Sinking Feeling – Somerset v Nottinghamshire – County Championship 2021 – Phase 2 – Division 1 – Taunton – 30th and 31st August and 1st September – Final Day

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 448. Somerset 87 for 7. Somerset trail by 361 runs with three first innings wickets standing.

Final day 1st September – Sinking feeling

It was a gloomy start to the day, both in the sky and in the stands. Looking up, the cloud seemed higher than at the start of the second day, but the light looked no better. Looking out, the light had dressed the Quantocks in drab maroon, dull green and misty grey. They caught the mood. Looking around, there was a resigned air as Somerset faced a 361-run first innings deficit with just three first innings wickets standing.

For the first time this season I was sitting in the top of the Trescothick Pavilion, back to my old haunt after nearly two years watching on a screen from beyond the closed doors, or from a seat allocated elsewhere. It was a curious, unexpected sensation, as if the coronavirus interregnum had never happened. Familiar faces, not seen in all that time, in familiar seats with familiar waves of recognition, as if I and they had last seen each other only yesterday. It gave the spirit a lift.

The crowd was less than half the size of that on the first day, but it still managed a light, continuous chatter, although the talk was often not about the cricket. Perhaps the cricket was too depressing, or perhaps, with people able to sit again with whoever they chose, without having to request seats in coronavirus-secure bubbles beforehand, there was a lot of catching up to be done.

There was a lot of catching up to be done for Somerset too. So much so that Nottinghamshire resumed against Somerset’s last three first innings wickets without using their prime bowler, Luke Fletcher. He, presumably, was being held back for the top order of Somerset’s second innings. It did not take long. The avalanche of Somerset wickets which had begun with the loss of Tom Abell the previous evening continued unabated on the third morning. The remaining three wickets fell for 20 runs in barely half an hour, and in virtual silence. There was applause for a de Lange boundary, and ironic cheers because it brought up Somerset’s hundred with eight wickets down, but the overriding background to the cricket was one of silent embarrassment.

As to the remainder of the innings, Leach, Davey and de Lange each found the boundary once, but none survived long. Leach was caught at first slip attempting to defend against Hutton after a huge leg before wicket appeal to the ball before and walked off to silence. Davey was caught behind attempting to defend against Paterson, Moores taking the deflection to his right. De Lange lost his middle stump trying to deposit Hutton somewhere on the far side of the river and Somerset had ended 341 runs adrift. Davey and de Lange departed in silence too, the applause for the Nottinghamshire team apart.

“Confirmation that the follow-on has been enforced has been received from our umpires,” the inevitable announcement. Nottinghamshire’s bowlers had bowled only 8.4 overs since the start of play and Fletcher had bowled none. Somerset had batted precisely 38.5 overs to Nottinghamshire’s 142.1. It was a devastating position and the chill wind which blew through the top of the Trescothick Pavilion did nothing to brighten Somerset faces or rouse Somerset voices.

Now that the business end of the day had arrived, Fletcher ran in from the Trescothick Pavilion End to four slips. The batsmen, intent on defence, left the ball at every opportunity, Lammonby sometimes leaving on height. It was the fourth over before a run was scored, Lammonby driving Hutton, bowling from the River End, back past the stumps for two. There were gently ironic cheers for the first runs after a slow start. Davies finally got off the mark in the seventh over with a cover drive off Fletcher, also for two. That took the score to 10 for 0. Three balls later, Davies pushed at a ball that moved away and was caught behind. He left to an audible silence punctuated only by the occasional comment, comments spoken with voices so subdued it was as if they needed to be said but did not want to be heard.

The loss of Davies so early in the innings felt like a hammer blow, and the spectre of defeat hung in the air like a cold sweat, for Somerset seemed to have no answer to the Nottinghamshire attack. Abell and Lammonby tried to mount a defence. There was no doubting their intent, but they never looked secure. Lammonby was making fine judgements, leaving balls which looked very close to the stumps. “One of those Lammonby leaves would have taken out a fourth stump,” said the incoming text. The bat was beaten, and the ball ran away off thick edges too often for comfort, and after 12 overs Somerset had reduced the deficit by just 19 runs.

