An almighty fightback – but just one point – Somerset v Surrey – County Championship 2022 – Division 1 – 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th June – Taunton – First day

County Championship 2022. Division 1. Somerset v Surrey. 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th June. Taunton.

Sonny Baker was unavailable for selection by Somerset due to his continuing back injury while Jack Leach was on Test duty with England and Matt Renshaw on international duty with Australia.

Somerset. T.A. Lammonby, B.F.G. Green, T.B. Abell (c), T. Banton, L.P. Goldsworthy, S.M. Davies (w), L. Gregory, R.E. van der Merwe, C. Overton/M. de Lange, J.H. Davey/K.L. Aldridge*, P.M. Siddle.

*J.H. Davey was replaced by K.L. Aldridge on the first day and C. Overton by M. de Lange on the second under the ECB Concussion Protocol

Surrey. R.J. Burns (c), R.S. Patel, H.M. Amla, B.B.A. Geddes, J.L. Smith (w), W.G. Jacks, C.T. Steel, J. Clark, J. Overton, A.A.P. Atkinson, D.J. Worrall.

Overnight. Somerset 180 and 319 for 8. Surrey 382. Somerset lead by 117 runs with two second innings wickets standing.

Final day 15th June – An almighty fightback – but just one point

The moment of the day was the sight of Jamie Smith’s off stump being sent cartwheeling by Kasey Aldridge and the delight from the bowler which followed. This was Aldridge’s second Championship match as a playing substitute and his third in all. He had finished the first two matches wicketless. He had finally taken his first wicket in the first innings of this match, and another to break Surrey’s racing opening partnership in this innings. Now, the sight of that stump careering out of the ground set the Somerset blood coursing, for here was a young man making a mark. Cheers rent the air, for with three wickets in two overs Aldridge and Roelof van der Merwe had stopped a Surrey team hurtling towards a crushing victory in its tracks. “There may be only two or three hundred here,” someone said, “but what a noise they are making, what an atmosphere they are creating.” It was three quarters of an hour into the afternoon session, Surrey were 70 for 3 and the spark of Somerset hope had been kindled. Fifteen minutes earlier, at 65 for 0, scored at five runs an over, a target of 193 had seemed only a few skips down the wicket away and the cheers were coming from the small enclave of Surrey supporters in the Lord Ian Botham Stand.

When one side is dominating, meandering the boundary is a not uncommon exercise for supporters of the other side. Before those wickets, with Rory Burns and Ryan Patel taking their bats to the Somerset bowling, this was one such time. My lunchtime circumnavigation, beginning from my seat square of the wicket and high up in the Somerset Stand, was much interrupted and had only reached a chat in the lower level of the Trescothick Pavilion when the players emerged from the Caddick Pavilion. Moving on, I had barely reached halfway along the empty shell of the new Gimblett’s Hill when another conversation began. The sun was glorious, the ball was again flying off Surrey bats, although beating them just enough to keep a vestige of Somerset hope flickering. Not hope of a win, but hope of at least of making Surrey fight. “Can we hold them until tea?” one hopeful asked as I passed the Garner Gates at the beginning of my walk. “It would be good to knock two or three over,” another said as I reached the Caddick Pavilion. And all the while the scoreboard was accelerating through the fifties and into the sixties. When van der Merwe chased down an on drive from Patel in front of the Lord Ian Botham Stand, a glance at the scoreboard confirmed that Surrey were rushing towards a crushing victory with only another 131 needed.

Three runs later, the match all but gone for Somerset, Burns hooked Aldridge and the ball was caught, to relieved cheers, on the fine leg boundary by the substitute fielder, Sonny Baker, having an outing in the sun after his long lay off with a back injury. Before another run had been scored, Patel, attacking van der Merwe outside the off stump, edged a ball fast, wide of and past Gregory at slip. Gregory took off like a grasshopper doing a backward somersault and caught the ball one-handed to his left and behind him as it attempted to flash by. The roar that went up then, for the catch, and for the thought that flashed across the mind that Somerset might, just might, have a chance, was thunderous. And then, an over later, that tumbling stump, Aldridge’s delight, and a roar that was all the more leonine after the spectacular straight drive which Smith had dispatched to the Lord Ian Botham Stand boundary the ball before. Suddenly, Surrey were 70 for 3, only 123 short of victory, but with that precious sporting commodity, momentum, for a moment at least, with Somerset, “It’s game on now,” someone said.

