“You Bears!” – Warwickshire v Somerset – County Championship 2021 – Edgbaston – 21st, 22nd, 23rd and 24th September – Final Day

County Championship Division 1. Warwickshire v Somerset. 21st, 22nd, 23rd and 24th  September 2021. Edgbaston.

Warwickshire. R.M. Yates, D.P. Sibley, W.M.H. Rhodes (c), S.R. Hain, M.J. Lamb, M.G.K. Burgess (w), C.R. Woakes, T.T. Bresnan, D.R. Briggs, C.N. Miles, L.C. Norwell.

Somerset. T.A. Lammonby, B.G.F. Green, Azhar Ali, T.B Abell (c), L.P. Goldsworthy, S.M. Davies (w), L. Gregory, C. Overton, J.H. Davey, M. J. Leach, J. A. Brooks.  

Overnight. Warwickshire 367. Somerset 239 for 5. Somerset trail by 128 runs with five first innings wickets standing

Final day 24th September – “You bears!”

After the two sides had fought each other to a standstill over the first eight sessions of this match, Warwickshire spectacularly grabbed the initiative on the third evening. A match that had been heavily contested at around three runs an over was suddenly racing along at six, with the Somerset fielders falling back towards the boundary in an attempt to contain a cascade of Warwickshire runs. On a pitch on which only 21 wickets had fallen on the first three days, Warwickshire’s ease of scoring suggested that bowling Somerset out in the fourth innings might be no easy task. It was a task that would stand between Warwickshire and the County Championship.

There is no greater incentive to endeavour in county cricket than the prospect of winning the Championship. I have never forgotten the mesmeric intensity I saw in the eyes of Nottinghamshire’s Ryan Sidebottom and Andre Adams on the television screen in the Durham members lounge in 2010 as, with irresistible intent at Old Trafford, they overwhelmed Lancashire’s top order in four overs to gain the bonus point they needed to win the Championship and deny it to Somerset. That memory hung in the air, at least for me, as the remainder of the Warwickshire innings unfolded. The Edgbaston pitch was with Somerset. The visceral force unleashed by the proximity of a Championship title that had so empowered the Nottinghamshire bowlers in 2010 was with Warwickshire.

On the final morning, under the first consistently cloud-covered skies of the match, Somerset’s tactics were entirely focused on attempting to slow Warwickshire’s rate of scoring, presumably to limit the time Somerset would have to bat and the target they might be set. Whenever Rhodes, who had been devastating the previous evening, came on strike, all nine fielders retreated to the unusually short boundaries. When Yates faced, it was three in, six out. Against both batsmen, yorkers and attempted yorkers wide of off stump were high on the agenda. Warwickshire, the Championship firmly in focus, responded by immediately picking up the momentum of the night before. They played into the gaps created by a far-flung field and began at eight runs an over.

The tone was set when Yates drove Overton’s second ball of the morning through a gap in the covers to the Raglan Stand. The crowd was in immediate voice, applause turning to cheers as the first cry of, “You bears,” rang out. When Rhodes deployed the scoop against Overton, the ball raced through a gap at fine leg, crossed the Pavilion End boundary and Rhodes had posted his fifty from 31 balls. When Yates drove straight at Overton, the ball flew through backward point to the West Stand, again evading the scattered field. Against Brooks, Rhodes reached for and steered a wide yorker through point to the Hollies Stand boundary. It crossed the rope as two closing boundary fielders met behind it, which was, in microcosm, the story of the start of the day. In the first four overs of the morning, 32 runs were added, Warwickshire’s lead was 189, and estimates for a declaration time shortened.

The crowd seemed small given the stakes, just upwards of a dozen in the Hollies Stand, but a buzz of anticipatory chatter could be heard drifting in from the more populated areas, and the sense of excitement grew as the Warwickshire batsmen continued their relentless attack on the bowling, if not at quite the rate at which they had launched the morning. An over from Brooks illustrates the continuing story. Yates pulled the first ball behind square; it again evaded the field and found the Raglan Stand boundary. There were no more boundaries, and yet, playing into the open spaces, the batsmen took their tally for the over to ten.

