County Championship Division One, Taunton, May 11th to 14th 2018. Somerset 324-7 (Hildreth 125*, C Overton 80) lead Hampshire 231 all out by 93 runs.
It is a Saturday in Taunton. The sun is shining, it is gloriously warm, and Somerset County Cricket Club are paying red-ball cricket in Taunton. It is May 2018 but it could easily be the seventies of my childhood memories. On such days the schoolboy version of me accompanied as ever by my dad would head for a day watching Richard and Rose, Denning and Marks.
It is to such memories that I find my brain heading while watching James Hildreth play what could be a season-defining innings for his county.
Hildreth you see is one of those cricketers who could only have played for Somerset. He may, by some accident of fate, not have been born in the county but he is in every way the epitome of our county club. You could step out of your tardis and drop him into the middle order alongside Richards and Botham and he would fit seamlessly in. You could do the same with Gimblett’s side or even that of Sammy Woods and you sense the same sense of belonging would pervade.
For Hildreth you see is a unique being. A timeless cricketer. Not defined by the era he plays in but perfectly designed to be a cricketer.
With Marcus Trescothick incapacitated Hildreth assumed the mantle of senior pro in the side. Such is his quiet, unassuming way that he does so with actions rather than words.
Having arrived at 40-2 with two wickets having fallen for one run he watched from the other end as Somerset’s reply to 231 subsided to a disturbing 71-4. By mid-afternoon with StevenDavies retired hurt and Lewis Gregory quickly following Somerset were potentially 134-6.
Hildreth didn’t fret. He had watched the ball as closely as ever and was growing into his task. He had realised that this was a pitch and attack which he had mastery of and knew he would find the support he needed at some point.
Enter Craig Overton. The opposite of Hildreth in almost every way. But don’t be misled by outer appearances Craig possesses a shrewd cricket brain. He like the rest of us sensed that Hildy was playing one of those innings and knew what was required.
True he got off the mark with a rasping boundary but thereafter he played with great composure and no little skill. Alongside his more accomplished partner he lost little in comparison. One thing this odd couple share is the ability to score quickly and at will. The all but doubled the score in the space of 25 overs, a scoring rate in excess of five and when Overton departed, with a deserved century beckoning Somerset were 36 to the good.
Steven Davies returned and departed but Jack Leach saw Hildreth through to the close at 324-7, the senior partner on an unbeaten 125.
It would be unfair to account for Hildreth’s work without acknowledging both the absence of Kyle Abbott for a substantial part of the day or the life Fidel Edwards gave him when he was in the twenties. But that would be like pointing to the one slightly grey cloud in an otherwise glorious Taunton sky.
If father and son had seen that innings in the seventies they would have talked about it for years. Father, if he had sorted out his view from heaven will, undoubtedly tell anyone who will listen that James Hildreth is one of Somerset’s finest ever and that this innings was one of James Hildreth’s finest ever.