The Lights go out for Somerset – Somerset v Nottinghamshire – County Championship 2021 – Phase 2 – Division 1 – 30th, 31st August and 1st September – Day 2

The Lights go out for Somerset – County Championship Division 1. Somerset v Nottinghamshire. 30th, 31st August, and 1st September 2021. Taunton.

Somerset. S.M. Davies (w), T.A. Lammonby, T.B Abell (c), J.C. Hildreth, L.P. Goldsworthy, T. Banton, R.E. van der Merwe, J.H. Davey, M.J. Leach, M de Lange, J. A. Brooks.

Nottinghamshire. B.T. Slater, B.M. Duckett, S.A. Northeast, J.M. Clarke, L.W. James, S.J. Mullaney (c), T. J. Moores (w), L.A. Patterson-White, B.A Hutton, L.J. Fletcher, D. Paterson.

Overnight. Nottinghamshire 282 for 6.

Second day 30th August – The lights go out for Somerset

The second day, particularly the second part of it, had the feeling of Horsham 2013. The pattern of the two matches is different, but the abyss between the performances of the two sides is of a similar order. The Horsham rout left a scar on the psyche of Somerset supporters who were there, including the author, which is yet to fully heal. The second day of this match re-opened the wound for some, including the two who mentioned it to me as we were preparing to leave the ground at the end of the day. Whilst for much of the Nottinghamshire innings there was a feel of balls being bowled against an impenetrable brick wall, Somerset’s first innings had the feel of an ill-formed wall being systematically demolished. Even the sky mimicked the dull cloud of Horsham.

For all that, as my friend of the first day and I took our seats square of the wicket in the Somerset Stand, I doubt Horsham was anywhere near anyone’s thoughts. The overnight Nottinghamshire score gave them the advantage, but it was not yet out of reach. On the second morning, Brooks and Davey brought hope for Somerset, beating the bat more than once. But an eerie premonition descended when Davey found the edge of Patterson-White’s bat and the ball flew high to Abell’s left at second slip. Abell, sprang up and across on the diagonal, stretched, got both hands to the ball but it fell to earth. It would have been an astonishing catch, but Abell catches those. There is rarely a doubt. It pressurizes the opposition, and gives Somerset an edge. Now, just when Somerset needed such a catch to be taken, the ball trickled across the grass and the Somerset heart was numb. Patterson-White was on 50, had taken Nottinghamshire into their position of advantage on the previous evening, and now the morning stretched out before him. Hildreth patted Abell on the back in consolation, but it was a crushing moment.

Patterson-White drew heavily on his reprieve. He drove Brooks through the covers to the Somerset Stand and a thick edge flew wide of second slip to Gimblett’s Hill. When Moores, seemingly intent on holding the other end secure, cut Davey to the Temporary Stand the hundred partnership was announced. “This is getting messy,” my friend announced as a thick edge from Moores off Davey ran down to the Colin Atkinson Pavilion and brought the comment, “The number of times that has happened.” It was only when I began taking notes for these reports that I realized just how often it does happen. When I remarked on it to a cricketer of my acquaintance, he asked me why I thought the third man fielding position had come into being. Davey is Somerset’s most accurate pace bowler after Overton. When Moores, with some assistance from the top edge, cut him for four to the Temporary Stand and Patterson-White turned him to the Lord Ian Botham Stand in an over costing 11 runs people began to look at each other with questioning eyes. The Nottinghamshire batsmen were taking the match away from Somerset, 50 runs being added to the Nottinghamshire side of the equation in the first 12 overs after the players took the field. It was not the sort of thing people were used to seeing happen to the Somerset bowling.

Abell, ever looking for an opening, turned to Tom Lammonby’s left arm seamers. His first ball, to Moores, perhaps straightened marginally off the pitch, defeated Moores’ defensive stroke and was edged straight to Davies behind the stumps. Moores had made 46 in just over two hours, but crucially had stayed with Patterson-White in a partnership of 124. They had taken Nottinghamshire from an indeterminate 208 for 6 to 332 for 7, a position from where they could realistically hope to control the next phase of the match. Brett Hutton joined Patterson-White and Nottinghamshire continued to pressure Somerset. Lammonby in particular came in for punishment. He conceded 20 runs in two overs. An on drive from Patterson-White to the Colin Atkinson Pavilion and two straight drives to the Lord Ian Botham Stand from Hutton added to Nottinghamshire’s dominance as they reached 360 for 7.

Abell did not relent in his efforts to gain some purchase on proceedings. He continued to rotate his bowlers and he, Leach and de Lange brought some semblance of control in the hour to lunch. In the process Leach finally trapped Patterson-White leg before wicket, but not before the batsman had completed his maiden first-class century with a pushed single into the on side. Patterson-White’s century came from 116 balls, with 18 fours in two and a half hours at the crease. It brought extended applause from the Somerset crowd, as always appreciative of good opposition play. It was an exceptional innings from a number eight batsman who had not previously reached three figures. He took some risks, as any batsman playing an innings of that length at that pace is likely to, but for the most part his strokes were controlled, taking advantage of any bowling not on the mark.

