Anticipated Frustration

23rd September 2019

County Championship Division 1, Taunton, September 23rd to 26th  Day 1 – Somerset 75-4

So after all the speculation all the talking we are finally underway. The weather forecast has been improving for later in the week but the first and second days always looked likely to be severely curtailed. As it was Somerset were only able to manage a ball under 28 overs in the first session before bad light and then rain intervened. 

The question will be whether the ground is fit for play on Wednesday and Thursday if as now seems likely the overhead conditions are better. One has to suspect that if this game was being played at Chelmsford the ground staff may not have been so diligent in their work, I just hope there is some reward for Simon Lee and his team over the next three days.

There is a positive however, it is entirely possible that Somerset could have faced much tougher batting conditions and found their first innings in a significantly worse state. As it is while 75-4 does not represent untold riches it gives the home side something to work with. 

The Essex side was of little surprise with their decision to play a second spinner, giving a debut to slow left-armer Aron Nijjar and only two front line seamers. Ravi Bopara will be asked to perform the third seamer role of required.

The announcement of the Somerset squad however took me by complete surprise. Having spent a good part of Sunday on social media trying to play down the lazy narrative of “Ciderabad” the Somerset selection of three spinners was a big big surprise. The seam duties are entrusted to Lewis and Craig but there is little doubt that Essex will face a diet of almost exclusive spin if and when they come to bat.

The selections meant that both sides would want to bowl last so the toss was contested. Tom Abell won it and had little hesitation in batting.

Perhaps in the conditions we should have expected a score of 14-2 after 4 overs with both openers gone. Vijay for 6 a run-a-ball 6 and Steven Davies for 2, both to Sam Cook. Thereafter, despite the conditions and the early introduction of Simon Harmer the skipper and James Hildreth batted with control and fluency to pass 50 in the 15th over.

The clouds were gathering and the light needed to be increasingly augmented by the floodlights as noon approached. The hope was that if Somerset could get through to lunch with only two down they would have achieved the first objective. Harmer though struck twice in three balls to remove Hildreth (34) and Banton and reduce Somerset to 61-4.

Hildreth’s innings had offered a glimpse of the fluency that has been so lacking this year. He and Tom Abell were particularly severe on Jamie Porter who went for almost 5 an over in the session. Harmer and Cook were a completely different proposition and Abell was required to graft as he did in the last home game with Yorkshire. His 24 off 77 balls represented a significant achievement. 

Play was curtailed by bad light 15 minutes before the scheduled lunch interval with Somerset on 75-4 but the rain soon followed. George Bartlett, who had had a couple of uneasy moments against Harmer was unbeaten of 5.

While the rain wasn’t as heavy or as prolonged as had been feared it was sufficient to prevent the umpires from contemplating any resumption. Play was eventually abandoned at  

It is difficult to glean too much from under two hours play but initial indications are that this is a pitch at present where if batsmen get in they can score. That is likely to change as the surface gets more wear but the degree to which it deteriorates will inevitably be reduced by the interruptions. Somerset will hope that the weather improves sufficiently to allow them to get a first innings score on the board of in excess of 250, in itself no small task, with two days left.

I don’t subscribe to the theory that Somerset’s only route to victory is to bat just once. But they will require a first innings lead and to bat quickly in their second dig. It could yet be an entertaining day 3 and 4.

All of that of course supposes the weather is kind. All we can do is keep our prayers to the weather Gods as loud and constant as possible. They seem to have been having an effect as the prospects for tomorrow afternoon are, according to my usually reliable weather app, better than they have been for the last week.  

There was compensation for Tom Banton who was announced in mid-afternoon as part of the England T20 party to tour New Zealand in the autumn alongside Lewis Gregory. Jack Leach has been chosen for the test side.

Somerset fans may have seen the series of tweets from the BBC’s County Cricket correspondent Kevin Howells (@kevinhowells7). Leading with “Noise to reduce the number of first-class counties is getting louder” Howells, who stresses the thoughts expressed are his own, does have significant connections within the county game so needs to be listened to. He indicates that the argument put forward that the 100 would save county clubs is failing to convince but there seems to be little are speaking up for the county game.

Worryingly it seems that the ECB’s none to cleverly concealed agenda of completely re-structuring the county game is gaining traction and the have-not counties are putting up little resistance. Knowing that Howells is always mindful of his words especially when talking about the ECB the fact that he has made these remarks is a clear indicator that things are moving. 

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