Decisions, Determination, Destiny?

Last year's top two locking horns on Day 1 in Taunton

County Championship Division One, Taunton, Somerset v Surrey – May 14 to 18 2019 Day 1, Surrey 330-6 

There are days in championship cricket that are like this. Attritional days when the toss, luck, wicket goes against you. But these days are at the end of the season as important as those where everything goes right and you run through the opposition or bat serenely all day. The test of a side with real title ambitions is whether it is able to not let the game get away from it and when the opportunity arises fight back, especially when, as in this match, you are facing last season’s champions.

Having elected to contest the toss it was no surprise that Surrey couldn’t wait to bat. Somerset’s bowlers were presented with the first “batting day” of this young season and, for the most part toiled. A pair of wickets either side of lunch saw Surrey pegged back to 99-2 but two of the more obdurate left-handers in county cricket proceeded to bat well into the final session. Rory Burns made 107 and Dean Elgar 103 as the pair added 166 untroubled runs. Encouragingly however the run rate never got much above 3 an over even when Surrey were taking on Jack Leach with some clearly planned controlled aggression.

Somerset were partly culpable for their own difficulties before tea, most tellingly when Burns was dropped by Azhar off Jack Brooks, the sort of drop which utterly deflates the fielding side. But this team is built of better stuff and they dusted themselves down from that disappointment and regrouped in the tea interval to take 4-30 in the first hour after tea. Tom Abell was the catalyst for the fight back getting some nip, bounce and possibly reverse swing out of the old ball.

Lewis Gregory was again the pick of the bowlers with 3-44 (17 already this season) but Tim Groenewald was economical and picked up the key wicket of Burns. Jack Brooks, after an excellent opening spell, was once again expensive and it never really happened for either Craig Overton on Jack Leach. 

A seventh wicket stand of 35 enabled Surrey to close the day on 330-6 a position that will no doubt have disappointed the visitors. Somerset buoyed by their last session performance will hope that they can bowl as well with a relatively new second new ball and keep the visitors first innings under 400.

With the weather set fair for days 2 and 3 the pitch should be at its best for batting. If Somerset can build a platform on day 2, they may, unexpectedly, find themselves in a position of some ascendancy on the last day.  

The build-up to this first meeting of last season’s top two was one of contrasts. Somerset arrived having clinched their place in the RLODC final with that stunning win at Trent Bridge. Surrey by contrast had an utterly forgettable one-day cup campaign which saw them finish bottom of the south group. 

Further debate and contrast surrounded the various squad and selection decisions made by Somerset in the build-up to the game. Dom Bess and Jamie Overton have gone off on month long loans to Yorkshire and Northants respectively a subject of much debate among Somerset supporters on social media particularly the Jamie Overton loan. 

Irrespective of the rights or wrongs of those decisions Somerset still had some selection decisions to make. Which of the “red ball specialists” would come back into the side? Jack Leach and Jack Brooks were virtual certainties but the possibility of Tom Banton replacing either Tres or Steven Davies after his one-day heroics was the subject for much debate.

I need to say here that they clamour in some parts for Marcus to step down is misplaced. As was the deplorable comments on that video late last week. To criticise Somerset’s left handed opener for some low scores in the April championship games is unfair. To belittle him in the way many did for slipping over twice while batting in a 2nd XI game unforgivable. Marcus deserves far greater respect.

Let’s not forget Somerset have won both of their opening championship games with Marcus being an integral part of that team. His value is not only measured in runs but in the experience he provides in support of Tom Abell. His enthusiasm is undimmed. The effect his presence has on the opposition still palpable. Anyone who saw his catch at short leg off Jack Leach as Somerset closed in on victory on the third afternoon at Nottingham will know his reflexes and skills remain of the highest order.

That is not to say that either Trescothick or Davies are entitled to a place in the Championship side. They will be more aware than anyone that they need to deliver in the next two games at Taunton, aware that there are worthy replacements waiting in the wings. The first innings against Surrey would be the perfect time for the pair to make substantial contributions.

The Somerset line-up was the same as that at Trent Bridge in mid-April with the exception of Timmy G coming in to replace Josh Davey in what was probably a case of workload management. I’m not trying to be in anyway disparaging toward Groenewald but I felt, as did Anthony Gibson, that Jamie Overton would have given Surrey’s batsmen more to think about. His extra pace providing a different dimension from what was available. It will be interesting to see what Morkel and McKerr can get out of the pitch on day 2.

Speaking after the day’s play, Jason “Manager of the Month” Kerr explained the logic behind Jamie’s loan move. There is clearly a concern to ensure he is ready for the rigours of 4-day cricket and Somerset’s hierarchy see the loan as a chance for him to demonstrate his match fitness.

Surrey without the injured Ollie Pope, the Currans and Liam Plunkett for post-IPL / international reasons brought back Scott Borthwick, Rikki Clarke and Morne Morkel in a very recognisable version of their 2018 side.

Like most Somerset supporters our attention was drawn to events at Old Trafford and Canterbury where, respectively Jamie Overton and Dom Bess were making their loan debuts. Bess was first into action shortly after lunch scoring a run a ball 25 as the White Rose were dismissed for 210. Bess bowled three overs for 10 without taking a wicket as Kent replied with 130-4.

Northants, who also batted first were bowled out for 230, Jamie Overton made a very un-Jamie like 6 off 25 balls and had figures of 4-1-11-0.