Time for Calm Heads

County Championship Division One, Taunton, Day 2 – Warwickshire 135  (C Overton 5-31) and 103-6 (Hain 43*) require 136 runs to beat Somerset 209 and 164 (Overton 36, Norwell 7-41)

A day which started with more questions than answers; how would the pitch behave on day 2, what the Somerset approach would be in their second innings, how would Tres fare with the spotlight on him ever more acutely, ended with just one can Warwickshire’s Sam Hain and their tail pull together 136 more runs to record a most improbable win.

The seven hours between these two states of mind were tortuous for all Somerset fans. Judging my some of the tweets coming in to the BBC commentary there is a whole swathe across south west England and as in my case farther afield of angst ridden, nerve wracked cricket fans living every ball, every twist and turn with Tom Abell and this team. For the sake of our championship aspirations long may it continue but if it does it is going to be one hell of a journey.  

Objective number one was to wrap up the Warwickshire first innings as quickly as possible. Jack Leach made the ideal start getting Jeetan Patel to the second ball of the day to complete the unfinished overnight over as a double wicket maiden. 

A third wicket fell with the Warwickshire total on 110 when Liam Banks was lbw to Craig Overton without addition to his overnight 26. Last pair Norwell and Hannon-Dalby added a 25 in 8 overs before Craig bowled the ex-Gloucestershire man to finish with 5-31 and Somerset with a first innings lead of 74.

That lead had only reached 88 when James Hildreth was the second wicket to fall for a fourth ball duck, Azhar having gone to his third ball also without scoring. Within the first hour 5 wickets had gone. 

The skipper joined Marcus who had begun positively and together they taken the score to 37 before Tres was adjudged lbw to Norwell for 23. Frustratingly for those of us hoping Marcus would make a telling contribution he got a start and seemed to be more relaxed at the crease in this innings but you have to wonder if this contribution was enough for him to retain his place. 

With Hildy having failed again it seems to me that we need to look at the batting order as a whole. I’ve said for a while that I’d like to see Tres drop down to 5 or 6, keeping his experience in the side but if Hildreth is to move back to four the only way to do so would be to bring in Tom Banton at the top of the order and drop Steven Davies. The other factor is whether Tom Abell would be prepared to move back to open the innings now he has firmly established himself as the captain. If not perhaps move to 3?

The top 6 would then be; Banton, Azhar, Abell, Hildreth, Trescothick, Bartlett. It is time to give Tom his chance this might seem very harsh on Davies and many would argue he deserves to retain his place in the side ahead of Tres but something needs to be done to this batting order as it is not consistently produce the runs needed by a side with championship aspirations.

The pattern of Somerset’s first innings continued up to and immediately after the lunch break, Somerset scoring at around 4 an over but losing wickets regularly. By lunch Somerset had virtually doubled their lead but had lost half their second innings wickets at 75-5, Tom Abell 23 and George Bartlett 14 return to the Andy Caddick Pavilion in time for sandwiches. Immediately after lunch it became 75-6 when Lewis was bowled by Norwell (his fifth wicket of the innings) and 3 runs later Norwell struck again to remove Steven Davies for 10. 

The farcical nature of this game was summed up just after 2.10pm when Somerset’s official twitter account tweeted “Nice little partnership of 20 this between Craig Overton and Josh Davey. Somerset 98/7 and lead by 172 runs”. It says it all really that Ben Warren, like all of us. Saw a 20 run partnership of being worthy of note! 

Josh Davey didn’t last much longer Hannon-Dalby’s first wicket of the second innings when he reached 10. Davey was caught at deep square leg which at least bucked the trend of lbws and close catches.

The 9thwicket was slightly more productive than the 8thadding 32 before Tim Gronewald went caught behind off Brookes. 139-9. Jack Leach joined Craig Overton who by then had reached a very well-constructed 25, the pair added a further 25 before Leach was caught behind for 9 leaving Craig 36 not out making him joint top scorer in the game with Josh Davey from the first innings.

Craig Overton 5-31 in Warwickshire’s first innings and 36* in Somerset’s second innings

The last three Somerset wickets added 86 runs compared with the 78 the first seven mustered. The lingering question was whether this was evidence of the wicket easing, in which case Warwickshire’s task might be considerably easier than the scoreboard suggests.

So Warwickshire’s target was 239 in just over 7 sessions or 230 overs. Lewis Gregory began with a wicket maiden removing Will Rhodes for a duck. Immediately before tea Gregory struck again getting Yates for 8 also caught behind with the total on 26. A little partnership which had begun to raise questions in my mind as to whether the wicket was easing despite the number of balls that were beating the bat.

