunch on the first day, Jack Leach found himself walking to the wicket to face a quintet of Yorkshire pace bowlers bowling with persistent accuracy, movement and lift on a pitch known for its pace and bounce. It had been a masterclass in seam bowling.

Leach began by cutting Thompson to the third man boundary, but was unequal to the task of facing Fisher, the pick of the Yorkshire attack. One ball from Fisher moved sharply off the pitch, defeated Leach’s outside edge and keeper alike before reaching the boundary for four byes and Somerset’s hundred. Two balls later, Leach drove at Fisher, the ball flew off the edge above and beyond Lyth’s left shoulder at second slip. Lyth leapt upwards, reached backwards and caught the ball. It was a catch exceptional enough to match the Yorkshire bowling. Somerset, their batting swept away, were 100 for 8. Leach 4.

Davey walked into the apocalyptic wreckage, wrought by Yorkshire’s five pacemen, of Somerset’s Championship ambitions. He drove his first ball straight to the Trafalgar Square End boundary but the wreck of Somerset’s innings was beyond repair. In Fisher’s next over, Davey was trapped on the crease. There was a huge appeal and the umpire’s finger added to the devastation. Somerset 108 for 9. Davey 4. Marchant de Lange, Somerset’s heavy artillery batting rearguard, swung his bat hard into the bowling with the intention of clearing the long on boundary. The edge of the bat sent the ball over the slips for four. In Fisher’s next over de Lange unleashed a barrage of heavy hitting. The first ball was launched to long on for four. The second might have startled the owner of the ice cream van beyond the long on boundary as it recorded a near miss. Another crossed the deep midwicket boundary leaving the deep square leg fielder helpless. De Lange’s assault gave the spirit a fleeting lift, but the head knew it was too late. De Lange’s next swing was not equal to Fisher’s yorker and he was bowled for 22 from 11 balls. Green, who had been at the wicket since the departure of Banton, ended 13 not out from 47 balls in just over an hour of calm defence. Somerset ended on 134 leaving their supporters, at least this one, feeling in their hearts that any realistic prospect of the Championship this year had gone.

“Yes!” I found myself shouting. Punching the air too. De Lange had cramped Lyth with a lifting ball which Lyth, defending, edged to Davies. Yorkshire were 1 for 1 and suddenly there was hope for Somerset. De Lange and Davey continued to pressurise the batsmen, bowling tightly and beating the edge. Hill drove and cut Davey for four but left the bowler with his hands clutching his head at how close to the edge another ball had passed. 11 for 1 after eight overs suggested Somerset had gained some purchase on the Yorkshire innings. But with de Lange finishing his opening four-over spell, and no Overton or Gregory, Abell found himself bowling the tenth over of an innings where the pitch and situation called out for another front-line pace bowler. Abell has developed into an excellent fourth or fifth seamer in recent years, but it was impossible to suppress the anxiety at the knowledge that Somerset had no specialist third seamer to exploit the North Marine Road pitch.

Even so Davey and Abell held Yorkshire in check. Davey, not the tallest or fastest of bowlers, but one of the more accurate, persuaded a ball to lift sufficiently to strike Kohler-Cadmore on the arm The blow caused the batsman to go off after extensive on-field repair work failed. He was replaced by Gary Ballance whom Somerset welcomed with four slips responded by pulling Abell behind square to the boundary. Against Davey and Abell, Yorkshire soon dug in, defended their wickets as they crawled forward at one and a half runs an over. It was as glacial as the Azhar-Hildreth partnership, but against a total of 134 Somerset needed wickets and despite his persistent questioning of the batsmen’s technique Davey could not break through.

When Lammonby, no more a front line bowler than Abell, replaced Davey, the Yorkshire batsmen began to apply pressure. Hill drove him effortlessly, straight of mid-off to the Peaseholm Park boundary, dabbed him through slip to the Trafalgar Square End, and drove, effortlessly again, off the back foot through the covers to the wooden seating on the Popular Bank. With Ballance taking a boundary off Abell and three more from Lammonby, Yorkshire reached tea on 47 for 1. With their scoring rate now approaching two and a half runs an over they were just 87 runs behind Somerset and steadily building a base from which they might take control of the match.

