Tremendous Cricket Hampshire CC1 Day 1
By Farmer white et al
July 2 2019
Azhar gains his county cap and we are looking for some inspiration from that as 'Farmer White' outlines Day 1 of this crucial CC1 game against one of our main opponents.
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.
At the beginning of the first day the overnight cloud was still hanging around and occasionally dark enough in colour to remind me that I had opted not to bring my umbrella. As the morning wore on the cloud gradually lifted in line with the forecast and the cricket brightened with the weather. By the evening session blue rather than grey ruled the heavens and the sun was drenching those of us sitting near the back of the ground level terrace of the Somerset Pavilion. It was a perfect day to watch cricket.
The first hour provided a considerable test for the Somerset batsmen as Abbot bowled a piercing opening spell from the Somerset pavilion end although Barker, largely bowling around the wicket from the River End, seemed less of a threat. Azhar began by cutting Barker and clipping Abbott square so effectively the stroke brought cheers but the text from the online watcher said, “Abbott is getting into the groove and finding some movement.” Almost immediately he swung a ball perfectly into Azhar, took the pad and Azhar was gone for 12. Somerset 18 for 1.
The fall of early top order wickets has been the bane of Somerset’s season and thoughts of more to follow hovered over proceedings as Hildreth joined Abell. Both bat this year in positions in which they have struggled and above the places in the order in which they scored so many runs in 2018. Immediately they worked away at the bowling. Abell keeping it out, Hildreth taking runs where he could with strokes of characteristic audacity. The lightest of steers wide of third slip and a delicate cut backward of square, both off Barker, flew to the boundary. An hour into the morning session the pair had taken the score, not without the ball passing the bat or crashing into the pads to thunderous appeals from Abbott, to 45 for 1. Abbott’s initial force though was spent.
Fuller replaced Abbott and Edwards replaced Barker. The score began to accelerate as Hildreth began to play with the freedom and precision of the artist unleashed. He outscored Abell by two to one as Abell fought to secure the other end. It gave the artist the freedom to display his artistry and begin to build Somerset’s score. Hildreth’s stroke of choice seemed to be a rare delicacy of a cut between backward point and third slip, often played in defiance of a carefully placed gully. Before long the slip ‘cordon’ had been transformed into a skirmish line of first slip, fourth slip and gully and still the ball found its way through to the third man boundary. “He does like that shot doesn’t he,” someone said.
As lunch approached, Abell began to pick up his score but only just dented Hildreth’s two to one advantage. A straight drive to the Botham Stand off Edwards seared along the grass but it was the running of a rising number of ones and twos which really helped pick up the scoring rate. The Hampshire fielding was aggressive and precise in the pick-up although the throws often arrived too wide of the keeper to apply real pressure as Hildreth and Abell ran their bats through the crease at speed time and again. When in the penultimate over before lunch Crane dropped very short outside leg stump Hildreth was on the ball like a lion on its prey as he pulled viciously behind square to the Somerset Stand. Three runs later lunch came with Somerset at 98 for 1 with Hildreth 51 not out and Abell 30 not out. It was Somerset’s best first morning with the bat this season.
A lunchtime look at the wicket, along with about two hundred others curious to know if they could see anything other than grass, revealed only that it had more of a tinge of green than was evident from beyond the boundary and that there might be the early stages of a foot mark developing at the Somerset Pavilion End which might be of some use to Leach against Hampshire’s three left-handers later in the game. Whether Leach would think so might be another matter. After lunch Donald appeared as the substitute keeper in the absence of Alsop who it subsequently emerged was unable to return to the field after lunch due to a hamstring injury.
Hildreth began after lunch with the same intent he had shown before it. He started by crashing Fuller, bowling from the River End, through the covers to the World Cup Temporary Stand where the old scoreboard used to be. In an over from Abbott, bowling from the Somerset Pavilion end Hildreth brought up the 100 partnership with a cover drive, “Shot!”, to the old Stragglers, an on drive along the ground to the Ondaatje boundary and a clip just in front of square to the Caddick Pavilion boundary. When Crane, with his leg spin, replaced Abbott, Hildreth was merciless. A long hop which pitched a yard outside leg stump was clubbed to the boundary for four. Another, completely helpless, long hop was pulled half way up the Temporary Stand for six. It brought up Hildreth’s century and Somerset were 169 for 1 in the 44th over. If brutality to a cricket ball were a crime Hildreth would have no defence after those two strokes. Crane’s next ball was a no ball, one of four he bowled, which almost bounced twice, pitched well outside leg stump and ran down to the Sir Ian Botham stand for four byes. It was painful to watch but the first division is a ruthless place and teams which want to win it have no choice but to be ruthless if they get into a position where they can be. Hildreth’s onslaught had pushed Somerset’s run rate beyond four an over.
Facing Edwards after lunch was a very different proposition as he bowled opposite Crane. His post-lunch spell was fast, accurate and constantly tested the batsmen. His short-pitched bowling was frighteningly accurate. Eventually he hit Hildreth on the helmet and removed him next ball for 105 when another short ball was pulled downwards, but not steeply enough, towards midwicket where Barker took a good catch diving forward. Somerset were 196 for 2. Hildreth 105.
