Familiar Batting Frailties

Lewis Gregory's 6-68 put Somerset in a strong position on day one at Trent Bridge

Notts v Somerset, County Championship 2019, Trent Bridge, Nottingham – Day 1

Nottinghamshire 263 all out (Gregory 6-68), Somerset 74-3 (Broad 2-12)

April 11th was a crisp, slightly chilly Thursday which saw Somerset start their second championship game of the season at Trent Bridge. A helter-skelter day of cricket which as I commented in my report “advanced this game far more than I expected before play started.”

Yet again the bowlers over-delivered to leave Somerset with plenty of time to bat at the end of day 1 but the top order failed in the last hour to throw a game that Somerset had dominated back into the balance.

At this stage of the season Notts were still reckoned to be a force on division one but, viewed from the perspective we now have it was this game which began a downward spiral which they were unable to turn around and led to relegation.

That however was well in the future. At the end of the first day Somerset were very much in a battle for control in this Championship game.

The fall of crucial wickets of Marcus Trescothick and James Hildreth, both out for 10 in the space of three balls, at a time when it appeared they had survived a tough new ball examination from Stuart Broad and Jake Ball set Somerset’s dominance of the first two and a half sessions of this opening day at Trent Bridge.

Unsurprisingly the toss was uncontested, Somerset electing to bowl first. On what looked to be a good batting wicket you wondered if Tom Abell’s decision was as much to protect his top order as give his bowlers the advantage of using the day 1 conditions. The plan must have been to keep it tight and not allow Notts top order to get away and build pressure.

Both sides made one change. Notts was enforced with Luke Wood coming in for Paul Coughlin who hadn’t recovered from a finger injury against Yorkshire. Somerset’s change was tactical bringing in Leach for Byrom and giving a big vote of confidence to George Bartlett

Somerset got off to a wonderful start. After a Lewis Gregory maiden to open the day Jack Brooks struck with his second ball trapping Duckett LBW. Despite this setback Notts got their innings off to a flying start. After 6 overs they had reached 33-1 Slater 16 off 22, Nash 17 off 12. The pattern for the day was set with every shot that pierced the infield reaching the boundary with 7 fours coming in that first 6 over spell. Jack Brooks was again expensive, his first three overs going for 23. 

The pair added 51 in 9 overs before Josh Davey struck with the last ball of his first over to have Slater caught behind by Steven Davies for 24. Enter last week’s centurion, Joe Clarke who amassed 209 for once out against Yorkshire last week, five balls and two runs later he was gone, also caught behind and also off the last ball of an over, but this time off Lewis Gregory.

Nash, now in the company of his skipper added another 52 for the fourth wicket at a slightly more sedate 3.7 runs an over before Lewis Gregory returned to have the skipper palpably leg before wicket for 26. Nash, who had gone to his fifty just before Mullaney was dismissed had moved on to 58 when a rush of blood saw him caught on the boundary by Jack Leach to leave Notts 119-5. The last over of the session yielded a four and a two to Tom Moores to leave the hosts 125-5 off 30 overs.

Lewis Gregory was the pick of the Somerset attack with 3-32 off 10 overs contrasting with Brooks (57 off 9 overs) which helped Notts score at 4 an over despite the control of the other three bowlers. Josh Davey, who picked up the other wicket to fall, was his usual economical self with 1-15 off 6 overs. 

Somerset’s achievement in that one session put into focus by the fact that only 27 wickets fell in the four days of Notts opener against Yorkshire and just 5 wickets were captured on the first day as the hosts reached 324 at the close. 

If the morning session belonged to Somerset the afternoon was, until the last 15 minutes before tea, most definitely Nottinghamshire’s. They had added 98 for the loss of only Samit Patel’s wicket in 29 overs before two Craig Overton wickets in quick succession pegged them back to 237-8 at the second adjournment.

The not out pair at lunch, Samit Patel and Tom Moores, continued the pattern of regularly peppering the boundary to reach their 50 partnership. Tom Abell aware he badly needed a breakthrough and after an hour the re-introduction of Gregory brought immediate rewards. Patel playing tentatively forward was beaten through the gate by a beauty that took two stumps out of the ground. One of those dismissals you could watch all day on a loop on Twitter

Luke Wood joined Moores and the pair continued the rapid run scoring adding another 46 runs in 13 overs before Moores was out in that all too familiar way for a Notts middle order batsman in the recent past, caught by Trescothick at second slip off Craig Overton.

But if Samit Patel was hoping he would get the nod for dismissal of the day 3 overs after Moores departed, Stuart Broad made his bid for that honour. Broad who has in recent years seen a marked decline in his batting, managed to get bowled middle stump, round his legs, by Overton coming around the wicket.

From 223-6 Somerset completed their bowling task with some efficiency either side of tea thanks to Overton and Gregory. Lewis’ 6-68 barely did him justice after a superb display. He now has 18 first class wicket in under 60 overs this season at an average of 7.8. If there is a better bowler currently in English cricket, he must be some performer.

To complete their day’s work satisfactorily Somerset would have hoped to bat out the last 27 overs of the day for the loss of one wicket. After 13 overs, and in the face of some superbly controlled and aggressive bowling from Stuart Broad, my mind ticked around to this being an excellent start. Broad was nearing the end of his spell and both Somerset batsmen were looking increasingly comfortable. 

But those three balls put the game right back into the balance. I’m not going to be critical of either Tres or Hildy, batting in early April is a tough ask at the best of times needing a hell of a lot of skill and a decent slice of luck against most division one bowlers, let alone one as good as Stuart Broad.

With 13 overs remaining in the day there was every possibility that Somerset’s reply could crumble. Notts 263 certainly looked a long way away at that point. But the captain, again batting with control and confidence, saw off Broad in the company of George Bartlett and, slowly restored some calm to the visitors’ dressing room.

The initial objective of reaching the close without further loss was achieved and, with increasing fluency the pair had added 38 to leave Somerset trailing by 189 runs.

Lewis Gregory’s comment after the day’s play that, “the first session tomorrow will be crucial in deciding which way it’s going to go” was spot on. Broad will be back, fresh and determined to extract maximum use of a ball which is still moving off the seam. If Abell and Bartlett can get through the first hour there is every prospect that Somerset will be able to eke out a first innings lead, if one of them can go on to make a telling contribution and the rest can bat around that the prospects are bright for a match winning lead.

But it’s a big ask. Like on Monday at Taunton the way tomorrow develops will tell us a lot about whether this Somerset side has what it takes to mount a title challenge.