The County Championship goes east

County Championship Division 1. Somerset v Essex. 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th September 2019. Taunton.

Overnight. No play on Day 3. Somerset 203. Essex 25 for 0. Essex trail Somerset by 178 runs.

Final day. 26th September – The County Championship goes east

The final day of this match left a montage of memories crashing around in the mind. Marcus Trescothick walking out to a tremendous ovation just before the end to field at slip for the last time is one to be treasured. The eerie emotion-pummelling silence every time a bowler left his mark during that, at last, sunlit hour when Somerset supporters hoped, and Essex ones feared, a Somerset miracle might happen. The tumultuous cheers of Somerset supporters and chants of “Somerset La La La” every time an Essex wicket fell or a batsman was beaten and the applause of Essex supporters and chants of “Essex, Essex” whenever a boundary was struck. The pulsating atmosphere surged, roared, throbbed, ebbed and flowed in every corner of the ground. It was as if it were some physical entity you could reach out and touch. You couldn’t of course, but you could feel it in every sinew in your body.Read More »

Championship hopes cloud over

County Championship Division 1. Somerset v Essex. 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th September 2019. Taunton.

Overnight. Somerset 203. Essex 25 for 0. Essex trail Somerset by 178 runs.

Third day. 25th September. No Play. Rain and wet outfield.

Championship hopes cloud over

It was a day of checking weather Apps, low fast-moving grey cloud, pulses of rain, covers coming off and going back on, umpires inspecting, ground staff mopping up just in time for another blast of mizzle or spate of heavier rain and, in the end, waiting endlessly for wet ground to dry out. The sky dropped repeated visitations of the sort of mizzle against which an umbrella acts as a trap to hold it around your face, and heavier bursts of rain. The sky brought no hope at all to Somerset supporters, just a conveyor belt of low grey cloud. Seeing no immediate prospect of play I took a more leisurely stroll around the ground than is usually possible at the start of a day’s play. The conversations were as much about the weather as they were about the cricket, for the weather was taking an increasingly strong grip on the match and in so doing tightening Essex’s grip on the Championship.Read More »

“I want Roelof in the side”

County Championship Division 1. Somerset v Essex. 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th September 2019. Taunton.

Overnight. Somerset 75 for 4.

Second day. 24th September – “I want Roelof in the side”

“I want Roelof in the side. He makes thing happen.” So said my cricket-watching companion before the teams had been announced on the first morning. My protestations that Somerset would not need three spinners, for only two can bowl at once, and that van der Merwe seemed to have ‘lost’ his red ball batting were swept aside. Well, Roelof was in the side, along with Bess and Leach, and on the second day he indeed did make things happen. In a glorious three-quarters of an hour in the afternoon sun he swept the all-conquering Harmer aside. Whether he did enough, and whether the weather will hold long enough, to give Somerset a chance of turning the top of the Championship table upside down remains to be seen. The odds against Somerset succeeding remain horribly long for Essex still hold all the cards, the time remaining in the game is desperately short and the weather stubbornly autumnal. But van der Merwe has kept the flame of Somerset’s hopes alight and, it seems, he does “make things happen”.Read More »

Five spinners and a deluge

County Championship Division 1. Somerset v Essex. 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th September 2019. Taunton.

Essex travelled to Taunton for the last match of the season 12 points ahead of second-placed Somerset. To win the Championship Somerset would need to win the match. For Essex a draw would be sufficient. The forecast for all four days was poor as the remnants of the latest tropical storm swept in from the Atlantic.  

Somerset. M. Vijay, S.M. Davies (w), T.B. Abell (c), J.C. Hildreth, T. Banton, G.A. Bartlett, L. Gregory, D.M Bess, C. Overton, R van Der Merwe, M.J. Leach. 

Essex. N.L.J Browne, Sir A.N. Cook, T. Westley, D.W. Lawrence, B.S. Bopara, T.N. ten Doeschate (c), A.J.A. Wheater (w), S.R. Harmer, A. Nijjar, J.A. Porter, S.J. Cook. 

Toss. Somerset. Elected to bat.

First day. 23rd September – Five spinners and a deluge

As we left the house the high white cloud, blue sky and sun recalled the summer warmth of the days before the weekend just gone. The chill on the air hinted, but no more, of autumn. The forecast might have had Noah worried. And so, the final round of County Championship matches of 2019 began on the day of the Autumn Equinox. The Quantocks had cast off their bright summer colours and were dressed in drab winter dowds. The Atlantic storms, which end their days passing through these parts in autumn and winter have begun their annual pilgrimage. They shroud the Quantocks from the view of those of us in the valley as they push by.Read More »

The ‘thousand-mile stare’

County Championship Division 1. Hampshire v Somerset. 16th, 17th and 18th September 2019. Southampton.