Although Nottinghamshire slowed after the departure of Patterson-White, with lunch approaching, Luke Fletcher emphasised their ascendancy when he drove Leach straight to the Lord Ian Botham Stand and lofted him to the River Stand. There were 37 runs and Patterson-White’s wicket in the hour to lunch, but those 37 runs took Nottinghamshire to 397 for 8 and left Somerset, having inserted Nottinghamshire, with the prospect of a batting mountain to climb. It had been an uneasy morning for Somerset supporters.

“The game has gone to sleep,” said my friend about half an hour into the afternoon session. And in a way it had. Nottinghamshire had added six runs in eight overs, four of them maidens. Hutton had edged Davey to gully but the ball had barely travelled halfway before it bounced, and the urgency seemed to have seeped out of the game. It took a wicket to wake it up. Abell replaced Leach, and with his second ball induced a top edge from a pull by Hutton. Davey, running back from mid-on in a series of short steps rather as if he was trying to flatten some soil, let the ball drop neatly into his hands. Hutton had taken nearly two hours for his 31 runs but Nottinghamshire were past 400 and essentially in control of the match.

Now, Fletcher carried them further forward. Before the over was out he had driven Abell off a thick outside edge backward of square to the Ondaatje boundary and lofted him to the River Stand boards. With Paterson at the other end Fletcher farmed the strike and tightened Nottinghamshire’s grip. In the process, Abell found himself being struck for three fours off successive balls, all played or guided from the middle of the bat through the off side. Brooks was lofted straight into the Trescothick Pavilion sightscreen before van der Merwe and de Lange applied a brake. Eventually, trying to attack again, Fletcher was caught by Lammonby off van der Merwe on the long leg boundary. A score of 448 left a numb feeling after Abell had inserted Nottinghamshire a day and a half before. There was what seemed like a collective deep intake of breath before the usual between-innings chatter broke out, and I made my way to the bar at the back of the stand to buy a chocolate brownie by way of solace.

And yet, even when a team is all but 450 runs behind, the sight of their opening batsmen striding to the wicket brings forth a streak of hope in the cricket supporter even though the dead weight of reality hangs heavily in the air. After all, it is a streak of hope that has accompanied Somerset supporters and helped keep them going for 130 years. So, as Davies and Lammonby made their way to the middle with half an hour or so to go to tea, my friend and I settled into our seats and the crowd began an expectant buzz. Five minutes later, the buzz turned to silence as Davies walked off leg before wicket, beaten by a ball angled in from around the wicket by Fletcher and perhaps moving in a little more off the seam. You can hear the deadening silence of reality striking at a cricket match, and you can feel it in the pit of the stomach. Somerset were 2 for 1, 446 behind, and the opening partnership blight had struck again. Davies had not moved his feet. Perhaps he had lost concentration after nine and a half hours behind the stumps someone wondered.

Abell came in at three and clipped Fletcher square to the Caddick Pavilion boundary, but otherwise the remainder of the morning session was, for the Somerset supporter, uncomfortably punctuated by appeals and playing and missing. It is uncanny how often batting looks difficult for your own side immediately after the other side has cruised to a commanding total. A new ball perhaps, or is it that the pent-up anxiety inherent in watching your side bat in such circumstances magnifies every apparent threat from the bowlers. As it was, Lammonby and Abell survived to lunch and posted 11 runs along the long road towards salvation.

I left my friend to his tea and began what at one time would have been a circumnavigation of the ground, that perennial joy of many a Championship-watcher. Not in these coronavirus times, for the cordon sanitaire either side of the entrances to the Caddick and Ondaatje Pavilions where the two teams are housed remains in place. The Club shop in the base of the Ondaatje Pavilion is still accessible and had a steady stream of supporters passing through. That was as far as I could go on my customary anti-clockwise walk, and so I meandered back to my seat via several chats with some of the sages who reside on Gimblett’s Hill. Such chats among cricket spectators during intervals are one of the interminable layers of enjoyment that have been part of Championship cricket since the Championship began and will be, I suspect, as long as it lasts.

This is my fifth Championship match since the coronavirus regulations permitted spectator attendance at matches. I have not missed a day. I have barely missed a minute. And still it feels good to be back. The breeze in my hair, the sun on my face, if not on this day, my weather-guessing eyes on the sky, the anticipation, the cricket, the chat, the smiles and the crack of leather on willow all coalescing into the kaleidoscope of experiences that is a day at the cricket. The world is trying to get back on its axis.

