Pure Theatre – Somerset v Warwickshire – County Championship 2022 – 28th, 29th and 30th April – Taunton – Final Day

County Championship 2022. Division 1. Somerset v Warwickshire. 28th, 29th and 30th April. Taunton.

Sonny Baker and Peter Siddle were unavailable for selection by Somerset due to being injured.

Somerset. T.A. Lammonby, M.T. Renshaw, T.B. Abell (c), T. Banton, J.C. Hildreth, S.M. Davies (w), L. Gregory, C. Overton, J.H. Davey, J. Leach, J.A. Brooks.

Warwickshire. R.M. Yates, D.M. Sibley, W.M.H. Rhodes (c), A.L. Davies, S.R. Hain, M.J. Lamb, M.G.K. Burgess (w), N.J. McAndrew. C.N. Miles, D.R. Briggs, O.J. Hannon-Dalby,

Overnight. Somerset 458. Warwickshire 197 for 9. Warwickshire trail by 261 runs with one second innings wicket standing.

Final day 29th April – Pure theatre

There are moments in a cricket match which stick in the memory for years afterwards. Craig Kieswetter, on returning from his ultimately career-ending eye injury, depositing the first bouncer he received into the flats at Taunton. Ian Botham, with the scores level, blocking out the final over of the 1983 Nat West Cup semi-final at Lord’s to ensure Somerset won the match having lost eight wickets to Middlesex’s nine. Pure theatre. There was one such moment on the third day of this match. With a potential washout forecast for the scheduled final day, Warwickshire were approaching tea, still 134 runs behind Somerset’s first innings total, with their second innings sixth-wicket pair beginning to look a little too comfortable for comfort, at least from a worrisome Somerset supporter’s perspective.

Then, having aborted his first attempt, Jack Brooks prepared to deliver the first ball of a new spell from the Trescothick Pavilion End. While Brooks walked back to his mark, Tom Banton, in the off side inner ring, began a slow rhythmic handclap with his hands swinging metronomically in front of his knees. Then Craig Overton, in unison, began swinging his hands together, also in front of his knees. Matt Renshaw picked up the beat. Then, someone in the Somerset Stand joined in and the clapping spread across the stand. As Brooks ran in, the stand, clapping as one, raised the volume. The nearer Brooks got to the wicket the louder the clapping became. Pure theatre. With the clapping at its peak, the ball was delivered a foot or so wide of off stump. Playing his part in the scene to perfection, Burgess followed the ball and edged it to Davies who took the catch moving to his right, one knee touching the ground as he went. What a cheer went up then. Brooks set off in celebration towards the Somerset Stand, pursued by every one of his team mates as if he were the subject of a hue and cry. As he was engulfed, the cheers around the ground subsided into astonished laughter which metamorphosed into an animated buzz of expectation for now, with Warwickshire six wickets down, there seemed every chance that Somerset would finish the match before stumps were drawn.

Two balls later, again accompanied by rhythmic clapping, now from all around the ground as if the audience at the performance had joined in, Brooks again ran in. As he approached the stumps, the pace of the clapping picked up and the volume rose. Danny Briggs, who had replaced Burgess, came forward in defence to a ball angled in on off stump. The ball, adding to the drama, cut away off the pitch and found the edge. This time Davies needed only to move a foot to his right for the ball to thud into his gloves. Again, Brooks was hurtling towards the Somerset Stand with his team mates pursuing and engulfing him. Again, the crowd erupted in applause which metamorphosed into open-mouthed, astonished laughter and subsided into a buzz even more animated than before. When Banton went to the Somerset Stand boundary to pick up the helmet he had left beyond the boundary, he raised his hands above his head and applauded the stand. It had been as if those Somerset days of yore when Botham and Co strutted their stuff had come to visit, theatre and all.