Overnight. Hampshire 196 and 176 for 8. Somerset 142 (K.J. Abbott 9 for 40). Hampshire lead by 230 runs with two second innings wickets standing.

Final day. 18th September – The ‘thousand-mile stare’

This was a crushing defeat in a match in which victory would have taken Somerset a long way towards their first County Championship. They succumbed to outstanding bowling in both innings by a bowler who bowled throughout as if ‘on a mission’, although 68 wickets thus far this season suggests he has been rather effective against other teams too. Abbott’s 17 wicket’s in the match, apparently the first time the feat has been achieved in the County Championship since before the Second World War, is a phenomenal achievement. At lunch on the final day nothing seemed less likely. Somerset, 62 for 0 in pursuit of 281, with Abbott having bowled an apparently innocuous opening spell, seemed to be in little trouble. Within an hour of the restart the innings was almost over and by the end the only surprise was that Abbott had only taken 17 wickets.Read More »

Abbott unleashed

County Championship Division 1. Hampshire v Somerset. 16th, 17th and 18th September 2019. Southampton.

Overnight. Hampshire 196. Somerset 30 for 2. Somerset trail Hampshire by 166 runs with eight first innings wickets standing.

Overnight. Hampshire 196. Somerset 30 for 2. Somerset trail by 166 runs with eight first innings wickets standing. 

Second day. 17th September – Abbott unleashed

This is a match in which the balance has swung first one way and then the other but by the end of the second day the overall direction of travel was heavily in Hampshire’s favour. With Essex only eight points behind Somerset at the start of this round of matches and well ahead in their match against Surrey at Chelmsford, defeat in this match could end Somerset’s Championship challenge, for although Essex and Somerset meet in the final round of matches the forecast for the final week is poor.

There are no such issues with the forecast here. There will be a result in this match and if Somerset are to maintain their position in the Championship, they will have to win it. I do not recall seeing a cloud in the sky all day. The decision to end play for bad light can only have been related to shadows covering the pitch and the setting of the sun on a day that, along with the heavy defeats at Chelmsford and Headingley, may, if Somerset cannot safely negotiate the new ball in their second innings, cast a shadow over Somerset’s season. Read More »

In the balance

County Championship Division 1. Hampshire v Somerset. 16th, 17th and 18th September 2019. Southampton.

Somerset travelled to Southampton eight points clear at the top of the Championship. The match against Hampshire would be the second of their last three matches. All three involved other the teams in the top half of the table. Meanwhile Essex would play Surrey who had won only two matches in 2019 to Essex’s eight. Somerset’s final match of the season would be against Essex at Taunton. 

Somerset. M. Vijay, S.M. Davies (w), T.B. Abell (c), J.C. Hildreth, T. Banton, G.A. Bartlett, L. Gregory, D.M Bess, C. Overton, R van Der Merwe. J.H. Davey 

Hampshire. F.S. Organ, I.G. Holland, T.P. Alsop, S.A. Northeast, J.M. Vince (c), L.A. Dawson, A.H.T. Donald, L.D. McManus (w), K.H.D. Barker, K.J. Abbott, F.H. Edwards.

Toss. Hampshire. Elected to bat.

First day. 16th September – In the balance

One of the greatest barriers to following Somerset around the country is the A303. In 2017 I went to the first ‘pink ball’ match in which Somerset had played. The ball went soft before its time, the weather was awful and Somerset’s run chase nearly ended in disaster. There was an accident on the A303 and it took us five and a half hours to get back to Somerset. There was no accident this time as we travelled towards Southampton on the day before the match. But there was traffic. Endless traffic. Tailbacks at every roundabout and at every one of those places where a stretch of dual carriageway or your priority on a single carriageway section ends. That is the A303 on a summer Sunday and, the onset of autumn notwithstanding, this was a glorious summer Sunday. It was while we were in one of those queues that my phone rang.Read More »

“Yorkshire are already one down”

County Championship Division 1. Somerset v Yorkshire. 10th, 11th and 12th September 2019. Taunton.