Overnight, with Somerset 117 ahead with only two wickets standing, any thought of a Somerset victory had seemed fanciful. But the overnight ninth wicket partnership between Gregory and Siddle was stretched with calm assurance deep into the morning. When I arrived, I had taken the precaution of sitting in the same seat in the Somerset Stand that I had occupied the previous day when Somerset had batted most of the day. The old superstitions still bite hard in modern cricket. No-one believes they make an ounce of difference, but no-one wants to take a chance, and woe-betide anyone who moves during a long partnership just before it is broken.

The calm with which Gregory and Siddle batted gave the impression they were involved in a choreographed ballet rather than a hard-fought cricket match. It was perhaps an omen for the partnership when early in the proceedings a ball was played down into the crease by Gregory from where it rolled towards the stumps. There was no frantic attempt to kick it away, just Gregory’s boot coming down and easing the ball out of the way. The calm control was symbolic of the partnership to come.

Nor was there any attempt by Gregory to ‘farm’ the strike. And there seemed no point. If Somerset were to make anything of a hopeless situation, they would need measured defence and a steady supply of runs from both ends over an extended period. From the lazy chatter coming from the few in the ground there was no suggestion of the tension that arises from a game on the edge. It sounded more as if people were taking the opportunity of being at the cricket to chat. Rather than chatting about the cricket. Those along from me were discussing local league cricket with no reference to what was going on in front of them.

In the middle, there was no sign of desperation or resignation. Nor was there much by the way of cricketing fireworks to generate excitement in the stands. Just a batter of periodic brilliance and, with discipline, sound technique, but who has not succeeded in recent times; and a bowler who can get into line with the bat. And that is what the pair proceeded to do. Apply technique and concentration. There was little in the wicket for the bowlers and the overs started to tick by and the runs on the scoreboard began to tick up. Singles and the occasional two were neatly pushed into gaps or stroked smoothly to the deep field. No rush, no testing of throws or the speed of batters’ legs.

Only occasionally was the greater power needed for a boundary deployed. Early on, Gregory drove Gus Atkinson past mid-on with precision and along the ground, the ball ending up by running over the rope and under the covers. An over later, Siddle edged Worrall, bowling from the River End, past a diving gully and the ball again disappeared under the covers. Both boundaries brought applause, but it was steady defence and measured accumulation of singles and twos that began to build tension. After Siddle’s edged boundary 11 overs slipped by before the ball reached the boundary again. And yet, the score rose at the rate of three runs an over, and as it rose the applause rose with it.

Two overs were indicative of them all. Off successive deliveries from Atkinson, Siddle gently drove. The first, straight, was chased halfway to the Trescothick Pavilion boundary by mid-on and mid-off while the batters quietly added another two to the score. The second, to the off, was part stopped by mid-off diving hard to his right but ran on far enough towards the Trescothick Pavilion for two more to be added to the total. In an over from Overton, Gregory gently guided the ball with horizontal bat to fine leg for a single, Siddle hooked with a little more force to the long leg fielder running around to Gimblett’s Hill for another single, and Gregory took a third from the over with a push into the onside.

By such systematic run-gathering in those 11 overs did Gregory and Siddle take Somerset from 335 for 8 and a lead of 133 to 369 for 8 and a lead of 167. As the score rose, a tension-driven hush settled on the ground. It was punctuated by loud applause for runs of any number and for bats jabbed down on good balls. “How many would put a bit of pressure on them?” someone dared ask. No-one dared answer, but it was a thought which must have been pushing its way, against better judgement, into many minds.

And all the while, Gregory’s score crept up, out of the seventies, through the eighties and into the nineties. There was neither a rush for the century nor any nervousness in the nineties as he continued to stroke the ball around the field. Then, on 96, with Clark bowling from the Trescothick Pavilion End, he drove smoothly through the covers towards the Somerset Stand. As the deep point fielder closed on the ball it began to slow. The crowd willed it on. It was not enough. The fielder reached the ball before the ball reached the boundary and Gregory quietly settled for three. In the next over, against Steel’s leg spin, with the field in to prevent the single, Gregory drove again through the covers, this time towards the Temporary Stand. With the field in, the ball crossed the rope. It released some of the tension and the ground erupted into applause, many standing and continuing to applaud for what seemed an age while Gregory raised his bat to all quarters.

