Mountain to Climb

17th September 2019

County Championship Division 1, Southampton, September 16thto 19thDay 2 –Hampshire 196 All Out (Dawson 103, Gregory 3-63, Abell 2-25, Davey 2-34, C Overton 2-46) and 176-8 (Vince102*) lead Somerset 142 all out (Abbott 9-40) by 230 runs

Make no bones about it this was a bad day. About as bad a day as we’ve had in the Championship all season. Not just because of the events at Southampton but also at Chelmsford.

It was bad enough that Kyle Abbott (another South African like Kesh Maharaj who loves bowling against Somerset) chose this game to take a career best 9-fer, James Vince made his first Championship hundred of the season. As Scott Wilson said on Twitter this evening, “why couldn’t James Vince have got his usual 30 and then snick an airy-fairy drive to slip?”

To rub salt into the wounds Essex took control of their game against Surrey at Chelmsford and are in a position to both close the gap with more batting points tomorrow and convert their strong position into a victory.

The maths mean that the championship will now go down to the last game next week, but the prospect of an Essex win and Somerset defeat could result in as much as a 21 point swing. That would put Somerset under immense pressure at Taunton on Monday as the gap would be up to 13 points.

But all that is for the future (probably tomorrow). What is clear is that Somerset have a mountain to climb. They have to produce a batting performance like no other tomorrow, to chase down a target which looks like being 80 to 100 more than would seem achievable.

Dom Bess – top scored with 37

Any hopes Somerset had of, in the words of Lewis Gregory after the first day’s play, “making hay in the sunshine” evaporated on the second morning as Kyle Abbott, on his way to 9-40 reduced Somerset’s first innings to 65-8. The first innings deficit could have been far worse but for a 67 run 9th wicket stand between Dom Bess (37) and Roleof van der Merwe (29*).

Roleof – 29 batting at No10

At the same time Essex had dismissed Surrey for 174, another abject display by last season’s champions who subsided from 140-4 overnight to 174 all out losing 6-22 in just 10 overs of the morning.

This Somerset team is made of real character, they are all fighters and that showed in a continuation of the momentum given to them by the Bess / van der Merwe stand into the Hampshire second innings. The three seamers were relentless and by the time Hampshire had extended their lead to 100 they were 6 down, Lewis, Josh and Craig with two wickets a piece.

The two concerns at this stage were the continued presence of James Vince who had clawed his way to 17 off 52 balls and the evidence that the pitch was showing no signs of easing well into the second day. At the same time Essex were approaching Surrey’s first innings total for the loss of only four wickets.

Those concerns were realized in the final session as Vince moved to his hundred and with Abbott, who will be pinching himself in the dressing room to check he hasn’t been dreaming, had added 73 for the ninth wicket. The pattern of the first two innings of a lower order recovery was repeating itself and stretching the balance of the game and the Championship away from Somerset. Tough watching / tough listening for Somerset fans everywhere.

Essex lost two late wickets but had advanced to 302-6 at the close. A third batting bonus point closes the gap to five.

This is as low as I’ve felt after a day’s play since the second day at Headingley in mid-July. Whatever those dreadful people on social media who leap to criticize this fine team say, the players will be hurting more than any of us are. 

If you call yourself a Somerset supporter now is the time to stand up and be counted. Let Tom Abell and the side know we are behind them. Let them know that whatever the task that faces us at Taunton next week we will be there and we will make things as tough for Essex as we can.

But all is not lost. Somerset have a huge task tomorrow. But the last session suggested that the pitch might, at long last be easing. If it is Somerset will feel a little more confident of chasing their target down but it will need the bowlers to wrap the Hampshire innings up very quickly and then two significant contributions among the batsmen. Liam Dawson and James Vince have shown it can be done. We have to hope. 

Elsewhere Dominic Sibley chalked up another century (115*) as Warwickshire replied to Nottinghamshire’s 498 with 264-2 at Trent Bridge while Yorkshire struggled to 269 a deficit of 213. Kent chose not to enforce the follow on. 

In a week of early collapses and subsequent recoveries Middlesex won the day’s prize though couldn’t match Kent’s astonishing turn around on the first day. John Simpson made 167 to help his side recover from 34-6 to reach 337 and lead division 2 champions Lancashire by 78. Lancashire were 14-1 at the close.

Second placed Northants are in the pole position to take one of the other two promotion spots, they lead Durham by 321 with 4 second innings wickets in hand. Gloucestershire requiring just 115 to beat Worcestershire at New Road to consolidate their third place are 54-4. 

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