After tea, Somerset tried to get back on theirs. Lammonby was focused on defence, Abell intent on attack. The light was soon dipping with the floodlights called in aid, but it did not deter Abell. In the second over he drove Paterson hard and straight along the ground. The bowler dived, got a hand to the ball but it burst through only to stop a few yards in front of the Trescothick Pavilion while Abell took three runs. Again against Paterson, a glance, fine in both senses of the word, evaded everyone. It reached the Colin Atkinson Pavilion boundary to a mixture of mutterings about Abell’s use of a stroke which seems too often to get him out, and applause for the quality of it. More applause for a checked drive, off Hutton, through extra cover which cut a swathe across the outfield as it raced to the Temporary Stand boundary with still enough force to bounce into the boundary boards as it flew up from the rope. “Shot!” someone shouted, although no-one needed telling. This was Abell at his controlled, positive best. The spirit rose as the score crept up, and hope grew that Somerset might yet raise a competitive score. A straight drive to the Trescothick Stand off Paterson brooked no argument and more cries of, “Shot!” rang out. When Fletcher replaced Paterson he was promptly driven through the air to the Ondaatje boundary for four more, and a spectacular cover drive off Hutton to the Colin Atkinson Pavilion scoreboard set the heart racing. Somerset were past fifty, still one wicket down. The batsmen, it seemed, were in no trouble, and Somerset supporters were breathing a little more easily.

A foundation for a meaningful Somerset innings was being fashioned. Lammonby though had reached only ten in over an hour at the crease and was firmly locked in defensive mode. His innings fitted the feel engendered by the weather. Even with the lights on it looked dark from the Somerset Stand. Then Lammonby pushed forward, again in defence, edged the ball, and Moores, diving, took the catch behind the stumps. Somerset 51 for 2. And then the mode of dismissal which always brings a groan among experienced Somerset watchers when Abell suffers it. Attempting the glance, he got too fine a touch and was caught down the leg side by the keeper. 52 for 3. Abell 25.

Suddenly, as if in horror at the turnaround in events, the floodlights went out. It was immediately apparent just how dark the day had become. “November dusk,” someone said, and it was very dark, even if the cloud, grey and all-encompassing though it was, seemed high enough. Doubtless, in the days before lights, had the light sunk slowly to that level and the players then been taken off there would have been complaints. But the sudden change left no doubt, perhaps helped a little by the pupils having adjusted to the lights. And then, in one of those glorious instances of cricket ground announcements sticking rigidly to form, however obvious the circumstances, the ground dissolved into laughter as from the depths of the dystopian gloom came the formal announcement that, “The umpires have suspended play for bad light.”

No sooner were the lights off than they were on again, the darkness was lightened and Lewis Goldsworthy had replaced Abell at the crease. Goldsworthy has made an impact this season, but he still wants a defining score. He is inclined to work his way into the 30s or 40s and then lose his wicket. That said, he is but 20 years of age and there is time. The defining score did not come here. An on drive to the River Stand off Hutton was rewarded with an emphatic shout of, “Shot!” but an attempt to guide Fletcher to fine leg succeeded only in offering Moores a second relatively straightforward catch on the leg side. Goldsworthy walked for five, and Somerset were 68 for 4, still 380 behind.

A hook from Hildreth off Hutton for four to the Somerset Stand boundary was followed by a drive, square through point towards the Caddick Pavilion boundary for two. But beyond that Hildreth never really looked secure as the light darkened. An uncontrolled thick edge and a missed cut added to the impression. There was a huge leg before wicket appeal from Paterson. “Going over,” someone said. It did not though make for restful Somerset watching as, with the light fading, Nottinghamshire kept Fletcher to the task, perhaps beyond his normal allocation. Eventually Hildreth came forward in defence to Paterson, was beaten, and departed for 12 to another huge leg before wicket appeal. Somerset were 72 for 5 and a sense of foreboding in the chatter reflected the light.

Roleof van der Merwe lasted precisely three balls before playing late across the line to a straight ball from Hutton which a replay showed to have struck the pads directly in line with the middle stump. It could not have been a more conclusive dismissal. Somerset 77 for 6. The accelerating tumbling of wickets was numbing in itself, and even more so in the context of Somerset starting in second place in a four-match league to determine the County Championship. They might never have a better opportunity, and it seemed to be unravelling in front of our eyes. The shaking of a few heads, the silence of others and a few gruff comments the response from around me. When Jack Leach came to the wicket and drove Hutton straight back to the Trescothick Pavilion the response was, “Shot of the day from our number eight.” The comment was not entirely accurate, but it was accurate enough to make the point.

As the light closed in again the gloom challenged the floodlights for supremacy. Banton defied it with an extra cover drive to the Temporary Stand but was then hurried by a ball from Paterson that lifted, found the edge and was taken behind the stumps by Moores. The chatter in the stands continued, if with a subdued tone, but there was an underlying quiet which spoke with more eloquence than any of the comments about the predicament in which Somerset found themselves. While people tried to come to terms with it, the umpires permitted two more balls before the light, now visibly dropping by the moment, made any further play impossible. Somerset ended on 87 for 7 with the crowd trying to come to terms with the distinct possibility of another season without the Championship.

Close. Nottinghamshire 448 (L. A. Patterson-White 101, J.M. Clarke 59, L.J. Fletcher 51, T.B. Abell 3-84). Somerset 87 for 7. Somerset trail by 361 runs with three first innings wickets standing.