Peter Siddle had played a full part in the partnership, not just in keeping an end secure, but in scoring runs. He even took the lead after Gregory’s century, lofting Steel, albeit with a slight miscue, over a chasing mid-on to the Lord Ian Botham Stand boundary, sweeping Jacks to Gimblett’s Hill for three and taking his share of the pushed and steered singles. Of the 75 runs the partnership realised on the final morning, Siddle contributed 36 to Gregory’s 39.

Eventually, Siddle was struck on the pad by Worrall and given out. When the umpire raised his finger, Siddle seemed barely able to walk off, his feet dragging microscopically, one slowly after the other, towards the Caddick Pavilion before turning to face the umpire and then, finally, walking off. Whether startled by the decision or devastated by it, or both, it was impossible to tell from beyond the boundary, although online watchers thought Siddle unlucky. When, two balls later, Marchant de Lange attempted to steer a ball to third man he was caught behind and Surrey needed those 193 runs to win. By lunch they were 21 for 0 from three overs, Patel having glanced and twice driven Siddle to the boundary. Surrey needed another 171 and my lunchtime circumnavigation began.

It ended after that ball from Aldridge sent Smith’s off stump cartwheeling. Back in my seat, although Surrey only needed another 123 to win, one run in the next three overs, and that from a thick edge, built the tension further. Each time the bat was beaten applause rang around the ground. Loud applause followed any over in which the batter had been pinned down or beaten. “Come on, keep going,” someone shouted. Pushing back against Somerset, Will Jacks began to attack. He drove the tiring Aldridge straight back to the Lord Ian Botham Stand, pulled him over square leg to the Somerset Stand and drove him through the covers to the Caddick Pavilion boundary. With Surrey needing only 103 with seven wickets standing, Abell withdrew Aldridge from the attack and de Lange joined van der Merwe.

Jacks, supported by Ben Geddes, maintained the pressure on Somerset and the runs required continued to shrink. It pushed Abell into weakening the attacking field as runs prevented became a precious commodity. With 98 needed and Abell bowling an over to enable de Lange and van der Merwe to change ends, Geddes attempted to drive, the ball found the edge and flew over and wide of Gregory, the only slip. It would probably have cleared a second slip too had one been in place, but it did emphasise the importance of Jacks’ innings in denying Abell that leeway. Although the ball continued to beat the bat, the players left the field for tea with Surrey on 117 for 3 now needing another 76 with still those seven wickets standing.

Another circumnavigation of the ground, anti-clockwise as always, again left me chatting in front of Gimblett’s Hill when the players returned. With Aldridge back into the attack, Jacks, on 38, edged straight into Abell’s hands at second slip, and out again to an audible gasp from the far-flung crowd. If there had been a remote chance for Somerset it had surely just fallen to the ground. And then, two balls later, Geddes pulled Aldridge to midwicket where Green took a straightforward catch above his head. Fifty-six runs needed. Six wickets left. Too few runs, too many wickets the cold assessment. But Aldridge and Siddle were running in with renewed energy.

Hashim Amla, off the field ill since the beginning of the second day and a formidable sight to an opposition supporter, joined Jacks. “I have to collect my car,” someone said. “What a way to miss an impossible victory,” he added with a heavy dose of irony in his voice, and a touch of anxiety in his eye that he might actually miss one. It is the perpetual anxiety of the ardent cricket supporter who has to leave a lost match early, that that one impossible win of a lifetime will then occur. And then Amla, who had with Jacks pushed Surrey another 17 runs closer, missed a ball from the ever-persevering Siddle which cut in and struck him on the pad. The raising of the umpire’s finger triggered a colossal cheer far beyond the normal capacity of the numbers present. Surrey were five wickets down, the threat of Amla was gone, and still 39 runs were needed. Still beyond realistic possibility, but each wicket gave hope a quarter turn.

Cameron Steel to the wicket, Aldridge’s first Championship wicket in the first innings. Jacks, pushing Surrey ever closer to their target, drove straight of mid-on, just defeating the mid-on fielder and brought up his fifty. Jacks raised his bat to some generous applause, for he was the main driver of Surrey’s effort. Aldridge, beginning his 12th over of the innings, induced a wide flashing drive from Steel. The ball was edged and flew well wide of Abell at second slip. Abell dived hard to his right, stretched to his full length and caught the ball a few inches above the ground. It was a phenomenal catch, over in an instant, and Surrey were 161 for 6, 33 behind. Amidst the roar which followed, someone asked, “Can we do it?” “Not enough runs,” the cold assessment in response.