Those two wickets reduced Warwickshire to 115 for 7, still 136 runs behind Somerset’s first innings total. Five overs later, Brooks prepared to bowl the last ball before tea to Nathan Mc Andrew. The clapping had subsided after Sam Hain, who had batted since the fall of the second wicket early in the morning session, and McAndrew restored some sense of order for Warwickshire. But, with an innate sense of theatrical timing, the crowd picked it up again for that last ball. In ran Brooks, the Somerset Stand began to clap, and the rest of the ground picked up the rhythm. As Brooks closed in on the wicket, the rhythm accelerated and the volume rose. Brooks attacked the stumps, McAndrew got behind the ball, defended, not well enough, the ball flew off the edge towards Renshaw’s midriff at second slip. Warwickshire were eight down. Brooks was celebrating, the team again in hot pursuit. The crowd was cheering, the heart was racing and the stomach churning at the prospect of the first Somerset victory of the season. Pure theatre.

After Somerset had overwhelmed Warwickshire on the first two days, the third day had started with Somerset needing one more wicket to end Warwickshire’s first innings. I entered through the Brian Rose gates and stopped in front of the Somerset Stand to exchange greetings with a man clutching a mug of cider. “Sit exactly where you did on the first two days,” was his stricture for the avoidance of a Warwickshire revival. “I hope you have remembered your seat number.” That meant a return to the north face of the Trescothick Pavilion via the Lord Ian Botham Stand and the Caddick Pavilion due to the closure of Gimblett’s Hill, and the prospect of sitting in the arctic conditions which normally prevail up there in April.

As I emerged from behind the Ondaatje Stand, I came across a familiar face, one I had not seen since before the pandemic. Smiles and greetings were exchanged and of course, Somerset’s start to the season had to be caught up upon. No serious conclusions were reached but the conversation kept us going until the end of the Warwickshire first innings, two overs and 12 runs later. Batting did look rather easy for numbers ten and eleven until Josh Davey, running in and bowling as smoothly and as accurately as ever despite his two heavy tumbles in the delivery stride on the second day, forced an edge from Oliver Hannon-Dalby’s defensive push and Warwickshire had ended their first innings with a deficit of 249.

The announcement, “Somerset have enforced the follow-on,” brought a loud, relieved cheer laced with feeling from Somerset supporters around the ground. The poor forecast for the fourth day and an almost universal feeling among cricket supporters that captains are far too cautious about enforcing the follow-on no doubt fuelling the cheer, those who watch generally being more adventurous in their view on declaration decisions than those who carry the responsibility for making them. On this occasion though, the decision was more clear cut, for it offered Somerset the opportunity of winning the match on the third day and not having to risk the weather on the fourth.

I emerged at the top of the Trescothick Pavilion in time to hear the announcement, “To open the bowling from the Marcus Trescothick Pavilion End, Craig Overton.” It brought another loud cheer, for he is the formidable cutting edge of the Somerset pace attack. Opposite him bowled Davey, that unrelenting examiner of technique. After seven overs, Warwickshire were 11 for 2, still 238 behind, and the cheers were soaring. Alex Davies had edged Davey low to Overton at third slip for nine. Dominic Sibley, who batted tightly for half an hour for two, then edged Overton low to Abell at fourth slip. The ball was speared in on off stump, Sibley tried to keep it out, and Abell bent low to take the catch just above the grass. It was a start such as dreams are made on as Prospero might have observed.

With Yates and Hain now at the wicket, Gregory and Brooks took up the attack for Somerset. The buzz from those first two wickets pervaded the atmosphere and the Somerset players constantly shouted encouragement, “Come on. Build it up again,” one call for the application of pressure. Neither Gregory nor Brooks gave an inch. After 14 overs Warwickshire were 19 for 2, barely a dent in the 249-run first innings deficit. “They’re going nowhere boys,” someone shouted, and the crowd applauded their encouragement whenever a sharp piece of fielding prevented a run.

At 21 for 2 in the 16th over, Brooks, from over the wicket, targeted the left-handed Yates’ off stump. Yates, poorly positioned, attempted to pull, got under the ball which hurtled endlessly skywards. Lammonby, at mid-on, sighted it, watched it, adjusted his position a little straighter, moved back, hands rising towards the ball, edged further back, waited as breaths were held tight in every corner of the ground, all sound extinguished, and still he waited. Then, sparking a mountainous cheer, took the ball an eternity after it had left the bat. For drama, let any theatre match such a wait in such a situation.

