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Notts at Taunton CC1

By Farmer White et al
July 8 2019

Nottinghamshire, at the foot of the CC1 table arrive at Taunton to play Somerset, at the top of said table.  It is set up for an interesting game.  Our resident supporter observer gives us the low down on the ups and downs of this contest.  Over to you 'Farmer'.... 

County Championship Division 1. Somerset v Nottinghamshire. 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th July 2019. Taunton.
Somerset. T.B. Abell (c), Azhar Ali, J.C. Hildreth, T. Banton, G.A. Bartlett, S.M. Davies (w), L. Gregory, D.M. Bess, J. Overton, T.D. Groenewald, M.J. Leach.
Nottinghamshire. J.D. Libby, B.T. Slater, C.D. Nash, B.M. Duckett, S.J. Mullaney (c), R. Ashwin, T.J. Moores (w), L. Wood, L. Fletcher, L. A. Patterson-White, J.T. Ball.
Toss. Somerset. Elected to bat.
First day. 7th July – Somerset battle back
Backs to the wall, hold the line and then battle back into contention. That has more than once been the story of Somerset’s 2019 season. It was the story again on the first day of this match. Nottinghamshire, stiffened by the 65 Test matches worth of experience of Ravichandran Ashwin and their attack sharpened by the apparently infinite variations in his off spin bowling, tested Somerset in the first half of the day only for Steven Davies to lead a fightback more than ably supported by Dom Bess and Jamie Overton in the second half.
This has been a season of hopes and fears as the prospect of a first County Championship has hung tantalisingly over the Cooper Associates County Ground. That prospect has been there since that first match against Kent in the long-gone days of early April. That was another backs-to-the-wall, hold-the-line and battle-back-into-contention performance. Whether the prospect of that first Championship will hang there still in September’s autumnal chill may depend on Somerset matching Essex, result for result, until their meeting in the final match of the season on the far side of the Autumn equinox.
Somerset may need to start by winning this match because Essex are ahead in their match against third-placed Yorkshire at Chelmsford. If Somerset do win this match they will have much to thank Davies, Overton and Bess for, because by their efforts was the hope with which the day started rejuvenated towards the end of it. That early hope had been fuelled by the overwhelming victory over Hampshire. The hope though was tinged with a nagging doubt. Bottom-placed Nottinghamshire have good enough players to revive their fortunes by their own efforts if they can only find the spirit to do it. Spirit is a mercurial entity. Somerset’s suddenly revived at Scarborough after a disastrous start to the 2017 season and with growing confidence the team avoided what had seemed near-certain relegation, at least to neutrals. Beware teams in apparently hopeless situations.
I took my seat in the lower deck of the Somerset Pavilion roughly in line with second slip to the right-hander facing the River End. There is an outstanding view of the cricket from there with no pillars to obstruct the view. The sky was a combination of summer blue and high white clouds. The crowd was large and grew steadily through the morning until it looked, to my eye, as if it must have reached around 2500, perhaps a few more. The close proximity of the cricket to the crowd on three sides, and a crowd of such numbers, adds to the atmosphere. The shorter of the square boundaries was on the Somerset Stand side which may have accounted for the numbers who sat in it. As many as I have seen for a Championship match. Somerset in pursuit of the Championship is growing the crowds.
Somerset won the toss and elected to bat on a pitch which looked to have more grass on it than had the one for the Hampshire match. With four specialist spinners on the field, Leach and Bess for Somerset and Ashwin and Patterson-White for Nottinghamshire, it seemed the inevitable decision, if indeed it should not always be the decision once April’s green-tops have faded away. The hope around me was that Somerset’s stunning first innings against Hampshire would have given the Somerset top order the confidence to take advantage of more fortune with the toss.
Somerset started positively as people continued to come through the entrance gates in numbers. Abell and Azhar began to make fairly uneventful progress with Abell pushing his third ball, from Fletcher, between point and cover for a single and Azhar cutting the first ball of the second over, from Ball, square to the Caddick Pavilion for four. Abell early awoke the ghosts of the old Straggler’s bar with a drive to their boundary off Fletcher which brought cries, of “Shot!”. Abell plays such strokes with a classicism fashioned from the original design and when he drives he does so with immense power. The ‘crack’ of ball on bat must have been heard in every corner of the ground with such sharpness it might have been mistaken for a whip. Slowly nerves began to settle.
And then Azhar pushed at a ball from the left-arm pace of Wood and edged it to slip for 10. The ball flew low but Mullaney took the catch with apparent ease. Wood had angled the ball across the batsman. Left alone the ball would have been harmless for it left the edge of the bat well outside off stump. Wood’s high-speed sickle shaped celebration sent him up the side of the wicket and then to square leg as if a plan had come off or perhaps because a wicket had been taken on an apparently flat pitch. Somerset were 22 for 1 and in familiar territory.
Hildreth has batted at three this season, and more often than not very early in proceedings when one of the openers has been out quickly, but with the positive approach of a number four. There is a risk which goes with such an approach when the ball is still new and movement or bounce more likely. A Hildreth innings has ended early because of it several times earlier in the season. It could have done now as he ‘fenced’ at two balls outside his off stump. As the possibility of the Championship edges closer, there are only five more games after this one, and the table remains tight, Essex are only fifteen points, less than one win, behind Somerset, the importance of every run and every wicket becomes magnified and the senses sharpened as they react to such strokes.
