And the heads stayed up – Hampshire v Somerset – County Championship 2022 – 7th – 9th April – AGEAS Bowl. Second day.

County Championship 2022. Division 1. Hampshire v Somerset. 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th April 2022. Southampton.

The following were unavailable for selection by Somerset. Matthew Renshaw (with Australia), Lewis Gregory and Jack Brooks (ill), Craig Overton and Jack Leach (required to rest by England), Tom Banton, George Bartlett, Josh Davey and Sonny Baker (injured).  

Hampshire. J.J. Weatherley, I.G. Holland, J.M. Vince (c), N.R.T. Gubbins, L.A. Dawson, B.C. Brown (w), J.K. Fuller, F.S. Organ, K.H.D. Barker, K.J. Abbott, Mohammad Abbas.

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

Overnight. Somerset 180. Hampshire 109 for 0. Hampshire trail by 71 runs with ten first innings wickets standing.

Second day 8th April – And the heads stayed up

For all the travails of this match, and Somerset have really been under the cosh, I did not see a single head go down on the second day, young or old, and Somerset were never silent in the field. They have been outfought by a stronger team, but they stood toe-to-toe with Hampshire all day and got some reward for it in the end. It was bitterly cold sitting in the stands for seven hours, but I would not have missed a ball of it.

Hampshire began where they had left off on the first day, with a continuation of the untroubled partnership between Joe Weatherley and Ian Holland. They followed that with two more, between Weatherley and Nick Gubbins and Weatherley and James Vince. When Weatherley was finally out for 168, bowled leaving an inswinging Peter Siddle delivery onto his stumps, Hampshire were 324 for 3, 144 ahead. It might have been a point of despair for Somerset. Instead, it became a point from where they fought back. From 324 for 2 before that Siddle delivery, Hampshire lost their last eight wickets for 104 runs. When, for the final six overs of the day, Abbott and Barker delivered a testing examination in poor and deteriorating light, Green and Lammonby got their heads down and survived. Much more of the same will be needed if Somerset are to come away from this match without an innings defeat.

Somerset started the day with Siddle and Kasey Aldridge. Siddle’s bowling, after a scurrying run to the wicket which suggests an impatience to get there, is as neat as the scrupulous folding of his sweater, a ritual which he performs before bowling each over. There is no blindly dropping of the sweater over the rope, as is so often the case with a fast bowler. When his time to retire from cricket comes, surely a place as valet to the heir to the throne awaits him. The nine runs that came from his opening five over spell was typical of the meagre ration he permitted the batsmen, a single expensive over late in the day apart.

Aldridge was less disciplined. His second ball was overpitched and driven firmly through point for four by Weatherley. A straight drive for four followed in his second over, and a hook through square leg to the boundary from Holland in his fourth. Against that, an inside edge for four from Holland in his third over cannot have missed the stumps by much. Twenty-one runs in his opening spell of five overs did not though bode well for Somerset, for ten overs into the day, Hampshire were within 41 runs of Somerset’s innings with only Holland’s inside edge suggesting any threat.

Leonard, replacing Siddle at the Pavilion End, did occasionally unsettle a batsman, once making Weatherley jump, but was inclined to stray on length. In a five-over opening spell which conceded 17 runs, he was pulled for two, cut square for four and twice driven to the boundary by Holland. Abell, coming on ahead of Marchant de Lange, also conceded 17 from five overs, although troubling Weatherley more than once, one top edge looping safely over midwicket. By the time de Lange and Roelof van der Merwe replaced Abell and Leonard, Hampshire were within five runs of Somerset’s total, still with no wickets down. Somerset though refused to let heads drop. There were constant shouts of encouragement from the field, Abell, as always, to the fore.

It was one of those sessions where it seems a wicket will never come. The play moves on at a steady pace with few alarums, the bowlers keep running in, the field goes in and out with the rhythm of the over as if it were a tide, the batsmen defend, push for singles, hit the full or the short ball for four, the bowlers change as their spells reach the end of their terms and the clock on the scoreboard and the sun crossing the sky measure the passage of the day. Cricket’s version of perpetual motion. And then, with the scores level, perpetual motion was interrupted by Roelof van der Merwe. Holland, attempted to turn him behind square. He middled the ball but perhaps his timing was awry. It had still not touched ground when it arrived between Ben Green’s feet at leg slip. Green’s response was faultless. His hands intercepted the ball as it was about to make contact with the grass and Hampshire were 180 for 1. Holland 81 and a good enough innings for him to receive an extended reception from the Hampshire crowd. It was though but a momentary interruption of Hampshire’s progress, for Nick Gubbins, newly arrived from Middlesex, joined Weatherley and the Hampshire score resumed its seemingly inexorable rise. In the process, Weatherley, inevitably it seemed, drove van der Merwe through the onside for four to reach a century from 179 balls with 13 fours. By lunch Hampshire had reached 209 for 1, a lead of 29, and Weatherley had reached 116.

My lunchtime circumnavigation of the ground led to the usual dalliances, a discussion with a Somerset supporter, gallows humour, a necessary attribute of those who follow a team over decades, included. There were extended stops to take in the scene. Cricket grounds do not change much year on year, but they are only seen once a year. The AGEAS Bowl is perfectly symmetrical, as if only half of it had been built and a huge mirror placed along the centre axis from the centre of the Pavilion to the centre of the hotel to produce the other half. There are 21 rooms facing the playing area to one side of the centre of the hotel and 21 on the other. Either side of the Pavilion, the Shane Warne Stand and the Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie Stand are perfect mirror images one of the other. What Ingleby-Mackenzie would have made of such regulation in a cricket ground I know not.

