Did anyone else feel it? There was a weight on the shoulders of Somerset cricket on Friday. A weight of expectation, the weight of surely not again, a weight of expectation on this emerging side under their young captain.
The weather in Taunton on Friday seemed to sense it. A gloriously warm and sunny late May afternoon became sullen and grey as the evening arrived. Were even the Gods feeling this weight?
Or perhaps it was our forbears. Those departed Somerset fans who had never seen their beloved county win anything or those who had witnessed the achievements of “Rosey’s Army” but then suffered the purgatory of Shepton Mallett and the subsequent years.
We all have lost loved ones who fell into one or both of these categories.
I certainly felt that weight. Four years ago my Dad passed away and never a day passes without me missing him. During the cricket season the pain is multiplied a thousandfold. The lost opportunities to discuss and dissect every day’s play missed as painfully today as they were four years ago.
Being a Somerset supporter, as he taught me, is not an enterprise to be entered into lightly or with an expectation of sustained happiness but my god isn’t it worth it. Those of us lucky enough to be born in that wonderful county have a passion for our team that is in our blood. It really does mean everything.
Dad longed for one more trophy in his lifetime but it was never to be.
Saturday morning dawned bright in The Vale, the Gods were watching Taunton. The forbears had pulled up their favourite seats. The signs announcing the forthcoming World Cup added to the feeling that the town was ready for the final it all felt that this was going to be the occasion when it would finally come right.
From the moment Hampshire elected to bat the weight seemed to ease, perceptibly. A defensive decision based on the weakened Hampshire not wishing to want to expose their weakened batting line up to the pressure of a run chase in the final. There was enough in the wicket to have interested Abbott and Edwards but it was the Somerset bowlers who were given first use of the track and, with Josh Davey to the fore, seized control. Wickets fell in the fourth, eighth, thirteenth and twentieth overs. Wickets that crucially stunted any attacking ambitions of Hampshire and exposed the admirable Gareth Berg, batting a couple of places too high in the order, with over half the overs remaining.
Jamie Overton has in the last two weeks be playing his trade with Northants in division two. A move officially explained as to give him long spells in 4 day cricket. But Jamie, like his brother, like all of us has Somerset cricket in his every fibre. He has clearly missed being around this group since the semi-final and he was out to prove how much Somerset means to him, how much he has missed it.
The tactic of using pace in the middle overs, high quality pace delivered with real feeling, further undermined the holders, removed any prospect of a recovery. The extent of the pressure Jamie applied was seen not only in his analysis but in the results at the other end.
Tom Abell, joyously, trusted himself with the ball and removed Sam Northeast who had clearly set himself to bat through. The acting Hampshire captain was bowled attempting something ugly over mid-wicket after 89 balls of graft and application. There is no doubt that Northeast’s dismissal owed a huge amount to the pressure Jamie had exerted.
Abell added a second when he also bowled Kyle Abbott to reduce Hampshire to 180-8 in the 41st over.
Hereabouts Somerset made their only misstep of the day, removing Jamie from the attack when he could almost would have wrapped up the innings for less than 200 was a misjudgment. Fuller and Crane were allowed time to breathe and the prospered to the extent of a 65 run stand that brought a scintilla of respectability to their total.
Jamie finished with 3-48, figures spoiled by the inevitable consequences of delivering the last over. Josh Davey who did not bowl his full quota 2-28 from 8 and Tom Abell 3-19 from 5.
Where Somerset had looked as if they were chasing under 200 the last wicket stand had shifted some of the momentum toward the holders. But where Jamie Overton had lifted a fair chunk of our collective weight Tom Banton was about to shove it aside and smash it into tiny pieces.
The petulant Fidel Edwards opened with three overs of juicy leg stump half volleys costing 31 runs, propelling Somerset’s response into immediate overdrive and further enhancing a burgeoning reputation. Banton feasted on the offerings mixing power with grace and timing. A flipped six over the short mid-wicket boundary left us all gasping. The sun shone, the Gods smiled and Azhar joined the fun. The opening stand, easing back after the opening salvo, compiled 112 within the first 20 overs.
By the time Banton was caught behind almost half the chase was completed. Edwards had returned from the pavilion end and had found a better line, length and rhythm without sadly dialing down the boorishness. He removed Azhar in the following over but Somerset’s advantage at that time was such that Trego and Hildreth could ease along at four an over without jeopardising the victory prospects.
The fairy-tail ending of these two loyal servants being there at the end was it to be. Neither was that of our young Tauntonian captain seeing it through. Abell getting caught on the leg side playing one of those lack-of-concentration shots that are currently the difference between his results and his capabilities.
But there was James Hildreth. The man who had hit the winning run at The Oval in 2005. Accompanied by George Bartlett, maturing in front of our eyes ball by ball. Hildy was into his cruise, making batting look ridiculously easy. The target was 42 away when the pair got together and they accelerated as the target got closer. 40 became 30 became 20, Bartlett rotating the strike efficiently, Hildreth growing in confidence and repertoire. The outcome was no longer in doubt and the man that all Somerset cherish as one of our greatest was going to see it home.
The weight had long gone, this was pure euphoria, emotion swirling as we enjoyed these moments. Ten second places was not going to be come eleven. Enough of that nonsense. The county of Wellard and White of Gimblett, Trescothick and Rose, the adopted home of Richards and Garner was about to write another chapter in its history.
And then, inexplicably, the tears began to build. The wish that Dad had been able to see this. Hit me hard. How he would have enjoyed seeing James Hildreth hit the winning run. Hildreth you see is his type of cricketer, unassuming, supremely talented and most of all one of those like Denning and Marks who epitomizes what a Somerset cricketer is.
How fitting that Edwards, the worthy successor to the Robin Jackman of the 1981 final, the pantomime villain was hit for three fours off three balls by Hildreth to seal the win. A victory for the spirit of cricket. A victory for the good guys.
The weight finally swept away by a wave of emotion. Tears flowed from the eyes of your correspondent, proper tears sobs of joy, sobs of pride. When Tom Abell, a young man who absolutely gets what this means to all of us had to fight to hold back his tears before he collected the trophy, they flowed again.
Even as I finish this piece 24 hours on the tears are not far away. I’ve watched the highlights back, thought all day about what to write and read as much as I can on social media and in the press and I can’t stop smiling inside. I am from Somerset. We have finally won something and we’ve done it with a young team that is truly our own.
1979 was, as Brian Rose has described it, the moment of the century for Somerset cricket. My God I feel privileged to have been there that day. A first ever trophy sweetened, if that is possible, by the collective experience of the same weekend the previous year and the fallout from Worcester earlier that year.
That victory in 1979 turned a very good team into a great team, a team of winners. Forty years on there is every possibility that this experience, the collective experience of 25thMay 2019, will usher in a period of sustained silverware.
But all that is for another day. Like, I suspect most Somerset fans, I am emotional beyond belief so happy I could burst and I am going to savour every morsel of this. And call me daft but since those last few overs yesterday evening I can feel Dad close, enjoying this with me just as much did in 1979.