Abell had contributed 53 to the partnership of 178 but his increasing solidity opposite Hildreth was crucial to giving Hildreth the licence to play as he did. Hildreth is a batting artist and the longer Abell held firm the more did Hildreth’s stroke play flow. Abell exhibits the batting art himself but his art is of a less free, more structured, variety. A carefully constructured, powerfully built Palladian mansion to Hildreth’s impressionist masterpiece. Two sweeps off Weatherley, whose occasional off spin had been drafted in to replace Crane’s wayward leg spin, crashed into the Caddick Pavilion boards. The power in the stroke the antithesis of Hildreth’s deft stroke play. Abell took the score forward as Banton established himself, scoring 24 of their partnership of 41. The partnership came to an end after Hampshire successfully requested a replacement ball. “It’s moving more,” said the text from the online watcher as Abbott returned at the River End although the ball which Abell edged to slip seemed to owe more to bounce than movement. He had made 82, priceless in this summer of top order Somerset batting collapses. Somerset were 237 for 4 after 55 overs.
Abell’s departure brought together Banton and Bartlett, two young men fast establishing themselves in the Somerset batting order. Neither tarries at the wicket and each has a distinctive style of play. Banton hits clean, hard and long. He repeatedly leant into on drives which raced across the ground. A square drive to the Somerset Pavilion off Abbott took the breath away. He pulled Weatherley square for six and played a perfect reverse sweep along the ground towards the Trescothick Stand for two. Bartlett appears to me more idiosyncratic in his strokes, sometimes taking a hand off the bat or a foot off the ground. He cut, pulled and drove his way forward at a rate which matched Banton’s and Hildreth’s. The number of Bartlett’s significant scores, and scores made at crucial times, is mounting. Together they added 116 runs in 21 overs of spectacular stroke play by the end of which Hampshire’s ground fielding was fraying at the edges as three times a ball went through the hands of a boundary fielder. Eventually Banton was lbw to Fuller who seemed to get movement with the replacement ball which he had been unable to do with the original. Along with the Hildreth-Abell partnership, they had raced the score along at truly breakneck speed.
The noise in the crowd was constant, the cheers for the boundaries cacophonous and the talk, at least that which you could hear above the universal hubbub, was all about the pace of the play, the dominance of the Somerset batting and the immense promise of the two batsmen currently at the wicket. Somerset reached 289 for 3 at tea. “191 runs in the afternoon session,” someone said to me as we passed in the tea interval. It was draw-dropping and this was the first division. Watching Somerset bat does not get much better than that. After tea the assault continued as Banton and Bartlett added another 64 runs at five an over. Banton hit Crane for three bpoundaries in an over leaving Crane with final figures of 12-0-88-0. When Banton was lbw to Fuller to a ball that cut in sharply of the seam Somerset were 353 for 4 in the 76th over. Banton 79. 361 for 5 when Fuller moved another another ball in, although not by nearly as much, to beat Davies’ defensive stroke for another lbw. They were two crucial wickets for they opened up Somerset’s lower order to the ferocity of Abbott and the new ball.
With the new ball Abbott bowled like a man possessed. Alphonso Thomas, to be seen on the outfield before the start of play coaching the Hampshire bowlers, used to bowl like that occasionally. It can be devastating when it happens. Initially Gregory fought fire with fire. The harder and faster Abbott bowled the harder and further Gregory seemed to hit him. Six fours in the 19 balls he faced. Abbott looked increasingly frustrated the harder Gregory hit the ball but he kept his cool and kept coming. Eventually Gregory tried to drive a ball which was slightly too wide outside off stump and which might have bounced a little more than he expected. He was caught at slip for 25 and Somerset were 401 for 6, Gregory having just brought up the fifth batting bonus point with a straight drive off Abbott. And then, within minutes, after Bartlett was ‘strangled’ down the leg side off a short ball from Edwards for 68, Abbott, moving the ball sharply in off the seam took the last three wickets within two overs and Somerset were all out for 408.
The last seven wickets fell for 55 runs, the last five for seven runs, Abbott took four of those five in a blisteringly accurate spell of fast bowling in which he also found movement of the seam. He had changed, or rather halted, the course of the Somerset innings. Whether he has altered the course of the match is the question hanging over the second day.
Before the close Hampshire faced six overs from Gregory and Overton during which Overton bowled a phenomenal ball to Soames. It was Overton’s third ball of the match. It was angled in, straightened, lifted off the pitch and was edged to Davies. Or as the text said, “Fast, straight, shape, lift, movement. Not sure what the batsman could have done.” Hampshire ended on 15 for 1 with Rahane looking like he might bring some calm to proceedings on the second morning.
It had been a phenomenal day of cricket. Somerset were racing away with the game at tea. By the close Hampshire, mainly in the form of Abbott, had torn back into contention by ripping out the Somerset lower order. Punch and counter-punch. Abbot’s savage fusillade had left some Somerset supporters disappointed after the dizzy heights of 353 for 3. But the overwhelming impression I was left with was of the Somerset top order rampant with the bat who had played with coruscating vigour and driven the Hampshire bowling headlong before them until a bowler of proven Test class had broken through the middle and lower order and halted the charge. But 408 runs in 88 overs left more of an impression than Abbott’s riposte. Whether Jamie Overton’s thunderbolt or Rahane’s calm will prove to be the more predictive of the second day’s play remains to be seen but the spirit of the Somerset batting in the first five hours of the first day will stick long in the memory.
Close. Somerset 408 (J.C. Hildreth 105, T.B. Abell 82, T. Banton 79, K.J. Abbott 6 for 84). Hampshire 15 for 1.
Hampshire trail by 393 runs with nine first innings wickets standing.
