Lammonby Revives as Somerset Falter – Somerset v Lancashire – County Championship 2021 – Taunton – 12th, 13th and 14th September 2021 – Second Day

County Championship Division 1. Somerset v Lancashire. 12th, 13th and 14th September 2021. Taunton.

Somerset. T.A. Lammonby, B.G.F. Green, Azhar Ali, T.B Abell (c), J.C. Hildreth, L.P. Goldsworthy, S.M. Davies (w), R.E. van der Merwe, E.O. Leonard, M. de Lange, J. A. Brooks.  

Lancashire. G.P. Balderson, A.L. Davies (w), L.W.P. Wells, J.J. Bohannon, D.J. Vilas (c), R.P. Jones, S.J. Croft, D.J. Lamb, T.E. Bailey, J.M. Blatherwick, M.W. Parkinson.

Overnight. Lancashire 364 for 8.

Second day. 13th September – Lammonby revives as Somerset falter

The second day did not start as I would have hoped. A hospital appointment in the middle of the morning. Not ideal, especially in September. Had it not been for the half-past ten start, to the cricket that is, not the appointment, I might have made the last half hour before lunch. As it was, I relied on texts from the cricketer who had accompanied me on the first day, now watching from home on the live stream. They read, for the most part, like transcripts of morse code dispatches from the front in a bygone age. “Blatherwick caught slips 1,” said the first. “Bailey b de Lange 63. All out 373,” soon followed. A good start to the day, although 373 would present a considerable challenge to Somerset in September, but at least the final two wickets falling so quickly had brought some relief to the Somerset soul.

“Ben Green b 0. 0-1,” might have taken a little deciphering to those uninitiated in cricket, but for those of us who are, at least those waiting for news in the Somerset interest, it meant bad news from the front. “Bailey finding swing and seam. Somerset holding out but barely scoring. 21-1,” told of a team under severe pressure. Lancashire’s 373 seemed a distant hope. Then Lammonby departed for six, leg before wicket to Bailey, after nearly an hour at the crease and Somerset were 31 for 2 in the 13th over. “Lammonby in complete defensive mode. The problem when you play like that is that when you are out you still don’t have any runs,” said a slightly fuller dispatch. “Abell caught behind fifth ball,” soon followed. Short though the texts were, they painted a graphic enough picture. Lancashire on the rampage. Somerset in desperate straits. “Ball seaming,” added to the bad news. “Azhar some very close lbw calls,” gave little hope of improvement. News of Hildreth prodding outside off stump and edging, ankle height, straight into to Wells hands at first slip added to the gloom.

I walked out of the hospital with a treatment plan to control my blood pressure and heartrate. Whether it would survive first contact with Somerset playing cricket was another matter. As he gave me the news, I am sure I saw the consultant cast a wary glance at my Somerset cricket bag. As I crossed the car park, the full seriousness of the situation hit home. “Lunch. Somerset 46 for 4. 327 behind,” said the latest dispatch. It may be as well that that information had not entered the consulting room. The only good news was that Azhar, in spite of his obvious tribulations, had fought his way through the morning and was still at the crease. “They have had better bowling conditions and better bowling than us. Very accurate and getting seam and swing,” the uncompromising diagnosis of the online watcher.

When I arrived at the ground about twenty minutes or so into the afternoon session Somerset had struggled to 65 for 4 and, more bad news, the floodlights were on. Gloom in the sky and gloom in the Somerset mind as the match appeared to be being stamped with the same hallmark as the previous two. Azhar had clawed his way to 30 and Goldsworthy, to many the batting find of the summer, although yet to reach 50, was on 15. I made my way to the higher reaches of the Somerset Stand, sitting, as always when I sit there, square of the wicket. Cricket watchers, especially those who watch Championship cricket, are creatures of habit.

There is a certain comfort in the familiarity of surroundings in a particular part of a cricket ground. At the Oval I always feel most relaxed square of the wicket in the Peter May Stand. At Edgbaston it is high up in the Hollies Stand. At Taunton it is the top of the Trescothick Pavilion or square of the wicket in the Somerset Stand. It is a commonplace on the cricket-watching scene that faces which turn up at matches regularly are inclined to sit in the same area of a ground match after match. As I sat down I saw a face I had not seen since before the pandemic. It is usually to be found in the top of the Trescothick Pavilion, but was now in the Somerset Stand because the owner had not renewed his membership in a season of truncated attendances. We greeted each other like long lost friends, although we do not know each other’s names, nor do we know much about each other. But we do know and respect each other’s views on cricket in some detail, for we have exchanged them endlessly since the Trescothick Pavilion was built.

