A Day to Gladden the Somerset Heart – Somerset v Warwickshire – County Championship 2022 – 28th, 29th and 30th April – Taunton- First Day

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

Toss. Warwickshire. Elected to field.

First day 28th April – A day to gladden the Somerset heart

This was a day to gladden the Somerset heart. After those seven successive defeats the Somerset batting raced ahead of Warwickshire and barely missed a step as they went. Only James Hildreth did not deliver full measure from his innings, and his contribution was not inconsequential. Matt Renshaw brought back memories of his astonishing first sojourn with Somerset four years before with a century of measured class, his fourth in six home matches for the County. Tom Lammonby, who has been battling to establish himself as an opener, posted his first fifty of the season and crucially, with Renshaw, saw Somerset through to lunch without the loss of a wicket. There was a typically robust half century from Tom Abell, and by the end of the day Somerset had registered four batting points, kept six wickets in hand for the morrow and left the Warwickshire attack, Oliver Hannon-Dalby apart, flailing in their wake.

Things had not looked so clear cut before the start. Peter Siddle, who has shown himself to be an exceptional addition to the Somerset pace attack, was unavailable through injury. The sky was overcast and looked determined to stay that way. The pitch had more than a tinge of green and Somerset had lost the toss. For the spectator, the wind cut through the elevated section of the Trescothick Pavilion with the chill of winter still on its leading edge. Anoraks were the attire of choice and ‘layers’ were at the point of more than one conversation, those with fewer layers envying those with more. Even the Quantocks looked slightly off colour now that the yellow of the oilseed has faded.

The wicket was pitched towards the Somerset Stand while the large, newly arrived temporary stand was lodged behind the far Priory Bridge Road boundary. It stood there, cold and lifeless in its emptiness, as it needed the arrival of the vibrant white heat of the Vitality Blast. The crowd looked smaller than might have been expected before the pandemic, whether because of continued caution among some, or because Somerset are having such a dispiriting run in the Championship, or simply because of the cold, I know not. Whatever the reason, the stands looked slightly depopulated at the start of play, as they have in most grounds I have visited since the crowds returned in the second half of 2021. Numbers did pick up as the day progressed, but there were still missing faces not seen at matches since the halcyon days of 2019.

Throughout the day, the Warwickshire bowling attack, missing Liam Norwell and with the persistent exception of Oliver Hannon-Dalby who asked questions all day, failed to challenge Somerset. The Somerset batting meanwhile displayed considerable discipline, punished the bad ball and for the most part eschewed risk against the good. It was a far cry from much of Somerset’s last seven matches, and the crowd got behind their team and stayed with them all day.

Renshaw launched the Somerset innings with a neat clip for two off his legs from the first ball of the day from Hannon-Dalby bowling from the Trescotbick Pavilion End. Lammonby began with a drive for two and a crisp clip for four, both square on the on side towards the Somerset Stand off Nathan McAndrew. From there the opening pair settled into some solid defence, containing any threat from the bowlers, although if the ball presented itself it was attacked. A straight drive for two from Renshaw off Hannon-Dalby brought a shout of, “Shot!” and drew applause. A sharp single from Lammonby off McAndrew was driven, powered by a shout of, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” It was followed by an on drive for four from Renshaw. Driven with power, it just missed the football practice goal mouth sitting against the boundary boards in front of the Colin Atkinson scoreboard. Renshaw again showed intent by going up on his toes to turn McAndrew neatly behind square to the Ondaatje boundary. It was a careful start nonetheless as Somerset reached 25 for no wicket at the end of the tenth over.

The crowd chattered with the buzz of a first morning, but there was a calmness about the chatter which reflected the early Somerset batting as McAndrew gave way to Will Rhodes, and Hannon-Dalby to Craig Miles. In response, Renshaw and Lammonby stepped up a gear. Renshaw drove Rhodes through the covers to the Somerset Stand to a shout of, “Shot!” and Miles to the Ondaatje. Lammonby, continuing the more positive approach he had taken in his second innings 30 at The Oval, twice in two balls drove Rhodes straight towards the Lord Ian Botham Stand, once for two and once for four as they registered a 50-run opening partnership in the 15th over.

