Of friends and Somerset reviving

County Championship Division 1. Yorkshire v Somerset. 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th July 2019. Headingley.

Overnight. Yorkshire 520. Somerset 76 for 4. Somerset trail Yorkshire by 444 runs with six first innings wickets standing.

Third day. 15th July – Of friends and signs of Somerset reviving

My friend from the days of May and Trueman, Alley and Wight came to the cricket again. No problems with his bus this time. Apparently, it was as reliable as a Bill Alley over and he arrived for the start as perfectly as a Bill Alley ball would have arrived on a length. My bus was a different matter. My habitual, report delayed departure, was further delayed as my bus waited obstinately at the stop for three minutes for the timetable to catch up with it. Three minutes is an age as interminable as thirty minutes in the dentist’s chair when Somerset are trying to save a game with the Championship potentially on the line. And the journey can take as long as having the nerve removed from your root canal if the bus decides to make acquaintance with every red traffic light in Leeds as well as pick up every member of the population it can find.Read More »

A numbing experience

County Championship Division 1. Yorkshire v Somerset. 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th July 2019. Headingley.

Overnight. Yorkshire 282 for 3.

Second day. 14th July – A numbing esperience

The disappointment was there to see in the face of every Somerset supporter I saw as I left the ground. It was more than the looks you see after the normal sort of ‘bad day at the office’ cricket. There was a deeper look, one almost of shock. No-one said a word, other than by the look they gave. And every last one gave the same look. For this day had the feeling not just of a heavy defeat pending but of the Championship on the turn. Not only had Somerset fallen far behind Yorkshire but Essex had forged well ahead of a Warwickshire side with batting weakened by England Lions calls and which will have to face the spin of Harmer in the fourth innings. If Somerset lose, which is where the neutral money will be, and Essex win, which they have in every other match this season at Chelmsford Somerset will fall into second place in the table for the first time since the first match of the season. Essex have had the wind in their sails since they beat Somerset at Chelmsford and Somerset have steered themselves into the choppiest of waters in this match since they set the wrong course when they did not contest the toss.Read More »

A day of ennui and oak trees

County Championship Division 1. Yorkshire v Somerset. 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th July 2019. Headingley.

Somerset. T.B. Abell (c), Azhar Ali, J.C. Hildreth, T. Banton, G.A. Bartlett, S.M. Davies (w), D.M. Bess, C. Overton, J. Overton, T.D. Groenewald, J.A. Brooks.

Yorkshire. A. Lyth. W.A.R. Fraine, G.S. Balance, T. Kohler-Cadmore,, J. Shaw, H.C. Brook, J.A. Tattersal (w), M.D. Fisher, K.A. Maharaj, S.A. Patterson (c), D. Olivier. 

Jack Leach and Lewis Gregory were not available for selection for this match having been selected to play for the England Lions at Canterbury.

Toss. Uncontested. Yorkshire required to bat.

First day. 13th July – A day of ennui and oak trees

At the Oval, if you sit in the Peter May Stand, the aircraft slide in over your left shoulder and cross the pitch in a line from long on to backward point as they find their way to Heathrow. At Headingley, if you sit in the Fred Trueman Enclosure, they come towards you over second slip and long-on, as they descend towards Leeds-Bradford Airport. I imagine they would have kept to the same course had Trueman bowled to May here more than 60 years ago now although the airport would have been known as Yeadon in those days. Had they played on the pitch used for this match I imagine May would have blessed the day and Trueman would have had words of another variety. From my seat in the Trueman enclosure, beyond a straight long-on, and directly under the approaching aircraft the ball seemed to be going through on a line as straight as the flightpath which the aircraft followed and with bounce as even as their smooth computer-directed descent.Read More »

The view from the ‘popular’ seats

County Championship Division 1. Somerset v Nottinghamshire. 7th, 8th and 9th July 2019. Taunton. 

Overnight. Somerset 326 and 7 for 1. Nottinghamshire 241. Somerset lead by 92 runs with eight second innings standing.

