Time for Calm Heads
County Championship Division One, Taunton, Day 2 – Warwickshire 135 (C Overton 5-31) and 103-6 (Hain 43*) require 136 runs to beat Somerset 209 and 164 (Overton 36, Norwell 7-41)
A day which started with more questions than answers; how would the pitch behave on day 2? what the Somerset approach would be in their second innings? how would Tres fare with the spotlight on him ever more acutely? Ended with just one, can Warwickshire’s Sam Hain and their tail pull together 136 more runs to record a most improbable win.
The seven hours between these two states of mind were tortuous for all Somerset fans. Judging my some of the tweets coming in to the BBC commentary there is a whole swathe across south west England and, as in my case, farther afield, of angst ridden, nerve wracked cricket fans living every ball, every twist and turn with Tom Abell and this team. For the sake of our championship aspirations long may it continue but if it does it is going to be one hell of a journey.
Objective number one was to wrap up the Warwickshire first innings as quickly as possible. Jack Leach made the ideal start getting Jeetan Patel to the second ball of the day to complete the unfinished overnight over as a double wicket maiden.
A third wicket fell with the Warwickshire total on 110 when Liam Banks was lbw to Craig Overton without addition to his overnight 26. Last pair Norwell and Hannon-Dalby added a 25 in 8 overs before Craig bowled the ex-Gloucestershire man to finish with 5-31 and Somerset with a first innings lead of 74.
That lead had only reached 88 when James Hildreth was the second wicket to fall for a fourth ball duck, Azhar having gone to his third ball also without scoring. Within the first hour 5 wickets had gone.
The skipper joined Marcus who had begun positively and together they had taken the score to 37 before Tres was adjudged lbw to Norwell for 23. Frustratingly for those of us hoping Marcus would make a telling contribution, he got a start and seemed to be more relaxed at the crease in this innings as a result, but you have to wonder if this contribution was enough for him to retain his place.
With Hildy having failed again it seems to me that we need to look at the batting order as a whole. I’ve said for a while that I’d like to see Tres drop down to 5 or 6, keeping his experience in the side but if Hildreth is to move back to four the only way to do so would be to bring in Tom Banton at the top of the order and drop Steven Davies. The other factor is whether Tom Abell would be prepared to move back to open the innings now he has firmly established himself as the captain. If not perhaps move to 3?
The top 6 would then be; Banton, Azhar, Abell, Hildreth, Trescothick, Bartlett. It is time to give Tom his chance. This might seem very harsh on Davies and many would argue he deserves to retain his place in the side ahead of Tres but something needs to be done to this batting order as it is not consistently producing the runs needed by a side with championship aspirations.
The pattern of Somerset’s first innings continued up to and immediately after the lunch break, Somerset scoring at around 4 an over but losing wickets regularly. By lunch Somerset had virtually doubled their lead but had lost half their second innings wickets at 75-5, Tom Abell 23 and George Bartlett 14 returned to the Andy Caddick Pavilion in time for sandwiches. Immediately after lunch it became 75-6 when Lewis was bowled by Norwell (his fifth wicket of the innings) and 3 runs later Norwell struck again to remove Steven Davies for 10.
The farcical nature of this game was summed up just after 2.10pm when Somerset’s official twitter account tweeted “Nice little partnership of 20 this between Craig Overton and Josh Davey. Somerset 98/7 and lead by 172 runs”. It says it all really that Ben Warren, like all of us, saw a 20 run partnership of being worthy of note!
Josh Davey didn’t last much longer becoming Hannon-Dalby’s first wicket of the second innings when he reached 10. Davey was caught at deep square leg which at least bucked the trend of lbws and close catches.
The 9th wicket was slightly more productive than the 8th adding 32 before Tim Groenewald went caught behind off Brookes. 139-9. Jack Leach joined Craig Overton who by then had reached a very well-constructed 25, the pair added a further 25 before Leach was caught behind for 9 leaving Craig 36 not out making him joint top scorer in the game with Josh Davey from the first innings.
The last three Somerset wickets added 86 runs compared with the 78 the first seven mustered. The lingering question was whether this was evidence of the wicket easing, in which case Warwickshire’s task might be considerably less challenging than the scoreboard suggests.
Warwickshire’s target was 239 in just over 7 sessions or 230 overs. Lewis Gregory began with a wicket maiden removing Will Rhodes for a duck. Immediately before tea Gregory struck again getting Yates for 8 also caught behind with the total on 26. A little partnership which had begun to raise questions in my mind as to whether the wicket was easing despite the number of balls that were beating the bat.
Dominic Sibley remained a big obstacle for Somerset unbeaten on 12 but with 15 wickets having fallen already on day 2 and only 8 left to fall there was certainly a debate about whether Somerset could complete the job on day this evening. Sam Hain joined Sibley and they made batting look significantly easier in the post-tea period adding the almost obligatory 20 before Jack Leach got Sibley nonchalantly caught at slip by Lewis Gregory 46-3.
Adam Hose followed quickly to make it 55-4, a wicket which, unless I am very much mistaken, was celebrated with a little more vigour than any of the others. It seems the bad taste of mid-2017 may still linger. The impressive Liam Banks joined Hain who was by now batting with greater assurance than probably anyone in the game so far and they took the total on to 84 before Tom Abell got Banks lbw.
I am not going to claim that my preview on Saturday has had any influence on the skipper but it is pleasing to see that he is backing his bowling more in this game than previously this season. Five runs later George Bartlett demonstrated his brilliance in the field, effecting the crucial run out of Tim Ambrose, running in at pace from cover with only one stump to aim at.
One more wicket would have sent the game into an additional 30 minutes but Somerset seemed to settle for reaching the earlier close and to come back fresh in the morning.
While Somerset are now strong favourites but will want to see the back of Sam Hain quickly to ease all our nerves. Warwickshire need Hain to continue to prosper and hope that Jeetan Patel can’t stay with him. A repeat of the first half hour this morning would do very nicely. We need to manage our reserves of nerves, there is a long season stretching out in front of us.