There was a crispness and a certainty about the strokes under a gradually brightening sky as Lammonby cut Miles square to the Temporary Stand and drove the returning McAndrew through the on side to the Colin Atkinson Pavilion. Renshaw, playing with a masterful authority, drove Miles through the onside to Legends Square where those ghosts of the old Stragglers must have raised a spectral glass in celebration of his return. He returned the compliment with a genuine glance which crossed the boundary in a line which would have taken it to the centre of the River Stand floodlight pylon. When Lammonby passed 1,000 first-class runs with a fortuitous edge to Gimblett’s Hill Somerset, now scoring at five runs an over, had reached 74 for 0 in the 20th over.

It was rousing stuff for a success-starved crowd which applauded its encouragement. As if in celebration, a steam train passed through Taunton Station, sounded its whistle and sent a billowing white cloud skywards. Even the winter chill seemed a little less sharp as the cascade of Somerset runs had a similar effect on the heartrate. It rose a beat or two further when Renshaw swivelled on his heels to pull a ball from Miles straight down the second stairwell from the Garner Gates end of the Somerset Stand. Now the crowd was cheering as much as applauding, the person who roused himself from his seat and disappeared down the stair well to retrieve the ball apart. The applause erupted again, and at length when Renshaw went to his own fifty from 80 balls with a fast-run single off McAndrew.

With still half an hour before the lunch interval, Danny Briggs with his slow left arm was brought into the attack from the River End. On an overcast, if brightening, morning, on a greenish pitch and with Somerset having been asked to bat that was an indication of the growing dominance of the Somerset openers. They had given none of the bowlers any rest, and now they set about Briggs. Lammonby pulled the last ball of his first over to fine leg for four. Twice in an over, Renshaw drove him through the covers to the Somerset Stand. Eight came from his next as Renshaw paddle swept him for three, Lammonby guided him to third man for a single and Renshaw pulled him unceremoniously to the Ondaatje boundary at long leg. When the players left the field for lunch Briggs had conceded 27 runs from five overs.

In the over before, Lammonby had driven McAndrew, in his third spell of the morning, perfectly though the on side to Legends Square to bring up his fifty from 76 balls. It had not quite been chanceless. On 28 he had driven hard at Miles. The ball found a thickish edge and flew square of gully. The fielder dived full length and got a hand to it. “Dropped!” said several people in unison, and with considerable relief, as an excellent attempt to take a difficult chance went down. An unconvincing appeal or two and one or two beaten bats apart it was Warwickshire’s only opportunity of the morning. Somerset went to lunch on 130 for 0 from 30 overs with Renshaw on 73 and Lammonby on 53. Fifty-six runs had been scored in the final ten overs, and, after the depredations that had gone before, the occupants of the elevated section of the Trescothick Pavilion were floating on air. At least, this one was.

Before Somerset could continue the charge with which they had ended the morning, Hannon-Dalby had a say in proceedings. Bowling over the wicket to Lammonby, he angled a ball across him. It sought out the off stump. Lammonby came down, bat firmly behind the ball and played it back up the pitch. The next ball came down the same channel, perhaps half a ball’s width wider, or perhaps it swung imperceptibly away. Again, the bat came firmly down. This time though, the ball connected only with the edge and was caught by Sam Hain, hands in pockets only half a second before, half-diving to his left at second slip. Somerset were 137 for 1. Lammonby had made 56 and he was applauded to the boundary, for helping Somerset to the afternoon session with no wickets down was 24-carat cricketing gold for a team not unused to seeing the middle order looking for its pads before lunch.

Renshaw’s return to the Club after four years had been much anticipated, and he was now repaying that anticipation. The audacious, carefree onslaughts of his first stay with Somerset had been replaced with a measured, classical approach. Hal had become Henry. Now, with a sureness of judgement of which Henry might have approved, Renshaw’s new approach was burgeoning into its maturity. He was playing an innings which, with Tom Abell, threatened to put Somerset in control the match.

