The Return of Jamie Overton – Somerset v Surrey – County Championship 2022 – 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.

Toss. Somerset. Elected to bat.

First day 12th June – The return of Jamie Overton

If anyone needed a reminder of what Somerset might have missed when Jamie Overton left for Surrey two seasons ago, they received one if they were at the Cooper Associates County Ground on the first day of this match, and many were. Perhaps not as many as might have been present on a good pre-pandemic day, but not far short, and for a post-pandemic crowd it suggested the old cricket-watching habits were returning. In a piece of controlled, precise, destructive fast bowling Overton ripped the heart out of Somerset’s middle and lower order. Three wickets, two opposing pace bowlers forced to retire hurt, if only temporarily in the case of brother Craig, and pace rarely seen in the modern County Championship, the sum of his contribution. He was not alone in breaking the back of the Somerset batting. With less pace but similar accuracy, Dan Worrall and Gus Atkinson formed the perfect backdrop against which Overton struck, each taking three wickets of their own. Somerset, largely courtesy of three of their own pace bowlers, two hobbled by Jamie Overton en route, scrabbled their way to 180 on a pitch which, with Surrey 56 for 1 at the close, looked to have had significantly more runs than that to offer.

The day had begun with Tom Abell winning the toss and electing to bat, with Ben Green joining Tom Lammonby in the absence of Matt Renshaw, on international duty, at the top of the order. Somerset battled some persistently accurate Surrey bowling in the morning session to the extent that they scored at less than two runs an over. The resulting pressure told to the extent that Somerset lost four wickets. Green, who had already reached for and driven a wide outswinger from Jordan Clark to the Somerset Stand and steered another past the slips to the Lord Ian Botham Stand, was out trying to drive a ball from Clark. It was full, of teasing width, and swung away late. Perfect. The resulting edge flew sharply towards Will Jack’s face at second slip. Jacks’ hands moved as sharply as the ball and Somerset were 17 or 1. Green 13. Tom Lammonby was in circumspect mode but still leaned into a full, angled-in delivery from Worrall, played across his pads in trying to guide the ball to fine leg and, a replay showed, was palpably leg before wicket. The appeal from the Surrey cordon was as vociferous as had been the cheer for Jack’s catch. Somerset 21 for 2. Lammonby 5.

It did not take a replay to assess Abell’s dismissal. The ball from Overton, bowling from the River End, was quick, short and wide enough for it to be obvious from my seat in the Somerset Stand, square of the wicket, that Abell had to stretch to reach it with the cut. The result: the ball flew low to Cameron Steele’s right at backward point. His hands darted after it and Somerset were 27 for 3. Abell 1. The end of the 15th over had yet to be reached and the clock was still a few ticks short of midday. “Oh dear,” the only audible comment. The Somerset chatter which had continued despite the first two wickets, although not necessarily about the cricket, was suddenly subdued, for Abell, despite some recent failures with the bat, is still seen by home supporters as the rock upon which the Somerset batting is built.

That role now fell to Tom Banton and Lewis Goldsworthy, back in the side after an absence of four matches. Goldsworthy developed a reputation in 2021 for dogged batting when Somerset were struggling, but he is yet to dominate an opposition and yet to score a Championship fifty. He and Banton battled for 11 overs, maintaining Somerset’s two an over progress but not looking settled and not unsettling the Surrey attack. The start to their partnership did nothing to settle Somerset supporters’ nerves either. Goldsworthy was beaten by his first ball from Overton, edged his second short of first slip, his third fell just short of and between second and third slips, both of whom were left sprawling on the ground, and his fourth, and Overton’s final ball of the over, was edged again, this time short of second slip. Overton, who had been walking back to his mark with increasing alacrity, was given a generous round of applause as he walked away from the stumps, probably wondering as much as the crowd how Goldsworthy was still in possession of the crease.

At The Oval, Banton had fought an engrossing and ultimately successful duel against Overton. They engaged again here. Banton was largely defensive as he fought to establish his innings. Overton quick and controlled. When Banton tried to drive through the covers there were gasps as the ball thudded into the keeper’s gloves. When he played back to the next ball, he edged low towards second slip. Worrall, at third, dived across, got both hands to the ball and dropped it. The next, Banton drove majestically through the covers to the Temporary Stand for four. “Shot!” someone shouted, but it was a rare victory. The short ball, when it was deployed, was well directed, Banton eschewing the hook in favour of evasive action. He did look more confident as Overton’s spell progressed, once driving him through the off side to the Colin Atkinson Pavilion for two, but foundered against Atkinson. Atkinson, bowling from the Trescothick Pavilion End, does not have Overton’s pace or presence, but he pegs away remorselessly. Banton raised his bat to leave a ball full on his off stump, or very close to it. The ball cut in sharply and hit the middle and leg stumps. “Ohh!” the shocked reaction from around me. Whether the wicket arose from simple misjudgement, or misjudgement arising from pressure is impossible to tell from beyond the boundary, but Somerset were 49 for 4 and Banton returned to the Caddick Pavilion with just 12 runs to his name.

