Where do you start?

20th August 2019

County Championship Division 1, Edgbaston, August 18th-21stSomerset 308 All Out (Davies 109, Bess 52*) and 8-0 require another 250 runs to beat Warwickshire 419 all out (Yates 140, Burgess 52, C Overton 3-96, J Brooks 3-104) & 146 All Out (Yates 53, Abell 4-39, J Overton 3-26)

The third day of this round of county championship will long be remembered by fans of the County Championship. A day which took Somerset and I suspect Kent and Essex supporters through the whole range of human emotion during the day as the games involving the top two moved quickly and in unexpected directions.

By the close of play Somerset face a run chase the like of which they haven’t faced since Notts at Taunton last June. A similar outcome (Somerset won by 6 wickets) would see Somerset close the gap on Essex to just two points, defeat and the gap will be 18.

After two days at Edgbaston which seemed to indicate that the only way there could be a positive outcome was if Somerset were forced to follow on ended with them having given themselves at the very least a fighting chance of an improbable victory. 

Essex took care of business at Canterbury against the ‘Hapless Hopmen” just after Tom Abell and Steven Davies had seen out the Somerset second innings at 8-0 when bad light forced a premature closure. 

My report on the second day’s play was bookended as follows:

Make no bones about it, Somerset only have one objective tomorrow and that is to muster another 103 runs from their last 5 wickets to avoid their second consecutive follow on in the Championship.’

‘The Championship challenge is not over. But boy it is getting harder by the day.’

After the events of the 20thAugust 2019 Somerset have done more than could have been expected but the challenge is, thanks to the feebleness of Kent, very much a tough one. 

For Somerset the nervous first phase of the day saw Somerset work their way diligently toward saving the follow on. When Dom Bess’ pad guided the ball to the fine leg boundary to take Somerset on to 272-8 and thereby avoid the follow on the chances of another damaging defeat receded somewhat. The collective sigh of relief that hovered above the county was probably visible to passing aircraft.

Somerset owed much to Bess, back in the side after his latest loan spell in Yorkshire. The all-rounder who batted throughout the morning session in the calm manner that was just what was required saw Somerset to their initial target. Despite losing Steven Davies shortly after he had passed a glorious hundred and Roleof van der Merwe in quick succession Bess, accompanied by a composed and mostly restrained Craig Overton, saw Somerset to lunch at 263-7.

Dom Bess, crucial contribution with the bat

As the prospect of saving the follow on grew nerves became hope for Somerset supporters as Essex resuming on 32-1 lost their remaining nine first innings wickets for 84 runs before a slightly delayed lunch. At the time the follow on was saved the bonus point position seemed crucial. By reaching 250 Somerset passed the Essex haul of 3 in Kent and when they passed 300 the gap was down to just two points. 

But as the Essex first innings collapse progressed hope of a defeat for the leaders was accompanied by the nagging worry that Kent’s batting would fall in a similar heap presenting an opportunity for the leaders to strengthen their position at the top.

Overton disappointingly departed straight after lunch. The hope was that, once the follow-on was avoided, Craig would be given license to play his more natural game and propel Somerset to a couple more bonus points. While 350 looked a distant target at lunch, 87 in 26 overs against a tiring attack with an ageing second new ball was potentially within Somerset’s compass.

But by the time Somerset had passed 300 Essex had reduced Kent to 7-5. Realism returned as a game at Canterbury that had seemed virtually moribund after the first two days was very definitely heading for a positive result on the third. Kent staged a “recovery” but they were dismissed before tea for 40 in 18.1 overs with Sam Cook taking 7-23 in just 9 overs. Realistically no side could be bowled out for such a paltry total and win. The prospects of Essex’s lead growing to one of real significance with only three games seemed very real.

Somerset of course could do nothing to influence affairs in the south east. Despite the positives of avoiding the follow-on the deficit on first innings was 111 and with over half the third day left the onus was on Warwickshire to bat positively either side of tea and give themselves sufficient time to bowl Somerset out a second time.

This is where you see the difference between teams at the top and bottom of the table. Warwickshire seemed to bat without a plan, neither pushing on to build a total at which they could declare and give their bowlers maximum opportunity to force a win nor seeking to bat time and eradicate any hope of defeat.

Tom Abell and the Somerset dressing room however appeared to have only positive thoughts when they took the field. There was an intensity and purpose in their bowling and fielding which eclipsed their efforts on day 1 and put their uncertain opponents under pressure.

Warwickshire had moved to 48 for the loss of Dominic Sibley when at much the same time and score as yesterday the batting side lost two wickets for two balls. This time the bowler was Tom Abell (who had pleasingly trusted himself to bowl first change) and the batsmen were Rhodes and Hain. By tea at 52-3 the lead was 163 but the three batsmen who had provided the bulk of Warwickshire’s results this season were all gone. Could Somerset, most improbably, be forging a winning position?

A Somerset picked up the fourth Warwickshire wicket soon after tea Adam Hose being caught behind off Jack Brooks. 65-4but encountered a Warwickshire 5thwicket pair of first innings centurion Yates and the hugely experienced Ambrose adding 42 to take the lead over 200.

Abell had persisted with the quicks and threw to Jamie Overton for what seemed like a last burst before the spin of Bess and van der Merwe was introduced. Jamie delivered and in some style, bowling with a rhythm that was lacking on Sunday he removed Yates and Burgess in the space of three balls. 

Jamie Overton – hostile spell after tea that produced three important wickets

I make no attempt to hide my love of the Overtons and this is exactly why. Now the twins were running in hard against a fragile middle order and causing mayhem. 107-4 became 113-7 in the blink of an eye and it was a breach that Somerset weren’t going to let slip. Craig trapped Ambrose lbw and Tom Abell took the last two wickets to finish with career best figures of 4-39 off 13.4 overs. 

As the Warwickshire second innings was being ripped open Essex, after some mid-innings nerves were on their way to a 4-wicket win. Hopes that Somerset could improbably win and Essex lose (and only pick up two points) evaporated as easily as the Kent batting had after lunch. 

Let’s though just consider this. For the second time this season the Canterbury surface has made batting nigh on impossible. If 26 wickets had fallen in a day at Taunton the rest of the county cricket world would be baying for points deductions and trotting out all the old familiar phrases about sub-standard surfaces. If there is to be some balance on the part of the authorities Kent should at the very least be subject to a thorough review tomorrow.

Of course it is just possible that Kent are so abject that they get a free pass.

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