Thanks as always to 'Farmer' for his reporting. You can find the whole story on this thread and on his own excellent website - www.farmerwhite.co.ukpqs: qs:
If you do not already have an account Click here to Register.
Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2019:07:05:07:52:12 by Grockle.
The reports for each day of play can be found on my website front page. Day 1 is entitled - Tremendous cricket - and can be found via this link:
Day 1 is reproduced as the front page and the rest will follow on this thread during the game.
Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 2019:07:02:13:00:23 by Grockle.
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.
Which brings us to this match. Somerset scored at breakneck speed on the first day. They scored over 400 runs and gave themselves time to take one Hampshire wicket before the close. The second day was an altogether more turgid affair. Hampshire, in overhead conditions more conducive to batting than Somerset had experienced, scored at three and a quarter runs an over to Somerset’s four and two thirds. They lost only seven wickets in the process and have two remaining to carry into the third day. In spite of Somerset’s efforts on the first day, time may already be running out in this match for the pitch was showing every sign of flattening with little indication of turn developing for Somerset’s two spinners. If, as is the tendency at Taunton, this pitch flattens even further on the third and fourth days a Herculean effort will be needed if Somerset are to match Essex’s likely win at Trent Bridge. That may be indicative of the challenge of the rest of the season. Even on the second day Somerset’s bowlers had to strain every sinew to make as much progress as they have. There was little sign of the lateral movement off the pitch with which Abbott demolished Somerset’s lower order on the first evening, or with which had Overton removed Soames.
The first few overs of the day produced comments around me like, “It doesn’t seem to be doing very much,” and “It looks like it’s going to be hard work today.” And so it proved. Rahane, in spite of being beautifully beaten outside the off stump by Gregory in the first over, and again by Overton, immediately looked in control. Against that background the overriding story of the second day was of Overton’s pace battling the pitch, the batting-friendly overhead conditions and some determined Hampshire batting. In three spells, and a short two over one, he posed a constant threat. He bowled a searing opening spell resulting in the wicket of Weatherley when he bowled a ball across the batsman which lifted and moved just a little off the seam. Weatherley followed it and Davies took a straightforward catch. Hampshire were 37 for 2 and Overton had figures of 6.1-0-13-2. He is taking wickets this season at an average of around 15 with an economy rate of under three. A force to be reckoned with.
It looked a different game when Overton was not bowling in spite of some pretty determined efforts by the Somerset bowlers. Gregory followed by Groenewald and Abell all tried their arms from the Somerset Pavilion End as the morning progressed but the Hampshire total crawled inexorably upwards. Gregory and Abell contained but did not particularly threaten the batsmen but Groenewald looked out of sorts and bowled only seven overs in the day. Rahane and Northeast seemed to pursue a policy of attritional accumulation in the face of Somerset’s first innings total. Only against Overton was Northeast troubled. In one over he was badly beaten twice and Overton walked back to the boundary at the end of it to extended applause.
Somerset turned to Leach at the River End when Overton’s first spell was spent and, after the other seam bowlers had completed their spells, Bess at the Somerset Pavilion End. Here, it felt, lay much of Somerset’s hope in this match for Overton can only bowl so many overs at his pace and wickets will need to come from elsewhere too. Leach almost immediately fell into his rhythm with two runs an over the miserly ration he permitted the Hampshire batsmen. Bess took a little longer and was initially expensive, almost five runs an over, but once he settled Somerset had control from both ends although it was apparent that wickets would be at a premium. Bess looked a little more threatening than Leach, as he sometimes does, but that may have been because I was watching him from behind in the lower terrace of the Somerset Pavilion and had a better view of the batsman’s efforts to play him.
With Hampshire reaching 105 for 2 at lunch the afternoon consisted largely of the Somerset spinners, and a spell from Overton, battling away at the Hampshire batsmen. I could see very little evidence of turn, at least anything that could be detected from beyond the boundary. I watched mainly from the Somerset Pavilion but also a few passages of play from the covers store. Conversations with other spectators all had the same ring about them. Hard work for the Somerset bowlers, scores from Trent Bridge marking Essex’s increasing dominance over Nottinghamshire and hope, rather than anticipation, that the pitch might turn later in the match. Tension was not quite the word for that only bites hard when a match is tightly balanced with the prospect of a positive result clearly in view. Here the feeling was of an underlying, and gradually growing, anxiety that Somerset might be unable to find a way through Hampshire on an apparently incresingly benign pitch.
Then, almost apropos of nothing, Rahane drove at Leach and edged to Gregory at slip and Hampshire were 138 for 3. The cheer was one of surprise, and not a little relief, as much as congratulation for it had been a long time since the second wicket and Rahane and Northeast had been looking unnervingly secure. I doubt many would have bet against a Rahane century and probably not against a large one at that. It was impossible to tell from my position whether the ball had turned but it had the feel of a wicket borne of the nagging persistence of Leach rather than of help from the pitch. “408 is still a long way away,” someone said. But when the new batsman, Rossouw, drove Bess to the boundary and Northeast stepped back and drove him perfectly to the old Stragglers area for another four the same person asked rhetorically, “There is no leeway for the bowlers on this pitch is there?”