But cold assessment does not necessarily overrule emotion, and for a moment, hope ruled. It could be heard in the enormous cheer, seen in the glowing faces, and sensed in the atmosphere. Eyes turned to the scoreboard; brains did the calculations. Thirty-three runs were needed, or four wickets. Logic was against Somerset, and hope took a blow when Jacks hooked Aldridge towards Gimblett’s Hill and the ball burst through Goldsworthy’s hands on the bounce before crossing the boundary. That took the runs required below 30, then Jacks lofted Siddle over mid-on to the Ondaatje boundary and drove Aldridge through the covers to the Temporary Stand. The Somerset heart was sinking now and the Surrey enclave in the Lord Ian Botham Stand was becoming evermore vociferous, for Surrey now needed less than 20.

When Siddle struck Jacks on the pads the instantaneous appeal suggested the umpire’s finger must be raised. Siddle looked stunned when it stayed down. The next ball settled any doubt, for it was speared in, beat the bat and removed Jacks’ middle stump. That brought forth another colossal roar and a celebration from Siddle to match. Hearts pumped again, but with Somerset needing three wickets and Surrey needing only 18 runs the game was fast slipping away from Somerset. Overton played and missed a few times but survived as the final three wickets steadfastly refused to come and the issue was finally, and quickly, settled by hooked and pulled fours from Clark off Aldridge.

And so, Somerset had staved off defeat until late on the fourth day after a determined and sustained bowling performance on the second day, a gritty batting fightback on the third day and fourth morning, and a valiant assault with the ball and in the field on the final afternoon. But in the end, it was clear that too much ground had been ceded to Surrey when Somerset were bowled out for 180 by tea on the first day. For all their battling, they came away with just one point and their position in the first division is a precarious one. The next two matches are against the third and fourth teams in the table. There must therefore be a risk of Somerset, now in ninth place of ten, becoming detached from the main body of the table. Four of the final five matches of the season are against teams currently occupying places in the bottom half of the table. With uncertainty about the future format of first-class domestic cricket, and speculation, it is no more than that at present, that it could change as early as 2023, there is no time to waste for Somerset in producing performances like those of the second half of this match from the start of day one.

Result. Somerset 180 (D.J. Worrall 3-28, J. Overton 3-40, A.A.P. Atkinson 3-40) and 394 (L. Gregory 110*, L.P. Goldsworthy 67, T.B. Abell 45, D.J. Worrall 3-77). Surrey 382 (R.J. Burns 113, W.G. Jacks 88, J. Clark 63*) and 195 for 7 (W.G. Jacks 62, K.L. Aldridge 4-61). Surrey won by three wickets. Surrey 22 points. Somerset 1 point.

K.A, Aldridge took his maiden first-class wicket in Surrey’s first innings and Lewis Goldsworthy made his maiden first-class fifty in Somerset’s second innings.

Elsewhere in Division 1.

Canterbury. Gloucestershire 438 (G.D. Phillips 125) and 213 (J.A. Duffy 5-66). Kent 564 (J.M. Cox 158, J.A. Leaning 128, T.J. Price 5-58) and 91 for 2. Kent won by 8 wickets. Kent 22 points. Gloucestershire 6 points.

Edgbaston. Warwickshire 292 (S.R. Hain 130) and 327 for 9 dec (A.L. Davies 121). Lancashire 291 (L.C. Norwell 5-78) and 329 for 6 (L.W.P. Wells 176*). Lancashire won by six wickets. Lancashire 21 points. Warwickshire 5 points.

Southampton. Yorkshire 428 (G.C.H. Hill 131) and 178. Hampshire 410 and 198 for 8. Hampshire won by two wickets. Hampshire 22 points. Yorkshire 6 points.

First Division Table

        Pl       W       L       D      Ded*    Pts

1.      7        4        0        3         0       127           Surrey

2.      7        5        1        1        -2       124           Hampshire

3.      7        3        1        3         0       108           Lancashire

4.      7        1        1        5         0         96           Yorkshire

5.      7        1        2        4        -1         78           Warwickshire

6.      6        2        1        3         0         76           Essex        

7.      7        1        2        4         0         75           Kent

8.      6        0        1        5         0         66           Northamptonshire        

9.      7        2        5        0         0         61           Somerset        

10.    7        0        5        2        -2         41           Gloucestershire

*All deducted points were the result of slow over rates.