But first, the Somerset innings, as innings sometimes do after a racing start followed by a wicket, took breath. The return of Hannon-Dalby, Warwickshire’s main threat, may have had something to do with that. His persistent accuracy and constant probing did not relent all day. Bowling in the company of Rhodes, he now held Somerset in check. Tension tightened its grip as Somerset added just 31 runs in the first hour after lunch, and half of those runs came from four boundaries, a meagre ration compared with the plenty of the morning. A square drive from Renshaw off Rhodes raced to the shorter Somerset Stand boundary, a straight drive from Abell, also off Rhodes, reached the Lord Ian Botham Stand, a steer from Renshaw off Miles ran through third man to Legends Square and an edge from Renshaw off Miles fell short and wide of second slip and ran to Gimblett’s Hill. “That could have been gone,” said the person next to me. Indeed it could, but it was the nearest Renshaw had come to giving a chance in nearly three and a half hours of controlled, precise batting in which his personal tally was 91, the growing applause for his strokes reflecting the quality and crucial importance of his contribution.

It was mid-afternoon, Somerset were 161 for 1, the cloud was thinning enough for the sun to cast hazy shadows, Hannon-Dalby was patrolling the boundary after his post-lunch spell, and hope pervaded the atmosphere. “They are bowling a lot of balls well wide of the stumps, on both sides of the wicket,” someone said. It was indicative of the lack of control from the Warwickshire attack whenever Hannon-Dalby did not have the ball in his hand. “That would have been a wide in white ball cricket,” someone added as a ball from McAndrew went harmlessly through to the keeper. And then the next ball followed it. It was not just the lack of control. There seemed no sense of penetration or purpose.

Then Somerset began to pick up the pace again. Four runs from a McAndrew over. Seven from Miles, Abell turning a ball neatly behind square to the Somerset Stand, “That’s a nice shot,” someone said, beginning to relax in the shadow of the growing Somerset total. Then Renshaw drove McAndrew through the covers to the Ondaatje Stand bringing up his century and a standing ovation in the process. Fifteen runs from three overs after 31 in an hour. In response Warwickshire turned to Briggs just as they had before lunch. As if they were engaged on a reconnoitre, Renshaw and Abell took five singles from his first over, then Renshaw lofted him over mid-on and onto the Colin Atkinson Pavilion terrace in his second. Four runs from his next over and Somerset were cruising past 200, still one wicket down, with Abell on 30. “Do. Not. Move.” the instruction by the wonders of modern messaging from South America, the age-old cricketing superstition crossing continents.

I did not move, dare not move, at least not beyond the edge of my seat, but Somerset did, picking up the pace even further. Renshaw began to metamorphose into his previous self and the ball fled to the boundary. A steer through third man off McAndrew, who suffered as much as Briggs, then four leg side byes as a wayward ball defeated the keeper. A reverse sweep to Gimblett’s Hill off Briggs in the next over followed by an on drive to the River Stand brought forth the admonition, “That’s a better stroke,” someone said, issuing strictures about the reverse sweep in red ball cricket even in this Somerset batting heaven. Eighteen runs had come in two overs. That was soon followed by 27 in four as Abell attacked Rhodes and Hannon-Dalby, still finding his range having been brought back to stem the flow of runs as tea approached.

Abell struck the ball hard, cleanly and in his classical style. He sent it to all parts of the ground. Hannon-Dalby was cut in front of square to the Priory Bridge Road Temporary Stand and driven through the on side to the Garner Gates. Rhodes was driven through deep midwicket to the Caddick Pavilion and straight to the Trescothick Pavilion. With the score now racing through the 220s, 230s and 240s for just one wicket down it was exhilarating stuff, the edge of a seat of endless possibilities the only place for a Somerset supporter to be. Singles were being enthusiastically applauded and applause for boundaries turned into to cheers. Abell received extended and loud applause when a single driven to the deep midwicket fielder on the Somerset Stand boundary brought up his fifty from 92 balls in under two hours.

With the score on 249 for 1, I had not moved from my seat since receiving that admonition from South America, or for some time before that. As I sat motionless, the tension rise at the prospect of Somerset being only one down at tea, Renshaw looked intent on quietly defending the final over. The first three balls, from Hannon-Dalby, who had recovered his equilibrium, presented him with no problem. The fourth found a defensive edge and Burgess took a fairly straightforward catch behind the stumps. Renshaw walked off to the warmest of receptions which followed him all the way to the Pavilion. He had scored 129, his highest County Championship score.