The crowd was quiet now, apart from occasional chatter from one small group or another, for Somerset were facing another batting collapse before a first day had reached lunch. The final six overs of the morning were watched by intent, anxious faces as Goldsworthy and Steven Davies concentrated on keeping the ball out or leaving it alone. The six overs realised five runs, two coming from Goldsworthy as he continued to defy cricketing gravity with a thick edge, and Somerset lunched on 54 for 4 from 30 overs with Goldsworthy on ten and Davies on two.

My lunchtime circumnavigation was a quiet affair mainly consisting of exchanging glances with resigned faces. Among the few comments, “Looks like being a short match.” It was difficult to argue, for win or lose, five of Somerset’s first six matches have ended inside three days, they have lost four of the six and Surrey top the table with no defeats. The morning reflected that. Somerset had fought hard for short spells against incessant pressure from the Surrey bowlers, but only at the cost of barely scoring. In those pressurised circumstances three of the four wickets to fall had fallen to attacking strokes against balls either too wide or too straight for the stroke played. The fourth fell to a straightforward misjudgement. Pressure tells.

Steven Davies began confidently after lunch, taking ten off Overton’s first over. A glance, to a comment of, “Nice shot,” ran to the Trescothick Pavilion, together with three twos, all deflected  behind square on one side of the wicket or the other. They were typically smooth Davies strokes using Overton’s pace and all played with minimal risk. Clark was steered, equally confidently, past third slip to the Colin Atkinson boundary. A square drive flashed to the Temporary Stand boundary, and someone shouted, “Shot!” Somerset were 76 for 4, still in considerable difficulty, but Davies was playing with assurance and the score was moving. Then, ever threatening, Overton made a decisive intervention. A fast, straight, shortish ball reared at Davies chin. Davies jerked back, lifted his bat in self-protection and the ball looped high enough for Worrall from third slip to run forward and take a straightforward catch. Davies 22. An over later, a fast, full ball pitched just outside Gregory’s off stump and forced an edge to Smith behind the stumps. Somerset 76 for 6. Gregory 0.

Roelof van der Merwe, Somerset’s mercurial, random genius with the bat, was cheered as he crossed the boundary to replace Gregory and received more cheers before the over was out when, typically, he casually, to the eye only I suspect, lifted Overton over the slips for four. A cut for four in Overton’s next over crossed the rope in front of the Caddick Pavilion before an expansive drive against Worrall, replacing Overton, missed the ball altogether and the ball hit the stumps. Somerset 94 for 7. Van der Merwe 8. A cheer for Worrall this time from a small enclave of Surrey supporters in the Somerset Stand as wicket followed on wicket.

Goldsworthy meanwhile had battled for two hours for 21 runs while four wickets fell at the other end, but Somerset had still not reached three figures and none of the Surrey bowlers showed any sign of losing their edge. His runs had come largely in singles deflected, pushed and steered. Only twice had he reached the boundary, once with an on drive off Clark which reached the Ondaatje boundary and once with a lofted pull off Atkinson which cleared backward square leg and reached the Temporary Stand boundary. When finally, he tried to deflect Worrall down and past the slips Ryan Patel at third slip took the resulting catch at the second attempt. Goldsworthy began the long walk to the Caddick Pavilion to silence, the crowd stunned by the rout of the Somerset batting on what had become a bright, sunny day. Only as Goldsworthy approached the rope did the crowd remember Goldsworthy’s efforts and break into applause.

With Somerset on 95 for 8 Craig Overton and Josh Davey were at the wicket. They immediately set about salvaging what they could from the wreckage. Overton set the tone with two hooks in an over off Atkinson to the Temporary Stand boundary. “That’s better,” someone shouted as the first raced away. “Shot!” the cry which accompanied the second. Against Worrall, Davey survived an edge past fourth slip to the covers store and then clipped him off his toes to the Somerset Stand. “Shot!” again the cry among the applause as the fight shown by the two Somerset bowlers began to raise the crowd.

Surrey, not relenting, fought fire with fire. A lifting ball from Worrall hit Overton on the left hand. His helmet was flung to the ground in irritation and the attention he gave his hand betrayed the intensity of the pain. So did the length of time the Somerset physio spent examining it. When Overton faced the next ball, he found himself evading a well-directed bouncer. “Remember it Craig,” the shout from the crowd. A four off Atkinson, turned backward of square to the Temporary Stand by Davey, maintained Somerset’s momentum, but a skyed drive for two off Worrall left Overton wringing his hand and brought the physio back for more work on it. There was extended applause too when Overton returned to the crease. The crowd had found its voice and there was yet more applause as Somerset fought on with a Davey deflection through fine leg to the Trescothick Pavilion boundary, and more still when Overton glanced Atkinson to the River End for four more. When an on drive off Worrall brought Davey three runs as it was fielded in front of the River Stand the pair had added 41 runs in eight overs.  