Overnight. Somerset 199 and 269 for 5. Yorkshire 103. Somerset lead by 365 runs with five first innings wickets standing.

Final day – “Yorkshire are already one down”

“Yorkshire are already one down. 8 for 1,” said the urgent voice from over my shoulder. The comment came from someone who I overtook as I scurried along St James Street, perennially late for the cricket. It’s the hat. Whenever there is a crucial score to be reported or sought the maroon wyvern on the front of my white broad-rimmed sunhat attracts Somerset supporters the country over. The confirmation of that score came from a snatched glance over the perimeter wall as I approached the J.C. White gates. It takes about 30 seconds to get from there to the boundary but the need of the supporter to know the score on days such as this cannot wait 30 seconds. 30 seconds is an eternity. There is the quandary too. You don’t want to miss a wicket so when you look over the wall you hope for 8 for 1. Then you reprimand yourself and hope for 8 for 2 and 8 for 1 becomes a disappointment. What it is to be a Somerset supporter at times such as this.Read More »

When the head rules the cricket

County Championship Division 1. Warwickshire v Somerset. 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st August 2019. Edgbaston.

Overnight. Somerset 199. Yorkshire 70 for 3. Yorkshire trail Somerset by 129 runs with seven first innings wicket standing.

Second day – When the head rules the cricket

I once had the good fortune to sit next to an ex-Somerset cricketer at a Club dinner. I asked him, once a first-class batsman is in the middle, how much of what happens is down to technique and how much is down to what is going on in his head. “90 per cent in the head,” was his instant reply. Now, obviously it isn’t as simple as that. Without the requisite level of skill, the head would count for nothing. But first-class cricketers, batsmen and bowlers, particularly first division ones, must all have reached a certain skill level to be playing at all at that level and, the really top-flight ones apart, it is what happens in the head that makes much of the difference between their performances on a given day or in a given season. At least that is the theory.Read More »

Ebb and flow

County Championship Division 1. Somerset v Yorkshire. 10th, 11th,12th and 13th September 2019. Taunton.

Somerset. M. Vijay, S.M. Davies (w), T.B. Abell (c), J.C. Hildreth, T. Banton, G.A. Bartlett, L. Gregory, D.M. Bess, R.E. van der Merwe, J. Overton, J.H. Davey.

Yorkshire. A. Lyth. W.A.R. Fraine, G.S. Ballance, T. Kohler-Cadmore, S.A. Patterson, H.C. Brook, J.A. Tattersall (w), T.T. Bresnan, K.A. Maharaj, B.O. Coad, D. Oliver.

Toss. Uncontested. Somerset required to bat.

First day. 10th September – Ebb and flow

Feet up, head back, dozing in the breeze as tufty white clouds float across a warm azure sky. A warm sun, not too hot, plays on the back of the neck and cricketers play lazily on the green. The quintessential English vision of tranquillity. Nerves at rest. The watcher at one with the world. Heaven on earth or as near as it ever comes. The ageless, idyllic view of cricket. But not at Taunton. Not on this day. That age-old view of cricket is not what the County Championship is about, and the County Championship is all that this day was about. And in consequence the day was all about tension and relief, anxiety and elation, desperation and hope, highs and lows, clenching of teeth and clapping of hands, missed heartbeats and racing hearts. Of cut and thrust, of ebb and flow; and any concoction of emotion which can be conjured from that list of ingredients of a day watching Somerset play cricket when the County Championship might be on the line. And no doubt Yorkshire hearts suffer too, and swell, when a Championship beckons as, if Somerset and Essex falter badly enough, it might again this year.Read More »

A Phoenix rises

County Championship Division 1. Warwickshire v Somerset. 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st August 2019. Edgbaston.

Overnight. Warwickshire 419 and 146. Somerset 308 and 8 for 0. Somerset need another 250 runs to win with ten second innings wickets standing.

Final day – A Phoenix rises.

At the close of the second day of this match with Somerset 167 for 5, still 252 runs behind Warwickshire’s first innings 419 it was difficult to see how Somerset could save the game let alone win it. When, early on the third morning, van der Merwe launched an expansive drive at a ball from Rhodes and edged to Ambrose Somerset were 202 for 7, still 217 behind, the follow-on beckoned. From there the Somerset Phoenix, in the form of Bess and the Overton brothers, roused itself, and began the long rise which ended in Somerset closing the gap to Essex at the top of the table to two points with three matches still to play.Read More »

Somerset fight back

County Championship Division 1. Warwickshire v Somerset. 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st August 2019. Edgbaston.