A typically sharp piece of fielding from Overton when bowling heralded a brief Somerset fightback. Yates pushed him towards point with the point fielder on the boundary. Rhodes called for two, as the fielder ran in. Overton raced to intercept the ball, reached it ahead of the incoming fielder, Yates sent Rhodes, already halfway up the pitch, back. Overton threw, Davies gathered, and the bails were off with Rhodes a yard short. Warwickshire 226 for 2. Lead 204. Rhodes, 62 from 44 balls, was applauded all the way to the Pavilion. An over later, Hain followed having been struck on the pad by Brooks. “Aaaagh!” someone in the Hollies Stand cried out as the umpire’s finger went up, and Warwickshire were 231 for 3, 209 ahead.

The second half hour was a continuation of the first, if with a rising sense of anticipation. The chatter, reflecting that rising anticipation, became more intense and the applause for the singles and the cheers for the boundaries rose in volume as the overs left in the day ticked down. When Yates clipped Overton through backward square leg to the Hollies Stand he brought up his century from 149 balls and the ground erupted. Twice in an over, Lamb, who had replaced Hain, struck Overton for six, once lofting him over midwicket and once pulling him over long on to where the Raglan and Wyatt Stands meet. 261 for 3. Lead 239. In an over from Brooks in which only four runs were scored one of the batsmen could clearly be heard demanding, “Two, two, two, two,” and two, manufactured from the gap in the field, there were.

At the end of the 50th over of the innings, Warwickshire were 276 for 3. 254 ahead. 82 overs left in the day. Calculations underway no doubt in every corner of the ground. The crunch was coming. The 51st over was bowled from the City End by Josh Davey. From Yates, a full-blooded drive was aimed at the second ball. It flew off the edge to the Pavilion for four. The fourth was pulled over deep backward square leg for six, the boundary fielder only getting get a hand to it after it had crossed the rope. The fifth was again pulled behind square, again it defeated the fielder to cross the rope, this time for four. Eighteen runs the final tally from the over. Applause followed every run, cheers and, “You bears,” rang out each time the ball crossed the rope. Then, an acknowledgement to the Pavilion from Yates, a touch of gloves between the batsmen and they walked off, Yates with 132, Lamb with 27. The final equation: Somerset would need 273 to win from 79 overs. “273 is a lot in the fourth innings in any circumstances, let alone at pace against a determined opponent,” said the incoming text from a Somerset supporter who knows his cricket. “Indeed,” my thought.

In the break between the innings, I looked at the few faces in the Hollies Stand, 27 I counted at the start of the Somerset innings. They were taut, with eyes looking into an indeterminate distance, tense, quiet. There were more opposite, in the Family and Raglan Stands and more still in the Wyatt Stand and the Pavilion, more than on the first three days, although still the numbers seemed oddly low given what might play out before them. All though would have had that same, distant look. All hoping, wondering, fearing. As the clock continued its relentless counting away of time, gradually more came, walking along the front of the stands, or coming in from the back, their faces filled with that same look, for now came we to the reckoning.

As Lammonby and Green walked out to bat, the cloud was high, the breeze chill, the tension acute. They began positively but tested the nerves of both sets of supporters. Lammonby, struck in the chest by a short ball from Norwell, pulled the next, connected with the top edge and the looping ball just cleared Woakes at mid-on. Missed breaths all around. Green played and missed, then turned Norwell through square leg to the Hollies Stand for four. Lammonby found the Family Stand boundary, then reached outside off stump to pull Woakes to long on. The ball stayed in the air long enough to bring audible gasps. Green clipped Norwell perfectly off his toes to the Hollies Stand for four, and then, playing defensively, edged him past the third of three slips to the Wyatt Stand. With the hearts of opposing supporters alternately racing and stopping, after six overs Somerset were 26 for 0 with most of the runs coming off Norwell. Woakes had conceded little, and when Bresnan replaced Norwell four runs came from the next four overs. To a Somerset supporter 273 seemed a very long way away.