A spell from Overton from the FRiver End produced an inside edge from Rossouw which barely seemed to miss the stumps and a glance or perhaps a thick inside edge from Northeast which Gregory, diving far to his left at leg slip just could not hold or perhaps his hand was behind the pitch of it. Again, Overton received generous applause as he returned to the boundary but such near misses seem to be prevalent on flat pitches and rarely seem to be rewarded. Perhaps when wickets are falling such things just do not impact the mind in the same way as they do when the mind is desperate for a wicket. A top edge from Rossouw off Leach which ballooned over slip but just out of reach of a desperately chasing Gregory also tugged at the nerve ends and brought gasps of disappointment form the crowd. And interspersed between such rare chances was the Hampshire score grinding ever upwards. Upwards far enough for Northeast to pass his century almost at the same time as Hampshire passed 200 for 3. Suddenly 408 did not seem so far away.
And just as suddenly Bess intervened. Although he did occasionally trouble the batsmen it still came as something of a surprise when Northeast drove him limply to Abell, diving forward at midwicket. I wonder just how many wickets Abell is responsible for there and in the covers as he takes some outstanding catches and pressurises the batsman as he cuts off expected boundary after expected boundary. Northeast had made 101 and, like Rahane, had looked like he might make rather a larger hundred than that. When, in his next over, Bess pinned, in almost the literal sense of the word, Rossouw right back on his stumps Rossouw’s somewhat fortunate 44 was over and Hampshire were 225 for 5, still 183 runs behind Somerset. It looked as if Bess had angled the ball into the left-handed Rossouw and then straightened it. That brought hope that there might just be something in the pitch for Somerset’s spinners. Or perhaps it was just the anxious spectator’s wishful thinking. A look at replay of the ball showed little evidence of turn, perhaps just a shade of straightening.
In the absence of the injured Alsop this brought Fuller and Barker to the wicket and hopes that Somerset might make more quick progress. In an hour they added 62 runs at four an over against Leach and Bess. It could turn out to have been one of the more crucial partnerships of the match. For the runs they scored for Hampshire, for the time they denied Somerset and for the doubt they cast on the likelihood of help from the pitch developing. It was an hour of gradually lengthening shadows and Somerset faces as news of Essex’s ever-rising total, over 300 with still only three wickets down, was set against Hampshire’s determined resistance.
It took the new ball and the return of Overton to lift spirits. In six overs of sustained hostility with the new ball he constantly tested the Hampshire batsman as he and Gregory put a brake on the Hampshire scoring, Just 27 runs came from 12 overs with the new ball as Overton took three wickets. Barker fenced a ball to Davies, Fuller stepped away to leg as Overton bowled, the ball followed him and Davies caught the edge off the reaction stroke; and Abbott edged a ball, which would have taken out his off stump had he not played it, defensively to Davies. Overton had taken three wickets in the space of four runs off his bowling and eight runs in total. It was a wonderful forty minutes of cricket watching with real tension and expectation in the air again when Overton ran in. The eyes opened wider, the heart beat faster and the breath seemed to hold itself expectantly as he moved through that powerful, smooth, momentum-building run-up of his and into his delivery stride. And then the explosive delivery of the ball and the hurried reaction of the batsman before it was safe to breath again. Of such sights are the jewels of cricket-watching forged.
Hampshire were 314 for 8 at the end of Overton’s spell and suddenly 408 seemed a long way away again. The point about those wickets, from my vantage point by the covers store at wide third man at least, was that they looked like they had been taken by sheer pace. There was no obvious movement off the seam and replays seem to confirm that. The lower order batsmen had looked in difficulty against Overton and the pressure eventually seemed to tell as his spell progressed and those three wickets fell. It looked a different game again when his six over spell ended and Leach, Groenewald and then Bess bowled out the overs before Hampshire closed on 329 for 8. 79 runs behind. Essex finished on 345 for 3, already 133 ahead of Nottinghamshire with two days till to play.
If Somerset do not beat Hampshire it is likely that their lead over Essex in the Championship will have shrunk from the 30 points it was when Somerset travelled to Chelmsford ten days ago to three or four points. At the end of the day anxiety that a draw might result here was etched in the faces of several people I spoke to. It may also have reflected the fact that if Essex continue to win on the pitches at Chelmsford Somerset’s prospects of winning their first Championship may hang on whether Somerset can win at Taunton where historically pitches have had a tendency to flatten as a match wears on. If the second day here is anything to go by, and the pitch does not provide help to the spinners on the last day, Somerset’s prospects in the second half of the season may lie in the control and periodic wickets taken by Leach and Bess and the ability of Jamie Overton’s pace and lift, and perhaps Craig Overton’s accuracy and lift, to break through opposition defences at home.
Close. Somerset 408. Hampshire 329 for 8. Hampshire trail by 79 runs with two first innings wickets standing.
The third day report - Somerset race for the line - can be found on my website home page here immediately above the first and second day reports:
It is also reproduced in full here:
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.
For 171 overs Somerset batted as nearly 800 runs were scored. It was glorious uproarious stuff. Somerset to the core, in both innings, and it made the heart race. Hampshire’s only tactic in response has been to try to slow the match down to minimise the amount of time Somerset would have to bowl them out in the fourth innings and, given the apparent number of runs in the pitch, give themselves an outsider’s outside chance of chasing down a large victory target. In the end Somerset managed to fashion themselves 100 overs for their bowlers to try and force the win they will surely need to keep a two-digit lead over Essex in the championship as Nottinghamshire are already holed below the water line at Trent Bridge. The final day promises a return to the edge of the seat especially if Rahane and Northeast get set.