Hildreth settled the nerves a little with the neatest of late cuts off Wood, perfectly placed, wide of third slip and fine of third man so that it ran down to the covers store for four. And yet such a stroke so soon after his arrival caused a combination of awe at the audacity of it and doubt at the sense of it. And yet Hildreth has scored thousands of runs down the years playing audacious strokes early and late in an innings. The statistics, 46 centuries, an average of 43 and a thousand runs in three of the last four seasons, back his judgement when batting at four. But at three? With a possible first Championship on the line? And yet by his batting at three Banton and Bartlett are being allowed to develop at four and five and they are making runs there. I can muse with the best but I am glad I do not have to make the decisions about where people bat or how they play.
A drive through midwicket emphasised Hildreth’s value for it took him to fifth place in the overall list of Somerset first-class run scorers although still some way behind Harold Gimblett who has held his position at the top of the list for well over half a century. At the other end Abell was battling, in particular against Ashwin. From my vantage point Ashwin appeared to be turning the ball and creating problems. The text from someone who plays the game and was watching online said, “Ashwin is not turning the ball but he looks to be a good bowler who constantly varies his flight and direction and always pitches it accurately so can keep three close fielders in place.” He certainly troubled Abell and eventually dismissed him for 17. A look at a replay of the dismissal seems to show the ball turning and bouncing, taking the inside edge onto the pad and billowing up just sufficiently for Slater at short leg to take an outstanding catch with his hand skimming the grass. And yet virtually every other Ashwin ball of which I saw a replay either didn’t turn or barely did.
Somerset were 52 for 2 and with Ashwin causing problems and Wood looking dangerous whenever he angled the ball across the right-hander. It felt like Nottinghamshire were giving Somerset a scrap, bottom of the table or not. Almost immediately the text came in, “Yorkshire 69 for 4 at Chelmsford.” What was happening in the south-east was as important as what was happening in the south-west and Somerset were probably coming off second best. It certainly focused the mind on what was happening in the middle where Hildreth continued to attack the bowling although he does it with such finesse it hardly feels like an attack. Ashwin was cut beautifully behind square and Ball driven straight to the Sir Ian Botham Stand. A stroke which further emphasised Hildreth’s ability because it took him past 17000 first-class runs.
The inherent vulnerability in his attacking method was then shown when he drove at a ball which, with lunch approaching, might have been left. He did not quite reach the pitch and edged it to Mullaney at second slip for 44. It left Somerset on 96 for 3. “It looks difficult out there,” said someone who had been an excellent club cricketer in his youth, and in addition to the wickets there had been a considerable amount of playing and missing, but the online watcher detected little movement either off the pitch or in the air. That highlighted a curious difference of view between some with access to the live stream and some watching from the stands. The constant gasps and cries of “catch it” from the fielders may have added to the tension at the ground thought the online watcher, and it did for a while, but when virtually every aggressive stroke is accompanied by “catch it” even when the ball is clearly hit into the ground the tension quickly wears off.
Banton and Bartlett have taken Somerset forward from shaky starts a number of times this season and they took Somerset to lunch at 111 for 3, Bartlett passing 1000 first-class runs in the process. It was not a straightforward passage with Ashwin causing enough difficulty to make me wonder how great a part he might play in this match. Hearing that Yorkshire were five down at lunch with only a little over 100 on the board hardly settled the nerves. My lunchtime circumnavigation consisted more of a succession of exchanges of anxious glances than discussions. The Championship is on everyone’s mind and the relative state of the two matches really needed no discussion. I did though note a significant number of children among the large crowd of people on the outfield in the interval. The size of Sunday Championship crowds and the relatively high number of children among them, compared to previous years, has been a welcome feature this year.
Within half an hour or so of lunch Nottinghamshire’s two most penetrative bowlers, Ashwin and Wood had both struck. Wood bowling Bartlett behind his legs for 18 as he shaped to turn the ball square, “Misjudged it and got too far across,” said the incoming text. Banton had endured a torrid over from Ashwin when the last ball bounced, turned, broke through his defence and rolled towards his stumps. In stepping back to try to clear the ball with his bat his leg touched his leg stump and dislodged a bail. Somerset 132 for 5. Banton 25. When Gregory, perhaps beaten by the bounce after a tentative start, drove Ball to midwicket where Ashwin took a simple catch and Somerset were 145 for 6. There was no need to know the score from Chelmsford. Somerset were in enough trouble of their own.
Davies can be a calming influence in a crisis and Bess always tackles one head on. Somerset’s immediate future was now in their hands. They changed the course of the innings and the feel of the match. Whether they did enough to change the course of the match and hold Somerset’s Championship challenge on course remains to be seen. They played the bowling with more assurance than anyone other than Hildreth although the ball was nearly 50 overs old and Ashwin looked less of a threat although he had to be played with care. Perhaps the softening ball was a factor.