Dominic Sibley remained a big obstacle for Somerset unbeaten on 12 but with 15 wickets having fallen already on day 2 and only 8 left to fall there was certainly a debate about whether Somerset could complete the job on day 2. Sam Hain joined Sibley and they made batting look significantly easier in the post-tea period adding the almost obligatory 20 before Jack Leach got Sibley nonchalantly caught at slip by Lewis Gregory 46-3.

Adam Hose followed quickly to make it 55-4, a wicket which, unless I am very much mistaken, was celebrated with a little more vigour than any of the others. It seems the bad taste of mid-2017 may still linger. The impressive Liam Banks joined Hain who was by now batting with greater assurance than probably anyone in the game so far and they took the total on to 84 before Tom Abell got Banks lbw.

I am not going to claim that what I wrote in my preview on Saturday has had any influence on the skipper but it is pleasing to see that the skipper is backing his bowling more in this game than previously this season. Five runs later George Bartlett’s brilliance in the field effecting the crucial run out of Tim Ambrose, running in at pace from cover with only one stump to aim at.

Hot Hands – George Bartlett, stunning run out to dismiss Tim Ambrose

While one more wicket would have sent the game into an additional 30 minutes but Somerset seemed to settle for reaching the earlier close and to come back fresh in the morning.

While Somerset are now strong favourites but will want to see the back of Sam Hain quickly to ease all our nerves and hope that Jeetan Patel can’t stay with him. A repeat of the first half hour this morning would do very nicely. We need to manage our reserves of nerves, there is a long season stretching out in front of us. 

The Green Green Grass of Home

County Championship Division One, Taunton, Day 1 – Warwickshire 110-7 (C Overton 3-25) trail Somerset 209 all out (Extras 47, Davey 36, O Hannon-Dalby 5-18)) by 99 runs

Somerset would under most circumstances have been very happy to adjourn at lunch on the first day of a championship game with 143 runs at a shade under 5 an over. The problem was that they had lost 7 wickets in doing so. 

It is impossible to write anything about the first day’s play without reference to the other games around the country. Bizarrely only Hampshire, who were 88-0 on the Isle of Wight against Notts had shown any semblance of normality. Surrey were 91-5 having been 65-5 v Kent, Durham 54-5 v Gloucs (they were 34-5 at one point), Worcestershire 66-7 having been 38-7 v Lancashire and Sussex 77-6 against Northants.

Even more bizarrely of those teams only Hampshire and Durham were not in very strong positions by close of play. But more of that later.

Pre game my thoughts were that Somerset faced a different sort of pressure heading into this game. Expectations were high that Warwickshire, bottom of the table with no wins and a meagre 7 points from their first two games, both at home, were there for the taking. There was also the obvious distraction of a Lords Final on Saturday.

Selection has become a thing in the last couple of weeks. Tom Banton’s white ball performances combined with Marcus’ early season struggles had created uncertainty at the top of the order. Jack Brooks injury was thought by many to mean the return of Jamie Overton from his loan spell at Northampton but, as predicted on The Incider over the weekend, the selectors chose to leave Jamie to face Sussex at Northampton and recalled Josh Davey. 

My first reaction on hearing that Warwickshire had elected to bowl was that his was more of a defensive move by the visitors, not wanting to bat first against the Somerset attack especially as there was more than a little tinge of green in the wicket. I suspect Warwickshire’s fragile batting would have struggled massively if they had chosen to bat first. It was Somerset’s daunting task to face that challenge.

The only word to describe the next three hours is frenetic. Somerset’ s batsmen, certainly before lunch could be split into two very distinct tribes – Azhar and Davies, who doggedly resisted and accumulated and the rest who went at pretty much a run a ball and perished when they had got into the teens. No until the arrival of Josh Davey at No 9 did we see a sensible mixture of the two.

I’ve decided to write the Somerset innings in one paragraph with little punctuation. The intention being for the reader to get through the text quickly and finish reading slightly dazed and breathless as that was the effect of the innings on Somerset supporters.