Final day. 9th July – The view from the ‘popular’ seats

For the second and third days of this match I sat in what, in childhood days spent watching Test match cricket on the BBC, would probably have been referred to as the ‘popular’ seats. Usually the largest bank of seats in the ground sold at the cheapest prices. At Taunton that is the Somerset Stand, at least by measure of size for at Championship matches it will cost you as much to sit there as anywhere else. Often, especially in the biting chill of April, it is a sparsely populated part of the ground. Now, in the warmth of the old Championship summer month of July and the glow of Somerset’s longest ever occupation of the top of the table the Somerset Stand is drawing people in ever larger numbers. Truly popular seats.Read More »

Vive la différence

County Championship Division 1. Somerset v Nottinghamshire. 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th July 2019. Taunton. 

Overnight. Somerset 326.

Second day. 8th July – Vive la différence

“How are you going to make that sound interesting?” I was asked. Asked at lunchtime. It wasn’t an unreasonable question. At the time. The most exciting adjective anyone could offer me about the morning’s play was ‘turgid’. 91 for 1 Nottinghamshire had scored in the morning session but it felt as if the grass, if that was what you had been watching, was growing ever more slowly as the morning went on. There was, I suspect, method in Nottinghamshire’s approach. With Ashwin in their side, on a pitch which was expected to take spin later in the game, time spent occupying the crease might serve their purpose. A first innings lead of any proportion could prove critical.Read More »

Somerset battle back

County Championship Division 1. Somerset v Nottinghamshire. 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th July 2019. Taunton. 

Somerset. T.B. Abell (c), Azhar Ali, J.C. Hildreth, T. Banton, G.A. Bartlett, S.M. Davies (w), L. Gregory, D.M. Bess, J. Overton, T.D. Groenewald, M.J. Leach.

Nottinghamshire. J.D. Libby, B.T. Slater, C.D. Nash, B.M. Duckett, S.J. Mullaney (c), R. Ashwin, T.J. Moores (w), L. Wood, L. Fletcher, L. A. Patterson-White, J.T. Ball.

Toss. Somerset. Elected to bat.

First day. 7th July – Somerset battle back

Backs to the wall, hold the line and then battle back into contention. That has more than once been the story of Somerset’s 2019 season. It was the story again on the first day of this match. Nottinghamshire, stiffened by the 65 Test matches worth of experience of Ravichandran Ashwin and their attack sharpened by the apparently infinite variations in his off spin bowling, tested Somerset in the first half of the day only for Steven Davies to lead a fightback more than ably supported by Dom Bess and Jamie Overton in the second half.Read More »

A dream of a match

County Championship Division 1. Somerset v Hampshire 30th June, 1st, 2nd and 3rd July. Taunton.

Overnight. Somerset 408 and 358 for 8 dec. Hampshire 349 and 12 for 1. Hampshire need a further 406 runs to win with nine second innings wickets standing.

Final day. 3rd July – A dream of a match

There are times in life when a simple truth becomes, as the American constitution has it, ‘self-evident’. When the nagging questions are answered beyond dispute. When the doubts are expelled headlong from the mind. The final morning of this match was one such time. Somerset, now beyond any doubt, have a team capable of winning the County Championship. A team capable of becoming the greatest Somerset team of all time. Chickens though are best not counted. This team is ‘capable’ of those things. They are not yet written in stone. The Championship still has to be won, and this year Essex, and perhaps Yorkshire, may have their say and other counties will in subsequent years. Three of Somerset’s remaining six matches this season will be against those two sides. But after this performance those three matches may be considered opportunities at least as much as threats. Somerset now have their destiny firmly in their own hands to an extent unparalleled in their history.Read More »

Somerset race for the line

County Championship Division 1. Somerset v Hampshire 30th June, 1st, 2nd and 3rd July. Taunton.

Overnight. Somerset 408. Hampshire 329 for 8. Hampshire trail by 79 runs with two first innings wickets standing.

Third day. 2nd July – Somerset race for the line

When I worked in London I used to walk along the Embankment in the evening to unwind. In the summer it was a restful experience watching the Thames flow by and the party boats slide up and down as if they were floating on air rather than water. It was less restful in the winter and early spring. In those dark evenings I would be constantly overtaken by an endless succession of runners toning themselves up for the London marathon. It mattered not how narrow the pavement nor how many obstacles had been planted there in the form of ‘street furniture’, the endless stream of runners just kept on coming past. It must have been a bit like that for Hampshire on the first and third days of this match as an endless succession of Somerset batsmen relentlessly passed by as they stacked up runs at the rate of four and a half an over. Read More »

Overton excels

County Championship Division 1. Somerset v Hampshire 30th June, 1st, 2nd and 3rd July. Taunton.