As they assessed the bowling they played their strokes but mainly without force. Singles and twos the result. As they took the score past 160 for 5 news came through that Essex had bowled Yorkshire out for 206. That it was perhaps a par first innings score for Chelmsford this year raised the spirit a little but the news that Harmer had taken five of the wickets dampened it again. Somerset were now dependent on Davies and Bess and whatever runs the last three batsmen could muster against Ashwin.
The crowd got behind Davies and Bess with supportive applause for every run whether boundary or single. In between the runs the chatter evident before the start of play had subsided but it was still there for tension comes from a tightly balanced game, not one edging heavily towards one side or the other. Davies began to find the boundary, one cut off Ashwin which seemed to slide off the bat flowed to the Caddick Pavilion boundary to comments of, “Lovely shot.”. Nottinghamshire tried Libby just before tea, Patterson-White, slow left arm, in his first match for Nottinghamshire having had to leave the field before lunch due to illness. Bess sank to one knee and swept him hard for four to the Caddick Pavilion boundary. 195 for 6, the tea score, Davies 28 not out and Bess 25 not out. “I didn’t think we would get a bonus point at 145 for 6,” someone said. “Don’t say it until we have,” someone else said.
Nottinghamshire kept with Libby immediately after tea but Davies ended that experiment with two boundaries and a bonus point in an over. There followed an hour and a half of intense play as Davies and Bess added another 72 runs, and looking much more in control than the batsmen who had gone before. The bowling looked less threatening whether because the ball had softened or because the batsmen had established themselves I cannot say. But whatever the reason it was an hour and a half of rising Somerset hope. Davies brought up his fifty when he turned a ball from Ashwin square to the Somerset Stand for four. There was extended and warm applause, for with the score now on 239 for 6 Somerset were beginning to build a score and 239 for 6 was riches compared to 145 for 6. There was further extended applause when Davies cut the ball square for a single to bring up the 100 partnership.
Bess was sometimes less orthodox in his approach but no less effective. When bounced by Fletcher he chipped the ball over the keeper to the Sir Ian Botham stand for four to enthusiastic cheers. But a late cut for three would have passed muster with any top order batsmen. It brought further extended applause for the crowd was now foursquare behind the two batsmen as they fought to balance the match. Davies brought more applause with a perfectly glanced four and four more with the deftest of late cuts to the third man boundary.
Eyes were on the cricket and the steadily rising score but also on the steadily rising number of overs for the Davies-Bess partnership had taken place against the old ball. When the new ball was taken Ashwin continued to bowl from the Somerset Pavilion End with Wood taking it from the River End, Nottinghamshire’s view of their best two bowlers clear. Bess went to his fifty and more applause with two runs driven into the onside off Wood, and Davies found the boundary with a cover drive off Ashwin. But then, with Essex 77 for 2, although with Alistair Cook out, the Nottinghamshire bowlers found their mark, the new ball perhaps being decisive. Bess reached for a drive off Wood but only managed to edged the ball to Mullaney at second slip. He and Davies had added 128 runs and Somerset were 273 for 7. When Davies leaned into a ball from Wood and was lbw he had made 74 and Somerset were 292 for 8. Both were applauded most of the way back to the boundary.
With Ashwin in full flow there was anxiety that the third bonus point might not be reached. Bonus points can be crucial in a tight title race and the sound of the chatter fell a level. Jamie Overton though was in full flow and worry about a bonus point was superfluous. He scored 34 runs at all but a run a ball and with good clean, hard hitting. Wood was pulled square into the lower reaches of the Somerset Stand for six. Ashwin was lofted over mid-on to the cover store for four and driven through the covers and square for two more. A straight drive off Wood went to the boundary in front of the Sir Ian Botham Stand. Eventually Overton edged Wood to Duckett at slip and Somerset were soon all out for 326.
It was riches indeed from the poverty of 145 for 6 and the buzz around the ground as people picked up their things to leave reflected it. And yet the 408 scored against Hampshire questioned whether 326 would be suffici ent. It was difficult to know. The pitch, or the bowling, looked more difficult to some at the ground than to some watching online. But Ashwin is a class act and his presence, skill and accuracy perhaps of itself applied pressure. What was clear was that facing the new ball, whoever was bowling, was a significantly different matter to facing the old one. Not a single wicket was taken with the ball over 50 overs old and only Gregory lost his wicket to a ball over 40 overs old. As so often the morning session will be crucial. Somerset have a powerful pace attack to use the new ball and following Ashwin’s performance a newer ball may be of some assistance to Leach and Bess.
As to Essex, they ended the day on 122 for 3, 86 runs adrift. Advantage Essex on their own turf but Yorkshire are not entirely out of it. At Taunton the bare scores might suggest advantage Nottinghamshire but the strength of Somerset’s attack and the considerable momentum handed to Somerset by Davies and Bess may argue otherwise. Perhaps time for me to resurrect the edge of the seat I spent much of 2018 occupying.
Oh Somerset!
Close. Somerset 326 (S.M. Davies 74, D.M. Bess 51, J.C. Hildreth 44, L. Wood 4-85, R. Ashwin 3-93).
As always the rest of Farmer's reports can be found on his website and on the thread behind this frontpage.

