Somerset State of Mind

ESPN’s Paul Edwards is one of the finest cricket writers. He is probably one of the finest craftsmen of the English language, writing reports that set your heart soaring with their beauty. If Constable was a cricket writer ……

Edwards is a Lancastrian, living in Southport travelling the country over the summer months to report on first-class cricket but I have a sneaking suspicion that he is a little less than impartial when it comes to this season’s Somerset County Cricket Club.

Listening to Edwards in the lunch interval on the second day of Somerset’s last game against Nottinghamshire and reading his match reports has got me thinking. Edwards sensed something all Somerset supporters are aware of but haven’t verbalised. It is only early July. There are five more games remaining stretched out over the next two and half months. But there is a tension around Somerset supporters that hasn’t been there for as long as I can remember.

Why?

As Edwards headlined earlier in the week, Somerset are “The Hunted not the Hunter” this season. Last season and in the other four seasons where they have finished runners-up in the Championship they have been chasing a leader, often close enough to be in with a real shout but ultimately the team ahead of them did not falter so despite a run of excellent results, the title eluded them.

And that is what is different this season. Whisper it but as I write this, ahead of this weekend’s trip to Leeds, it is in Somerset’s hands.

But the current feeling in Taunton is not just situational, it is cultural. Somerset is a county like no other, a county where cricket is the main sport. Where a large proportion of the population either support or actively follow the fortunes of the county side. 

I have been a Somerset supporter for 50 years. My Dad was a Somerset supporter for over 70 year, my grandmother (a mean left arm bowler who inflicted many bruises in back garden games of cricket) followed the team’s fortunes avidly. 

And in all those collective years, we have never won the County Championship.

This current Somerset team has something else, over and above its on field prowess which endears them to us. They are, on the whole, a bunch of local lads, all brought up through our own academy, led by a Tauntonian who is the pride of our town, our county. We can identify with the as they understand what it means to us. Never, in all my years has there been such a strong bond between players and supporters. We want them to win it all, they want to win it for us as much as themselves. 

And then there is Tres. Marcus Trescothick has been playing for Somerset for over half the time I have watched the county. His contribution to Somerset cricket is enormous, we will probably never see his like again in county cricket. A man with the courage to face and dominate the best international bowling attacks but also to be so open with his mental issuers and as a result change the world for many many people.

It is sad that Marcus has not been able to keep his placed at the top of the order for Somerset this season. Not just for sentimental reasons but to give him the opportunity of a farewell tour and for opposing fans to have the opportunity to see him bat one last time. 

I was one of the lucky ones who saw his hundred at Old Trafford last May, an innings truncated by a broken metatarsal which resulted in a lay off until late July. Truth be told he has not been the same batsman since then although he came close in the Championship game at Taunton against Essex last August.

There is a part of all Somerset fans which still believes that there will be one further twist in the Trescothick tale. But then perhaps we are all being a little to romantic there.

Speaking from personal experience I feel a weight of the generations who have gone before me in this title pursuit. My Dad passed away four years ago and one of his greatest regrets was never to see his beloved Somerset win the County Championship. 

So to summarise what it means to all of us Somerset folk let me recount one of the final conversations we had as his health failed him was that he hoped with all his heart I would see Somerset win it all before my time came. 

That would be nice.

“Well, we’ve had worse mornings”

County Championship Division One, Surrey v Somerset, Guildford, Day 4 – Somerset (Bartlett 137) and 153 (Hildreth 64, Dunn 5-43) beat Surrey 231 (Patel 63, Foakes 57, C Overton 5-38, J Overton 3-46) and 164 (Brooks 5-33, Groenewald 3-29) by 102 runs 

(With apologies to Somerset’s official twitter account for the title)

Somerset have taken a huge stride in their pursuit of this season’s county championship. Victory at Woodbridge road, convincingly over last season’s champions has greater significance than the 22 points earned from this game.

As importantly for us all victory was never in doubt after three wickets fell in the first half hour, removing all the anticipated angst and replacing it with an hour of savouring the inevitability of the victory.

Somerset’s victory leaves Surrey, without a win from their 5 games 53 points behind Somerset, who now lead the table by 15 points from Hampshire and with Yorkshire and Essex looking odds on to draw at Headingley a decent way adrift in third and fourth places respectively. Somerset have, for the record won four of their first five games in the championship this season and can reasonably argue that without the intervention of the weather a couple of weeks ago would have beaten Surrey at Taunton too. 

