Guildford Drama

The Friday long-read looking back over the first three days at Guildford in 2019. Strap yourselves in.

County Championship Division One June 3 – 6 2019, Surrey v Somerset, Guildford, Days 1 to 3  

Surrey 231 (Patel 63, Foakes 57, C Overton 5-38, J Overton 3-46) and 99-2; Somerset (Bartlett 137) and 153 (Hildreth 64, Dunn 5-43)

Surrey require a further 168 runs to win with 8 second innings wickets standing.

This was a magnificent game of cricket. More magnificent if you were a Somerset fan but, despite the loss of almost the whole of the second day, one which is hurtling toward a dramatic finish on the final day.

Day 3

Remember Essex and Lancashire at Taunton last season? Remember Warwickshire last month? Well guess what Somerset fans, it looks like we are in for another nerve-jangling rollercoaster ride in the County Championship tomorrow.

The GPs of Somerset would be well advised to be on standby because if Somerset’s Championship campaign continues like this for much longer there are going to be a lot of us needing help from out physicians before September is done.

By half way through the afternoon session of this tense, tight game Somerset looked to be easing into a position of control and putting the game and probably with it this year’s championship out of Surrey’s reach, but from a position of 114-3 with James Hildreth and George Bartlett batting as calmly as was possible on this surface.

At that time the lead was 227 and an advantage of over 300 seemed well within Somerset’s capabilities. Such a total would have effectively batted Surrey completely out of the game and made victory a formality. The loss of James Hildreth for a beautifully constructed 64 began a decline almost as startling as the Ryan Patel inspired one last June. In the space of just 18 overs Somerset conspired to lose 7-39 to set Surrey 267 to win.

By the close Surrey had, improbably given what had gone before on day 3, got over a third of the way to their target for the loss of only two wickets. It could have been even worse for Somerset had Jack Brooks not got Surrey skipper late in the day. 

Put rationally into context of what has gone before in this game, on a pitch that shows increasing signs of unpredictable bounce to go with significant lateral movement, Surrey’s task seemed extremely difficult. While Somerset may still have the advantage of runs on the board the balance of the game has swung back towards Surrey.

Ahead of the third day it seemed to me that Somerset needed to secure a comfortable first innings advantage to provide themselves with some comfort ahead of their second innings at Guildford. In the event Somerset achieved a better first innings lead than they could have reasonably anticipated (113) but found their second innings far from comfortable.

Resuming on 188-5 Surrey’s game plan would surely have been to bat themselves into a position of near parity, a task which would have probably occupied most of the first two session. As it was Surrey’s first innings and Somerset’s second were completed within that time span. 

A game that, while not pedestrian was moving at a relatively sober pace suddenly accelerated in a bewildering flurry of wickets.

Within the first hour Somerset had wrapped up the Surrey innings, seven overs before the second new ball. On a pitch that for the first two days became significantly easier to bat on as the ball got older this was a superb effort. For a bowling attack without either Lewis Gregory or Josh Davey and with Jack Leach only required to bowl five overs I am struggling to find the right superlative. 

Somerset’s twitter account probably best summed it up, “Absolutely brilliant by Craig Overton” though in fairness the other bowlers weren’t far behind. Craig took 3-12 on the third morning to enhance his lead atop the PCA rankings. But that will be secondary I am sure to his placing Somerset in a potentially winning position. Ably supported by Jamie who has clearly found both his mojo and fitness while at Northampton Surrey’s lower middle order and tail were blown away. 

Only Ryan Patel who was last man out and Rikki Clarke showed any signs of disrupting Somerset’s progress. Every run of the 43 added by Surrey came off their respective bats. Of the others Will Jacks was caught at second slip without adding to his overnight 13 and Morkel and Batty both departed for ducks.

On a wicket that seemed to provide greater help to the Surrey seamers as the innings went on, both in terms of vertical and lateral movement they were bowled all out for 153 in 49 overs.

In the 14 overs and three balls that were possible before lunch Somerset lost, Abell, Trescothick and Banton in adding 50. There was a fair degree of misfortune for the visitors in that session, Marcus being adjudged caught behind off the thigh pad and Tom Banton went to the last ball before lunch.