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Notts at Taunton CC1
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08/07/2019 10:51
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Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 2019:07:10:15:18:34 by Grockle.

Farmer White
08/07/2019 10:22
My report on the first day can be found on the home page of my website entitled - Somerset Battle Back - via this link:


Day 1 is also reproduced on the frontpage with other days to come here as the game goes on

Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 2019:07:08:11:11:41 by Grockle.

Farmer White
09/07/2019 10:46
My second day report - Vive la difference[/i] - can be found on my website home page via this link:


It is also reproduced in full here:

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

[i]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.

Turgid the play may have been but it gripped my attention. From the upper reaches of the Somerset Stand I watched with growing anxiety as Nottinghamshire’s total edged up. Anxiety because of the apparent lack of threat from the Somerset bowlers. Anxiety because it appeared the Somerset team were ‘flat’. From where I sat, the occasional “C’mon” and pat on the back from Abell or Azhar apart they seemed to be playing in silence. The over rate, as recorded on the scoreboard, remained steadfastly on minus one all morning. Not like Somerset at all. It called out for a Trescothick to be constantly calling, “Come on boys, Come on.”. Anxiety because Libby and Nash seemed to be playing with control and intent. Anxiety because of the threat of Ashwin if Nottinghamshire gained a lead. And anxiety because Essex were well ahead in their game at Chelmsford. Somerset had made the pace in the Championship all season. There seemed a risk that Essex might take up that mantle.

There was yet another large crowd, bolstered even further by an Ondaatje Stand full of schoolchildren who kept up a high-pitched chatter all day. Any fielder chasing a ball to the boundary in front of them received a colossal cheer if he managed to rein the ball in. Their occupancy of the Ondaatje Stand meant the rest of the ground, the Temporary Stand apart, distant from the pitch, looked very full. Another 2000 plus crowd for a Championship match at Taunton.

The steady Nottinghamshire accumulation through the morning was interspersed with the occasional flash of Somerset hope. An edged drive from Nash off Leach fell short and wide of Bess at point. When he edged Groenewald the ball flew just too wide of Overton at slip. Libby drove Leach and the ball ballooned into the only part of the on side inner ring where no fielder stood. “They just aren’t going to hand today,” I heard someone say. It had the feel of one of those days when the bowlers cannot make headway and the fretting mind holds onto the hope generated by the occasional looping ball. In reality Libby and Nash were playing the bowling with some ease if with a ‘turgid’ approach to scoring. The buzz in the crowd seemed uncharacteristically lacking in energy too. There were usually one or two elbows to be seen resting on a knee so that the hand might support a resigned head.

My lunchtime circumnavigation revealed a similar view of the morning play to my mine. There was less anxiety among some who thought a wicket or two would put pressure on Nottinghamshire. And Nottinghamshire were still 235 behind which was a more reassuring figure than 91 for 1. “With their propensity to fold this season I wouldn’t bet against us having a lead of 70 or 80”, someone said. With Essex only 15 runs behind Yorkshire with six wickets standing that at least was something to hope for. As often when Somerset are in the field and not taking wickets my circumnavigation, rarely completed before the end of the interval, becomes almost glacial in its progress as I stop to watch play from the various gaps between the stands. As far as I could tell from the gaps between the Somerset Pavilion and the Ondaatje Pavilion, from the gap in the Ondaatje Stand, from in front of the Caddick Pavilion, from between the Temporary Stand and the Colin Atkinson Pavilion, and between the Colin Atkinson and the Sir Ian Botham Stand the first part of the afternoon continued much as the morning had. Flat in the field. Although of course that could have been my mood projected onto what my eyes were seeing.

The narrow gap between the Sir Ian Botham Stand and the Marcus Trescothick Stand, now even more cramped by the base of a floodlight pylon, was crammed with people. The pitch is over that way and there was a perfect ‘behind the arm’ view. It was from that perfect position I witnessed the pivotal moment in the day’s play. Jamie Overton bowling with some real ‘vim’. He was running in from the far end. From that angle it really was one of those sights which, as they say, was worth the entrance money on its own. A true fast bowler approaching his ’pomp’ accelerating towards the wicket all concentration, power and energy focused on and fuelling a flowing run and an explosive delivery of the ball. It is a rare sight these days at least in the county game.

