Of Isengard, Mordor and Mount Doom

25th September 2019

County Championship Division 1, Taunton, September 23rd to 26th Day 3 – No play Essex 25-0 trail Somerset 203 all out (van der Merwe 60, Abell 45, Harmer 5-105, S Cook 4-26) by 178 runs

JRR Tolkein’s classic Lord of The Rings tells the tale of the seemingly impossible quest imposed upon the plucky hobbits from the rural shire as the sole hope for the world of defeating the powers of evil. Somerset supporters may feel equally daunted and Frodo and Sam after a third day at Taunton when no play took place.

Umpires Rob Bailey and Alex Wharf, Saruman and Sauron in our own melodrama as their repeated inspections and lack of communication brought frustration upon frustration to the Taunton crown on the penultimate day of the season. Their casting as the villains in this melodrama was aided by the disappearance of the sun and re-appearance of dark cloud and drizzle whenever they emerged from their rooms.

Izengard and Mordor manifested in front of our eyes.

If you want to understand the feelings of frustration felt by every single one of us Somerset supporters at The Cooper Associates County Ground today I urge you to watch Andy Hurry’s interview after play was called off.

Hurry was commendably positive, refusing to admit that a win was beyond Somerset’s grasp. If he is to be proven right we are in for some day tomorrow. Where “Sarge” deserves greatest credit however is for his restraint and diplomacy in his comments on the umpires management of the game’s play. In his position as Director of Cricket he is required to act in such a way even though his face betrayed his inner frustration.

Fortunately I do not have to be quite so diplomatic.

In truth it was not all the umpires fault, the weather, which even they and the ECB cannot control, was for the first part of the day uncooperative with squally light showers punctuating the late morning. The initial promise of an 11am inspection raised hopes that Somerset could build on the momentum Roleof van der Merwe had given them on Tuesday afternoon.

While it is understandable that the umpires have to be happy that conditions are fit for play it would have helped the mood in the Cooper Associates County Ground if they could have communicated to the crowd a little more after their repeated inspections.

There was, as you would expect at Taunton, a very decent crowd at the schedule start of play. The initial indication was encouraging. The 11am inspection seemed to be concerned primarily with the used pitch ends and areas just off the edge of the square. It was of no surprise, having read the body language of Messrs Wharf and Bailey, that the decreed a further look was required at noon.

But this is where the authorities let us all down badly. All that was communicated to the crowd in the ground was the time of the next inspection. When the championship is on the line something more informative than just that bare fact. Would it have done any harm to explain to the crowd what the issues were that were delaying a resumption and as importantly what the hoped for timescale was?

When the umpires refuse, to use the telling phrase employed by Somerset’s director of cricket, to be “open and honest” you draw the conclusion that there is some ulterior motive at play here.

We all believe that The ECB has scant regard for the loyal county members and supporters of Championship Cricket. We all suspect that they see the blue riband of domestic cricket in this country as at best an inconvenience. We all suspect that they wish to push the 4-day game further into the margins of the season.

What we saw today was manifestation that the authorities and their agenda have no regard for the supporters who were at the ground and no regard for the integrity of the Championship. We were “treated” to a display of arrogance and disregard for the crowd by the umpires today that was beyond belief. It is to the great credit of both the Somerset and Essex supporters present that they dealt with this with such good humour and equanimity.

These repeated delays were good news for The Stragglers Coffee Shop, The Ring of Bells and other establishments within a brisk walk of the county ground, as the crowd like hobbits sought second breakfasts, lunch early and late afternoon teas to pass the time between inspections. But what was satisfying those stomachs was merely assuaging the pain that saw, with each passing minute, a reduction in Somerset’s chances of a title winning win.

The noon inspection was moved back to 1.10 with lunch being taken at 12.40 due to the rain. When it took place the umpires, still clearly concerned about the same areas, decided to reconvene at 2.30. By this time the overhead conditions had improved with some patchy sunshine and a “drying” wind. The majority of those who had headed into town at noon for refreshment had returned and we all anticipated a resumption.

Many began to express the view that the umpires decided quite early in the day that play was not going to be possible but were not prepared to announce this and hence went through the performance of three further inspections to save face.

The announcement at 3.30 of another inspection at 4.30 saw many head for the exits. Those of us who remained for another hour were indulged with another display of foot stamping and umbrella prodding by the umpires, Like the evil wizards with cruel staffs the tips of the umbrellas searched for and appeared to find what they were looking for, enough moisture in the area just off the square on the Somerset Pavilion side to abandon play for the day.

Many will argue that Somerset have only themselves to blame. Citing that if they had beaten Hampshire last week they would be happy that there was no play today. That is ridiculous. This Somerset fan would not have wanted to win the title with the team sitting in their dressing room and to be fair to the Essex fans at the ground most of them wanted to see play as much as we did.

In a week when one of Britain’s oldest and best know companies failed spectacularly, a failure attributed to mis-management and a failure to listen to the wishes of its customers, those in power at the ECB would do well to spend the early part of the off-season contemplating their treatment of their customer base. That they will not is a damning indictment of their utter arrogance and incompetence.

Where does all this leave us? It would be no exaggeration to say the task facing Tom Abell’s side is on a par with Frodo and Sam as they confronted mount doom.

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