The third day started with me unwittingly overriding my alarm when it tried to wake me up. It had been set to give me time to write my second day report in time to get to the start of the third day. The report was still completed but at the price of the third day starting without me. As I typed, the tab at the top of the screen tipped me off about Gregory’s two wickets and Somerset’s resulting 59 run lead. I arrived at the ground with the scoreboard reading 51 for 1 at the end of the 12th over. Somerset’s first 50 run opening partnership of the season and scored at four runs an over. I took a seat high up in the Somerset Stand as Azhar turned the ball behind square with some force. Those four runs set the tone for the rest of my day. When Abell cut Crane hard behind square for another four there was no doubting Somerset’s intent.
The three quarters of an hour from there to lunch was Somerset heaven as Azhar and Abell drove Somerset spectacularly forward. Literally drove them forward. Abell drove Barker into the heart of the area where the ghosts of the bygone inhabitants of the old Straggler’s bar reside. If they had not already been awakened by the sights of this match then that stroke will have had them all awake and drooling over its sheer quality as they recalled great Somerset batsmen down the years batting like this on other sun-drenched days when there was a match to be won and time was of the essence.
Abell’s on and cover driving lit up the rest of my morning as Hampshire’s Mason Crane was not allowed to settle after the nightmare of his bowling in the first innings. It was not just the boundaries. When Abell is batting no single or two is allowed to escape if they are there to be had. Azhar responded in kind as the pair constantly pressurised the field, time and again running through the crease just ahead of the incoming ball. The incoming ball wilted in the face of the assault as it repeatedly came in too far from the stumps to be a threat. Lunch came with the score on 110 for 0 after 23 overs. That was an old Sunday League score at that juncture of an innings and those near five runs an over had, a couple of thick edges aside, been scored without sign of risk.
The atmosphere in the crowd as I slowly made my way to a seat in the Somerset Pavilion for the afternoon session was electric, pumped up by the batting and by the hope it fuelled. For there is a Championship to be won this year and batting of this sort will be needed if the rising challenge from Essex is to be seen off. As someone put it to me as I stopped for a chat, “If Somerset are to have a chance of winning the Championship they may have to bat like that to chase down a target before the season is out.” Generally, talk was of the need to win and, given the historical difficulty of bowling sides out on the fourth day at Taunton, whether Hampshire should be given a ‘sniff’ of victory to encourage them to take risks. Or, as the text put it, “I think Somerset will have to go out and win this Championship rather than simply not lose it.” And all the time the buzz generated by the run scoring of the morning was continuous throughout the interval and still there as I sat down for the post-lunch session.
The first hour after lunch was a different game to the one I had walked into in the middle of the morning. Barker bowled around the wicket from the Somerset Pavilion End and was immediately, “in the groove,” as the online watcher put it and severely limiting the batsmen’s options. He and Edwards restricted themselves to 13 overs in the first hour according to someone I spoke to in the tea interval. That further reduced the tempo. They restricted the batsmen to just 35 runs in that hour with singles rather than boundaries the batsmen’s staple fare. It was rather as if those runners on the Embankment had suddenly found themselves running into the congestion of a crowd blocking the pavement and their planned progress.
As when a runner’s rhythm is broken the break in the rhythm of the batsmen took its toll. Two wickets fell in that hour of congested scoring, both to the persistently accurate Barker as Hampshire tried to fight their way back into the match. Abell, on 58, seemed to shape to pull a ball that appeared to keep low and hit his off stump as he tried to jab down on it. Hildreth, attempting as always to speed the score along, drove at a ball which perhaps just moved away a shade off the seam as he edged it to slip. Azhar, like Abell, had been restricted in his scoring after lunch and was perhaps the most obvious casualty of the brake Hampshire had applied. When Abbott replaced Barker, Azhar chipped a short ball over slip but only succeeded in reaching third man where Weatherley ran in and took a good catch. A replay shows the ball cutting in at Azhar quite sharply off the seam which perhaps undid what may have been an attempt to get the score moving again.
Somerset, stalling a little, were 165 for 3, 224 ahead in a match in which a par score seemed to be at least 350. They would surely want to set Hampshire a minimum of 400 was the general thought on a pitch which did not seem to be changing its behaviour. It was a moment at which a lesser team might have taken stock and reigned in their ambition. Not this Somerset team. It was as if, with Barker and Edwards taking a rest, the runners on the Embankment had seen a break in the cohesion of the group of pedestrians blocking their way, re-established their rhythm, and ran on through. In short, Banton and Bartlett set about the Hampshire bowling which gave way just as a group of pedestrians eventually does to determined runners.
Banton with the bat can be as much a force of nature on a cricket field as Overton can be with the ball. Bartlett’s stroke play perhaps looks more subtle but it can be just as effective. Now they worked together although with Banton taking more of the strike. The scoring rate was soon reaching the heights of the morning and Somerset, clear of the congestion imposed by Barker, forged ahead and any worry about the loss of wickets was pushed to the back of the mind. Banton’s on driving was a delight of classicism laid out on the canvas of the cricket field and the boundary boards suffered in consequence. A cover drive off the back foot to the Temporary Stand from the bowling of Fuller showed his power on the other side of the wicket. A hook for four off Abbott bowling from the Somerset Pavilion End led to Abbot bowling a bouncer so high it cleared the keeper and ran down to the Sir Ian Botham Stand for four. Somerset were again shaping the game and running free.