Four times in succession he bowled perfectly directed bouncers at a furious pace. So perfectly directed they tested the batsman, Nash, to the limit. So perfectly directed Nash could only take evasive action. So perfectly directed not one attracted the ‘one for the over’ sign from the umpire. So perfectly directed each produced gasps of awe from around the ground. This was the Somerset that had won six matches out of eight this season. Suddenly, to me at least, the field seemed energised. The crowd were certainly energised. The Taunton buzz was back. More of a hubbub for the moment. The fourth ball was too much for Nash. He could not get his head out of the way and the crack on the helmet reverberated around the ground. Overton raised his hand to Nash in apparent apology and, after some discussion with the Nottinghamshire physio, Nash retired hurt on 50 to sympathetic applause.

Back in my seat as Duckett replaced Nash a slightly more hopeful text about the Essex score arrived. “Essex 34 ahead. Seven down.”. Somerset though had to endure some aggression from Duckett. He was rushed enough by Overton early in his innings to loop the ball into the on side as others had done before him but it fell well wide of Banton at short leg. Then in two overs he hit Leach for two fours and a six and deposited a ball from Bess onto the roof terrace of the flats before settling back into a more sedate progress. Less sedate than the almost non-existent scoring of Libby at the other end. But there was a different feel to proceedings than in the morning even if wickets refused to come even as the Nottinghamshire score passed 150 and then the half way mark at 163.

Then Duckett tried to cut Bess, edged and Davies took the catch to be engulfed in the Somerset team. Relief. A wicket. At last. 169 for 2. 157 behind. Duckett 38. Mullaney joined Libby and Nottinghamshire resumed their pre-Duckett funereal progress. Tea was taken at 189 for 2 and the similarly funereal progress of my teatime circumnavigation had reached the back of the Somerset Pavilion when I heard a cheer which could only mean a wicket. I wish I had kept count oft he number of wickets that have fallen whilst I have been behind that Pavilion. Libby had edged Leach to Gregory at slip for 77 off 192 balls. 201 for 3.

From there it took me half a dozen overs to reach the Garner Gates. I always watch for a while from there. Mullaney who seemed to have been batting for an age for 24 suddenly, and apparently apropos of nothing, tried to pull Bess but this time the mishit ball travelled straight to Abell at midwicket. 217 for 4. “Oh for goodness sake,” said the Nottinghamshire voice behind me. “Prods around forever, lets your spinners settle, then gets out to a shot like that.” The frustration in his voice was deep, heartfelt and borne of a season of disappointment. “We’ll fold now,” he said. “We have been all season.” There was despair mixed with exasperation in his eyes. Cricket supporters the country over care about their team in their every fibre.

Despair for Nottinghamshire. Hope for Somerset. It really did feel like Somerset’s bowlers would now charge through an open door. There was real energy on the field. A team closing in on a struggling opponent. The atmosphere had fast run through the gamut of emotions from anxiety to hope and now to expectation. Expectation of a wicket every ball. Gasps from the Somerset players every time the ball evaded the bat and with apparent genuine hope of better to come rather than the more mechanical gasping of the Nottinghamshire players on the first day. Moores came forward to Leach, the ball popped up and Banton dived forward to take the catch. 222 for 5. The crowd were cheering now and their were no chins resting on hands. 226 for 6 when the Nottinghamshire debutant, White-Patterson, played forward to Leach with the exact same result. Another catch for Banton.

Ashwin had launched a brief sally with some success, defending with his long reach and attacking with four boundaries and 23 runs in total off the spinners. But when Bess produced a full toss he tried to reverse sweep the ball, missed and it clattered into the stumps. Whether the ball was there to be hit I don’t know but it looked as if it might have come through higher than he expected. He seemed to try to get the bat up to it as he went through the stroke. It was one of the more ugly-looking of dismissals. 236 for 7. The Nottinghamshire batting was, as their supporter had predicted, on an irreversible downward slide. Wood drove hard at Bess and the ball looped straight to Leach at backward point. 238 for 8. It does seem that when the batting side is on top an edged ball is inclined to loop into empty space and when the bowlers are on top it unerringly finds the fielder. I am sure the law of averages, if applied to the evidence, would disprove the thought but I suspect most cricket supporters would give the law of averages an argument on the point.

When Hildreth took a neat catch at leg slip to dismiss Fletcher off Bess the innings was over, Nash not being fit to bat. Nottinghamshire were 241 all out and Bess had taken five wickets with his jack-in-the box off spin. Unlike Leach who seems to bowl evert ball the same but clearly doesn’t you can never be sure what the delivery will look like when it appears from Bess’s hand. Vive la différence for it certainly works for Somerset. Eight wickets between the pair. It had been a stunning hour of sudden Somerset dominance. People were sitting back in their seats either looking out at the outfield or talking too each other as if trying to work out quite how it had all happened. It felt rather as the sea looks after a bumper wave has crashed into the sea wall and fallen back in a foaming swirl. The excitement of the wave followed by the swirl of emotion trying to take in the enormity of it all.