After three wickets had fallen so quickly, the curious thing about watching the next phase of the Warwickshire innings was that batting did not seem unduly difficult, at least from the safety of the stands. The bat was occasionally beaten and there was the occasional thick edge, or one that ran along the ground, but nothing that really threatened. Hain, in particular, and Rhodes settled to firm defence. Rhodes did twice find the boundary, driving Brooks and Overton, and Hain neatly glanced Overton to the Lord Ian Botham Stand in the over before lunch, but defence was the watchword, and the lunchtime score was 45 for 3 from 25 overs.

With perambulation replacing circumnavigation until Gimblett’s Hill is re-instated, I took a gentle amble around as much of the ground as I could during the lunch interval. Despite walking along the front of stands rather than behind I saw none of those faces from before the pandemic that had yet to reappear. It is an odd feeling when people you knew only at the cricket, and who were at the cricket more often than not, do not reappear when the cricket does. Part of the Gimblett Levels had disappeared too as the large temporary stand awaiting the onslaught of the Vitality Blast T20 competition took the space of some of the benches. The benches that remain are still popular as the erstwhile residents of the Hill seek temporary homes.

I watched the first over after lunch from behind the covers store, my usual post-lunch way station as I mistime my return to the Trescothick Pavilion. It is impossible to get from there to the top via the stairs during a change of ends, and I am not yet in need of the lift to reach the summit. The trip from the covers store to the top is always an anxious time if Somerset are batting because of my propensity to take Somerset wickets while I am behind or in the stair well of a stand. In Somerset’s innings in this match Davies had been my victim. It doesn’t work for opposition batsmen it seems, for Warwickshire were still three down when I reached my seat.

As the afternoon session got underway, batting looked uncomfortably easy. Doubtless it wasn’t. The bat was beaten from time to time. Once, Hain drove Overton straight and hard, “Catch it!” someone shouted with more conviction than is often the case. Overton, like a greyhound out of the traps, dived headlong down the pitch, arms outstretched towards the oncoming ball. He took it, but from the lack of reaction from Hain and the umpire it must have been caught on the bounce. It was an exceptional effort. When Overton hit Hain on the pad, the appeal was unrequited. For the most part though, the ball was played carefully in defence or left.

In the first 17 overs I watched from my seat after lunch the boundary was reached off the bat but twice. Hain drove Brooks through the on side to the River Stand and Leach through the off to the Colin Atkinson Pavilion, but those strokes were 14 overs apart. In the first 20 overs after lunch only 44 runs were scored. It was solid, determined defence and the attempt to take more wickets was beginning to feel like drawing teeth. With the weather forecast hovering in the background, seven wickets still standing, Hains and Rhodes looking relatively untroubled, and only 46 overs left in the day with Warwickshire having already consumed 45 in their second innings, that age-old cricketing equation involving time, runs and wickets gnawed increasingly at the mind.

And then, with tension beginning to bite, Warwickshire’s resistance was dealt a double blow by two pieces of cricket so magical they might have been rejected by the director of a play as too implausible for inclusion. Jack Leach had bowled six of the 20 overs since lunch without appearing unduly threatening, although he had conceded only ten runs. Then, to the left-handed Rhodes, he flighted a ball on a line 18 inches outside off stump. Rhodes raised his bat to the horizontal to let the seemingly harmless ball through. It dipped perfectly into a footmark, turned sharply and tickled the off stump. As he left, Rhodes tapped the disturbed stump with his bat as if checking it were real and not some illusion.