Tea came at 236 for 3, a lead of 295. Somerset had seven wickets and 32 overs in which to build that into a lead which would give the bowlers time to run at the Hampshire batsmen for long enough on a pitch still seemingly full of runs. My teatime circumnavigation was as interrupted as can the exercise of those runners be on the Embankment. But they were welcome interruptions as people wanted to talk about the way in which Somerset were pulling away from Hampshire. Banton of course was a topic for discussion as I dallied next to the Caddick Pavilion. The pace of his development and adaptation of his batting to the requirements of the four-day game almost beyond believing. Bartlett too, “A lovely stroke maker,” a batting gem to be cherished.
By the time I reached the Garner Gate gap to await the shortening of the queue for ice creams the players were back out and Bartlett and Banton were again illustrating the discussion I had just had. The person I spoke to had seen Gimblett play and was sorry I had not. We settled on Peter Wight as someone we had both seen and who might have driven Somerset forward on a day such as this. As we talked, the ball left the driving Bartlett’s bat and arched across the sky towards us to land somewhere in the Trescothcick Stand as Crane suffered more punishment. That was followed by a pull through midwicket which punished the Somerset Stand boards as the smiles on the faces that had seen Gimblett and Wight play broadened.
But Crane was at last beginning to find some semblance of the control that had deserted him thus far in the match just as Barker returned at the Somerset Pavilion End and Somerset were trying to force the score ever faster upward. Bartlett attempted to drive Barker back over his head, did not get the bat fully on the ball and was caught at deep cover for 33. When Banton was out apparently gloving a reverse sweep to the keeper Crane had suddenly taken two key wickets, Somerset were 270 for 5, 329 ahead. The figure on everyone’s lips was still 400 and a few overs “at Hampshire” before the close. That was still over 70 runs away and as I returned to the Somerset Pavilion the animated buzz that had enveloped the ground during the Banton-Bartlett partnership had turned into an almost audibly tense quiet. Somerset still had work to do and Essex were remorselessly overwhelming Nottinghamshire with a lead of over 300 on first innings.
It was now that Somerset’s true mettle and confidence were shown as a succession of middle and lower order batsmen came and went rather like those runners intent on passing me on the Embankment. Momentarily the scoring eased as Crane from the River End and Barker and Abbott from the Somerset Pavilion end tried to block progress. Then Davies and Gregory freed themselves and the runs flowed again. The Somerset innings never looked back from that point. As each batsman came the bowlers suffered and as each went he left a package of quickly scored runs on the scoreboard. Gregory began matters with a trademark six off Abbott which slammed into the sightscreen just to my right and an over later cut Abbott spectacularly for four. Davies pulled Crane over the Caddick Pavilion boundary for six and two balls later drove him to the Temporary Stand for four. The Somerset blood was up now and where the boundaries were not there the singles remorselessly fed the rise of the total on the scoreboard.
Davies stayed there to the end, making 36 in all, keeping the score moving with deft turns and pushes. When Gregory miscued a hook Northeast, jumping high and falling backwards at mid-on took the catch, he had added 28. Bess came to the wicket and slammed two on side boundaries through a flailing Hampshire fielder. The first a boundary ‘catch’ went straight through the hands and the second, along the ground, was dived over. Pressure tells. A third attempt saw Edwards through to Bess’s stumps. When Overton was stumped charging Crane for a duck and sprinted off the field towards a dressing room of Somerset players all in whites it was clear a declaration was coming but not before Groenewald had come out to land a ball from Edwards over the Temporary Stand boundary.
358 for 8 declared the final tally when Abell declared Somerset’s batting race run and Hampshire would need 418 in a minimum of 100 overs. A maximum requirement of 4.18 and over for Hampshire against their first innings rate of 3.27 and Somerset’s 4.64 and 4.31. 400 run targets have been chased down at Taunton before but it would take something miraculous for Hampshire to reach 418 with Alsop known to be injured and with Weatherley not seen on the field for some time.
Four overs Abell had allowed his bowlers before the close of play. In that time Rahane showed his threat with two scintillating boundaries. Gregory showed his with a ball which cut in at pace to shatter Soames’ stumps and with another which led to a very loud lbw appeal against Rahane before he had scored. Gregory and Overton no doubt will start the final morning against Rahane and the nightwatchman, Abbott, who had opened in the stead of the injured Weatherley. Hampshire’s efforts will be hampered by the injuries to Weatherley and Alsop and much may depend on the contest between the Somerset bowlers and Rahane, Northeast and Rossouw. Hampshire’s lower order showed resilience too in the first innings. Somerset will have to work hard on the last day but their bowling attack have overcome obstacle after obstacle this season. Only the brave will bet against them doing it again.
Close. Somerset 408 and 358 for 8 dec (Azhar Ali 79, T. Banton 70, T.B. Abell 58, M.S. Crane 3-122). Hampshire 349 (S.A. Northeast 101, A. M. Rahane 55, R.R. Rossouw 44, J. Overton 5-70) and 12 for 1. Hampshire need 406 more runs to win with nine second innings wickets standing.
My report on the final day of the Hampshire match - A dream of a match . It can be found on my website home page via this link:
It is also reproduced in full here:
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.
The final day of this match began with two obstacles in particular likely to stand in Somerset’s way. Rahane and Northeast are both capable of batting through a day. Rossouw too might pose a threat for he had batted unbeaten through the best part of the final day in the corresponding fixture in 2018. In this match Alsop and Weatherley had both suffered disabling injuries to their legs and whilst they might bat their threat was likely to be greatly diminished. Much would depend on Rahane, Northeast and Rossouw. The pitch, often flattens if a match at Taunton reaches a fourth day. Hampshire, in danger of an innings defeat in 2018, defied Somerset throughout a gruelling final day, losing only two wickets in the entire day, to save the game with, in the end, some ease. That memory was on many minds as the players took the field. This pitch though was subtly different than that one. Full of runs undeniably, 1127 on the first three days alone, but for bowlers with the skill to use it, especially with a new ball, it had offered the prospect of bounce and movement off the seam throughout those three days. It was a pitch which produced a dream of a match.