There remained just five overs, three of them inevitably from Ashwin. It would provide a foretaste of the test Somerset would face on the third day. They revealed, I thought, the same anxiety as most in the ground must have felt by sending Groenewald out to face the first over. Almost inevitably he did not survive the over and Azhar had to come out anyway. He did survive Ashwin, without too many scares although Abell again seemed to struggle. And so Somerset will start the third day facing one of the world’s top spin bowlers on a wicket suited to his needs. This match is not over. Somerset lead by 92. If they could stretch that to 250 and the pitch continues to turn, there is always a concern it might flatten at Taunton, then Somerset would probably start the Nottinghamshire second innings as favourites. Even a lead of 200 might be enough. But as we discovered in that hour after tea on the second day cricket is synonymous with uncertainty and that is one of the reasons why a thousand or two people will turn up to watch the third day and countless others will follow from afar.

Close. Somerset 326 and 7 for 1. Nottinghamshire 241 (J.D. Libby 77, C.D. Nash 50 ret. hurt, D.M. Bess 5-59, M.J. Leach 3-79). Somerset lead by 92 runs with nine second innings wickets standing.

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 2019:07:09:10:52:02 by Farmer White.

Farmer White
11/07/2019 23:29
And finally - my report on the final day - The view from the 'popular' seats - is now on the home page of my website via this link:


It is also reproduced in full here:

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.

It helps when the pitch is set over that way as it usually has been in Somerset’s long tenure in the first division. Successful teams draw crowds but it is not just the success of this team and the drive for the Championship which is driving the rising numbers. It is too the nature of the cricket, the very essence of which is, in spirit, Somerset to the core. It exudes joy, excitement and intense nerve-jangling, risk-tinged pursuit of that perpetual goal which is the ‘holy grail’ lodged deep in every Somerset heart.

There is something special about this team which drives that Somerset spirit. At its core is a group of players who have, in cricketing terms, grown up together through the successes and the hard knocks of three successive relegation-threatened seasons. Those were their learning times. And, perhaps crucially, they have grown up entirely in the furnace of competition that is the first division of the County Championship. There has resulted a strand of the toughest tungsten at the core of this team and a ruthlessness which, in the end, wins matches, often from positions where backs are against the wall. We saw the ruthlessness against Hampshire and we saw it again in this match. “When we win the Championship …” is a phrase which underpins many an unattainable promise made in jest down the years. Well, this year there might just be a day of reckoning on those impossible promises.

The cricket in the last two matches at Taunton has been truly breathtaking. The Somerset spirit of old and the ruthlessness working hard together. 408 scintillating runs in a day to set up a victory against Hampshire. That was the Somerset of the great days of its history come to visit. The Somerset of Peter Wight and Bill Alley. The Somerset of Vivian Richards and Ian Botham. No world-class superstars this time it is true. Yet. But those times have come to visit in the nonpareil of competitions that those great teams could not quite bring home.

Awesome bowling too, in the true sense of the word. Not just in these two matches. Ten devastating wickets in a session to defeat Kent on that great, rain-sodden day at Canterbury. How important might that two hours prove to have been in the shadows of September? Ten wickets in under two sessions to deliver a victory in this match. In those two performances, and on the final morning against Hampshire, was Somerset’s ruthlessness and the will to win laid bare. Irresistible bowling such as that has kept Somerset at the head of the Championship for longer than at any time in the Club’s history. Perhaps. Just perhaps this time …

And yet the fragilities in the batting, perhaps sometimes driven by that Somerset spirit, still remain to ensure the edges of the seats in the Somerset Stand, and everywhere else, are unlikely to be made redundant this next ten weeks if this Championship challenge persists. If Somerset enter September with the winning of the Championship still in their own hands the edges of those seats will bear the weight of hope like they have never borne it before. Every slip, every blemish, every opportunity missed, however inconsequential will be magnified beyond endurance by the 128-year wait for the title. If the winning of the Championship is still in Somerset’s hands in September an hour before lunch such as the one on the third day here will be unendurable but it will have to be endured.

Somerset were 65 for 2, 150 ahead when I arrived at the ground an hour into the day. Abell, after an innings of intense concentration, had gone for 24 to a freak dismissal not long before I arrived. Freak enough for several people to describe it to me before the day was out. He had pulled Ashwin hard into the midriff of Slater at short leg and Slater had managed to hang onto the ball. It had though, by all accounts, been an innings of grit which had helped establish a base.

Hildreth followed for 7 as I sat down, advancing down the pitch to Ashwin as a spectacular attempt to drive him through midwicket ended up, off the edge, in the hands of the keeper. Hildreth’s way. That old Somerset spirit. What price the blood pressure had that been September with Essex still snapping at Somerset’s heels? Then Banton was pushed back by Patterson-White, in an outstanding debut performance, and was unable to keep the ball from his pads. Bartlett stepping away and trying to cut the slow left-armer found the ball crashing into his stumps. Those three wickets did not fall in the short time it takes to read this paragraph but it felt as if they had. And the heart found itself sinking towards the stomach at the prospect of the door being left even a little ajar for Nottinghamshire, especially if, dreaded thought, the pitch should flatten.