After tea, Tom Banton, emerging alongside Abell, picked up where he had left off at the Oval. He began with some care, and with some luck. He was off the mark with an edge which flew to the River Stand off the back of the bat. Two balls later a rushed defensive stroke resulted in a low edge passing between second slip and gully before also running down to the River Stand, Hannon-Dalby the bowler in his only post-tea over before being taken off to await the new ball. Against Miles and Rhodes, Abell and Banton played with considerable care before Banton drove Rhodes straight to the Trescothick Pavilion boundary. In 12 overs, they added 28 runs, Abell cutting Briggs sharply to the covers store in the process. Warwickshire turned to the off spin of Yates. He bowled his first ball from the Trescothick Pavilion End, pitched on leg stump, Abell attempted to glance, the ball turned a little and Abell edged it to the keeper. It was a classic Abell dismissal. The Warwickshire fielders were jubilant, but 277 for 3 constituted heights which Somerset supporters had only dreamed of in the seven-match slump and Abell left to extended applause with 70, his third successive score of over 50.

James Hildreth, after a brief inspection of the bowling, was soon into typical pickpocketing mode, taking advantage of any ball which lowered its guard even marginally in line or length. Even Hannon-Dalby, perhaps just beginning to tire, was not immune. A ball, too much on Hildreth’s legs, found itself being guided to the Lord Ian Botham Stand boundary. Another, no more than a little wayward on the other side of the wicket, found itself being cut without mercy through cover to the Somerset Stand. And in the same over, the risk, innate early in any Hildreth innings, and the focus in a Hannon-Dalby spell, was personified in an attempt at an off drive which flew off the inside edge for two runs.

Soon, Hildreth was filching singles, aided and abetted by Banton, pushing deep into the on side. The lure of greater pickings was not long resisted when he reached for a cut, again off Hannon-Dalby, and connected only with air. Banton was immediately down the wicket to speak with Hildreth. Impossible to know what was said, but from the top of the Trescothick Pavilion I sensed an admonishment, the work Banton has done on his red ball game in the winter perhaps bearing fruit. It was not though to be Hildreth’s day. An off drive off Miles through extra cover for two brought applause and a cover drive off Hannon-Dalby to Legends Square brought a merited shout of, “Yeah!”, and perhaps an other-worldly cry of, “Shot” from the old Stragglers. That, though, was Hildreth’s ration for the day. When, off Hannon-Dalby, he reached for the same cut which had brought Banton down the wicket, he connected, but only enough to stroke the ball straight into the hands of an unmoving point, some of those watching emitting a sigh. He had made 23 and added 48 with Banton, and at 325 for 4, Somerset had a formidable platform.

Banton produced a battling fifty in the second innings at the Oval. Here, he ended the day three short of another. He owed his innings in part to fortune, and in part to the middle of a bat which, in his hands, shows exceptional potential. The edged boundaries with which he began his innings were followed by one to fine leg and another past gully, both off Miles. Then the middle of the bat came into its own. A steer, again off Miles, was placed between second slip and gully, a stunning, grass-hugging straight drive off Rhodes quickly disappeared from my line of sight beneath the parapet of the Trescothick Pavilion, the pursuing fielder signalling the boundary by giving up the chase. A well-placed on drive off Miles travelled smoothly off the bat, accelerated across the grass and carried enough momentum to cross the deep midwicket rope in front of the Somerset Stand just ahead of the deep square leg fielder attempting to intercept it. Another, off McAndrew went equally smoothly and impressively to the Ondaatje Stand boundary as the score rose towards 350

Banton and Steven Davies, continuing to dominate, took Somerset to the close, Davies showing his own pedigree with the bat with a straight drive off Miles which eased across the outfield but slowed as it approached the Lord Ian Botham Stand. Picking up on the atmosphere of the day someone urged the ball to, “Come on!” as a fielder closed in. As if in response the ball retained enough momentum to cross the rope to loud cheers from the River and Lord Ian Botham Stands and loud applause from the rest of the ground. With a first-day score of 351 for 4, Somerset had risen from the depths of seven successive defeats to the heights of anticipation about the outcome of this match. Those cheers for Davies’ four suggested the crowd had every intention of trying to keep them there.

Close. Somerset 351 for 4.