I walked onto the Trescothick Pavilion roof terrace to watch from over the umpire’s head, hoping for a different perspective. Paterson and Mullaney immediately took up the bowling, Mullaney bringing a distinct drop in pace. It was the first time in the match Nottinghamshire had needed to turn to a fourth bowler. Initially, it seemed to take some of the pressure off the batsmen as Lammonby attacked Mullaney. He pulled his first ball behind square to the Somerset Stand for four. His third flew low to second slip, but it was clear from the terrace it had come off the pad. Then, off the final delivery of the over, Lammonby guided the ball through third man to the Colin Atkinson Pavilion boundary. It was though a small oasis of runs in a desert of tough defending. Both bowlers were moving the ball in the air, but it was not late movement, and the batsmen battled uneasily through to lunch. A lunch score of 35 for 1 from 17 overs reflected the nature of the play in the face of a determined, probing Nottinghamshire attack and a deficit still standing at 306.

And then, and for Somerset supporters some light relief was much needed, came one of those cricket ground announcements made, as always, in full seriousness, and with timing which no comedian could match. With Somerset facing a crushing defeat and a searing blow to their Championship hopes, and with their supporters trying to come to terms with it all, the following floated across the ground: “Due to time lost yesterday, these are the amended times for the remainder of the day. Tea: 3.49. Evening session: 4.09 to 6.19.” “What?” the most coherent comment to emerge from the laughter. “Synchronise watches,” someone added. Oh, what joy it was to be back at the cricket.

Amended times duly logged, lunch eaten, seats retaken, Tom Abell and Tom Lammonby re-emerged from the Caddick Pavilion. Abell re-established his guard and took a clipped single off Paterson’s first over from the River End. After four overs, three more runs had been added, Somerset’s progress as painfully slow as it had been for most of the innings. In the fifth over, the pressure told. Paterson targeted off stump, Abell played a straight, defensive stroke, but edged behind where Moores took the catch moving neatly to his right. 39 for 2 from 21 overs. Abell 11, scored in over an hour. Under such pressure, against bowling of the quality Nottinghamshire were purveying in helpful conditions, the wicket did not come as a surprise. Again, a deafening silence accompanied Abell back to the Pavilion.

It took five more overs to add another five runs, four of which came from a glorious Hildreth cover drive off Fletcher. “Hooray!” someone shouted. Whether in relief or hope it was difficult to tell. Three balls later, Hildreth held his bat aloft and the ball upended his off stump. Fletcher’s second wicket. “Sinking feeling,” my note says. Numb feet and hands too, and not because of the cold. More silence as Hildreth walked off with Somerset on 44 for 3. Somerset it seemed could neither defend their wickets nor score the runs which might at least disturb the bowlers’ confidence.

Goldsworthy joined Lammonby. In the first six overs they squeezed out 11 runs. Eight of those came in one over from Hutton in which Lammonby, to a shout of, “Hooray!” and some stilted applause, drove emphatically through the on side to Gimblett’s Hill, taking Somerset past 50, and pulled with perfect control fine to the Lord Ian Botham Stand. With the embryonic partnership trying to establish itself, Mullaney, the Nottinghamshire captain, switched to the slow left arm of the 22-year-old Liam Patterson-White. When Lammonby attempted to sweep he was rapped on the pads. When he followed that with a paddle sweep the ball passed so close to the stumps it went through the keeper’s legs and ran towards the Trescothick Pavilion for three.

Lammonby had fought a largely solitary campaign, but now, as he defended against Hutton, he edged a ball from around the wicket to Clarke diving long and low from first slip towards the keeper. Lammonby had made 34 from 95 balls in nearly two and a half hours. It had been a battling innings which brought warm applause, but at 59 for 4 in the 35th over, the lack of runs, with nearly a day and a half remaining, had kept all the pressure on the batsmen.