Further still when, in Briggs’ spinner’s over before lunch, Lammonby, on 11, tried to cut a ball which turned into him and drove him back. It flew waspishly off the edge to Bresnan’s left at slip, but Bresnan’s hands were equal to it, and Somerset were 31 for 1, 242 runs short. The celebrations on the field and the cheers in the stands were instantaneous. Then, before the players went off for lunch with Somerset on 32 for 1, an inside edge from Green off Bresnan fell safely, but brought wincing gasps from around the ground as the atmosphere bit.

The lunch interval must have seemed endless for Warwickshire supporters, for they would be both wishing the interval away so that they could get back to the cricket, and fearful that it might all come to nought when they did. With 2010, and for that matter 2019, still fresh in the memory, I knew how those conflicting emotions churn the stomach and torture the brain. I was not without churn myself, hoping, against the odds, for a Somerset victory that may not come, or at least a draw. But, it was the last day of the season and there are certain rites which have to be observed whatever the state of the game. A final ground circumnavigation of the season, or as much of one as the ground allowed. A gentle amble behind the Hollies and Barnes Stand took me into the Wyatt Stand. From there the pitch seemed a very long way off. The scene was the same there as everywhere. Some sitting quietly contemplating. Some chatting but looking tense. Others, many, walking the ground as I was, but still looking tense. The smiles I normally see on my perambulations replaced by those distance-looking eyes. The County Championship matters above all to lifelong county supporters.

It mattered to the slowly growing numbers in the Hollies Stand. Their faces told all. A quiet start to the afternoon with ball and bat tightened the screw of tension another quarter turn, three overs ticking by for three runs. Two of the overs in particular, from Woakes, repeatedly tested the batsmen, and the nerves of those looking on. Still 238 needed in 64 overs, three and three quarter runs an over, every over, and still nine wickets needed by Warwickshire, one every seven overs. Tension rising in the stands, pressure building on the field. And then, Bresnan sent a delivery down the leg side, whether designed for temptation, or in error, I know not. Green, tempted, attempted to flick it to fine leg, and the merest feather of a touch sent it into the gloves of Burgess. A strangle perhaps, to use cricketing terminology, but perhaps an omen too. Green stood transfixed in disbelief, the Warwickshire players jumped in delight and were swallowed in a huddle of ecstatic celebration. The crowd cheered and cheered and cheered again until the cheers subsided into applause which, to the Somerset ear, had an air of Warwickshire anticipation. Somerset 35 for 2. Green 18.

Before Somerset could regroup, Woakes reaped the reward for his probing line when Azhar stabbed at a ball, perhaps trying to steer it past the slips. It flew fast, but straight to Hain at second slip. Again, the instant celebrations. Warwickshire looked like they were really beginning to believe, the crowd was cheering beyond its size and, “You bears,” was ringing out. Somerset were 35 for 3, still 238 short of their target. It would take a monumental effort now if they were to win this match, and not far short of that to draw it, for the now very realistic prospect of the Championship was driving Warwickshire on.

For Somerset, Lewis Goldsworthy joined Tom Abell and tried to turn the tide. He has made a name for himself in Somerset this year for battling when Somerset are struggling. While Abell defended grimly, Goldsworthy began to find the boundary. Bresnan was cut hard through backward point to the Raglan Stand and Woakes to the Hollies Stand. Agonisingly, he played and missed more than once too, a shout of, “Go on! Get another wicket!” breaking through the nervous chatter as one ball fizzed past the edge. When he hooked Woakes, the four runs came off a top edge which went straight over the keeper’s head. That brought up Somerset’s fifty. I breathed a sigh of relief. I have always marvelled at how 53 for 3 looks so much better than 49 for 3. Warwickshire supporters reacted in different ways. Most faces were still taut, one man was intensely biting bis nails, another was reading a book.

A maiden from Bresnan brought loud applause, while on the field the Warwickshire players played as if powered by electricity, which perhaps only a team within touching distance of the Championship can play. Somerset in the field on the last afternoon of 2019 sprang to mind. When Abell, still on nought after half an hour at the wicket, attempted to steer the new bowler, Miles, through backward point he was caught by a sharply diving Yates at gully. A deafening cheer went up, filling the ears as the Warwickshire players huddled in elation. All the Somerset supporter could do was applaud the growing dominance of Warwickshire’s attack as it threatened to overwhelm the Somerset batsmen. Any thought of a Somerset victory was banished by that wicket, and the heart sank as thoughts of a draw receded.