Davies battled but survived just three overs for 2 runs before he was lbw to a ball from Ashwin which was flighted beautifully, and almost unbelievably far, into his pads and Somerset were 94 for 6. 108 for 6 at lunch, 193 ahead when most I spoke to thought a lead of 250 was needed. It did not need to be September for the breath to blow heavy. Yorkshire were subsiding against Essex. If Somerset did not win this match they would find themselves a point behind Essex. It was a long, long lunch break waiting for the restart.

Like Hildreth, Gregory and Bess are attacking batsmen in the Somerset tradition. Like Hildreth their assault on the Nottinghamshire bowlers foundered. Gregory, unlike perhaps some of the younger players, has, as someone said to me, clearly developed and sticks to a method against spin. He uses his feet, often extravagantly, à la Nick Compton in his Somerset days. His default seems to be to get down the wicket to the pitch of the ball, however many strides it takes, from where he defends or drives. It has been a successful approach, notably against Maharaj of Lancashire in 2018. It failed here as he came down the wicket to drive Patterson-White and miscued limply to mid-on for 7. Bess swept Patterson-White twice, once into the Somerset Stand for a one-bounce four. The second time he failed to connect and was lbw for 5. Somerset were 115 for 8 as seven wickets had fallen in the space of 63 runs. The Somerset charge had drawn heavy casualties. Somerset were exactly 200 ahead. Some thought it enough but most I spoke to still wanted 250 and the crowd was pensive, murmuring rather than chattering. Championships potentially on the line breed introspection.

Such collapses are nothing new in the experience of those of us who have been following Somerset for more than half its time as a first-class county. 126 for 8 in the 1979 Gillette Cup quarter-final at Taunton before winning by 130 runs. Bowled out for 110 in a John Player League match at Lord’s in 1979 before winning by 28 runs just three days before that quarter-final. 52 for 5 chasing 223 in the NatWest Trophy semi-final at Lord’s in 1983 before winning by losing fewer wickets. And all those in the years of the Club’s greatest success to date in those 128 years. Batting collapses are part of a long Somerset tradition. Fasten your seatbelts for the Yorkshire match.

Miraculous recoveries are part of the tradition too. Overton is one of those players who does not give the impression of being introspective, at least at the crease with bat or ball. He can turn up the volume of the Taunton crowd in an instant, bowling or batting. When he stepped down the wicket to drive Patterson-White he was following another Somerset tradition as the ball flew over the Trescothick Stand and into the Tone. A huge cheer erupted from around the ground and from my vantage point, at that end of the Somerset Stand, the occupants of the Trescothick Stand bubbled en bloc like a simmering Monday stew of old.

That stroke raised the whole crowd and Overton drove the message home with a cut off Ashwin that sent the ball curving away behind point and into the Somerset Stand Boards. A sweep to the other end of the ground kept the cheers coming and the volume of the crowd up. Overton certainly sets the heart racing. Eventually he was out for 24, the faintest of inside edges off Patterson-White, scored in a partnership with Azhar which lifted Somerset’s total by 51 runs and the lead to 251. You could sense the relaxation in the crowd. Nothing is certain in cricket but chasing 250 plus on that pitch would be a tremendous achievement for the bottom team in the Championship.

And Azhar. What of Azhar? He had endured a torrid time on the seaming pitches of the first half of the Championship season. Now he was on a pitch which might have been made with him in mind. It might also have been made for Ashwin, 342 Test wickets to the good and a bowler who might have been made for such a pitch. It was a duel worth the watching and one crucial to Somerset’s chances in this match. Azhar had come in at the fall of the first wicket on the previous evening.

For three hours Ashwin probed and tested with infinite variations of flight, direction, bounce and turn. He bowled every over Nottinghamshire bowled from the Somerset Pavilion End in the entire innings. Azhar defended his wicket and scored over a third of Somerset’s runs, being at the wicket for all but the first five balls of the innings. Constantly he stretched forward to smother the spin. Periodically he shaped a cut or a push into the on side. With such care did he play he struck only four boundaries but gradually he accumulated precious runs. Always he kept an end secure. There were alarums of course. No-one can bat for three hours on such a pitch against such a bowler without being beaten. But the overriding impression was one of an innings of serene calm in the face of the most persistently testing spin bowling. Bowling which tested every other batsman in the side to the limit. In such battles are Championships won and lost.

Somerset reached 169, a lead of 254. Azhar ended with 65 not out. His fifty was met with extended applause and many stood as they would to applaud a century. Indeed, someone said to me the fifty was worth a century on that pitch. The applause was appreciation too of the fact that that innings had kept Somerset ahead in the match and, in the end, steered them to a position from where they might expect to win. And when the Somerset innings was over Azhar was applauded all the way to the rope.