Now Tom Banton emerged from the Pavilion. He and Goldsworthy entered on another campaign of intense defence. It was eight overs before a boundary came, and that, off Mullaney, a thick edge from Goldsworthy through third man to the River Stand. It was another four overs before Banton drove Mullaney straight to the Trescothick Pavilion boundary. “Oh yes!” the response to the stroke. Then, a shout of, “Good running boys,” as the batsmen completed a fast-run two after Banton pushed Mullaney past mid-off. A three driven through deep midwicket towards the Somerset Stand, now comparatively denuded of spectators, brought some applause. Banton’s strokes were becoming more forceful and at least gave a sense that Somerset were beginning to move. He was beginning to lift the crowd too.

And then, “He’s gone!” Banton, late on a defensive stroke, had been struck on the pad. “First ball,” someone added, for it was the first ball of Paterson’s new spell. Banton and Goldsworthy had batted 14 overs, six of which were maidens, for 24 runs. Banton had made 17 of those from 53 balls and he received some generous applause as he walked off. Now came van der Merwe, Somerset’s purveyor of late-order, explosive innings. Not on this day. He clipped his first ball straight to Northeast at midwicket. “We are playing on a different pitch,” the comment as the scoreboard registered Somerset at 85 for 6. When Goldsworthy went forward in defence he became Paterson’s third wicket of the over, bowled for 11 from 55 balls. Somerset were 86 for 7 in the 49th over. Within a run, it was where they had begun the day in their first innings. The Nottinghamshire players ran en masse to deep point to celebrate. It was as if they had already won. They hadn’t, but I doubt anyone still in the ground expected the result to be deferred much beyond tea.

From the fall of Abell at 39 for 2, it had taken 27 overs for Somerset to score the 47 runs to reach 86 for 7. It left Leach and Davey at the wicket with two overs to survive until tea, which they did, finding the boundary three times in the process with some hard-hitting driving. The tea score stood at 98 for 7 from 51 overs with Nottinghamshire’s first innings score still a distant 243 runs away.

There was a different feel to the day after tea. Defeat for Somerset was inevitable, but courtesy of some judicious hitting from Leach, some calculated strike rotation from Davey, and a characteristic blitz from de Lange, 83 runs came in 15 overs for the loss of the final three wickets. I have no notes for the first two of those overs as I dallied too long chatting on my teatime perambulation. Leach and Davey did not dally, for they added ten runs while I talked. There were another seven from Leach during the over I spent standing at the back of the top tier of the Trescothick Pavilion, Patterson-White the bowler. A straight drive to the Lord Ian Botham Stand, and one of the many threes struck in this match towards the long boundary in front of the Somerset Stand. With me in my seat, “Yeah!” someone shouted as the crowd found its voice in response to another straight drive from Leach, this one reaching the boundary below me. And then another, “Yeah,” and cheers as Davey glanced to the Colin Atkinson Pavilion boundary. Nine the tally from that Paterson over. 124 for 7, Leach already on 27.

It raised Somerset spirits, at least superficially, but beneath the applause and the shouts sat the realisation that the flurry of runs was only delaying the inevitable. The air was turning more chill too, and coats had been finding their way onto the backs of those who remained. Then the familiar flash of the led floodlights coming on. Leach greeted them with a stunning square drive off Patterson-White to the Somerset Stand, rather as if an actor had responded with a flourish to a spotlight suddenly illuminating his corner of the stage. But, for Somerset, this was a tragedy, not a heroic epic, and two balls later Leach advanced down the wicket to push Patterson-White into the covers and was stumped. 132 for 8. Leach 35 from 37 balls in 37 minutes. Somerset till 209 adrift. Leach, after the silences that had followed the fall of earlier wickets, was applauded virtually all the way to the rope.