The ground was buzzing now, the rapid pace and belligerent hitting of the Somerset ninth wicket partnership, and the hostility of Worrall’s bowling for the moment disguising the fact that the Somerset score had only advanced to 146 for 8. “Come on Jamie. Show no mercy,” demanded a Surrey supporter with a tinge of disdain in his voice when Overton took up the ball for his second spell of the afternoon. Overton’s second ball, to his brother Craig, was fast and short. Craig hooked, missed, the ball struck him low on the back of the helmet and felled him. He was up relatively quickly to sympathetic applause, but after discussion with the physio walked steadfastly off the field to extended applause. Somerset were 136 for 8 with Overton retired on 20.

There was extended applause too for Peter Siddle as he walked to the wicket. He is met with applause above the average whenever he appears, with bat or ball, in recognition of the uncompromising contribution he always makes to the side. More applause followed for the two he glanced off Overton two balls later. There was even greater applause for Davey when he drove Clark through midwicket to the Ondaatje boundary for four. Then Overton struck again. This time, a sickening blow to Davey’s helmet, Davey hitting the ground before the ball reached the River End boundary for four leg byes. Overton stood two thirds of the way down the pitch looking at the prone Davey with his hands on the back of his head before quietly drifting away from those attending the fallen batter.

Davey walked off somewhat gingerly to be replaced, to huge applause, by the returning Craig Overton, running across the boundary from the Caddick Pavilion back to face his brother. He was met with a fast, well-directed bouncer which he evaded, quickly crouching and leaning backwards. A mixture of pantomime cheers and jeers the reaction from the different factions in the crowd. Through the over, Jamie did not relent in pace or accuracy, pitching up and testing Craig who got behind the ball and kept it out, except when he was beaten by a fast outswinger which passed as close to the edge of the bat as it dare without touching it. Those who were there will know the sound of the true buzz of a cricket crowd witnessing tough, electric, no-nonsense cricket at its best.

Three overs the duration of that stunningly fast, devastating spell. Overton was replaced by Steel’s leg breaks and Somerset’s Overton and Siddle reached lunch, quietly taking 14 runs in the next six overs. It was as if the match had spent so much energy in that Jamie Overton spell that it needed to mark time and catch its breath. Then, three balls before lunch, it flickered into life again when Siddle peremptorily flicked Clark over the Caddick Pavilion boundary for six. It was as if the ball had upset him and he wished to see no more of it. It had been a tumultuous three quarters of an hour. The atmosphere was electric, the crowd buzzed with energy, but a cold look at the scoreboard revealed the extent of Surrey’s advantage with Somerset’s score on 167 for 8.

My obligatory teatime circumnavigation came to an abrupt halt as I took what was intended to be a brief sojourn in the lower level of the Trescothick Stand. Of course, it did not end with the tea interval. While I talked, a six from Overton off Steel threatened to make another hole in the sheeting sightscreen at the River End. Then he was leg before wicket for 29 to a ball from Atkinson that went straight through his defence. Eyes on the Caddick Pavilion searched to see if Davey would re-emerge, but instead came Kasey Aldridge, drafted in as a replacement for Davey under the ECB concussion protocol. Two overs later he too, also leg before wicket to Atkinson, was beaten in defence. And with that, Somerset were all out for 180, Siddle 15 not out after nearly an hour of determined resistance, ended my short stay in the Trescothick Pavilion.

Uncomfortably aware that 180 looked woefully inadequate, I returned to my seat high in the Somerset Stand to await the attempts of the Somerset bowlers to keep the Surrey total within range. Almost immediately, an inside edge from Rory Burns off Craig Overton evaded the keeper and ran down to the River End boundary, and an underpowered pull from Ryan Patel flew straight to, if above, Aldridge at square leg where he took the catch with apparent ease. It left Surrey 8 for 1 and brought hope and a few cheers. It looked though, more a case of Patel getting himself out than being got out, and it did little to relieve the sense of foreboding about how high the Surrey innings might climb. The sight of Hashim Amla walking to the wicket did nothing to dispel those feelings. Somerset though, the world-class Amla taking guard and their meagre 180-run defences notwithstanding, continued to attack with three, sometimes four slips.

In the final 20 overs of the day, Surrey added 47 runs. In that time, just three boundaries came from the middle of the bat, all from Burns, an off drive which disappeared under the covers off Overton, a square drive off Siddle to the Temporary Stand, and a glance off Aldridge which also went under the covers. Amla was less assured. He edged Aldridge along the ground and past third slip to the covers store, and edged a cut which went straight through Overton’s hands at second slip to jaw-dropping gasps, for Somerset desperately needed a second wicket as the close approached. With Surrey ending the day only 124 runs short of Somerset with nine wickets standing, the morrow was viewed with more foreboding than hope.

And just a final thought. This was Somerset’s last weekend Championship cricket of the season. There were more schoolchildren present than I have seen in recent times. There is no Championship cricket at Taunton in the school summer holidays. Cricket administrators please take note.

Close. Somerset 180 (D.J. Worrall 3-28, J. Overton 3-34, A.A.P. Atkinson 3-40). Surrey 56 for 1. Surrey trail by 124 runs with nine first innings wickets standing.