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Re: Blast! It's Glos!
Posted by: Farmer White
Date: 07/07/2018 18:58
This was a party. At least it felt and looked like one. Or rather a myriad collection of individual parties forming one joyous whole as pairs, families and small groups of people took their seats. And everyone seemed to be enjoying it, at least as far as could be told from the top of the Somerset Pavilion. The sun gave its blessing as it continued to shine down in this endless blue-skied summer.

As with any party there was music although for the most part my 1960s attuned ears recognised not a note of it. But it had a beat and various people or groups of people at various times bobbed and swayed to it. It was there before the start, it was there in the ‘interval’, it was there when a wicket fell, it was there between overs and it was there after a four or a six. It brought a vibrancy to the surroundings which reflected the explosive all-pervading energy of Somerset’s cricket.

The teams came out to a junior honour guard, a barely half-full ground and a ponderously waddling ‘Stumpy’. “C’mon Maxie!” the shout as Waller took up his position at the Somerset Pavilion End. ‘Maxie’s’ ill-directed and short first ball was cut for four by Hammond. A dot ball followed to, “Well done Maxie!” and we were underway to a healthy and persistent buzz of excited chatter.

After a, in T20 terms, tight over from Gregory, Davey replaced Waller. Davey’s over exemplified the lightning-flash cut and thrust of T20 cricket. Hammond cut him for a sizzling four, middled a straight drive only for Davey to drop down on it as it flew by as if he was attached to it by a piece of elastic, square drove for four and was caught behind trying to drive the next. 22 for 1. Hammond 16 and still two balls to come.

It was no good looking at the scoreboard for details. It had transformed itself into a big screen showing a caricature of a dancing Stumpy and replays of the wicket. The crowd was cheering or applauding depending on taste or perhaps age, the music was playing, the Somerset players had contracted into a congratulatory huddle, Cockbain was already on his way to the wicket and spectators were streaming into the fast filling stands. Blink and you might miss Davey’s next ball. Try to grab detail from the scoreboard as it re-appeared and you did.

After a parsimonious fourth over from van de Merwe, Gregory not afraid to use a second spinner in the powerplay, Anderson bowled the fifth. He found it going for three fours interspersed with a drive which fell tantalisingly short of cover and a looping top edge straight over the keeper’s head for two.

Gregory bowled the sixth and Overton ran in from the Somerset Stand boundary to pouch a neat catch amid tremendous cheering. The music, the scoreboard and the comic strip Stumpy were in ecstasy but the score was a mystery. 47 for 1, Cockbain 22, it turned out. Two balls later an unusually corralled Klinger pulled Gregory for six to the Gimblett’s Hill scoreboard and off it went again and so did the music. 54 for 2 at the end of the powerplay it eventually revealed.

Waller back for the seventh over. “Hooray!” went the cheer in response to one of those random clarion calls which festoon these matches. The crowd had by now found its seats and although there were some groups of empty seats in the Somerset Stand there were considerably fewer gaps elsewhere than there had been a year ago. Even the Trescothick Stand had turned out in numbers. And the groups which have always gathered to stand in the gaps between the stands in proximity to the bars were still there.

Waller, and then Overton, bowled a pair of mean overs. Then Klinger tried to break free by slog sweeping a ball from Trego which crashed off the edge into his stumps. 69 for 3., Klinger 21, revealed the scoreboard when the animated, in both senses of the word, Stumpy had stopped dancing. But this was T20 and before the end of Trego’s over Howell had driven him twice for four.

I took a second or two to look around at the end of the over. You don’t have long. No sooner has one bowler finished an over, the scoreboard shown a fleeting advertisement, the announcer advertised tickets for the next match or a competition to win tickets for another and two bars of music have blasted out, than the next bowler is running in.

I saw in front of me two school children with plastic batons; next to me on the ground a jug of punch, fruit floating serenely on the top, around and about the odd Somerset T20 replica shirt, some beach front clothes, beer and cider and a smattering of faces from Championship matches. However people were dressed, or whatever they had in their hands, or drank, their eyes were on the cricket. Except mine for whilst I was taking it all in van de Merwe had slipped in an over for six runs. I barely noticed, it was over so quickly.

Now Davey was bowling again and Howell, trying to hit a six over the Caddick Pavilion boundary was caught by Abell running in, lining it up and diving full length, hands just off the ground. Quite an outfielder is Tom Abell. Gloucestershire were 90 for four in the 11th over, Howell gone for 19, the scoreboard Stumpy dancing, the crowd cheering, the batons banging, the music playing and me desperately trying to keep a track of proceedings. I did have enough about me to wonder if the loss of wickets was now great enough to cause Gloucestershire to pause before charging for the line.