No sooner had I resumed my seat after lunch than another Somerset supporter of my acquaintance joined me – I am easily spotted from a distance by the white wide-brimmed wyvern hat. It took us seven overs to put Somerset’s world to rights during which time Hampshire’s score rose ever higher at nearly four runs an over. No sooner had our concentration returned to the cricket than Gubbins and Weatherley really began to apply pressure. The left-handed Gubbins pulled and drove van der Merwe for four in successive balls. De Lange was driven through the covers twice in an over by Weatherley whose score was now reaching towards 150, while Hampshire passed 250 and their second bonus point. Somerset meanwhile were still two wickets away from their first with 73 of the 110 overs allocated for bonus points gone.

Then, for a moment, the rhythm of the innings slowed, the boundaries stopped, and Hampshire began to score in singles. I tend to associate slowing momentum in an innings with the threat of wickets. As if on cue, Gubbins stretched forward in defence to Abell and was caught behind for 37. Hampshire were 263 for 2, but still 83 runs ahead. James Vince joined Weatherley and seemed intent on demonstrating Hampshire’s dominance by driving his first ball through the covers for four and steering his second backward of point for four more. Disdainful was the word that immediately sprang to mind.

It was but an opening gambit in a third wicket partnership between Vince and Weatherley which took Hampshire nearly 150 runs into the lead. Weatherley, perpetually driving Hampshire forward, reached 150 from 254 balls with a single before driving Aldridge through the covers for four. The new ball, making little impact, came and went. The tight constraint Siddle had kept on batsmen for most of the day was broken when in the first over with it Weatherley hooked for six and Vince drove through the covers for four. When Leonard replaced Aldridge, Vince drove him through the covers and cut him hard through backward point, both for four. At 324 for 2, Hampshire were 144 ahead with no indication that Somerset might take a wicket. And then, one of those apparently inexplicable passages of play which startles the spectator. Weatherley, on 168, left a ball from Siddle which hit the stumps, a replay showing the ball swinging in. An over later, Dawson, the new batsman, drove Leonard into the hands of Green, leaning into the line of the ball at cover. When tea intervened, Hampshire were 339 for 4, 159 runs ahead and Somerset, those two wickets notwithstanding were still at the foothills of the mountain of runs Hampshire were building.

If the lunch interval is not sufficient time in which to conduct a circumnavigation of a cricket ground, the tea interval certainly is not. There are people to meet and cricket and non-cricket to be discussed. And on this occasion the sight of a black cloud of monumental proportions behind the Warne Stand skirting perilously close to the ground and clearly dropping rain as it went. The floodlights, which had been on all day, stared brightly from in front of it as it passed. It took me the full 20 minutes plus six overs to get back to my seat, keeping a close watch on that cloud as I went. During those six overs Hampshire moved their score on by 25 runs, Vince recorded his fifty from 64 balls and de Lange speared a full ball in on his leg stump as he attempted to clip it behind square. It struck the pad and the umpire pointed to the heavens.

A brief flurry from Brown and Organ as I made my way back to my seat, a cover drive for four from Brown off Abell bringing a drooling, “Good shot!” from amidst the Hampshire supporters as I reached my seat, took the Hampshire lead past 200 with five wickets down. When your team is that far behind with little sign of any change, the pummelling applied by the opposition has gone on for so long that the intensity of the disappointment or despair fades. All that is left is a dull numbness which pervades every nerve end and every sense.

And then consolation. A golden burst from Green. Abell was still driving his team on with shouts of encouragement and heads, kept up all day, were still high. When Green took the ball, Abell shouted, “Come on Greener!”. Green responded. With Aldridge now at the other end, the runs suddenly dried up. Just six coming in four overs. At the start of Green’s third over Abell shouted again, “Come on Greener!” Brown, to cries of, “Catch it!” pulled Green’s first ball to Aldridge at midwicket and ‘Greener’ had struck. In his fifth over Organ’s stumps were comprehensively splayed as he attempted to drive, and in his sixth Abbott’s off stump was upended. Green had taken three wickets in four overs. In the midst of it all, James Fuller launched into Siddle with three fours, before Siddle moved a ball away to take the edge and the innings ended when Keith Barker was run out by an Aldridge throw from the boundary which reached Davies’ gloves inches from the stumps. The last five wickets had fallen for 43 runs, the last eight for 104, but in the end, it was the 324 scored for the first three which overshadowed all, for it gave Hampshire a lead which would require Somerset to bat for the best part of five sessions to save the match. The heads which had stayed up all day for Somerset still faced a Herculean task.

Green and Lammonby batted out the remaining six overs of the day with some intense defence, a defiant straight drive for four from Green off Abbott and, as someone commented, “A lot of edges.” Fortunately for Somerset, none troubled a fielder, but the real test would come on the morrow. 

Close. Somerset 180 and 15 for 0. Hampshire 428 (J.J. Weatherley 168. I.G. Holland 81, J.M. Vince 56, B.G.F. Green 3-31). Somerset trail by 233 runs with ten second innings wickets standing.