I arrived at the ground just before the players took the field, my third day report unposted. It was complete apart from being proofread and edited. Normally I would have completed the job at the price of the first hour of the day’s play. Not this time. That still small voice within told me to get myself to the ground for the start, come what may. How prescient that voice turned out to be. There were not many of us. More familiar faces than unfamiliar ones as I walked past Gimblett’s Hill to my seat in the lower deck of the Somerset Pavilion. That reflected the total attendance which I doubt topped 600 at any time in the proceedings. As on most other final days the size of the crowd reflected the fact that it was the final day rather than the state of the match.
Gregory, from the Somerset Pavilion End, and Overton from the River End, began where they had left off the previous evening. Powering in at the batsmen under a blue sky although now with a scattering of white tufts of cloud. Eyes strained at the pitch looking for any sign of movement or other help for the bowlers. It may have been a small crowd but the intensity of its attention on the cricket was evidenced in its eyes. Focused and unmoving as the bowlers ran in. Gasps filled the air as Overton twice passed Abbott’s bat and as Gregory all but forced a route through to the stumps off Rahane’s bat. Breaths were audibly caught as the ball rattled around in the crease before going dead. Here was hope. The ball must be ‘doing something’.
In just the third over of the morning Gregory bowled what looked to be a quicker ball. Rahane drove hard at it and the ball flew fast off the edge to the right of Overton’s head at second slip. Overton moved neatly across and took the catch with the smoothness and certainty that is becoming the hallmark of his slip catching. What a cheer went up then. It would have done the first day’s 3000 proud let alone the fourth day’s 600. Hampshire were 18 for 2 and a major threat to Somerset’s hopes had gone, in the context of a day’s cricket, in the blink of an eye. A look at a replay of the wicket shows an absolute ‘jaffa’ of a delivery from Gregory which might have taken a wicket on any pitch for the pitch had no part in it. The ball left Gregory’s hand perfectly directed for the drive. Only when the batsman was fully committed did the ball swing away markedly and late to take the edge of the bat. On bowlers who can bowl such deliveries to such batsmen might Championships be made. Hampshire 18 for 2.
At the other end Overton was now running in and exuding smoothly generated power and threat with every succeeding stride. Several times he had passed Abbott’s thrust-forward bat to gasps and flung back heads. Now he found the edge and the ball flew through to Davies’ gloves. 18 for 3 and the cheers of the 11 in the middle and the 600 beyond the boundary rent the air. The win was on. By the time Overton bowled the next ball to the newly arrived Rossouw you could have heard a pin drop.
At first Rossouw defended against Overton’s pace and then seemed to try to fight fire with fire. In three successive balls he first tried to defend and a thick edge flew between third slip and gully for four. Next he tried to pull a ball pitched well outside his off stump. It moved away off the seam, seemed to take the toe end as the bat swung around and again the ball flew for four between third slip and gully. The next ball Rossouw tried to cut. It lifted and flew off the edge straight to Banton at gully. 28 for 4. One or two around me began to rue bringing their lunch, others cautioned against chicken counting. For the third time I sent a ‘wicket’ text to someone unable to follow online but where a glance at an incoming text might be possible. This match, as all Somerset matches, was being followed far beyond the confines of the ground.
When Overton beat a Northeast drive and Gregory twice went through Fuller’s defence gasps erupted around the ground. “Great over,” the comment from behind me when Gregory took his cap from the umpire. When Leach and Groenewald replaced Overton and Gregory Northeast began to suggest a semblance of permanence. Fuller less so. An edge off Leach looped towards square leg but fell harmlessly. When a ball from Groenewald flew past the outside edge of Fuller’s drive and then of his defence the gasps around the ground spoke of frustration at the iniquities visited upon bowlers by the cricketing gods. “It can only be a matter of time,” said the man behind me as Groenewald troubled the batsmen again and again. The ball must have been swinging the conclusion from beyond the boundary. The expectation generated by Groenewald’s early overs was intense. No pin dropped during that period for if it had the sound would have echoed around the ground. As each ball was delivered everyone was silent, still, watching, waiting.
At the other end Leach began to spread his net at the rate of a run an over as the batsmen looked warily at each ball. It was impossible to tell from behind the batsman whether Leach was turning the ball but there was nothing I saw to suggest it apart from that looping edge. 6-3-4-0 showed the extent of Leach’s control and the batsmen’s care. At the other end Groenewald had conceded a few runs to end with figures of 5-0-23-0 but four of those were off an inside edge from Northeast which missed his leg stump by inches and the ‘0’ in the wicket column was one of those injustices frequently visited upon bowlers.
But, through fortune and application the batsmen began to settle. Northeast in particular looked composed. Fuller took more risk but kept the score moving and perhaps the spirits up. When Northeast started to score, his on and cover driving suggesting confidence, the feel of the game began to change. The atmosphere was calmer and tinges of anxiety emerged. I found myself timing the partnership. 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes as the first hour of the day ticked by on the Colin Atkinson clock that has overseen nearly a century of Championship hope. 45 minutes seemed something of an age compared with the wicket-falling mayhem which had preceded it. The head said, with the man behind me, “It is only a matter of time.” The heart though recalled that interminable Vince-Rossouw stand of a year before and knew that so much might depend on winning this match.