My scorecard told me that Gregory was using his bowlers strictly in one over spells. No-one had bowled two overs in succession and no-one did until Gregory bowled the last two from the Somerset Pavilion End right at the end of the innings. Somerset bowled 18 single over spells and a two over spell. Whether it disrupted the Gloucestershire batsmen I don’t know but something did for none of them had managed to get further then a stuttering start.

What was very evident was that Gregory had a tight grip on proceedings. Less demonstrative than Abell as captain but the mechanics of the bowling changes and the field placings were very slickly oiled indeed. The Gloucestershire batmen must have wondered who on Earth they would have to face next.

When they did strike the ball it immediately released a flying fielder to intercept or chase. The fielders didn’t always pull it off but I soon gained the impression that when they didn’t it was because the task was an impossible one. The bowling, the fielding, the changes, the electricity, the relentlessness of it all was astonishing. The Gloucestershire batsmen must have felt like a boxer on the wrong end of a continuous pummelling and Gregory was orchestrating the pummelling perfectly.

Only Higgins and Taylor showed signs of coming to terms with it. They took 19 off an over from Davey but Waller and especially van de Merwe, when it was their turn on the bowling rota, stifled any real advance by Gloucestershire. Van de Merwe bowling the 18th over of a T20 innings for four runs on the flattest pitch imaginable must be worthy of a performance medal of some description. He had, too, just caught Taylor off Gregory on the Gimblett’s Hill boundary to an enormous cheer. The music now so much taken as read I was hardly noticing it as the cricket took charge of the day.

In the 19th over from Gregory Myburgh and Abell ran hard for the same catch. Abell backed off at the last, Myburgh dived, seemed to get his hands to it and spilled it. It stood out from the overall quality of Somerset’s fielding which seemed to me otherwise to have caught and, on a lightning fast outfield, stopped pretty well everything it could.

Only in the last, and Davey’s earlier, over did Gloucestershire gain some purchase. Gregory put Overton on. As so often seems to happen to the fastest bowler reserved for the last over the ball flew to the boundary. Three times Higgins stepped away to leg, three times Overton followed him, three times Higgins drove him through the off side for four. It seemed to cry out for an off stump yorker. A high full toss, perhaps the attempted yorker, was chipped over third man for another four and a no ball which resulted in a nearby Father explaining the free hit rule to his young charges. And then Abell caught Higgins with a truly brilliant running, full length, diving catch in front of a cheering Somerset Stand. Gloucestershire 188 for 6.

As the players walked off the scoreboards, the music and the announcer went into paroxysms of delight; the crowd cheered, applauded and bobbed and swayed to the music; the batons banged; the clarion called and those in the crowd so inclined shouted, “Hooray!” It had been an exhilarating spectacle of cut and thrust cricket which it seemed Somerset had edged. “10 runs under par,” I said in a text. In my bones I felt it might be more under par but I didn’t want to tempt fate. The Somerset performance in the field, two overs apart, and that is not a bad allowance in T20, seemed to have distinctly outstripped Gloucestershire’s stuttering one with the bat.

“I like T20. It’s only three hours. You can come in, watch a whole match, go home and still have some of your evening left,” someone behind me said in the ‘interval’. And that after doing a day’s work. It was an interesting take on midsummer cricket. He may not have been so keen to sit out until 8.30 in April or May. In July he could have his cricket in comfort. It will be interesting to see how Somerset’s 4.00 p.m. evening match starts later in the tournament, presumably because of the risk of dusky finishes in August with no floodlights, affects crowds.

As Somerset bowled so, after a shaky start, they batted. Myburgh couldn’t get going and was out for four. Off the first ball of the second over Davies was dropped on the boundary, chest high by Higgins who spilled the ball over the rope, converting the catch into a six.

After that it was all out attack from every Somerset batsman from the start of their innings. The calculation perhaps that with van de Merwe having to bat as low as eight, even with the loss of wickets to the charge, enough would make enough runs quickly enough to overhaul the Gloucestershire score.

The route to the boundary was often ‘over the top’. It looked to be deliberate policy. There was some luck in where mishits and top edges fell and perhaps Somerset got away with it a bit more than they might on another day. It was though a mightily effective strategy on this day and once the ball hit the ground the outfield was so fast the ball rocketed over the boundary. The sight of Gloucestershire fielders chasing and diving in vain will be an enduring one.

