Too Close For My Nerves

A comfortable 3 day 49 run victory? Not a bit of it for this observer

County Championship Division One, Taunton, Day 3- Somerset 209 and 164 (Overton 36, Norwell 7-41) Warwickshire 135 (C Overton 5-31) and 189 (Hain 43*) beat Warwickshire by 49 runs 

Looking back at a scorecard of this game at the end of the season or in years to come a 49-run victory in a low scoring game like this will seem pretty comprehensive. And it was. Somerset out-batted, out-bowled and out-fielded Warwickshire and were deserved victors. The problem is when you are “in the moment” and the opponents last wicket stand has added 49 runs and halved the requirement for victory things are far from comfortable for us supporters.

The rational mind goes out of the window at such times and thoughts turn to how damaging defeat will be, how a promising start in the championship could unravel, how a loss could be terminal for a title challenge. All irrational. But those and many other negative thoughts swirl around in your brain as the last wicket pair add a single here, a boundary there.

The problem for Somerset supporters was that this wasn’t a typical last wicket stand, partly because Oliver Hannon-Dalby has previous at Taunton in this regard but mainly because Sam Hain was inching toward a century in a game where the previous highest score (ignoring extras) was 36. 

The requirement when they came together was 99 Somerset having taken 3 wickets for the addition of 37 runs in 15 overs. In this context a last wicket stand of 49 in 17 overs was beginning to get a little too close for comfort until Lewis Gregory returning for a pre-lunch burst induced Hannon-Dalby to edge, fittingly, to Craig Overton. 

Judging by the reaction of Hain, and to a greater degree Hannon-Dalby the Warwickshire pair clearly thought they thought they had a chance of victory. The crowd had gone ever quieter and the tension seemed to be, for the first time in the session, creeping into the Somerset side with a few nervous looking loose deliveries and some very unusual mis-fields.

But of course, now it is all over, the points secured and, at least temporarily, the gap at the top of the table extended to 32 points all the tension of lunchtime seems to have dissipated. Somerset have an extra day to prepare for Saturday’s final with a third win in four games. 

There is no doubt there is a growing feeling that this could be our year. I’ve heard both the Surrey and Warwickshire commentators make explicit reference to this already. The wider cricket community is aware of the momentum that is building behind Somerset. That’s a good thing, if you go into games with the opposition feeling they are playing the champions elect it is worth a couple of wickets or a bunch of runs before a ball is bowled. Surrey benefitted from this last year when they went on their run from early June.

I have made a pledge to myself that I am not going to ignore this fact as the season goes on. While I am a naturally superstitious person and don’t want to jinx things it would be absurd to ignore what we have here and what is building.

Anthony Gibson admitted last week that he has spent plenty of time thinking of what he will say if he is on commentary at the moment our collective lifelong dreams become reality. I have also thought about this moment a lot and will be trying to make representations to Anthony to that effect if we continue to perform as we have done. I feel the weight of my family no longer as firmly on my shoulders as I am sure many of us do and this thing is as much for all of them as it is for Tom and the boys.

Before I am accused of getting ahead of myself let me just say in mitigation that, having documented much of the 2018 season, when I read back over those posts during the winter there was always something in reserve, that visceral expression of feeling and what this means to me. I don’t want to repeat that this year in my writing so will not apologise for expressing my feelings about the progress of the season game by game, “in the moment”

And yes the next three games, all away, against Surrey, Kent and then Essex, which will take us to the half-way point in the championship in terms of games played and will tell us a lot about our title aspirations. But Somerset can go into that run of games, with another off-week after Kent, with confidence.

As I write this before close of play in the other games two of our potential rivals have work to do to wrap up victories. Hampshire have built a lead of 350 mainly thanks to a third wicket stand of 257 between Ajinka Rahane and Sam Northeast who both made centuries. The outcome of this one will be decided by how well the pitch at Newport IoW holds up and also on whether Notts have the temperament to bat out the last day. A little session before the close may be pivotal.

Surrey lead Kent by 370 with four wickets left and must be nearing a declaration. Again being played at an out-ground, in this instance Beckenham, the outcome here is more likely to be decided by the resilience of the Kent batting which I am afraid I don’t back to achieve the draw.

Somerset have their first off-week of the season next week while our current nearest rivals in the division, Yorkshire and Hampshire play each other at Headingley. Surrey will be looking to make up ground with a visit to Edgbaston and Essex, who I think are in with a real shout of contending this year host Kent.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on those games, and the performance of Dom Bess (Northants also have an off week next week). Let’s hope by the time those games get underway we have some silverware to cherish.