Rhodes had batted nearly two hours and 30 overs for his 29 runs. Hain meanwhile had batted over two and a half hours and nearly 40 overs for his 43 runs as they fought to keep Warwickshire in the game. Now, within an over of Rhodes’ departure Hain fell to the second piece of magic and an excellent catch. At the start of the over, from Gregory, Abell moved Overton to a short, slightly backward square leg. The sort of unorthodox stage management an avant-garde director might indulge in. Gregory bowled short, once bouncing Hain so accurately he was forced to arch his back and flick his head back to avoid the ball, the ground breaking out in applause in response. Off the penultimate ball of the over, Gregory bowled short again, Hain swivelled and pulled the ball off the middle of the bat straight to Overton whose hands moved swiftly to catch the ball in front of his chest. An hour and a quarter of determined defence since lunch had frustrated Somerset. Then, within five minutes, those two pieces of magic had done what magic does and transformed the situation. When Overton took that catch everyone in the ground erupted into cheering in the same split second. The initial sound was like a whip being cracked. Immediately, it became a huge roar that eventually subsided into extended applause. Pure theatre.

Warwickshire, 89 for 5 in the 47th over, tried to regroup in the form of Burgess and Lamb. Forty-four overs, a rampant Somerset side and a crowd scenting a Championship victory stood between them and the not unrealistic prospect of salvation from the weather on the morrow. “Come on lads,” rang out from around the field as the Somerset team urged each other on. Burgess and Lamb responded more positively than their predecessors, both driving to the boundary as the Somerset bowlers stretched their length in search of movement. A flowing cover drive from Burgess and a spectacular square drive from Lamb, both off Gregory, among the boundaries. Singles too were taken more often as the ball was pushed into the gaps and the thought of drawing teeth again crept into the mind as, in half an hour, 26 runs were added.

And then, with tea approaching, came that rhythmic clapping, those three wickets from Brooks, the tumultuous Somerset cheering, and a Warwickshire score of 121 for 8. Suddenly, the Warwickshire innings was teetering on the brink of extinction. The umpires offered Abell a 15-minute extension of the session. Again, the match settled down. Lamb and Miles each drove to the boundary. The crowd tried to encourage the bowlers. “Come on Brooks,” someone shouted, perhaps trying to re-ignite the atmosphere which had surrounded those three wickets. The rhythmic clapping briefly broke out again but the huge leg before wicket appeal which followed resulted only in two leg byes and Somerset had to take tea with those final two wickets still intact and the final curtain yet to fall.

When the players came back, Lamb and Miles began to make progress, Miles belying his lowly position in the order, although I doubt anyone believed Warwickshire would get near the end of the day. I went to the Trescothick Pavilion Terrace and watched an over from Brooks from above the umpire’s head. There was no sign of movement and no apparent threat. Overton replaced Brooks and bowled in tandem with Leach. Still Lamb and Miles went on, taking the Warwickshire score beyond 160. Miles pulled Leach to the Priory Bridge Road boundary while Lamb drove Overton to the Trescothick Pavilion End, steered him through third man to the Garner Gates and pulled Leach to the Somerset Stand.

And then, suddenly, it was over. Overton beat Miles to applause and shouts of, “Come on!” Then he forced an edge which Renshaw took millimetres above the grass, diving low to his left at second slip. An over later, Lamb tried to launch a delivery from Leach into the Somerset Stand. The ball went through the stroke and left the off stump quivering. There was a huge cheer and a standing ovation, triumph and relief mixing as Somerset completed a victory of overwhelming proportions, ended a run of seven successive defeats and lifted themselves off the bottom of the table, just. “How do you lose seven on the trot and then win like that?” asked the bemused text. I suspect you don’t unless you are Somerset. Such exasperating contradictions are but part of the patchwork of Somerset’s cricketing history. And yet, we will all be back for the next match, hoping as always for a victory, and perhaps some pure theatre.

Result. Somerset 458 (M.T. Renshaw 129, T.B. Abell 70, T. Banton 57, O.J. Hannon-Dalby 5-89). Warwickshire 209 (S.R. Hain 54, N.J. McAndrew 47, J.H. Davey 3-30) and 167 f/o (S.R. Hain 43, M.J. Lamb 40, J.A. Brooks 4-44). Somerset won by an innings and 83 runs. Somerset 23 points. Warwickshire 3 points.