Countless times last season I followed Surrey’s games hoping they would slip up and present the opportunity to Somerset we all craved. Time and time again they found a way to win even when they began the day in a less than promising position. 

I imagine most Hampshire fans would have seen the close of play score last evening and thought there was a very real possibility that they would retain their place atop division one. There were probably a good few supporters of Yorkshire and Essex, who may still both have a significant say in the title race, who similarly hoped for a defeat for Somerset when play began today.

But this Somerset side continue to find ways to delight us and disappoint our rivals much as Surrey did last year. Delight us in a way that seems more than just the pleasure of winning for its own sake but for the very real implications it has for the title race. 

I openly admit that I was more than a little nervous when the final day’s play began. Despite the logic of having runs on the board and the frequent periods when wickets fell in batches there was a sneaking feeling that this excellent game had a twist or two more in store. 

The likelihood was that this would be a game that would run into the afternoon session and give us all another tense day supporting our beloved county. Against all expectations Somerset wrapped up victory half an hour before lunch by 102 runs. Surrey’s second innings subsided after the overnight pair had added a further 19 losing 8 wickets for just 47 runs in 17 overs.

On a day where the overhead conditions were perfect for batting the Somerset seam attack, depleted by the absence of Lewis Gregory and Josh Davey were too much to handle for last year’s champions.  Jack Brooks and Tim Groenewald shared 8 wickets to perfectly complement the twins first innings success. 

When Somerset signed Jack Brooks this was just the sort of match situation they had in mind. Aware that if they were to take the final step onto the top of the podium Brooks’ experience and skills would be vital in tight situations. Returning his first 5 wicket haul Brooks’ timing couldn’t have been better as he led the victory romp. 

I’ve thought for a while that using a night watchman can create more problems than it solves. If they do achieve the primary objective of getting through to the close they rarely survive very long the following morning and, as in situations such as this, the early wicket gives the bowling side momentum. There is also the disruptive effect it often has on the batting order. There are many top-class batsmen who are unsettled by batting out of position. 

Whether this was a factor here I can’t say but after adding 10 to his overnight score Batty gave Somerset the early boost they needed and within the space of 6 more balls from Jack Brooks Elgar and Foakes had gone to reduce them to 120-5. The Surrey batting was clearly unsettled, its heart had been ripped by Brooks who, at this point had 5-29, and the balance of the game had shifted massively in Somerset’s favour.

Scott Borthwick remained at the other end but he went to Tim Groenewald’s first ball of the day leaving Surrey’s pursuit of the majority of the 140 runs they required in the hands of Ryan, Patel, Will Jacks and Rikki Clarke. 

Somerset supporters won’t need reminding that Clarke is firmly in the category occupied by James Hildreth of players who should have played for England but haven’t and he often leaves his best for Somerset. But by noon he was batting with Ryan Patel with 136 runs still required and only the two bowlers left. Groenewald had followed up his dismissal of Borthwick by trapping Jacks lbw for 0 to the last ball of his next over.

The eighth wicket partnership added 22 in 6 overs before Timmy G struck again, removing Clarke to an excellent catch behind. Clarke, so often the thorn in Somerset’s side was gone for 8 and left to reflect on what was probably the turning point of the game when, before lunch on day 1, with Somerset on 35-3 he dropped George Bartlett. 

Ryan Patel promptly deposited Craig Overton out of the ground for 6 but perished to a catch in the gully by his brother for 27 and in Craig’s next over Jack Leach took the winning catch, removing Morkel. Leach, who I expected would play a crucial role, wasn’t required to turn his arm over on the final morning.

Brooks finished with 5-33, Groenewald 3-29 and Overton 2-59.

Somerset will head to Canterbury with confidence brimming while Hampshire face Notts in a game starting on Sunday and Yorkshire head to Guildford hoping to inflict similar damage on the wounded champions. 

While there are issues to be addressed, particularly with the batting, joyfully that debate can wait until another day. This is a day to savour, a day when Somerset have at the very least taken a firm hold on this seasons County Championship.

