Perfection Required

So how did you sleep? How did you feel when you woke up this morning? For the first time in 2019 I woke with a Somerset Cricket sized knot in my stomach ahead of the final day of the Championship opener.

The simple score does not even begin to tell the story for Somerset fans – Somerset 171 and 171-7 lead Kent 209 by 133 runs.

Somerset’s players will be aware as they arrive at the County Ground this morning that their margin for error on the final day is minimal. To achieve an improbable victory not only will they need to add at least 50 more runs for the last three wickets but will then need all the bowlers to perform at or above the level achieved by Lewis Gregory and Josh Davey yesterday morning. 

The probability is that this is going another occasion where Somerset supporters, as well as the players, are going to have their intestinal fortitude tested as with the games against Notts, Essex and Lancashire last season.

It seems incredible that, after being outplayed in five of the six sessions played so far, and comprehensively so in at least three of those, Somerset should have any chance at all in this game as it goes into its final day. Comfortingly however, home fans know that this Somerset side has demonstrated on numerous occasions that it only needs one chance to press home an advantage.

The likely outcome of the final day will almost certainly be dictated by the pattern of yesterday. On a pitch with good pace, carry and even bounce the overhead conditions have been the determining factor in the balance between bat and ball. 

Somerset’s eighth-wicket pair of George Bartlett and Craig Overton, who batted with great maturity and composure at the end of yesterday’s final session will be hoping that a ball that is 58 overs old will not deviate much in the early overs to enable them to add to the 60 the accumulated last evening. In reality Somerset need at least another 50 if they are to give themselves a better than even chance of pulling off an improbable victory.

George Bartlett, Inspired Selection?

This position had been arrived at by a bowling performance of some quality to bowl Kent out for 209 from the overnight 84-2. It is likely that, if Jack Brooks had been anywhere near his best Kent’s total would have been much closer to or perhaps below Somerset’s 171. Brooks 1-70 in 20 overs contained too many “four balls” which meant that he was never able to build the pressure on the Kent batsman that Messrs Gregory, Overton and Davey did. Gregory by comparison conceded only 26 runs in 17 overs in taking 3 wickets while Overton 3-46 and Davey 2-40 were almost as parsimonious.

While it is understandable that Tom Abell wanted to get Jack Brooks up and running and delayed introducing himself into the attack until the very end, it was a generosity in such a low-scoring game that Somerset could not afford. Abell did what he usually does with the ball to finish with 1-3. He must show more confidence in his ability with the ball in the Kent second innings if one of the four more senior bowlers are not performing.

The first target for Somerset in their second innings was to clear off the arrears of 32 with no loss. The scale of their failure to do this was spectacular with, in order, Trescothick, Hildreth, Azhar Ali and Byrom all departing with the deficit not erased.

Tom Abell and Steven Davies for the second time in the match steadied the ship but when they got to tea Somerset’s lead was a slender 15. Strangely Heino Kuhn seemed to adopt a less attacking strategy after tea which gave the pair room to breathe and a previously unseen level of comfort at the crease. The pair stayed together for the next hour to give Somerset supporters hope but Mitchell Claydon removed both in the space of a couple of overs and when he added the scalp of Gregory Somerset were staring down the barrel of an ignominious defeat.  

Therein lies the problem for Somerset, if they are to post a defendable target, they will need a semblance of decent batting conditions, a fair amount of good fortune or a combination of both. But their bowlers will require assistance from the overhead conditions if they are to have a chance of bowling Somerset to victory.

Kent won 10 games in division 2 last season, half of those were achieved chasing a target in the fourth innings and while the standard of bowling in the majority of those games is well below what Somerset possess they will take confidence from chases of; 95-1 against Durham 95-1, 110-4 v Derbyshire 110-4, 195-3 against Glamorgan, 253-2 at Leicester and perhaps most relevantly 157-5 against Middlesex 157-5. All of those successful chases were achieved with the pair of Denly and Billings present. It will be interesting to see how Kent’s batsmen respond to the challenge in the absence of those two. 

The mental aspect of this last day is not to be ignored. Will Kent embrace the chance to get their season off to a surprising win or will the magnitude of the prize induce nerves which no batsman can afford in these conditions,

On Arthur Wellard’s birthday, my thoughts turned to another stalwart Somerset all-rounder, Graham Burgess. The opponents were Kent, the venue was the County Ground, but this was a Gillette Cup quarter-final. Somerset had reached the previous year’s final but seen their hopes of a first every trophy dashed by a Javed Miandad and Imran Khan inspired Sussex. 

Roll forward to the beginning of August the following year. Somerset won the toss and decided to bat in front of a packed house.  The ground had been full a couple of hours before the start but within but within an hour Somerset had been reduced to 45-4. When Viv and Botham departed with the total on 110 Burgess was left with the tail and Somerset’s hopes we in tatters.

“Budgie” made an unbeaten 50 and the last 4 wickets added 80. Like in 2019 the damage was done by another of Kent’s dibbly-dobblers Bob Woolmer who included both Richards and Botham in his 4-28. Kent needed to barely score at 3 runs an over to achieve their target. As ever in the Tancock family, my optimism was heavily counter-balanced by Dad’s pessimism.

What followed was quite simply one of the best couple of hours in Somerset history. Having reached 14-0 Kent subsided to 19-4 before Asif Iqbal and Chris Cowdrey came together. The offered the visitors brief hope taking the score to 40 before Botham and Burgess removed them both in quick succession. From 54-5 Kent were wiped away for 60 by Botham 3-15 and Garner a scarcely believable 5-11 to give Somerset victory by 130 runs. 

What odds on a Somerset victory by a similar margin today?