Hazy cloud welcomed the players back after tea, and Somerset welcomed the batsmen with the return of Davey and de Lange. For a moment it seemed Somerset might spike the Yorkshire advance. Hill attempted to cut Davey, instead found the edge, and Hildreth took the catch thigh high falling backwards at first slip. Hill 29. That brought the injured Kohler-Cadmore back to the wicket. “Come on!” I found myself shouting from my armchair. And come on Davey did. First, he beat Kohler-Cadmore and delivered a huge leg before wicket appeal. Then he forced an edge to Abell at second slip. Abell took the catch and flicked the ball back handed into the air with what appeared to be a monumental sense of relief. Yorkshire were 51 for 3 and Somerset were clinging on.

But from there, Somerset’s grip began to loosen as Yorkshire strengthened theirs. Ballance and Brook became more positive, Brook taking advantage of Davey veering onto his legs to drive him through long on for four. Ballance cut de Lange square to the Popular Bank and when Abell replaced Davey, he was driven through wide mid-off for four more. Brook edged Davey to the third man boundary and then, continuing to push Yorkshire forward, cut him through point to the West Stand before driving Abell through the off side to the Peaseholm Park End. Eventually, Davey found a way through, forcing an edge from a Ballance defensive stroke. The ball flew straight to Abell at second slip. Yorkshire 89 for 4. Ballance 32. But Somerset’s lead was now just 45 with the scoring rate approaching three runs an over. If Somerset still clung on, it was by the shortest of fingernails.

That brought Dom Bess to the wicket to face Somerset for the first time since he left Taunton at the end of the 2019 season. He played a more defensive innings than was his wont with Somerset, but with Brook playing freely at the other end, Yorkshire needed a good partnership to confirm their growing ascendancy and Bess played an innings tailored to the need. Brook took three fours in an over from Green, all driven through the off side. It was an emphatic statement of Yorkshire’s intent and took them to 101 for four, 33 behind. The weight of wickets still standing was now bearing down heavily on Somerset’s scant first innings score.

And still Somerset pressed. At first, De Lange and Leach applied something of a brake. But when Brook pulled de Lange, the ball cleared the rope at long leg. Bess then steered Leach to the third man boundary and he and Brook rotated the strike with some purpose, pushing the run rate towards three an over. Somerset were now under the most severe pressure. Then, Bess advanced down the wicket to meet a delivery from Leach, was defeated and Davies had the bails off with the finesse with which a spot of dust might be removed from a prize sideboard. Yorkshire were 122 for 5, Bess 10, only 12 behind, but Somerset had their fingertips on the match again.

But Brook was scoring freely now and continued to find the boundary as the close of play approached. Somerset’s 134 was finally caught and left behind. Brook brought up his fifty from 51 balls with a neat steer to the third man boundary, Leach was cut through backward point and Davey driven through the off to the Trafalgar Square End. With Yorkshire 20 ahead Brook edged to Davies behind the stumps. As the Somerset heart held its beat, Davies dived to his right, got his hands to the ball, and dropped it. “That could be huge,” said the instant text. The sigh that followed it said it more succinctly. As did the silent intake of breath as, in the final over, Abell dropped short. He was pulled brutally in front of square by Brook for another boundary. Brook ended the day on 79. He was the only batsman on either side to get a start and then go on. Somerset are still just in sight of Yorkshire but, Brook to the fore, Yorkshire are on the brink of disappearing into the middle distance or even beyond. As so often the morrow’s morning session will be crucial.

Close. Somerset 134 (M.D. Fisher 5-41). Yorkshire 159 for 5. Yorkshire lead by 25 runs with five second innings wickets standing.