Championship cricket is a place where people like the two of us who never meet elsewhere meet regularly, drawn together by a shared passion, discuss that passion intensely, and then go back to our different worlds until the next match, or season. When the next season comes, the discussion of all things cricket continues as if winter had never happened. And so it was here, even though two winters had passed. There was plenty to talk about. But not before Goldsworthy, barely waiting for us to sit down, played away from his pad and edged Blatherwick straight into the hands of Wells at second slip. A replay shows a touch of outswing. The scoreboard showed 65 for 5. “Not performing with the bat today,” said my acquaintance. “But Lancashire are performing with the ball,” my response.

From there, our chat and a succession of approaching and departing batsmen became an intertwined blur of numbing disbelief as the Somerset innings sank before our eyes. Within eight balls, three batsmen had come and gone. Davies, the normally reliable Davies, attempted a steer backward of point, but edged behind. A replay shows the ball moving away off the seam. A gasp of exasperation the initial response from my acquaintance, followed by, “Not good enough.” It was though an excellent ball. Roelof van der Merwe glanced his first ball to the Lord Ian Botham Stand, then attempted to clip his second through square leg. The ball moved a just a scintilla, but late, the bat was evaded and the stumps were struck. Both wickets had fallen to the 23-year-old Blatherwick. “Told you,” the immediate comment. An over later, Lamb delivered a full-length ball which cut in. De Lange, with feet anchored, attempted to reach the long on boundary. Again, the stumps were shattered. The scoreboard, unrelenting as ever, relayed the news that Somerset were 76 for 8 and my acquaintance returned to his seat, his head shaking as he went.

I saw a little more balance in the proceedings. The bowling was outstanding and demanded a significant proportion of the credit for the destruction of the Somerset innings, although equally, stroke selection so early in the piece invited mishap. I tend to a longer view of these things too. Somerset had suffered two disastrous matches with a third in the making, but they came at the end of a run of excellent seasons. Confidence among the batsmen too must have been strained after the Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire matches. There had been some fight from Azhar and Lammonby, but pressure from the bowlers had been intense and continuous, and eventually Somerset’s brittle dam had burst in the afternoon gloom.

With only two wickets standing, there was to be no respite for Somerset. Brooks replaced de Lange and was promptly dropped in the slips before the bowler, Lamb, went to the slips himself. There he rectified the lapse by taking a sharp overhead catch from the edge of a monumental drive from Brooks. Brooks was Blatherwick’s fourth victim in an incisive piece of bowling, and Somerset were 81 for 9. And then a momentary flash of relief. Leonard, in his first first-class innings for Somerset, drove Lamb through the covers to the Priory Bridge Road boundary. The stroke was played with such economy of effort and style he might have been a re-incarnation of the pomp of a batting master of old. “Shot. Lovely shot,” someone drooled, a thought which might have been echoed by the old Sragglers’ ghosts. But when Azhar, facing Bailey, tried to glance, he finally failed to survive an appeal for leg before wicket. He had fought for survival from the third ball of the innings, seen eight wickets fall while 38 overs were bowled during which time he had ground out 39 runs. The reality though remained as cold and as hard as it had been when I was confronted with the lunchtime score as I left the hospital. Somerset were all out for 90, 283 runs behind. Nothing there to set my heart racing.

Somerset’s scores in the second phase of this year’s Championship now ran, 107, 181, 134, 141 and 90. They had lost the first two matches by an innings and now faced that prospect again. The hole in the pace attack and the middle order left by the absence of Overton, Gregory and Davey provided some rationale, but 90 against 373 was too great a chasm for even the absence of those three to fully explain. The looks on the faces of those watching spoke of a numbness of spirit and an emptiness in the pit of the stomach.

Then came the measured formality of the official announcement: “Confirmation from our umpires that the follow-on has been enforced.” It brought forth gales of laughter from the Lord Ian Botham Stand and those small shakes of the head that signify disbelief at what has just passed from the sparsely populated Somerset Stand. It lightened the mood for a moment, but the scent of despair at the sudden demise of Somerset’s Championship season floated on the breeze. It left a feeling that had not been felt since the nadir of the mid-season Championship days of 2017.

And then, like some wondrous dream suddenly emerging in the midst of a night of nightmares, for two and a half glorious hours either side of tea, those blank, despairing eyes which lined the ring saw an innings which might have been played by Lazarus. Tom Lammonby, opening with Ben Green, had thus far experienced a season of virtually unrelieved misery with the bat. It had seemed all the more despairing following the three centuries with which he had graced the end of 2020, the season with no eyes of any description watching, at least from the stands. In the third over of this innings, as if raising a curtain on that dreamworld, he pulled Bailey sharply through midwicket to the Somerset Stand boundary to a shout of, “Hooray!” It was though a ‘Hooray’ expressed with a tone of hope rather than anticipation. In the fifth over, he stepped back and, with an ease and lightness of stroke which belied the careworn defence which has epitomised most of his innings this year, he lifted the ball over deep square leg and into the Somerset Stand boards below and to the right of me.

