“c Davies b Overton”

5th August 2019

County Championship Division One, Somerset v Hampshire, Taunton Day 2, Hampshire 329-8 (Northeast 101, J Overton 6-66) trail Somerset 408 all out (Hildreth 105, Abell 82, Banton 79, Bartlett 68) by 79 runs with 2 second innings wickets remaining

A tough day for Somerset’s bowlers despite the long-heralded return to the fray of Somerset’s spin twins who were overshadowed by Jamie Overton’s superb 5-66, extraordinarily all caught behind.

The clatter of wickets at Taunton in the last session on Sunday had the effect of slightly overshadowing the quality of Somerset’s batting performance for the majority of the first day. In conditions that were helpful to the bowlers for the first half of the day it was a huge achievement to reach 200 for the loss of only two wickets, as was getting to 350 with only three wickets lost. 

The effect of the second new ball, which Hampshire and in particular Kyle Abbott used far better than the first one should also have been a source of encouragement to all. Yet, perhaps unsurprisingly many on social media chose to dwell on the “collapse” to 408 all out rather than accentuating the positives.

There appeared to be every reason to hope that Somerset could make early inroads into the Hampshire batting and play out an ideal scenario of bowling Hampshire out short of the follow-on in the day but bat again to build on their advantage.

In the event this was not to be, but Somerset’s bowlers should be commended for sticking at their task throughout the day. If Somerset bat as well and as positively on day 3 as they did on day 1 the fruits of all this hard work will be available on Wednesday. 

But that is getting ahead of ourselves. Resuming on 15-1 Hampshire seemed to have weathered the early threat, taking 10 off a Lewis Gregory over before Jamie Overton and Steven Davis combined to remove Joe Weatherly as they had his opening partner last evening.

The third wicket pair of Ajinkya Rahane and captain Sam Northeast came together and soon looked at ease. It was clear that the pitch and overhead conditions were making it considerably easier to bat than in the same period on the first day. The third wicket pair added 101 in relatively untroubled fashion although, despite obvious attacking intent against Jack Leach, they were unable to score at much over a run an over.

Finally, at around 2pm Dom Bess, was introduced to the attack. For many of us this was now the real game, Somerset’s spinners in tandem at last for the first time this season. There was immediate joy, with the score at 138 Rahane was caught at slip by Lewis Gregory 55 in Leach’s first over after Dom’s introduction. A fine piece of bowling by the Somerset and England left-armer.

Bess’s spell only lasted four overs before he was replaced by Jack Leach switching ends. After a very tidy first couple of overs Dom’s third over went for 11 as Northeast and Roussouw set about targeting the off spinner. Bess however wasn’t to be denied. He returned to the attack shortly after three and removed both Northeast (for 101) and Roussouw (44) before tea to reduce the visitors to 225-5 still 183 in arrears.

Northeast’s innings was one of class and composure. This was his third hundred to go with a 99 taking him to three runs short of 700 for the season at an average of 63. He is another fine batsman currently stuck in the logjam that is the queue for a place in England’s middle-order. You guess that he may, very unluckily, be heading for the place inhabited most notably by James Hildreth by the end of his career. 

This session provided an interesting contrast in styles and approaches between Somerset’s two premier spinners. Leach likes to bowl economically and, when he concedes runs tends to bowl flatter and quicker and recover his economy, Bess on the other hand seems to relish batsmen coming at him and is not afraid to give the ball more loop and air tempting the batsman to keep coming at him. This is not to say that either approach is right or wrong, but it does illustrate how well the pair complement each other.

With Tom Alsop unable to bat in the first seven Hampshire’s lower middle order, in the form of Fuller and Barker, was exposed earlier than normal. Somerset knew that removing these two quickly would place them in a strong position. The tea break arrived at the wrong time for Somerset allowing the two not out batsmen a reprieve.

New ball taken half an hour into the last session with Somerset having failed to separate Fuller and Barker, the sixth wicket partnership being worth 63. They added a further 18 before Jamie Overton returned to remove them both and Kyle Abbott in searing spell which reduced Hampshire from 306-5 to 314-8.

In the process Jamie passed 150 first class wickets and garnered only his third 5 wicket haul. All five in this innings being caught by Steve Davies.

Enter the, literally, hamstrung Tom Alsop, with runner at number 10. And cue the ruthless side of Tom Abell who immediately replaced Jamie with Jack Leach, a cruel bit of captaincy forcing Alsop into using his feet to counter the increasing amount of lift and turn Leach was extracting.

While the combined figures for Somerset’s spinners don’t make terribly impressive reading, 52-12–147-3 there is little doubt that if Somerset can set the game up to give them the majority of the last day to bowl at their opponents Hampshire will be in for a very severe test from these two.

Somerset’s lead at the top of the table is currently 12 points. Somerset have 8 overs to take the one more wicket they need for maximum batting points while Essex, in a position of turgid domination at Trent Bridge have already passed 110 overs. But crucially Essex are in a much stronger position to win their game at the end of day 2 leading by 132 runs with 7 wickets left against a fragile Notts side. 

In other news Marcus Trescothick (42) and Eddie Byrom (44) have added 92 for the Seconds off 18 overs replying to Gloucestershire’s 394.  

First published on The InCider 1 July 2019