Overnight. Somerset 408. Hampshire 15 for 1. Hampshire trail by 393 runs with nine first innings wickets standing.

Second day. 1st July – Overton excels

Somerset’s Championship prospects may have been encapsulated in this single match. In three of the last four seasons the team that has won the Championship has won ten or, in the case of Yorkshire in 2015 when 16 matches were played, 11 matches and not lost more than one. With Essex now playing in overdrive, driven by winning all four of their matches at Chelmsford, three inside three days, and challenging for Somerset’s top spot, there is no reason to think this season will be any different. The team that wins the Championship will probably win ten matches or very close. Essex, who have yet to win away from home, appear to be overwhelming favourites to win their current match against bottom placed Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge. Having won their last two matches they are building real momentum as the business end of the season approaches. With their next two matches being at Chelmsford there is every prospect that their momentum will continue. To win the Championship Somerset will have to match it.Read More »

Tremendous cricket

County Championship Division 1. Somerset v Hampshire 30th June, 1st, 2nd and 3rd July. Taunton.

Before beginning the report on the first day’s play I would like to record that a minute’s silence was held before the start of play in memory of Charles Clark, Somerset CCCs late Chairman, who died recently.

Toss. Somerset. Elected to bat.

First day. 30th June – Tremendous cricket

That was a day of what Championship cricket should be all about if it is to bring the crowds in and keep them there. And it was certainly played in front of a bumper Championship crowd. Well upwards of 2000, possibly nearer 3000, by my estimate if the numbers in the Somerset Stand and the Temporary Stand where the old scoreboard used to be were any indication. And quite a few younger people than the norm for the Championship. I even had to field a ball when I went out to look at the pitch at lunchtime. It was the sort of first day in the days of three-day cricket which you would go home waxing lyrical about, especially if it were a Saturday after a working week.

There were liberal measures of cut and thrust, ebb and flow, batting to scintillate, bowling to exhilarate; not to mention 423 runs and 11 wickets. If your team is trying to win the Championship you might prefer all those terms to apply only to your own side. On the first day of this match they were shared although Somerset deserved the major portion. Perhaps. It will take at least another day of cricket to be sure, for by tea Somerset were in a position to bat Hampshire out of this match; by the close Hampshire had bowled themselves into a position from where they could at least see a route towards parity. Who knows where this match will be by the close of the second day.Read More »

Routed

County Championship Division 1. Essex v Somerset. 23rd, 24th and 25th June. Chelmsford.

Overnight. Essex 216 and 164 for 6. Somerset 131. Essex lead by 249 runs with four second innings wickets standing.

Final day. 25th June – Routed

Perhaps Guildford 2018 should have sprung into my mind as Somerset were being routed on the third day at Chelmsford in 2019. But it didn’t. It has appeared there now but only because I have been searching for a benchmark against which to measure my feelings during the inexorable descent to a 151-run defeat to Essex in a low scoring match. There is a distinct difference between the two defeats. Guildford was a seismic destruction of Somerset’s 2018 Championship hopes. The destruction of those hopes was plain to see for many of us present long before the match was over. Neither the Somerset batsmen nor the bowlers remotely competed with their Surrey counterparts and many of us left Guildford in no doubt that Surrey would be champions.Read More »

Somerset fall behind

County Championship Division 1. Essex v Somerset. 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th June. Chelmsford.

Overnight. Essex 216. Somerset 32 for 1. Somerset trail by 184 with nine first innings wickets standing.