As that ball crashed into those boards it seemed to cause the scales of despond to fall away from all those blankly staring eyes and open them to the realisation that this innings might have substance. It was not a dream. The cheer that echoed around the ground now had a hint of anticipation. There was little hope of victory, and not much of avoiding defeat, but Somerset were taking the fight to the opposition again. And again when Lammonby drove Balderson straight and hard to the Lord Ian Botham Stand boundary. A lofted drive for four to Gimblett’s Hill off Blatherwick followed and brought more cheers as did a neat paddle sweep, for its quality as much as the single it brought, in Matt Parkinson’s first over of leg spin. Lammonby, already into the 30s, was beginning to convince.

Green meanwhile had been setting about the bowling at the other end. He does not have quite the presence at the crease as Lammonby on the charge, but he is effective nonetheless, often standing firm when others wilt. Here he joined the assault. He had opened his scoring with the statutory opener’s edge to the boundary and then followed it up with a spectacular cut to the Caddick Pavilion dugouts, both off Bailey. A neat turn behind square to the Priory Bridge Road boundary, again off Bailey, brought a comment of, “Beautiful timing.” A cut to the Caddick Pavilion boundary brought up the fifty opening partnership. As the opening pair charged on, Balderson, bowling to Green from the River End, was driven past a diving mid-on, and when Parkinson replaced Balderson and began with a looping full toss he was pulled mercilessly over the jumping midwicket fielder to the Somerset Stand rope. The buzz in the crowd was finding its verve and the applause was mounting by the boundary. And then, Somerset hopes burgeoning, Parkinson pitched outside leg, Green attempted a badly misjudged lofted drive and was unceremoniously stumped. He had made 31 and Somerset had raced to 69 for 1 in three-quarters of an hour of glorious, Somerset to the core, stroke play. 

Azhar Ali applauded Green as they passed and proceeded to push each ball of his first over from Parkinson inquisitively back down the pitch like a surveyor scrutinizing a suspect site. As the tea interval approached he tested the ground further by driving Blatherwick square to the on side boundary where the Caddick Pavilion used to abut the old Scoreboard Stand. In the days of circumnavigations that was a favourite spot for chat, and there would have been a perfect view of the ball racing towards them for anyone standing there. “Class,” someone said. Artistry on a cricket field is worth watching for its own sake, whatever the state of the game. But at tea, the scoreboard still portrayed a stark reality for Somerset, for at 89 for 1, they were still 194 runs adrift of Lancashire.

My tea interval perambulation progressed no further than Gimblett’s Hill. The conversation to be had there is such that had the Duke of Monmouth stopped to talk, his army would still be waiting to fight the Battle of Sedgemoor. The 20-minute tea interval is not enough to start a conversation with the Hill’s denizens, let alone finish one. I didn’t start one, but I did join one. A small group of Lancashire supporters had fallen in with a small group of Somerset supporters. Between them they were engaged in the sort of idyllic cricket symposium I had been part of in the Hollies Stand at Edgbaston before the pandemic. It seemed to work as well between the supporters of two counties as it had then with one. The teams the two groups supported may have been different, but the love of cricket, Championship cricket in particular, was the same. The well of accrued knowledge of the game was as deep as the ocean, and the amount of time needed to share it has yet to be created.

Through the mist of the discussion the players could be seen returning to the field. For those who like watching cricket from ground level the view from Gimblett’s Hill is as excellent as the conversation, particularly when the wicket is pitched over that way. When Bailey drifted onto Lammonby’s legs, the view of the batsman in position well before the ball, and glancing it, well up the bat, neatly to the Lord Ian Botham Stand was one of those joys of which cricket watching is made. The stroke brought up Lammonby’s fifty. It was something for Somerset supporters to applaud after a bleak couple of weeks. There is something about a young player rising from the ashes of a lost match and taking the attack to the opposition with some glorious batting. It set the heart racing. And then racing again, as to end the over the stroke was repeated, lower off the bat, but equally effectively and to the same piece of boundary.

Somerset’s innings was flowing. But the experienced cricket-watcher’s brain, especially mine which enjoys the mathematics of cricket alongside all its other attributes, will always temper spirit with hard calculation. Lammonby had 56, and Somerset had passed the hundred with just one wicket down but, said the calculating brain, they were still 180 behind, still nearly two sessions away from pulling level. Four leg byes, not always easy to detect from beyond the boundary, were easily seen from the Hill coming off Azhar’s pad and running down towards us. The company, Somerset and Lancashire alike, the chat, the view, the cricket, Somerset’s revival, all made for a wonderful half hour. But, at the cricket, I like to watch stretches of play alone to soak in the rhythms of a match, or of an innings, the ebb and flow of the fortunes of the two sides, the mathematics of the scoreboard, the changing moods of the crowd, the chatter, the swings of emotion, the ever-evolving nature of the sky, thoughts of how to portray what I am seeing, all form a never-ending kaleidoscope of the day in which I become lost. I hang on to the picture through the notes I take and the images which form in my mind. And so, I returned to my seat in the Somerset Stand.

