County Championship Division One, Somerset v Surrey, Taunton, Day 3 – Surrey 380 All Out and 152-5 lead Somerset by 134 runs with 5 second innings wickets remaining,
Somerset will consider themselves in a strong but not yet match-winning position at the end of a fascinating third day at Taunton. With a day to go all four results are theoretically possible in a game that may go a long way to deciding the destiny of this year’s County Championship.
The performance of this Somerset side in this game has been one of consummate professionalism. They never allowed Surrey to get into a position of dominance even when passing 250 in the first innings for only two down and have, from the moment Surrey’s third wicket fell, worked their way back into a position of some strength. While any victory target on the final day will be tough against the Champions, Somerset have earned the right to have a shot at completing what would be a magnificent performance.
Having achieved a first innings lead of 18 Somerset have removed half of Surrey’s second innings and with the last of those removed Surrey’s captain the obdurate and hugely talented Rory Burns. With Dean Elgar unable to take part on the third day, reported as unwell by Surrey’s official twitter account, the possibility remains of Somerset needing only four wickets tomorrow to set up a run chase.
I closed yesterday’s post play post with a quote from James Hildreth in which he said that the wicket is beginning to take spin and expressed his hope that Somerset can build a position where we can “unleash Jack Leach on them”. I also expressed the hope that Steven Davies could avoid his recent propensity to get out early in a session to enable Somerset to build the base for Somerset’s England spinner.
Davies did not do what was required getting out in the second over of the day after adding only 4 to his overnight score but yet again Somerset’s lower order came through with flying colours. Led by Lewis Gregory who made his second first class century and his first at Taunton with an unbeaten 129 and ably supported by Craig Overton, Tim Groenewald and Jack Leach in stands of 51, 64 and 32 respectively.
Groenewald deserves special mention for his 13 which lasted 66 balls and 95 minutes which was worth far more than the runs he contributed. Timmy was the recipient of a fearful barrage from Morkel and must have been close to retiring hurt just before lunch. But as we all know Timmy G is a very tough character and his determination, in obvious pain and discomfort, to guts it out was pivotal in Somerset’s lower order resistance.
It also sent out a very powerful to Morkel, Batty and the Champions that this Somerset side are not to be bullied and will not be bowed.
The only disappointment was that, not for the first time in recent history Somerset fell marginally short of the final batting bonus point when Jack Brooks succumbed to his second ball to leave the total 2 short of the required 400.
It has now become impossible to find a new superlative for Gregory who is clearly in the form of his life and has allied his undoubted natural talent to full fitness, after overcoming a long-running back injury, and maturity to fully justify his place at the top of the PCA rankings.
Having added 147 for the last 4 wickets Somerset carried that momentum into the Surrey second innings reducing them to 19-2 and 43-3, a lead of 25 at that time. Needless to say Gregory took the first wicket to remove Mark Stoneman and then removed Ben Foakes. With Jack Leach also claiming a couple of wickets in this phase Somerset would have harboured hopes of dealing a mortal blow to their opponents in the final session.
With Jack Brooks unable to bowl Leach had the crucial role to wheel away from one end allowing the seamers to rotate at the far end. Rory Burns, Somerset’s shrewd captain seemed well aware of the influence his England counterpart was likely to have taking every opportunity to prevent Leach from settling into one of those trademark long metronomic spells that frequently turns promising into match-winning positions for Somerset.
Will Jacks, on a pair was tormented by Leach and seemed stuck on nought for an eternity but, he benefitted from a loosener from Groenewald and a couple of pieces of poor fielding to get away and by the close had become increasingly fluent with 31.
The wicket of Burns, attempting to advance to Leach once too often, shortly before the close leaves Surrey in need of further resistance from Jacks and will hope that Rikki Clarke can continue his outstanding record against Somerset. The fact that Morne Morkel was sent in as nightwatchman indicate to me that Elgar’s indisposition may be more serious than we have been led to believe and that Clarke needed to be protected overnight.
Craig Overton bowled really well without success and I wouldn’t be surprised if his first spell tomorrow gives him the wickets he deserves. With Gregory and Leach also keen to get among the action Somerset will be hopeful of restricting the target to under 200. The possibilities are endless tomorrow but, if the cricketing Gods are reading this, a nice unbeaten 80 odd for Marcus in a successful run chase would do very nicely thank you!