Pushing the Boundaries

18th August 2019

County Championship Division 1, Edgbaston, August 18th-21stWarwickshire 303-4 (Yates 139*, C Overton 2-70)

The scoreboard did not do justice to the Somerset bowlers who were much better than the close of play score suggests. Warwickshire’s batsmen had more than their fair share of luck against both the seamers and spinners and profited from a boundary which most club grounds would be ashamed of.  Somerset will bowl a lot worse and dismiss an opposition for under 250.

Much of the debate in the lead up to this crucial Championship game was about the Somerset line up. With it already having been determined that Azhar Ali would, because of the contractual issues with Somerset’s overseas players, not be able to play. Babar Azam was certain to play as a not quite so ready-made replacement necessitating a change in the batting order to allow him to bat in his usual middle-order spot.

In the end Tom Banton was moved up to open with the skipper, Babar slotting in at 4. George Bartlett and Steven Davies, both mainstays of the championship side, took up their usual 5 and 6 positions with Dom Bess at 7. The decisions in relation to the bowling settled with Roelof van der Merwe filling the second spinners role and a very aggressive seam attack of the Overton twins and Jack Brooks.

Arriving in Birmingham just over an hour before the scheduled start I was greeted by a torrential storm, the sort that had water running in streams down the roads and would almost certainly delay the start, but a couple of miles down the road the weather was completely different and by the time I reached Edgbaston it was sunny and pretty clear.

The second surprise of the morning was the situation of the pitch. It actually took me a couple of minutes to realise that the strip with the stumps at both ends was actually the surface we were playing on. Farcically the chosen strip was at most 50 yards from the Hollies Stand boundary while being over double the length on the opposite side.

To give a visual indication the image below shows Dom Bess fielding on the boundary in the final session …..

Tom Abell lost the toss and Warwickshire chose to bat on what looked to be a very dry surface. It quickly became clear that the surface had no pace and should be easy to bat on. The proximity of one of the square boundaries tilting the balance even more in favour of bat over ball.

Given all of this I had resigned myself to watching Dominic Sibley stake his claim to Jason Roy’s England spot but Jack Brooks had other ideas having the England hopeful brilliantly caught in the gully in his first over without scoring.

Thereafter Will Rhodes and Robert Yates batted with few alarms, apart from Jamie missing a sharp chance low to his right at second slip off his brother, reaching their 100 partnership in the 29thover and lunching at 105-1.

The immediate post-lunch spell saw 7 overs of near carnage as the pair added 46 off Craig and Dom Bess. Yates had just brought up the 150 partnership when Craig got one to hurry Rhodes and clip the outside edge. Steve Davies gleefully needed no second invitation. 153-2.

Somerset hereabouts exerted real control which in the circumstances was a significant achievement. Dom Bess was beginning to get some slow turn from the city end while Craig and Jamie bowled with some hostility from the pavilion end. Immense credit was due to the Overton twins who had to work so hard to get anything out of this surface. When you watch spells like this, where they regularly hurry and beat the batsmen with no luck on a surface offering them absolutely no help, you cannot fail to appreciate their wholehearted commitment to the cause.

Tea arrived at almost exactly 3.40, Somerset as ever bowling their overs briskly with Warwickshire neatly on 200-2 (Yates 91 not out). The Birmingham weather was more April than August at this point, with some heavy cloud a brief squally shower and a chill breeze. The lights came on to add to the stygian feel which would not have lightened the mood for the significant Somerset contingent in the crowd.

Roelof van der Merwe had only bowled one over in the first two sessions but was immediately into the attack from the city end after tea. If he bowls for the rest of this game as he did in the first hour after tea Somerset will not miss Jack Leach anywhere near as much as we had all feared. How the slow left-armer did not take a wicket in his first 6 overs is beyond me.

45 minutes after tea Tom Banton was forced to leave the field with what appeared to be a lower limb injury. Banton had been fielding at backward point for the seamers bowling from the pavilion end which, given the configuration of the ground for this pitch, was on the boundary. With no margin for error for the bowlers Banton must have felt like he was in a coconut shy as Yates, who isn’t averse to a late cut, was regularly peppering that boundary.

Tom Banton was forced to leave the field after tea

An over later Dom Bess, picked up a most bizarre injury, diving in typically Dom Bess fashion, to field a ball played firmly back up along the pitch, got tangled up in non-striker Sam Hain’s bat and pads as the ball arrived. It appeared that the ball struck Bess on the jaw – he was clearly in some pain and required on-field medical attention but was able to bowl the remaining 5 balls of the over before leaving the field. Umpire Gould appeared to want Bess to leave the field immediately as there was some discussion between him and the skipper, but Bess was able to return to continue his spell.

Painful – Dom Bess took a nasty blow to the face

At the other end van der Merwe finally got his reward when Hain was caught behind for 25.

Tom Abell bowled one over to allow the spinners to switch ends, a move indicative of the uncertainty there appeared to be as to which bowler should bowl from which end throughout the day. Now Bess was bowling from the city end with the short boundary on the off-side.

Somerset delayed taking the new ball for 5 overs which was a reflection of how well Dom and Roelof were bowling at this point and when they did the initial evidence was that the pitch had lost any last vestiges of the pace it had held on to through the afternoon. But at 275 Craig Overton got one through the defensive prod of Hose to be palpably leg before, a second wicket but scant reward for his efforts on a difficult day for the bowlers.

Craig Overton, scant reward

Ambrose accompanied Yates to the close and helped Warwickshire pass 300 to put them in a strong position. Yates had batted for all but one over of the day having walked to the wicket in the second over with his side 0-1. He rode his luck, played and missed frequently but has every right to be proud of his work.

So where does this leave this game and the Somerset championship campaign? Warwickshire haven’t batted particularly well and will be fortunate to be as lucky again. Somerset will need to wrap up the hosts first innings under 400 and then get close quickly to have any chance. But if they do there is realistic hope of rolling Warwickshire cheaply in the second innings.

Anything more than 175 will be tough to chase against Jeetan Patel and anything short of a win here will make the challenge for the last three games that much harder. 

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