Ahead of the Curve?

Will we look back on Roleof van Der Merwe & Jack Leach's last wicket partnership on the second afternoon as one of the most significant in Somerset history?

County Championship Division 1, Taunton, September 23rd to 26th Day 2 – Essex 25-0 trail Somerset 203 all out (van der Merwe 60, Abell 45, Harmer 5-105, S Cook 4-26) by 178 runs

I woke up thinking that the one benefit of the end of the cricket season will be that the feeling that my stomach is in my throat will go away. These last three weeks of the County Championship campaign have been so tense, so fraught, feelings have been exacerbated by Somerset’s contention at the top of the table.

But then I reflected on the commentaries I had listened to on Monday from Birmingham, Canterbury and Durham. All three shared the common denominator of meaningless end of season games with all the inherent lack of atmosphere between teams with effectively nothing to play for. I decided I’ll take my stomach being feeling about 18 inches higher than it actually is!

There was this morning the added jeopardy of the weather. While the forecast has been improving steadily the second day of this game had always looked like being the least likely to produce much cricket.

Somehow, a combination of the collective prayers of all Somerset supporters and the superhuman efforts of Simon Lee and the ground staff allowed a start at noon, almost exactly a day after the players left the field with Somerset on 75-4.

Farcically the first session was only an hour (gotta have that lunch break!). In that time Somerset advanced to 126 for the loss of George Bartlett without addition to his overnight score and Lewis Gregory who hit four successive fours in four balls of Simon Harmer’s 12th over but then was lbw playing no shot to Sam Cook for 17.

The lunchtime pair of Tom Abell and Dom Bess were parted straight after lunch. Abell, who had played Harmer astutely and prospered off the back foot perished without addition to his lunchtime score. His 45 in the circumstances and on this surface was worth far more.

Craig Overton couldn’t repeat his England Old Trafford heroics perishing second ball and when Dom Bess, who had already registered 91* against Essex while on loan at Yorkshire, was bowled by Cook Somerset were 144-9.

But now, as @Bdjcricket tweeted, Somerset were able to, “just casually batting a guy with a first-class double ton and a guy with a Test 92 at numbers 10 and 11”. For 12 overs van der Merwe cut and carved, reverse sept and scampered to a 51 ball 61 while Jack Leach batter with the calm assurance of a man who has found his method and his confidence in it.

@Bdjcricket’s tweet

The pair added 59, almost 30% of Somerset’s total and transformed an adequate first innings total into something pretty substantial. We will not know until Essex have had their first use of the pitch how numerically significant the 10thwicket partnership was but in terms of momentum and psychology there is no doubt it was huge.

Roleof van der Merwe

When Roleof was dismissed, a victim of perhaps getting a little too caught up in the moment, there was a slight sense of disappointment. A partnership that had changed the balance was on the verge of taking the game completely away from Essex. But it was not to be. Essex were undoubtedly unsettled and their confidence significantly dented.

Ideally Somerset would have liked to have got to tea with a couple of Essex batsmen back in the pavilion but a combination of some gutsy batting and no little luck by Browne and Cook saw Essex to 25-0 at the interval. Both Lewis Gregory and Craig Overton induced numerous close calls and on would not have been flattered by a brace each from their opening bursts.

The tea score became the close of play one as the anticipated rain returned. But with a better forecast for Wednesday and a ball still relatively new hopes will be high in the Somerset dressing room that they can move the game forward significantly on the third day.

A measure of the good fortune granted to Taunton’s weather is that elsewhere in the two divisions there was barely any other play. There was a session each at Chester-le-Street and Hove while at the Oval they managed a meagre 2 overs.