Second day. 24th June – Somerset fall behind

The morning of the second day was very like the afternoon of the first, at least as far as the behaviour of the ball, pitch, overhead and atmospheric conditions were concerned. The dominance of bowlers over batsmen was equally pronounced on both occasions. On the first afternoon and evening Essex lost their last nine wickets in the space of 90 runs. Now, on the second morning and early afternoon Somerset lost their last nine wickets in the space of 77 runs. Food there to feed the debate about whether an individual’s prospects are most shaped by their endeavours or by their circumstances. Here the circumstances, or conditions, in which each side bowled and batted were the same and, unless 13 runs is cause for dispute, so were the outcomes. The difference between the sides on first innings was the 110 runs scored for the loss of one wicket in the much more batsman friendly conditions of the first morning.Read More »

A test of a match

County Championship Division 1. Essex v Somerset. 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th June. Chelmsford.

Toss. Essex. Elected to bat.

First day. 23rd June – A test of a match

Somerset travelled to Chelmsford for the greatest test of their Championship ambitions to date. This is Somerset’s seventh match in the competition, they have won five of the previous six, but it is their first against a county in the top half of the table. It is also against Essex, perhaps Somerset’s strongest challengers, on the ground where Essex have won every Championship match this season. Key to Essex’s success has been Stephen Harmer’s off spin and the 31 wickets he has taken on a pitch which has a reputation for increasing turn as a match progresses. When Essex won the toss and elected to bat they handed themselves the prospect of building a score which Harmer could exploit.Read More »

“Incredible. Just incredible.”

County Championship Division 1. Kent v Somerset. 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th June. Canterbury.

Overnight. Kent 139 and 24 for 2. Somerset 169. Kent trail by six runs with eight second innings wickets standing.

Fourth day. 13th June – “Incredible. Just incredible.”

“Incredible. Just incredible.” said the text. And incredible it was. Eight Kent wickets in less than an hour and the sight of Somerset’s Overton brothers gathering slip catches at second and third slip as if they were catching tennis balls thrown to them on a beach. That is the overriding picture that sticks in the mind after a final afternoon sitting in the top of the Frank Woolley Stand at the Pavilion End of the St. Lawrence Ground. Sitting among the images of those Overton catches is one of Davies flying effortlessly down the leg side at full stretch to snare a ball which had found the inside edge of the bat. Seen from behind on a small ground the view of slip and wicketkeeping catches is to my mind one of the reat sights of cricket. The action is close, nothing impedes the view and you can watch the arc of the ball all the way to the hands of the fielder unless it flies straight to him. Whereas the ball which flew of the edge of Dickson’s bat and straight into the hands of Hildreth at the far end disappeared into a flurry of distant movement from bat, batsman, bowler and keeper. Only the instantaneous celebration of the cordon and Overton running to the far end, arm held aloft, set the heart racing yet again.Read More »

Astonishing things on an astonishing day

County Championship Division 1. Kent v Somerset. 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th June. Canterbury.

Toss. Uncontested. Kent required to bat.

Overnight. No play. Rain.

Second day. 12th June – Astonishing things on an astonishing day

Riding the top deck of the bus from Whitstable to Canterbury and back was rather like watching a team bat on the first day of play in this match. Never restful and full of unpredictable and frequent jolts to the system. Indeed, it soon became apparent that the only thing that was predictable was the unpredictability. There seemed to be more potholes on that road than craters on the face of the moon as every piece of repair work seemed to have settled into the soft subsoil. No-one was likely to fall asleep on that bus. Or at the cricket. 22 wickets fell in the day and the day ended with the match in the balance although with Somerset holding the faintest of edges. Only the faintest of edges because partnerships of any size were at a premium. As someone said to me, “Somerset are ahead by two decent partnerships to one.” And a 2-1 lead is always fragile especially when unpredictability is the order of the day.Read More »

Somerset’s tectonic shift

County Championship Division 1. Surrey v Somerset. 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th June. Guildford.

Final day. 6th June – Somerset’s tectonic shift

Overnight. Somerset 344 and 153. Surrey 231 and 99 for 2. Surrey need a further 156 runs to win with eight wickets standing.

What a difference a year makes! In one sense the fourth morning of this match was very similar to the third morning at Guildford in 2018. A bowling performance of such intensity that the batting just melted away before it. Except in 2019 it was Somerset who were doing the bowling and Surrey the melting away. After the 2018 match several travelling Somerset supporters found ourselves in a group behind the Pavilion and concluded we had seen the 2018 County Champions and they were not Somerset. Another group, some from last year and some others found ourselves together after this match on the Woodbridge Road boundary. None dared predict anything but all agreed something very special had happened during the morning and that this Somerset team has something very special. Read More »

Morkel and Dunn grab the momentum

County Championship Division 1. Surrey v Somerset. 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th June. Guildford.