Somerset now turned to another match-winning bowling combination. Leach and a rejuvenated Bess, the latter brought on to bowl at the Somerset Pavilion End to huge cheers following his loan period with Yorkshire. Almost immediately things started to ‘happen’. Northeast appeared to try to turn Leach into the leg side and the ball flew into the off side straight towards Abell at short cover. The ball ‘died’ as it flew but Abell took off in what looked like levitational flight and came down with his fingers just over the grass as the ball arrived. I had a perfect view and let out an involuntary, “Out!”. 85 for 5. Northeast 23 in an hour and a half of studious defence. The cheers and celebrations of the 11 and the 600 erupted as they only can when the key wicket is taken in a drive for victory. A split-second later cheers must have erupted across the county, up and down the country, and beyond the seas as countless others watching, listening and otherwise following online knew the door to victory had been well and truly opened.
It does not take Leach and Bess, once they are in their stride, long to charge through an open door. Barker joined Fuller and seemed to show intent to score rather than defend with a well-enough executed reverse sweep against Leach. What the ghosts of the old Stragglers thought of such a stroke when the ball arrived at their boundary is not recorded. When in the next over Barker attempted to turn Leach into the onside the ball found the edge. As it flew more easily to Abell someone along the stand shouted, “Catch it!” for the vestiges of the tension of the preceding hour still hung in the air. Sometimes the emotions take a while to catch up with a fast unfolding reality.
Bess had started with four legside byes but he quickly settled and began to look a threat. When Leach bowls on a pitch which is not turning markedly it is as if nothing is happening until something does and yet another batsman is making his way back to the Pavilion. He shows no emotion as he builds the pressure. Inscrutable was a word waiting for him to come along. When Bess bowls he is Leach’s polar opposite. There is no doubting his emotion, at least as far as it can be interpreted from beyond the boundary. A jack-in-the box bowler with a box of tricks to match. Quickly into his stride here he made great show of pushing Overton back to the long on boundary as he prepared to bowl to Fuller. Fuller drove his first ball, a full toss, wide of Overton to the Ondaatje boundary. His third ball Bess tossed up again, this time it pitched full and was driven to Gimblett’s Hill. For his sixth he went around the wicket, bowled with a flatter trajectory and beat Fuller’s full forward defensive to hit the top of off stump. Fuller, who had made 35, froze in the pose in which the stroke had left him. It looked from where I sat to have been an absolutely stunning delivery. From everywhere else too from the astonished reactions.
Hampshire were 97 for 7. There was no doubt about the outcome now and chatter, relieved and disbelieving, began to reassert itself for it had been a remarkable morning of cricket. The impact on the mind had been all the greater because the speed of the demise of the Hampshire innings had been beyond expectation. Another wicket apiece for Leach and Bess ended the match five minutes into the extra quarter of an hour added to the morning session because of the number of wickets remaining at one o’ clock. The injured Weatherley did not come out to bat with the injured Alsop, already at the wicket, looking decidedly uncomfortable every time he tried to move. Hampshire had ended on just 104.
A day which had been expected to extend to somewhere near the tea interval and, in the fears of some, beyond, was over by lunch. The emotions though still had some way to run. Small groups gathered with eyelids spread wide at what they had seen. I joined one such on Gimblett’s Hill. There were insufficient superlatives to describe what had happened and how we felt but the faces said it all. This team really could win the Championship. It had every base covered in its bowling attack and frontline reserves in depth. In the cricket we had just witnessed it had shown itself capable of the ruthlessness that is an essential component of Championship winning teams. It may not be the Somerset way but it will be an essential way in what is to come.
The top order batting has been a concern this year but it had fired in this match. Crucially the batting had shown one essential attribute where matches are to be won on run-filled wickets. The ability to bat over long periods at four and a half runs an over to create the time needed to bowl sides out on such pitches. There is a crucial equation in such situations. The longer a side has to bat to save a match the quicker are they likely to be bowled out as the sheer length of time they have to face builds its own pressure to add to all the others.
The Championship really is a possibility this year but there are still hard yards to be run if in one match at the end of the season the lungs of the 11, of those those around the ground and far beyond are to unleash a Somerset roar the like of which has never been heard before. Nottinghamshire are the next opponents. An ostensibly strong side rooted at the foot of the table. That was Somerset in 2017. Then came that astonishing win at Scarborough. Nothing in cricket can be taken for granted. Matches have still to be played against Essex and Yorkshire who have Test quality spinners to pit against Somerset’s own as pitches can be expected to take spin. Those matches will be hard fought. Nothing can, nor I am sure will it be within the boundary, taken for granted. But the whole course of this match and the utter ruthlessness of the final morning against the weakened Hampshire batting lent credence to the hope that this might, just might, finally be the year.
Result. Somerset 408 (J.C. Hildreth 105, T.B. Abell 82, T. Banton 79, K.J. Abbott 6-84) and 358 for 8 dec (Azhar Ali 79, T. Banton 70, T.B. Abell 58, M.S. Crane 3-122). Hampshire 349 (S.A. Northeast 101, A.M. Rahane 55, R.R. Rossouw 44, J. Overton 5-70) and 104 (M.J. Leach 3-14). Somerset won by 313 runs. Somerset 24 points. Hampshire 6 points.