Goldsworthy was still fighting, although his next boundary, off Bresnan, came off the bottom edge, narrowly evaded the off stump and went just beyond the keeper’s left glove to gasps before running down to the growing population in the Wyatt Stand. The next ball had Goldsworthy jerking his head around to locate the direction of the ball as it flew wide of the slips. Two more to the total. The chatter in the crowd was becoming ever more animated as the pressure on Somerset grew. Then amongst all the pressure, Steven Davies announced himself with an off drive that flowed so smoothly off the bat and across the grass for three it might have been played on the last afternoon of a dead draw. Thoughts ran around the mind that Goldsworthy’s swashbuckle and Davies’ calm might just combine to build a partnership for Somerset which might take them within range of saving the game.  

Goldsworthy clipped Miles through backward square leg to the West Stand but had been roundly beaten by the previous ball. The continued unpredictability of Goldsworthy’s innings was unnerving for anyone watching in the Somerset interest. The boundary took Somerset to 71 for 4 and Goldsworthy to 29. But, with the sun beginning to cast sharp shadows, Goldsworthy’s luck ran out. First, Miles forced the thickest of edges and the ball ran towards the backward point boundary for two. Then, two balls later, Goldsworthy attempted to defend, the ball popped straight up, but Miles failed to get under it in his follow through. Finally, when Goldsworthy drove wide of off stump the edge flew to third slip and Somerset were 73 for 5. Warwickshire, players and supporters both, were exultant. Cheers filled the air and “You bears!” rang out with a confidence that suggested anticipation had turned to expectation.

Davies and the new batsman, Gregory, tried to settle while Warwickshire kept the stumps and outside edge constantly under threat. Norwell bowled four successive maidens, beat Davies and then pushed him back to strike the pads to a tremendous appeal followed by shouts of encouragement from the crowd. Gregory drove Miles, but the cover fielder dived, got his fingers to the ball and pushed it to mid-off. “Great fielding,” someone said amidst the cheers and the applause. Encouragement was now being shouted from one section of the crowd or another after virtually every ball. And all the while, the excited chatter, with now perhaps 2,000 people in the ground, continued unabated.  

It became a little quieter when Davies executed a textbook on drive to the Barnes Stand and a square drive to the Family Stand in successive balls off Miles. But it erupted again with thunderous cheers and cries of, “You bears,” and, “Warwickshire La La La,” when Norwell reaped the reward of the relentless pressure. Davies was pushed back and bowled. Somerset were 85 for 6 with tea approaching. 90 for 7 when Overton, having cut Norwell through backward point for four was bowled by Woakes. “You bears,” again, followed by more, “Warwickshire La La La.” And then expectant cheers again, loud and long. Jack Leach was greeted with four slips and was immediately beaten by Woakes. There was no let up, either in the constant pressure from the bowling or in the encouragement from the crowd. “Come on,” here, “You bears,” there, “Warwickshire La La La,” in response, applause at every opportunity. “Howzat!” someone cried in response to a Gregory leg bye. And then, off the last ball before tea, a bit of Somerset defiance as Leach lifted Woakes perfectly over the slips to the Pavilion for four.

Warwickshire were applauded and cheered all the way off the field, supporters in the Pavilion moving along the rows towards the steps which the Warwickshire team ascended to their dressing room to applaud. Supporters all the way around the ground, in some numbers now in the Wyatt Stand, if still scattered elsewhere, perhaps now 40 or so in the Hollies Stand, on their feet applauding as the Somerset batsmen made their quiet way back to their dressing room in the Wyatt Stand. Somerset were 102 for 7 with Gregory defiant on four scored in 40 minutes of intense defence.

The sun was shining brightly as Woakes ran in from the City End to bowl his first ball after tea to Leach. He was accompanied by a drum beat of applause rising to a crescendo as he reached his delivery stride. Leach responded with the straightest of bats, but his off stump was spectacularly uprooted. The drumbeat erupted into a wall of cheers as the Warwickshire players again engulfed one another in celebration. Only Gregory, Davey and Brooks now stood in the way of Warwickshire’s eighth County Championship, and there seemed no prospect of them withstanding the Warwickshire bowlers for another two hours or more.