Third day. 5th June – Morkel and Dunn grab the momentum

Overnight. Somerset 344. Surrey 188 for 5. Surrey trail by 156 with five second innings wickets standing.

I wondered if the most important thing I saw all day was an aeroplane. I was meandering around the ground during the tea interval and heard the sound of jet engines rather as you do over the Oval. I had heard the occasional sound of jet engines low over the ground throughout this match but it was the first time I had seen the aircraft. What struck me was how just how high the cloud had risen above it, and how low the cloud must have been, a few hot sunny intervals on the first day apart, during this match thus far when the engines roared but the aircraft which they powered were beyond sight.

It is surprising how often ‘poor’ batting is accompanied by low cloud and good pace bowling. There may, or may not, be a causal connection. That is something that scientists and cricketers may differ on but there is certainly a connection of some sort in my experience. Whether because of the laws of physics or the psychological response of players to varying overhead conditions or something else is beyond my knowing but it is there. It has certainly been the case in this match and more times than enough in my cricket-watching career. As the spectator I spoke to during the last session said to me as Burns and Borthwick were bringing Surrey up on Somerset’s heels, “The cloud has gone up.” And by the end of the day a watery sun was brightening the ground even further.Read More »

Overton returns

County Championship Division 1. Surrey v Somerset. 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th June. Guildford.

Second day. 4th June – Overton returns

Overnight. Somerset 344. Surrey 0-0. Surrey trail by 344 runs with ten first innings wickets standing.

There are homecomings and there are homecomings. This was one to be treasured in the video archives of the memory bank. A fast bowler running in from the Pavilion End at Guildford under skies that would have done service to the opening scenes of a biblical epic. He looked for all the world a fast bowler. The long, easy, flowing run to the wicket. The flash of the arm as it came over the head. The torso twisting to the horizontal as it imparted energy to the ball. The ball spearing in towards the batsman’s pads. The flash of the bat as it tried to intercept the missile. The thud of ball on pads. The swivel of the body, arms aloft in expectation rather than hope. The roar and certainty of the appeal. The inevitability of the raising of the finger. The bowler running off from his follow-through pursued by a gaggle of fielders in celebration. The return of Jamie Overton.Read More »

Bartlett’s day

County Championship Division 1. Surrey v Somerset. 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th June. Guildford.

Toss. Somerset. Elected to bat.

First day. 3rd June – Bartlett’s day

In 2018 Somerset came to Guildford on top of the Championship. In three traumatic days they were unceremoniously despatched by an innings. Abell had won the toss and, inexplicably to most Somerset supporters, asked Surrey to bat. Surrey had made 459 and bowled Somerset out for 180 and 210. Surrey moved to the top of the table, never looked back and Somerset never looked like catching them. In 2019 Abell won the toss again and this time opted to bat in circumstances for batting that were less propitious than they had been in 2018.Read More »

“Never in doubt …”

County Championship Division 1. Somerset v Warwickshire. 20th, 21st and 22nd May 2019. Taunton.

Overnight. Somerset 209 and 164. Warwickshire 135 and 103 for 6. Warwickshire need a further 136 runs to win with four second innings wickets standing.

Third day. 22nd May – “Never in doubt …”

“You can’t afford to be late today,” was the comment as I left the house. “Somerset only need four wickets.” True, but for this supporter, who has been worrying about Somerset on the field of play since the launch of the first sputnik in 1957 the Warwickshire threat to the 135 runs which Somerset still had left to defend, however distant, nettled away at the back of the mind. Yesterday’s hedge-clipping was no more, so my bus delivered me to the ground with time to spare. As 11 o’clock approached there were about 400 people in the ground, perhaps 500 with those behind glass. They were spread around the stands and there was even a good smattering in the Somerset Stand. It was enough. The atmosphere in the ground as the morning developed suggested there were several times that number, for this was a Somerset crowd in a season in which winning the County Championship is more than a fanciful dream. Winning this match really mattered.Read More »