Advantage Somerset?

Somerset having reduced Hampshire to 24-5 eventually bowled them all out for 196. By the close brought forward by bad light the deficit had been reduced by 30 runs for the loss of both openers

County Championship Division 1, Southampton, September 16th to 19th Day 1 – Somerset 30-2 trail Hampshire 196 All Out (Dawson 103, Gregory 3-63, Abell 2-25, Davey 2-34, C Overton 2-46) by 166 runs

After the first day’s play of the penultimate game in this year’s county championship Somerset have extended their lead at the top of the table to 10 points. Both Somerset and Essex lost time to bad light but the leaders will be the happier of the two sides with their position at the close of play.

Having said that there is still a lot of work to be done for Somerset to consolidate their leadership and things could not have been a lot better after the carnage that was the first hour of Hampshire’s first innings.   

With Surrey closing on 137-4 there is the potential for them to push on ahead of 250, a total which at Chelmsford would put Somerset’s challengers under some pressure.

There were two surprises to me before play started. The first that the toss indicated that both sides wanted to bat first. The second was that Jamie Overton was left out on a surface which I fully expected Somerset to play only one spinner. Apparently Jamie is feeling the effects of a bone spur on his heel which will require surgery after the end of the season. He is clearly being rested ahead of next week.

The third surprise unfolded in the first session which was far better than any reasonable expectation for the visitors having lost the toss. At lunch they had reduced Hampshire to 75-6. Remarkably that represented a significant recovery from a nadir of 24-5 principally due to the ever-reliable Liam Dawson who was 35 not out at the break.

Somerset bowled beautifully all morning. Lewis Gregory, clearly benefitting from his outing at Taunton last week made the key breakthroughs of Northeast and Vince for 6 each (3-24 at lunch). Josh Davey was beyond miserly with 2-14 and Craig Overton, returning for his twin brother 1-23. Mention need also be made to Somerset’s catching which was exemplary with four of the Hampshire batsmen pouched in the cordon by Hildreth, Vijay, van der Merwe and Craig Overton. 

Josh Davey and Lewis Gregory – superb with the new ball

Having spoken to Kevan James before the game and spent some time with him contemplating the surface that this game would be played on, James Vince’s decision seemed to indicate that his view of the pitch accorded with James’ expectations. The first hour suggested otherwise although Hampshire’s demise may say more about the relative merits of Somerset’s bowling attack than the surface’s inadequacies. 

The “recovery” begun by Dawson and Donald and continued when McManus replaced the latter also hinted that any early demons the pitch possessed were easing providing further reason for optimism for Somerset and their supporters.

Somerset’s superb effort in the first session extended their lead at lunch over Essex, who had been unable to start at Chelmsford due to bad light, to 10 points.

After removing McManus almost immediately after lunch the words inexorable progress and grinding halt collided in a way Somerset would have been neither anticipating nor hoping for. Liam Dawson was joined by Keith Barker and for virtually the whole of the afternoon session the pair added 92, more than doubling Hampshire’s total and providing further evidence of the improvement in conditions for batting. 

When Dom Bess eventually got Barker lbw for 40 on the dot of 3pm Somerset supporters must have heaved a collective sigh of relief. Dawson who was on 94 when Barker was dismissed went to his hundred in the following over. His superb innings, his first in the championship since 2006, included 11 fours and a 1 six an effort, perhaps best measured by the fact that he took guard with his side on 18-4.

Dawson departed in the same over he had reached his hundred caught behind off Tom Abell for 103 made off 156 balls, 54% of his side’s total and 60% of the runs added while he was at the crease. Having spent over 90 minutes to break the eighth-wicket partnership, once that was achieved the Somerset bowlers wrapped up the Hampshire innings in a quarter of an hour, Abell again the successful bowler. 

At this point Somerset had extended their lead over Essex to 11 points by picking up their third bowling point. Essex had got finally got underway at Chelmsford at 2.15 against a Surrey side who disappointingly did not include any of their England players. By the time Hampshire and Somerset were taking tea Surrey, who had chosen to bat, were 54-2.

Somerset began their replying after tea with the light deteriorating. Only 4.1 overs were possible before the umpires decided it was too dark to continue. In that time 17 had been added but the key wicket of Murali Vijay had been lost. A second consecutive duck for Somerset’s latest overseas signing.

Steven Davies went shortly after the resumption bowled by Abbott was on his way to close of play figures of 6-5-1-2 but Tom Abell hit three boundaries on his way to an unbeaten 15 accompanied by James Hildreth who has yet to get off the mark.

The morning spell with the ball still relatively new will be crucial to the outcome of the game tomorrow. Somerset will be hoping that they will get to the phase of the innings as Hampshire did where batting becomes easier with two top order batsmen at the crease. If they can the possibility of building a match-winning position becomes very real.

Tomorrow is going to be fascinating for both the top two. If Somerset can emerge at close of play tomorrow having had the better second day their title chances will be that much better than they were at the start of this round of games.

Elsewhere in division one two county stalwarts were thriving. Steven Mullaney, one of my favourite county cricketers made 179 at Trent Bridge against Warwickshire as Notts reached 425-6. Not enough for the already relegated home side but a little consolation nonetheless. 

The real heroics of the day though were at Headingley. Sam Billings (138) and Darren Stevens (237) added 346 for Kent’s sixth wicket. Kent who had subsided to 39-5 closed on 482-8 in their 96 overs, a scoring rate of almost 5 an over which owed much to Stevens who faced just 225 balls and hit 28 fours and 9 sixes!