Hampshire with the edge – just – Somerset v Hampshire – County Championship 2022 – May 19th, 20th and 21st – Taunton – Second day

County Championship 2022. Division 1. Somerset v Hampshire. 19th, 20th and 21st May. Taunton.

Sonny Baker was unavailable for selection by Somerset due to his continuing back injury.

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, P.M. Siddle.

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

Overnight. Somerset 211. Hampshire 29 for 0. Hampshire trail by 182 runs with ten second innings wickets standing.

Second day 20th May – Hampshire with the edge – just

The rain that fell for a few minutes towards the end of the afternoon session looked as if it was auditioning for a part in a blockbuster film about Noah. It could be seen from the top of the Trescothick Pavilion before it fell, first approaching from the west, blotting out the view of the Brendons beyond the Brian Rose Gates, before spreading like a primordial duvet along the Quantocks. When it began to fall on the ground, the players fled to the Caddick Pavilion while umbrellas blossomed like mushrooms in the stands. Cricket in England. Within minutes, the ferocity of the deluge became apparent to the occupants of the elevated section of the Trescothick Stand as it dropped what sounded like heaven’s entire supply of tin tacks on the roof.

That reminder from nature of its powers ended play until an hour and a quarter before the much-delayed close. It was the third stoppage of play in the day if you count the complete loss of the morning session. In the end, despite the efforts of Jupiter Pluvius, one ball short of 40 overs were bowled during which Hampshire held sway until a spell from Craig Overton fell upon them rather as those tin tacks had fallen on the roof of the Trescothick Pavilion. Overton’s bowling analysis for the day was 18-9-21-3, with the only surprising thing about those figures being the paucity of the figure in the final column. He bowled more overs than any other bowler in the Somerset team, conceded fewer runs than any other bowler and took three of the five wickets to fall. He kept Somerset in the match.

The start of the day had been much delayed by overnight and morning rain and the wet outfield which resulted. Living a half-hour walk and bus ride from the ground, I had opted to stay at home until a start time was announced. It was always a plan doomed to failure. I missed the bus and the first ten overs. Ten overs in which Craig Overton took the wicket of Felix Organ. Organ had driven Overton through the covers to the Somerset Stand for four. The next ball, Overton bowled wide and full, it moved away from Organ, Organ attempted to drive through the off side and a high catch flew to Lewis Gregory at third slip. Hampshire 38 for 1. 173 behind. Organ 20. An opening for Somerset, but Nick Gubbins joined Ian Holland and they worked to consolidate for Hampshire.

All this I followed on my smartphone, acquired at the beginning of the pandemic. Before the pandemic, as readers of my reports in those days will know, when I was late for a match my only method for keeping up with the score was to ask someone to text me updates on my old (steam-powered according to one person) basic call-and-text-only mobile phone. Apparently, they are known as dumbphones now. Not as dumb as all that, for I only had to charge the battery about once a week, wasn’t bombarded with demands to download Apps, whatever they are, didn’t have hundreds of photographs stored never looked at, and had never heard of the Kardashians. Now, on the bus and desperate for the score it seemed like I was waiting as long for each ball as I used to wait for a text to tell me a wicket had fallen. What do players do between balls? Whatever it is, it seems to take an unbearably long time when you are on a bus. It took Hampshire an unbearably long time to score runs as well. They had crawled from 29 for 0 to 50 for 1 in the seven or eight overs it took me to reach the Brian Rose Gates.

In the three or four overs it then took me to walk around the ground to my seat in the top of the Trescothick Pavilion I tried to pick up a flavour of the cricket. Somerset were very chirpy in the field, constantly encouraging one another. I watched a few balls from the gap between the Lord Ian Botham and River Stands as Overton ran in towards me from the Trescothick Pavilion End. One ball went beautifully past the edge of the bat and I sensed Somerset’s supporters were enjoying his bowling rather more than the Hampshire batters were. As I continued my amble towards my seat, stopping as I went in the gaps between the stands to watch, the effort of the all the Somerset bowlers and the pressure they were applying was beyond question. Their impact on the course of the match since the departure of Organ was though restricted to constraining the batters, for wickets were obdurately elusive. As I sat down, with Overton bowling a maiden to Gubbins, Hampshire had reached 64 for 1 from 27 overs. Not much over two an over, but they were now within 150 runs of Somerset’s first innings total with nine wickets standing, leaving an uneasy prospect for Somerset supporters.

The lights were on and there was some ugly dark cloud hovering just beyond the River End. As the clouds gathered and the light dimmed, Josh Davey and Lewis Gregory took up the ball for Somerset. Gregory moved a ball in sharply to the right-handed Holland from outside off stump and Davies caught it diving down the leg side. The appeal and celebration were instantaneous, but the umpire was unimpressed to startled expressions from the Somerset fielders and groans from the crowd. A replay shows it to have been a good decision, the ball moving in so much it missed the inside edge and clipped the thigh. Davey followed with a loud lbw appeal against Gubbins but he too survived. And then, with the bowlers asking difficult questions, umbrellas began to appear, rain could be heard on the roof of the Trescothick Pavilion and with Hampshire having inched their way to 69 for 1 the covers were rolled out to the middle.