And then, as the curtains made ready for the final call, Marchant de Lange walked out for what is becoming the standard finale to a Somerset innings. While Davey continued to hold firm at the other end, de Lange launched into his rendition of the modern version of the classic tail-end innings of old. No matter how successful the bowlers have been, they are liable to find themselves giving centre stage to de Lange.

Patersonfirst. Bowling from the Trescothick Pavilion End he ran into de Lange’s swinging bat and the ball landed in the car park beyond the Ondaatje Stand. When Patterson-White tried from the River End, the ball landed in the back row of the River Stand and a slog sweep crossed the Somerset Stand boundary for four. With those still in the ground, and the stands were now sparsely populated, bracing themselves for another incoming missile, de Lange dropped the final ball of the over deftly at his feet, ran a single to keep the strike, and the underlying gloom of Somerset’s situation notwithstanding, the crowd dissolved into laughter.

Paterson resumed from the Trescothick Pavilion End, but de Lange had not quite finished delivering his lines. A slog sweep of tremendous power managed only to disturb the air in front of his pads to a few more chuckles at the thought of where the ball might have come down had de Lange connected. An incongruently classic off drive to Gimblett’s Hill brought more chuckles. Then, another slog sweep did connect and answered the question as to where the first might have come down. The roof of the Ondaatje Pavilion the unlikely, at least in terms of the laws of physics, answer. “Good grief!” from the disbelieving physicist in front of me.

Another four, neatly steered through third man to the Lord Ian Botham Stand followed before a pull off Patterson-White resulted in a top edge looping high over and beyond the bowler’s head before being caught. De Lange had scored 36 of the 38 runs scored while he was at the wicket. It had taken him 29 balls and included three sixes and three fours. It had also given the Somerset supporters who had remained something to cheer, or at least applaud, for I am not sure many felt like cheering. A boundary each from Brooks and Davey took Somerset to 181 before Brooks was bowled by Fletcher and Nottinghamshire had won by an innings and 160 runs with more than a day to spare.

Result. Nottinghamshire 448 (L. A. Patterson-White 101, J.M. Clarke 59, L.J. Fletcher 51, T.B. Abell 3-84). Somerset 107 (L.J. Fletcher 4-21, B.A. Hutton 3-42, D. Paterson 3-42) and 181 (D. Paterson 4-46, L.J. Fletcher 3-29). Nottinghamshire won by an innings and 160 runs. Nottinghamshire 23 points. Somerset 2 points. 

Elsewhere in Division 1.

Old Trafford. Warwickshire 371 (C.G. Benjamin 127, S.R. Hain 118) and 239 for 6 dec. Lancashire 341 (J.J. Bohannon 170, L.C. Norwell 6-57). Match drawn. Lancashire 12 points. Warwickshire 12 points.

Ageas Bowl. Yorkshire 243 and 312 for 6 dec (G.S. Ballance 101*). Hampshire 163 and 177 for 9. Match drawn. Yorkshire 12 points. Hampshire 11 points. Hampshire batted 115 overs in their second innings to save the match.

Division 1 Table

       Pl*      W      L        D       Bt     Bwl      Pts

1.     2       1        0         1        4       5        33         Warwickshire

2.     2       0.5     0         1.5     6       2.5      28.5      Lancashire

3.     2       1        1         0       6        6        28         Nottinghamshire

4.     2       0.5     1         0.5    3.5      5        20.5      Somerset

5.     2       0       0.5       1.5    1.5      6        19.5      Hampshire

6.     2       0       0.5       0.5    1        3.5      16.5      Yorkshire

*The table includes half the points earned by each team in the first phase of the competition in the two matches played against the other team which qualified for Division 1 from their original group. Those teams do not play each other again in this phase of the competition. The points brought forward therefore constitute one match for the purposes of Division 1 and is included in the table as having been played. The same rule applied to Divisions 2 and 3. The pairs of teams which qualified for Division 1 from the three first phase groups were:

Group 1: Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire

Group 2: Somerset and Hampshire

Group 3: Lancashire and Yorkshire