It Couldn’t Have Gone Much Better

Day 2 of the Championship ‘s latest round of fixtures, Day 2 of Somerset v Essex and Day 2 of my personal diary of the run-in. Despite the loss of Marcus Trescothick late in the day it would be churlish to do anything that heap praise on this Somerset team. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my team performing better as a unit in my 48 years of following this wonderful club. #DaeToDream.

But, to mix it up a bit, let’s start elsewhere and work our way up. In Division 2 leaders Warwickshire beat hapless Gloucestershire by an innings and 47 runs. The only thing that can be said for the not so Glorious Gloucesters is that they have an extra 2 days to prepare for their Blast quarter-final!

Of the chasing pack Sussex have a lot of work to do after 2 days at Hove against Derbyshire while 3rd and 4th placed Leicestershire and Kent are locked in a tight battle at Grace Road.

The other second division “Blast” quarter finalist Durham look like they will complete a comfortable win at Cardiff giving them much needed travel and recovery time before Friday’s quarter final. They will hope Derbyshire keep Sussex occupied for all 4 days as they persue promotion and a place at finals day. Martin Emerson will be sleeping a little easier this evening with that scenario seeming very likely!

In Division One the real story of this round of games is the potential for the results to concertina the bottom half of the table (it could be 6 of the 8) in a relegation battle by Wednesday. Both Worcestershire and Hampshire are in strong positions over Yorkshire and Notts respectively. If they go on to win their respective games Hampshire will go above Yorkshire and Worcs will be within 10 points of their current hosts. 

Lancashire are locked in a battle with leaders Surrey in the day/night game. If they come out the wrong side of this game they could find themselves bottom, a point behind Worcestershire but still closely in touch with the teams above them.

We have seen in the small sample of day/night pink ball cricket in the Championship that the evening sessions are often pivotal. As I write this they are just into the last session and Surrey are effectively 112-3. Great credit today to Lancashire’s rookie Josh Bohannon who hit 52 as Lancs added over 100 runs for their last 3 wickets. But skipper Rory Burns is still there on 62 pushing not only his county’s title aspirations but doing himself no harm before the fourth test.

Speaking of the 4th test, James Vince, not for the first time this season, is scoring runs at the right time (147 in the second innings at the Ageas Bowl). It’s an interesting sub-plot that the title and relegation issues could be massively impacted by whether one or both of these fine cricketers gets an England call up for the last two tests

Another player hoping to get that text from Ed Smith is Moeen Ali, he is unbeaten on 107 at Scarborough and in company with the evergreen Daryl Mitchell (140*) have closed on 310-1, already leading by 94. It doesn’t bear thinking about the mood at North Marine Road today, and it might get much worse.

I wrote in my preview of this round that I saw Notts, Yorshire and Essex being mired in mid-table mediocrity, too far off the top two to challenge, to far above the relegation places to be in danger. But with Notts and Yorkshire already staring down the barrel both will be feeling more than a little uneasy.

So, to Essex. You have to wonder what has happened to the side that won it all last year. And the two BBC Essex commentators who were on for the entirety of my hour long drive home this evening certainly were doing just that. At the end of the second day at Taunton Somerset lead by 165 runs with 9 wickets in hand.

That position of dominance on a pitch that you suspect, will only offer significantly more help to the bowlers on days 3 and 4, has been achieved by virtue of a fine bowling performance from a superbly balanced and confident attack. An attack without England’s Craig Overton, Timmy G who is, encouragingly, back bowling in the nets, and skipper Tom who chose not to bowl himself.

I felt that Somerset’s first innings 324 was 30-50 below par but Essex were constantly under pressure and had no answer to the depth and variety at Abell’s disposal. It is hugely encouraging that for the whole of the season we have seen teams bowled out by the bowling unit typically each taking 2 or 3 wickets. 

The opening bowlers Lewis Gregory and Josh Davey kept it tight early on, pressure which led to the loss of three wickets in 13 balls just before lunch. Jamie Overton blew the dangerous Ravi Bopara away straight after lunch and then the spin twins kept the pressure on as they worked through the middle order before Jamie returned to do what every captain needs and blow the tail away.

But, have we found something unexpected and potentially crucial in Azhar Ali? There is no doubt about his class with the bat but he came on to break an obdurate 8th wicket partnership with some pretty impressive leg breaks. The thought of having three spinners all bowling in different styles as we head down the run in is pretty tantalising.

So, while there is still a lot to do, Somerset can be very pleased with their work so far. Having negotiated the tricky 16 overs in poor light with the loss of only one wicket the aim must be to build a platform in the first hour and then push on to 250 – 300 by tea. The hope then has to be that the light holds in the final session to give the bowlers a chance to make inroads into Essex’s second dig,