It’s Been Too Long

I’ve disappointed myself. Just sheer laziness on my part that Somerset North has been neglected for a while. It’s not through lack of writing, far from it, just a failure on my part to post all of my writing to the blog.

So with it being my birthday tomorrow I’m going to give Somerset North a present and post, over the next couple of days some of my favourite pieces that have been posted on The Incider but haven’t made it to Somerset North.

I also make a promise to upload some more of my photography, there has been a load over the last couple of months and write a bit more widely.

But at the moment it’s all Somerset County Cricket Club and the quest (and I use that word advisedly) for that elusive first ……. (no I’m not going to say it)!

To start off today I’m going to write something about “Somerset state of mind”. Enjoy

Two Horse Race

County Championship Division One, Somerset v Notts, Taunton, Day One – Somerset 326 All Out (Davies 74, Bess 51, Wood 4-85) and 122 (Ali 65, Ashwin 5-59, Patterson-White 5-73 beat Notts 241 (Libby 77, Nash 50 ret hurt, Bess 5-59) & 122 All Out (J Overton 4-24, Leach 4-42) by 132 runs 

The summers of my childhood and youth were spent with my Dad at the County Ground, the autumns and winters at Taunton racecourse. Not the whole time you understand but a sizeable majority of it, or at least that’s how it seems from the distance of 45 years or so.

Dad loved his horse racing as much as he loved his cricket. He actually had a pretty encyclopaedic knowledge of national hunt racing which never ceased to amaze me. But one of his most endearing features was his favourite phrases which he used watching his two favourite sports.

When Somerset were batting in a one-day game he used to look at his scorecard (on which he assiduously recorded the score at the end of each over) and regularly opine, “we need one really good over here”. There were many more not least of which was him turning to me half way down the back straight and telling me, that this was a “two horse race”. Naively – you’re allowed that when you are 10 and 11 – I never asked him at the time which two horses, so I’ll never know if he was right or wrong, but more often than not the race would most emphatically come down the final straight contested by just two horses!

The county championship title race seems, as it heads down the back straight, to be a two-horse race. (And there are no prizes for naming the two horses here!)

Somerset maintained their 15-point lead atop Division One of the County Championship after completing the double over bottom of the table Nottinghamshire at Taunton today. With second placed Essex beating third placed Yorkshire earlier in the day there is now a 40-point gap between second and third with five gamers remaining. 

Gratifyingly victory, just into the additional 8 overs claimed by Tom Abell at 6pm, Jamie Overton wrapped up a fine victory for the leaders bowling Jake Ball to complete a searingly fast second spell which wrapped up the Notts innings. Overton, who had earlier beaten Tom Moores for pace to claim his first wicket just after tea is now finding the rhythm and consistency we all know he is capable of. 

Moreover, to produce such an electric spell on a wicket that had for the last 4 sessions been the preserve of the spinners, demonstrates that Somerset possess a threat no other county can match. I for one am looking forward to seeing Jamie bowling at the weekend at Headingley although I suspect Garry Balance among others isn’t!

Overton had a big part to play earlier in the day with the bat. After a very comfortable first hour when Tom Abell and Azhar Ali took their overnight partnership to 55 the skipper was unluckily dismissed to a fluke of a catch by Ben Slater.

That precipitated a collapse from 56-1 to 115-8. While the lead by then had almost reached 200 Somerset would have hoped and anticipated more at the start of the day. Enter Jamie who in 11 overs helped Azhar Ali add 51 priceless runs. By the time he departed the lead was 251 and Nottinghamshire resolve was broken beyond repair. 

Azhar Ali though was superb. He must have relished the battle with Ashwin and the opportunity to demonstrate his ability on a wicket offering one of India’s finest turn and bounce. His innings lasted 196 mins and he faced 184 balls hitting only 4 fours. It was worth of 150+ on many other surfaces.

Somerset. Like Notts at the start of the day opened the bowling with a seam / spin combination. For Ashwin and Wood read Leach and Gregory but unlike the third innings Somerset made inroads early and regularly. The outcome was never in doubt but to wrap things up so efficiently further demonstrates the quality of this Somerset attack.

Oh, and if anyone mentions to you in the next few days that “Ciderabad” is back can I suggest a rejoinder along the lines of, “well if it is I hate to think how frighteningly quick Jamie Overton will be on a quicker wicket”.

#DareToDream #DoItForTres