“Well, we’ve had worse mornings”

10th July 2019

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.

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