Gregory, although beaten occasionally had otherwise looked an oasis of calm before tea and drove Bresnan beautifully through point for four in the first over after. In Bresnan’s second over he performed a pirouette in producing a controlled hook to the Barnes Stand boundary. Now he and Davey went on the attack. Three times in an over from Bresnan, Gregory found the boundary. An edged drive flew over the slips to the Wyatt Stand, a clip off the legs reached the Barnes Stand and an off drive the West Stand. “C’mon lads,” shouted someone on the field as Miles exerted some control. Spontaneous bursts of applause and a shout of, “C’mon bears,” the response from the crowd.

For Somerset, Davey drove Norwell through the off side to the West Stand and opened the face to send another ball to the Wyatt Stand. There was applause from Somerset supporters and from some Warwickshire ones too. But when Gregory attempted to cut a short, chest-high ball from Miles, he edged it to Burgess behind the stumps. The eruption of cheering which followed surpassed all that had gone before. “Yeah!” someone nearby shouted for the whole stand to hear. “Warwickshire La La La,” and, “You bears!” followed. The trail of applause which followed the cheers fell away and then rallied briefly for Gregory as he reached the boundary. He had been the epitome of stoicism for an hour and a half with most of his 31 runs coming after tea. But now, Somerset were 149 for 9 with an hour and a half remaining.

With only Jack Brooks to come, the outcome was awaited with every ball. The noise, a mixture of spontaneous applause, cheering, shouts of encouragement, more chants of, “Warwickshire La La La,” and, “You bears,” was now virtually continuous. Brooks momentarily stood against the inevitable. He drove Miles through the covers to the Hollies Stand, but the now almost celebratory cheering and chanting continued unabated until, seven balls later, he was pushed back by Norwell, who looked to be running in powered by afterburners. The ball flew to Rhodes in the gully. One Warwickshire player’s cap was thrown 20 feet in the air, the celebratory huddle was exultant, the celebrations in the crowd volcanic, everyone who could stand was standing, applauding and cheering, and all the faces which had been so unbearably taut during the heart of the struggle were wreathed in smiles. 

Josh Davey and Jack Brooks were left mid-pitch, looking stunned, although that may just have been my perception. They were virtually motionless, waiting for the Warwickshire players’ celebrations to subside so that they could shake hands. I was on my feet, quietly applauding, for winning the County Championship is the pinnacle of achievement for any county and it had been a tremendous four days of cricket even though, in the end, Somerset had been on the wrong end of it. The two teams had fought each other to a standstill, over by over, for the first eight sessions. Only when Sibley, Yates and Rhodes had batted with the route to the Championship firmly in their sights was the match wrenched away from Somerset.

And then, with the Warwickshire team gathering in front of the Pavilion for the presentation, I took myself off to the Pavilion terrace to watch, as I had at Taunton in 2011 when Lancashire won the trophy, and in 2019 when Essex did. This was the first time I had seen the trophy won by a county on its home ground. Supporters gathered on the Pavilion terrace either side of the sight screen and on the balcony above. Cheers, applause and smiles were unrestrained. I stood back, for this was someone else’s celebration, but I watched it all, as I had on the last two occasions, remembering the times when Somerset had come so close. And then, as I left, I came across two other Somerset supporters. “Winter well,” we said, thoughts already turning to next season.

Result. Warwickshire 367 (S.R. Hain 83, W.M.H. Rhodes 60, D.P. Sibley 56, C. Overton 5-88, J.A. Brooks 3-83) and 294 for 3 dec (R.M. Yates 132*, W.M.H. Rhodes 62, D.P. Sibley 50). Somerset 389 (L. Gregory 68, Azhar Ali 60, T. Lammonby 59, T.T. Bresnan 3-35, D.R. Briggs 3-77, C.R. Woakes 3-100) and 154 (C.N. Miles 3-26, C.R. Woakes 3-39). Warwickshire won by 118 runs. Warwickshire 22 points. Somerset 5 points (deducted one point for slow over rate).