Now, Lancashire turned to Parkinson’s leg spin again. After an over or two of careful inspection of the threat, Lammonby resumed his assault. A step down the wicket in Parkinson’s direction followed by a smooth, straight swing of the bat lifted the ball over the bowler’s head and straight into the wall of the Lord Ian Botham Stand. That was followed by a cover drive which slammed into the Somerset Stand boards immediately below me. Blatherwick, taking up the pace attack from the other end suffered a lofted on drive which bounced over the rope in front of the Gimblett’s Hill scoreboard. As each stroke followed the one before, the buzz of the crowd became more animated and hope of a Somerset revival rose.

Azhar meanwhile had kept to the task, scoring more quickly than in the first innings. He had too quietly rotated the strike, benefitted from four overthrows and driven Parkinson stunningly through the off side to the Colin Atkinson Pavilion boundary. Now he added another boundary, this time off Blatherwick, which raced across the rope in front of Legends Square. It was the sort of stroke to raise a spectral round of applause from the old Stragglers’ ghosts. They might too have enjoyed Lammonby driving Parkinson back over his head for the second time, again hitting the wall of the Lord Ian Botham Stand this time on the bounce. That stroke brought up the hundred partnership. That it came from just 118 balls is a measure of the dominance of Lammonby in particular, and the applause which accompanied it spoke of congratulation as much as relief. Somerset, although still 111 runs adrift, were now demonstrably closing the gap.

A well-run single off Azhar’s bat from the bowling of Blatherwick and an even harder-run two when Lammonby turned the next ball to long leg were typical of the intent now being shown by the batsmen. A single brought Azhar back on strike where he was immediately up on his toes to cut a short ball. It came off the bat with such pace it defeated the backward point fielder, although passing little more than two yards in front of him. The applause was now ringing out as the ball ran over the plastic covers directly below me. When, in the next over, Lammonby drove the ball back over Parkinson’s head for the third time it bounced just beyond the rope, into the Lord Ian Botham Stand wall again, and back into the playing area. It registered his first century since the Bob Willis Trophy Final last year. Lammonby’s helmet was off, his arms were aloft, Azhar was giving him a hug, the crowd was on its feet, and with Lancashire’s lead down to 91 and nine Somerset wickets still intact hope dared peep over the parapet.

Then, with Lammonby in full flight, Azhar standing firm at the other end, and Somerset on 194 for 1, Lancashire turned to the part-time spin of Luke Wells. Virtually in an instant, he turned the tide of the innings. Lammonby, tucked up, was rushed as he played back to a leg break which struck the pad en route to the stumps. The umpire raised his finger and Lammonby was applauded all the way back to the boundary, and by Abell as he came out to replace him. Abell scooped his second ball to within half a yard of the hands of a diving Vilas at short midwicket. The next ball was scooped further. This time Vilas took the catch running to his right and Somerset were 194 for 3. A late cut from Azhar off Balderson brought up his fifty from 85 balls, but when he stretched forward in defence against Wells he was unable to keep his heel down and Davies had the bails off. Somerset had fallen from the growing hope of 194 for 1 to the renewed despond of 199 for 4. The dream had dimmed, and the match was firmly back in Lancashire’s hands.

Hildreth momentarily brightened the gloom with successive cover drives off Balderson to the Somerset Stand. In the process he overtook Peter Wight’s 16,965 runs to become Somerset’s third highest first-class run scorer behind Harold Gimblett and Marcus Trescothick. From there, with the light dipping fast and the floodlights on, he and Lewis Goldsworthy quietly played out a day in which Somerset had been rocked hard back on their heels, come storming back with Lammonby’s blaze of glory, then, just as they had reached the cusp of hope, fallen towards the jaws of defeat again. If he follows the Somerset score, my poor consultant’s head must have ended up in his hands, and my treatment plan for blood pressure and heartrate management in the shredder.

Close. Lancashire 373 (L.W.P. Wells 103, S.J. Croft 71, T.E. Bailey 63, J.A. Brooks 4-77, T.B. Abell 3-63). Somerset 90 (J.M. Blatherwick 4-28, T.E. Bailey 3-9) and 226 for 4. Somerset trail by 57 runs with six second innings wickets standing.