The rain stopped almost as soon as the covers arrived, and the players were soon back on. It was enough though to change the feel of the play. Holland and Gubbins had escaped the field after struggling to survive at barely two runs an over. They returned to drive Hampshire forward at four an over, Gubbins driving Gregory’s first ball after the break perfectly through the covers to the Somerset Stand. A back foot straight drive, also off Gregory, to the Lord Ian Botham Stand brought the comment, “That was a good stroke,” and the reply, “It’s not looking good,” as the scoreboard added those four runs to take the total to 81 for 1, 130 runs behind. Two more boundaries from Gubbins, both in the same Davey over, a drive through extra cover to the Ondaatje boundary and a cut backward of point to the Colin Atkinson Pavilion added to the pressure on Somerset and the sense among supporters that the match was being eased away from them.

And then those tin tacks from heaven crashed down on the Trescothick Pavilion roof and tea was called. At 95 for 1, it came as a relief rather than an irritation, for Hampshire were within 120 runs of Somerset’s total and moving closer at pace. The rain truly deserved the description Biblical but, at its worst, lasted no more than ten minutes and did not reach the point of producing the puddles on the outfield that might have resulted before the drainage was upgraded a few years ago. Even so, it was sufficient to prevent play before half past five, and causing it, in the end, to be extended to about a quarter to seven and the crowd to shrink to a few hundred.

When the players returned in bright sunshine the face of the day changed. A small shower moving along the top of the Quantocks briefly threatened but the Somerset bowlers held the attention. A neat cut backward of point from Gubbins off Siddle’s first ball after the restart crashed into the pickets in front of the old Stragglers area. Before the over was out an inside edge from Holland missed the off stump by a hairsbreadth and ran down to Gimblett’s Hill for four more. Hampshire were moving again, and Somerset supporters were wondering what was needed to take a wicket.

And then, with Hampshire on 107 for 1, only 104 behind, Overton struck. Holland came forward in defence, the ball took the edge, Davies took the catch, Overton had his 400th first-class wicket, did a round of high fives among the Somerset players and the crowd, small as it was, made itself heard with a round of cheers. When Gubbins edged Siddle towards the right of Overton at third slip, the ball landed agonisingly short of Overton’s hand as he reached down and ran away for a single. Someone wasn’t sure, “Did that carry?” the question. “If it had, Overton would have caught it,” the reply. It was an exchange which summed up the quality of Overton’s slip catching. When Gubbins edged Siddle behind, there was no doubt as the ball disappeared into Davies gloves. Hampshire were 117 for 3, Gubbins had departed for 36 and the cheer from the stands belied the thinness of the remaining crowd. The cheer was bigger still when Overton speared a ball into James Vince, rapped the pads, appealed with the voice of the gods which might have conjured up the earlier rain and Hampshire were 117 for 4. Vince 6. The deficit was now only 94 but Somerset were back in the game.

Overton had taken two of the three wickets to fall, and one at the start of the day, but what stood out was the overall quality of his bowling and the persistent pressure to which it subjected Hampshire. It was the accuracy and hostility, the relentlessness, the constant threat, the denial of scoring opportunities. All of those things build, and here built, pressure. The support of the parsimonious bowling of the rest of the attack was crucial too, but Overton provided the cutting edge that opened up Hampshire’s defences.

Back in the game, Somerset pushed for another wicket, and only four runs came in the five overs after the fall of Vince as the crowd applauded and cheered above its numbers. With Ben Brown, the new batter, facing Overton there was a cry from the field of, “Come on Craig. Test him.” Brown had other ideas, for when Gregory replaced Overton, he struck. Twice in an over he played with an angled bat to steer the ball to the River Stand boundary, but once, he edged just wide and short of Abell at third slip to groans and the ball ran again to the River Stand for four. A glance to the Lord Ian Botham Stand boundary ended the over with Brown on 17,  Hampshire on 137 for 4, and at 74 behind closing in on Somerset again.

With the day now drawing to its close in glorious sunshine, Gregory bowled the final over. Liam Dawson, so often a thorn in the side of Somerset, with the final five balls of the day to face, was intent only on keeping Gregory out. The penultimate ball was full, angled in, quick, and crashed into Dawson’s pads. The appeal and the raising of the finger were instantaneous, the cheer rapturous, and Hampshire had ended the day on 144 for 5. Dawson 8. Deficit 67. Hampshire still with the edge, but it was a much narrower edge than it had been at 107 for 1. As so often, the first session of the morrow would be crucial.

Close. Somerset 211. Hampshire 144 for 5. Hampshire trail by 67 runs with five first innings wickets standing.