Overnight. Warwickshire 419. Somerset 167 for 5. Somerset trail by 252 runs with five second wickets standing.

Third day – Somerset fight back

There are days when a team stands up to be counted. This was one such for Somerset. And for Essex. Warwickshire, and Kent, had a harder time of it. Whether Somerset did enough, and it is difficult to think they could have done more, will only be known when the fourth day has become part of the history of this year’s Championship. The question that rattled around in my perpetually worrying Somerset mind as I left the ground was: what does Warwickshire 146 all out on the third day of this match mean for Somerset chasing 258 to win on the fourth. I fervently hope that question plagues me for at least two and a half sessions on the final day for anything less than that will mean defeat for Somerset. With only three rounds of matches in the Championship a defeat for Somerset will mean an 18-point lead in the Championship for Essex. Victory will cut that to two. The final day here is that important.Read More »

The Hollies Stand symposium

County Championship Division 1. Warwickshire v Somerset. 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st August 2019. Edgbaston.

Overnight. Warwickshire 303 for 4.

Second day – The Hollies Stand symposium

I am a fast learner. I found the samosas immediately today, and the way out of Grand Central. Straight onto a bus too and a 47 at that. I found myself sitting next to a Warwickshire supporter. Our combined ages totalled somewhere over 150 years. How many over is something known only to he and I. I can say he watched his first Warwickshire game before I was born and I first watched Somerset before Bill Alley scored over 3000 first-class runs in a season and for that matter before M.J.K. Smith did the same thing. In all those years we had never met. And yet before we were a minute into our bus ride we were talking cricket and football, apparently they play that in Birmingham, as if we had known each other down all those years. And if we ever bump into each other again no doubt we will carry on where we left off. County cricket supporters are like that. You can strike up a conversation with an opposition supporter just as easily as you can with one of your own side. And if you happen to sit next to an opposition supporter at a match the conversation can stretch interminably.Read More »

The view from the Hollies Stand

County Championship Division 1. Warwickshire v Somerset. 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st August 2019. Edgbaston.

Somerset. T.B. Abell (c), Babar Azam, J.C. Hildreth, T. Banton, G.A. Bartlett, S.M. Davies (w), D.M. Bess, R.E. van der Merwe, C. Overton, J. Overton, J.A. Brooks. 

Warwickshire. W.H.M. Rhodes, D.P. Sibley, R.M. Yates, S.R. Hain, A.J. Hose, T.R. Ambrose (w), M.G.K. Burgess, H.J.H. Brookes, J.S. Patel (c), O.J. Hannon-Dalby, G.A. Garrett.

Jack Leach and Lewis Gregory were not available for selection for this match. Leach having been selected to play for England at Lord’s and Gregory being injured. 

First day – The view from the Hollies Stand 

Toss. Warwickshire. Elected to bat.

It is two years since I last stayed in Birmingham. For Somerset’s last Championship match here. The area around New Street Station was a building site then. It had been for two or three seasons. I knew how to find my way around that building site. How to get to and from the hotel. Where to find the bus stop to get to the cricket. Where to buy lunch to take with me. Simple. Now the building site has gone. Replaced by a swish new shopping and eating complex, Grand Central, integrated with the station. It really is very impressive. Impressive, but I couldn’t find a thing. When I finally found the shop I was looking for it had hidden the vegetable samosas I usually take to the cricket.Read More »

Descent into despond and the will to prevail

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

Overnight. Yorkshire 520. Somerset 196 and 159 for 4. Somerset trail by 165 runs with six second innings standing.

Final day. 16th July – Descent into despond and the will to prevail.

As I made to leave the ground a Yorkshire member asked me how I rated Somerset’s chances of winning the Championship. “We will need some consistency from our top order,” my reply. “This puts Yorkshire in with a chance,” he said although with half a wry smile. Yorkshire are 34 points behind Somerset and 38 points behind Essex with each having four matches to play. “You will need some help from Essex and Somerset,” I suggested. And added, “I think it unlikely both will slip up to the extent you need.” He was rooting for Somerset, he said, if Yorkshire couldn’t do it. That has been an almost universal comment, with their own county inserted, from opposition supporters around the country over the last two years and in the great majority of cases it seems a genuine sentiment. Somerset’s eternal pursuit of the Championship has assumed almost mythical status among knowledgeable lifelong County Championship watchers.Read More »

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 delivery 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 »