Trego batted as if he had taken charge of the bowling. He was authoritative, no-nonsense, domineering. When the ball leaves his bat in that mood you can hear the depth in the wood and feel the security in the stroke. “C’mon Trego!” shouted someone as one such drive thundered to Gimblett’s Hill. In one over from Howell he pulled a six into the Ondaatje Stand, flicked a four to fine leg and drove straight with such phenomenal power it elicited involuntary gasps before the cheers, the music and the scoreboard Stumpy could get going.

In the next over from Perera he hooked fine to Gimblett’s Hill; drove wide of mid off to the Colin Atkinson as a cry of “shot!” cut through the blast of music and the cheering; and then drove over mid off. All crashed to the boundary. “Tree-eego, Tree-eego, Treego,” sang a section of the Somerset Stand in a throwback to the singing of John Player League Sunday afternoons. The music, the metamorphosing scoreboard, the white ball, the coloured clothing and the colossal scoring rate would have been alien in those halcyon days. But the atmosphere which the multi-generational crowd generated would have merged in perfectly.

Davies meanwhile, now finding his feet as a Somerset batsman (his keeping has never been in doubt), had been outscoring Trego. He drove over cover, steered a wide off stump yorker through third man, pulled behind square as the crowd sang along to whatever song the PA chose to float in the air, drove over mid off, on drove to Gimblett’s Hill and pulled a six into the Ondaaatje Stand to bring up his 50 off 21 balls. Somerset were 103 for 1 after 8 overs and the scoreboard Stumpy, the music, the cheering and the plastic batons all ran riot.

It was devastating batting. It ran the fielders ragged. More than once a diving fielder intercepted the ball as he slid along the boundary only to find it had rolled over the rope among the tangle of arms and legs that his body disintegrated into as he tried to stop it. Two more catches went down too. Pressure tells. There was no lack of effort on the part of the Gloucestershire fielders but the barrage from the batsmen was relentless. Davies finally departed for 60 off 28 balls, caught on the boundary, but the percentage outcome from the hitting over the top had fallen heavily in Somerset’s favour.

Huldreth was once doubted as a T20 batsman. No more. He can mix it with the best of them. The best adapt to whatever is demanded of them and Hildreth has adapted. His performances in the Championship this year suggest he has lost nothing of his traditional genius in the process. He had clearly come to the wicket intent on continuing where Davies left off.

His six into the midst of the Ondaatje Stand had the crowd not only cheering but singing and swaying to the music. His reverse sweep off Smith to the same place produced gasps and a cry of “Incredible!” And it was. I never saw Denis Compton play. I have always imagined that if a current player exists who can, on his day, bat with the deftness of Compton’s touch, the inventiveness of his stroke play and the impossibility of his genius it is Hildreth at County, if not at Test level. And he does it in whatever format. A cameo of 25 this time but a cameo which, with Trego, carried Somerset remorselessly onward. Hildreth bowled, perhaps trying to repeat the stroke of his first six, as he tried relentlessly to drive the Somerset charge home.

When you are under the sort of constantly rising pressure Gloucestershire were under you look for an oasis of relief. Anything to give respite. A moment in which to gather your senses, to take breath, to recharge your system, to rework your plans. Two overs apart, when they bowled, Somerset gave Gloucestershire no respite at all. The pressure was constant, the harrying remorseless, the intensity overwhelming; the wickets a calculated price to be paid.

Anderson replaced Hildreth. His stroke play was not as precise as it had been at the Oval last year. He wasn’t quite in touch but he carried on the charge anyway. He seemed to play and miss as much as he connected but Somerset needed just 46 to win in seven overs. He attacked virtually every ball, kept up the pace, kept up the intensity. Fours were clipped fine, pulled square, hit back over the bowlers’ head and a six was pulled into the Temporary Stand. He tried to hit Smith into the Somerset Stand to bring the scores level but was caught on the boundary. 24 off 16 balls was, Myburgh’s four apart, Somerset’s slowest scoring rate.

No matter. Before the over was out Trego had hit the six needed to bring the scores level and another to win the match with 19 balls to spare. The crowd, or most of it, rose to its feet and clapped Trego off. He raised his bat and waved it to every part of the ground. It had been as masterful a match controlling 72 as you are likely to see. Official Man of the Match. But spare a thought, in a game designed for batsmen, for van de Merwe’s four overs for 22 runs, one of them bowled in the ‘powerplay’ and another three overs from the end; both when Gloucestershire should have been running riot.

Sunday will be a different game. Kent will have noted this game. They will be ready and recent history suggests they will provide a sterner challenge. Tactics will be one thing and Somerset’s may or may not change. But if the spirit and intensity with which Somerset played this game remains that will count for a lot. As to predictions. The sun will shine again. Let us hope we have another performance and atmosphere to match it.

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