Moving Swiftly Along

17 wickets on day one, including 7 Somerset batsmen before lunch. Can't see this one lasting until day 4

County Championship Division One, Taunton, Day 1 – Warwickshire 110-7 (C Overton 3-25) trail Somerset 209 all out (Extras 47, Davey 36, O Hannon-Dalby 5-18)) by 99 runs

Somerset would under most circumstances have been very happy to adjourn at lunch on the first day of a championship game with 143 runs at a shade under 5 an over. The problem was that they had lost 7 wickets in doing so. 

It is impossible to write anything about the first day’s play without reference to the other games around the country. Bizarrely only Hampshire, who were 88-0 on the Isle of Wight against Notts had shown any semblance of normality. Surrey were 91-5 having been 65-5 v Kent, Durham 54-5 v Gloucs (they were 34-5 at one point), Worcestershire 66-7 having been 38-7 v Lancashire and Sussex 77-6 against Northants.

Even more bizarrely of those teams only Hampshire and Durham were not in very strong positions by close of play. But more of that later.

Pre-game my thoughts were that Somerset faced a different sort of pressure heading into this game. Expectations were high that Warwickshire, bottom of the table with no wins and a meagre 7 points from their first two games, both at home, were there for the taking. There was also the obvious distraction of a Lords Final on Saturday.

Selection has become a thing in the last couple of weeks. Tom Banton’s white ball performances combined with Marcus’ early season struggles had created uncertainty at the top of the order. Jack Brooks injury was thought by many to mean the return of Jamie Overton from his loan spell at Northampton but the selectors chose to leave Jamie to face Sussex at Northampton and recalled Josh Davey. 

My first reaction on hearing that Warwickshire had elected to bowl was that this was more of a defensive move by the visitors, not wanting to bat first against the Somerset attack especially as there was more than a little tinge of green in the wicket. I suspect Warwickshire’s fragile batting would have struggled massively if they had chosen to bat first. It was Somerset’s daunting task to face that challenge.

The only word to describe the next three hours is frenetic. Somerset’ s batsmen, certainly before lunch could be split into two very distinct tribes – Azhar and Davies, who doggedly resisted and accumulated and the rest who went at pretty much a run a ball and perished when they had got into the teens. Not until the arrival of Josh Davey at No 9 did we see a sensible mixture of the two.

I’ve decided to write the Somerset innings in one paragraph with little punctuation. The intention being for the reader to get through the text quickly and finish reading slightly dazed and breathless as that was the effect of the innings on Somerset supporters.

Tres was out 5 in second over, again caught in the slips amid a frenetic start which saw 13 off first over including 4 leg byes and 2 no-balls. Hildy joined Azhar and got off to a flier with 15 off his first 12 balls including 3 fours but was then caught at point cutting first ball of 7th over for 15. Tom and Azhar stabilised things for a while but just before the first hour, in the 14th over, the skipper was trapped LBW by Hannon-Dalby for 14. 57-3 which soon became 61-4 when Azhar was bowled by ex-Gloucestershire man Liam Norwell, George Bartlett Joined Steven Davies and raced to 15 off 13 balls before playing on to the returning Brookes 77-5 in the 18th Lewis’ arrival unsurprisingly saw more positive intent and in just over 7 overs the he and Davies added 46, Gregory’s share was 20 when 10 minutes before lunch he went caught in the slips 123-6 with extras now comfortably top scorer with 31. In the four overs up to lunch after Lewis was dismissed Somerset added another 20 with Craig Overton moving on to 11 off 11 balls and passing Steven Davies who lunched on 9 off 35 balls. Somerset’s interval total of 143-6 off 29 overs was just shy of 5 runs an over. Craig Overton went almost immediately after lunch, the fourth Somerset batsman dismissed for 15 with the total on 147-7. Josh Davey joined Steven Davies and together they added 58 before Davies was lbw to Warwickshire skipper Jeetan Patel with the score on 205. Davey went in the following over without addition to the score for a well-made 36 off 56 balls and two overs later Jack Leach was caught in the slips to leave Somerset 209 all out.  

Extras were comfortably the top scorer with 47 almost half of them no balls and in total accounted for a remarkable 22.5% of the total, Josh Davey 36 and Steve Davies 23 off 75 were the next two top scorers.  

And at 2.48 pm breathe! 

Warwickshire adopted a totally contrasting approach to the task of batting on this pitch. At tea they had reached 42 for the loss of two wickets off 14 overs, a positively rapid rate of scoring compared with what was to come in the final session in which they barely scraped above 2 an over. 

Huge credit has to go yet again to the bowlers who bowled with exemplary skill and discipline and a big plus was to see Tom Abell bring himself on much earlier than usual. His spell mid-session of 5-3-7-0 helped build the pressure which resulted in the late fall of 2 wickets.

Abell, assisted by Craig Overton was responsible for the first wicket, a run out of Will Rhodes after a horrible mix up between the openers and Overton then removed rookie No 3 Robert Yates for 8. Overton getting lift from just short of a length but at greater pace than Hannon-Dalby had shown earlier in the day when taking a career best 5-18.

Dominic Sibley was the wicket Somerset most wanted, the opener is on a prolific run of a century in each of his last 6 first class games and he was superbly caught by Craig off Timmy G for 26 off 85 balls. That was the fifth wicket to fall after Overton had removed Sam Hain and Adam Hose in quick succession. I’ll bite my lip about how good the latter felt after Hose’s acrimonious departure for “greener pastures”.

Another of Warwickshire’s array of teenagers, Liam Banks batted through to the close to end 26 not out but he lost two more partners in doing so, Tim Ambrose was comprehensively bowled by Lewis Gregory who then turned catcher at slip as Jack Leach took his first wicket with what was the last ball of the day to leave Warwickshire on 110-7.

Given the nature of the pitch Somerset will be glad to avoid batting for the first part of the morning and will hope to take advantage of the freshness of the overnight wicket to quickly wrap up the last three wickets. Assuming they can do so with a lead of around 50 or more they will be optimistic of batting themselves into a very strong position. The Taunton pitch has in the recent past become considerably easier to bat on on days two and three but his pitch is greener than anything we have seen for quite a while so it may be over optimistic to hope batting will be that much easier until later in the day.

What is evident is that Somerset are a considerably better side than their opponents but what is equally clear is that their batsmen need to demonstrate this and give the bowlers something to bowl at. The question is whether this is a matter of time or whether the transformation can’t happen without a change in the batting order and/or personnel.

Social media was inevitably abuzz after the fall of the first wicket so we’ll leave that debate until tomorrow or Wednesday and hope above hope that the great man can put something substantial together. The other main topic of debate was the pitch with the obvious question about the likelihood of a visit from the pitch inspectors getting a good airing. The majority view and the one I subscribe to is that the 17 wickets was more due to poor technique and application rather than the surface although I agree with many who felt that if 17 wickets had fallen to Jeetan Patel and Jack Leach it would have been a case for the ECB’s man to “start the car”.  I’ll defer to ESPN’s David Hopps who, impartially, stated that the pitch was, “on the right side of the line.”

Somerset weren’t the only side in the Championship who staged a fightback after a poor session. Surrey closed on 420-9 at Beckenham, Durham reached 158 and had reduced Gloucs to 120-5 and Worcestershire having made 172 had half the Lancashire side back in the pavilion for 88. But the most stunning recovery was at Northampton where Ben Brown and Chris Jordan both made unbeaten 150s as they added 302 for the seventh Sussex wicket. Jamie Overton finished the day with 1-69 off 15 overs.