Tres was out 5 in second over, again caught in the slips amid a frenetic start which saw 13 off first over including 4 leg byes and 2 no-balls. Hildy joined Azhar and got off to a flier with 15 off his first 12 balls including 3 fours but was then caught at point cutting first ball of 7thover for 15. Tom and Azhar stabilised things for a while but just before the first hour, in the 14thover the skipper was trapped LBW by Hannon-Dalby for 14. 57-3 which soon became 61-4 when Azhar was bowled by ex-Gloucestershire man Liam Norwell, George Bartlett Joined Steven Davies and raced to 15 off 13 balls before playing on to the returning Brookes 77-5 in the 18thLewis’ arrival unsurprisingly saw more positive intent and in just over 7 overs the he and Davies added 46, Gregory’s share was 20 when 10 minutes before lunch he went caught in the slips 123-6 with extras now comfortably top scorer with 31. In the four overs up to lunch after Lewis was dismissed Somerset added another 20 with Craig Overton moving on to 11 off 11 balls and passing Steven Davies who lunched on 9 off 35 balls. Somerset’s interval total of 143-6 off 29 overs was just shy of 5 runs an over. Craig Overton went almost immediately after lunch, the fourth Somerset batsman dismissed for 15 with the total on 147-7. Josh Davey joined Steven Davies and together they added 58 before Davies was lbw to Warwickshire skipper Jeetan Patel with the score on 205. Davey went in the following over without addition to the score for a well-made 36 off 56 balls and two overs later Jack Leach was caught in the slips to leave Somerset 209 all out.  

Top Scorer Josh Davey

Extras were comfortably the top scorer with 47 almost half of them no balls and in total accounted for a remarkable 22.5% of the total, Josh Davey 36 and Steve Davies 23 off 75 were the next two top scorers.  

And at 2.48 pm breathe! 

Warwickshire adopted a totally contrasting approach to the task of batting on this pitch. At tea they had reached 42 for the loss of two wickets off 14 overs, a positively rapid rate of scoring compared with the final session in which they barely scraped above 2 an over. 

Huge credit has to go yet again to the bowlers who bowled with exemplary skill and discipline and a big plus was to see Tom Abell bring himself on much earlier than usual. His spell mid-session of 5-3-7-0 helped build the pressure which resulted in the late fall of 2 wickets.

Abell, assisted by Craig Overton was responsible for the first wicket, a run out of Will Rhodes after a horrible mix up between the openers and Overton then removed rookie No 3 Robert Yates for 8. Overton getting lift from just short of a length but at greater pace than Hannon-Dalby had shown earlier in the day when taking a career best 5-18.

Dominic Sibley was the wicket Somerset most wanted, the opener is on a prolific run of a century in each of his last 6 first class games and he was superbly caught by Craig off Timmy G for 26 off 85 balls. That was the fifth wicket to fall after Overton had removed Sam Hain and Adam Hose in quick succession. I’ll bite my lip about how good the latter felt after Hose’s departure for greener pastures (!)

Another of Warwickshire’s array of teenagers, Liam Banks batted through to the close to end 26 not out but he lost two more partners in doing so, Tim Ambrose was comprehensively bowled by Lewis Gregory who then turned catcher at slip as Jack Leach took his first wicket with what was the last ball of the day to leave Warwickshire on 110-7.

Given the nature of the pitch Somerset will be glad to avoid batting for the first part of the morning and will hope to take advantage of the freshness of the overnight wicket to quickly wrap up the last three wickets. Assuming they can do so with a lead of around 50 or more they will be optimistic of batting themselves into a very strong position. The Taunton pitch has in the recent past become considerably easier to bat on on days two and three but his pitch is greener than anything we have seen for quite a while so it may be over optimistic to hope batting will be that much easier until later in the day.

What is evident is that Somerset are a considerably better side than their opponents but what is equally clear is that their batsmen need to demonstrate this and give the bowlers something to bowl at. Whether this is a matter of time or whether the transformation can’t happen without a change in the batting order and/or personnel.

Social media was inevitably abuzz after the fall of the first wicket so we’ll leave that debate until tomorrow or Wednesday and hope above hope that the great man can put something substantial together. The other main topic of debate was the pitch with the obvious question about the likelihood of a visit from the pitch inspectors getting a good airing. The majority view and the one I subscribe to is that the 17 wickets was more due to poor technique and application rather than the surface although I agree with many who felt that if 17 wickets had fallen to Jeetan Patel and Jack Leach it would have been a case for the ECB’s man to “start the car”.  

Somerset weren’t the only side in the Championship who staged a fightback after a poor session. Surrey closed on 420-9 at Beckenham, Durham reached 158 and had reduced Gloucs to 120-5 and Worcestershire having made 172 had half the Lancashire side back in the pavilion for 88. But the most stunning recovery was at Northampton where Ben Brown and Chris Jordan both made unbeaten 150s as they added 302 for the seventh Sussex wicket. Jamie Overton finished the day with 1-69 off 15 overs.