When Nottinghamshire set out in response an ineffective opening spell from Gregory was accompanied by the iron grip of Leach bowling from the River End. After 10 overs he had conceded 11 runs and taken two wickets. Of such bowling at the crunch of a match are Championships kept within range. With his first ball he forced Libby back towards his stumps and struck his pads. When the umpire raised his finger the cheer was immense and the relief palpable. This really was going to be difficult for Nottinghamshire. When Slater edged Leach hard to Banton at short leg and Banton got a hand to it but only managed to bat it towards his other hand the ground held its breath. When the second hand shepherded the ball back towards the first hand until both hands were around the ball the ground erupted. 21 for 2. 28 for 2 at tea with Ashwin generating a twinge of anxiety as he seemed to be playing spin with almost as much skill as he bowls it, a long stride with the front foot much in evidence.

Overton replaced Gregory at the Somerset Pavilion End after tea. He is bowling fast, seriously fast and in this innings the ball flew. When you have a seriously fast bowler in your side who is getting it right it really does raise the spirits. When he slanted a ball across Moores, who had shown intent with four boundaries in an innings of 22, so quickly that Moores could not withdraw his bat it flew off the edge to Hildreth at slip. Nottinghamshire were 35 for 3 and the cheer which went up left a wave of animated chatter reverberating around the ground as a morning of anxiety turned into an afternoon of anticipation.

There followed an hour of intense defence from Mullaney, with Ashwin apparently ‘mentoring’ him at the crease, and judicious run-pushing from Ashwin. As the score passed 60, and the target fell below 200 with Ashwin apparently establishing himself the chatter of anticipation diminished and anxious glances began to be exchanged. Like Azhar, Ashwin looked at home on the turning pitch. Then, stunningly, Bess turned a ball sharply from outside off stump, it bounced and flew off the edge of Mullaney’s bat wide of Hildreth at leg slip. Hildreth took an astonishing catch diving backwards and to his left to catch the ball well behind himself and low down. 67 for 4.

Samit Patel has been a thorn in the Somerset side more times than I care to remember and now he was walking to the wicket as the concussion regulations replacement for Nash. This time though he seemed to carry no conviction or perhaps with nearly 190 runs still needed, the ball turning and bouncing and Overton brewing for another spell it just seemed that way. Ashwin continued his gradual accumulation but when Patel drove at Leach he edged just wide of second slip from where Hildreth reached for another good catch. 78 for 5 and you could sense anticipation in the crowd again and see relaxation in the faces. When the cheer for the wicket subsided, and there is real energy in the cheering for wickets which might contribute to a Championship, the buzz was animated, expectant.

The fall of Ashwin came as he seemed to try to accelerate after the fall of the fifth wicket. He had hewn 41 runs out of that turning pitch over nearly two hours of intense application – an indication in itself of the size of Nottinghamshire’s task. When, somewhat incongruously, he miscued a drive so badly that Bartlett at mid-on had to dive full length down the line of the approaching ball to get his fingers between it and the grass Nottinghamshire were 95 for 6.

From there, as the close of play hove into view, the Somerset bowling was merciless, dare I say ruthless. Nottinghamshire, with an air of disintegration, slid to defeat in less than half an hour in the face of another searing spell from Overton. After hitting a six into the Somerset Stand Duckett, batting late because he had been off the field on the previous day, skied a drive off Overton to third man from where Gregory took another catch diving forward. Fletcher top edged a pull off Bess to mid-off where Groenewald collected the falling manna. And finally, Overton overran the tail with two bouncers followed by a fuller ball which burst through Patterson-White’s defence, and a missile which upended Ball’s off stump as he backed away with a dab of the bat towards the ball.

The anxieties of earlier in the day had been swept away and you wondered what there had been to be anxious about. But a 128-year wait tends to breed anxiety out of anything but absolute certainty. Now all was anticipation as faces wreathed in smiles left the ground amidst intent talk of another game won. Of Azhar’s batting. Of another stunning performance from Overton. Of the wickets of Leach and Bess. Of the catching. Talk of another step on the road to the Championship. And the reality of a trip to Headingley to play Yorkshire, still third in the table, one of five more hurdles on the rocky road which stretches all the way to those shadows of September.

Result. Somerset 326 (S.M. Davies 74, D.M.Bess 51, J.C. Hildreth 44, L. Wood 4-85, R. Ashwin 3-93) and 169 (Azhar Ali 65*, R. Ashwin 5-59, L.A. Patterson-White 5-73). Nottinghamshire 241 (J.D. Libby 77, C.D. Nash 50 ret hurt, D.M. Bess 5-59, M.J. Leach 3-79) and 122 (R. Ashwin 41, J. Overton 4-24, M.J. Leach 4-42). Somerset won by 132 runs. Somerset 22 points. Nottinghamshire 4 points.

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