I wrote something at the time which I remember as very hard to do. Thinking about it was hard enough. Something which, as I feared proved to be very prescient 

“There is a real possibility that this was Marcus Trescothick’s last Championship innings for Somerset. His failure to make a significant contribution will be eating at the great man and with Azhar Ali likely to return next week he seems the most vulnerable.” 

I went on” But if the cricketing Gods have any sense of occasion surely they will not allow such a glittering career to end in such a way. Surely he, we deserve a golden ending? “

Sadly it was not to be.

Hildreth and Bartlett added 64 after lunch in 17 overs in a manner that suggested Somerset were imposing themselves not only on this game but also this season’s division one. The opportunity of moving 15 points clear of Hampshire and 53 ahead of last year’s champions seemed within reach and perhaps as importantly such a position seemed possible in a calm, controlled way.

But, we should have known as Somerset supporters is it was not going to be that straightforward. Never has been. Probably never will be.

Somerset have, for the majority of this season been a dominant force, playing a brand of bold attacking cricket and finding a variety of ways to win. There will be a belief, a steely determination in the dressing room tomorrow morning that we should all take solace in. If any team in the country can take the 8 wickets required to seal what could be a pivotal win. 

While it is worth bearing in mind that defeat tomorrow will not be catastrophic. There is plenty of cricket left this season. One reverse will not suddenly make this Somerset a poor team. But boy would victory be so so sweet. 

It is a lot of fun when looking back on previous years’ posts to read succeeding day’s reports. Here, as it is a Friday (and the long-read) is the report after the first two days.

Days 1 & 2

When you look at the fixtures before the season does your mind paint a picture of what a particular game will be like? Mine does. And when it fell upon June 3rd to 6th at Guildford I anticipated a tough examination for Somerset under cloudless skies with all the trimmings of festival cricket. A suburban equivalent of the Baths and Westons of my childhood.

Wrong! The second day’s championship cricket in June was disrupted severely by the weather, not just in Surrey but across the country. Somerset were actually more fortunate than most in so far as the weather which had forced the players to leave the field shortly after lunch relented sufficiently to allow a final hour of play late in the day making 55 overs possible in all.

The morning session uncannily mirrored its predecessor. Surrey were reduced to 38-3 (Somerset’s nadir on Monday was 35-3) before a fourth wicket stand staged a recovery to leave the lunch score 101-3 (100-3).

Somerset in all honesty didn’t bowl particularly well for long enough phases to have deserved anything more. Surrey must be increasingly concerned about the lack of runs from Stoneman and Burns who were the rocks of last season. 

The former decided to try to hit his way into form and succeeded for a short while before he decided Jack Brooks, lovely fellow that he is, deserved a present on his birthday and obligingly played no shot at a straight one. Burns scratched around for 39 balls for 2 before he was pouched at second slip by Tres off Craig Overton, a fine catch which was traveling rapidly and low into the cordon.

When Craig’s twin entered the attack he deceived Dean Elgar with his first ball to trap the South African lbw for 1. Jamie had clearly been told to bowl quickly and that he would be given short bursts. He unsettled the Surrey batsman and although he was a little erratic early on (one delivery going straight into the hands of the aforementioned second slip who, as you would expect pouched it with aplomb!) none of the Surrey batsman were ever happy facing him.

That Surrey lunched with only three down owed a lot to Ben Foakes. The wicketkeeper batsman showed again that he is a class above at this level. He took full advantage of Woodbridge Road’s short boundaries and was playing beautifully after lunch when Jamie Overton induced an edge to Steven Davies. Foakes frustration at getting out for 57 having done all the hard work was exacerbated by the fact that the rain arrived before he had time to get out of his batting pads.

Thereafter the day petered out as they often do when rain leaves a final hour in damp conditions. That mini-session was one of those where the players didn’t want to be out there, the remaining spectators were questioning their sanity and the corporate guests had probably, to be honest, were as damp on the inside as the outside.

Craig Overton picked up the wicket of the obdurate Scott Borthwick (36 off 118 balls) when Surrey had reached 154 but further inroads could not be made in the remaining 10 overs as Ryan Patel, 40* and Will Jacks 13* took Surrey to the close.

With 23 overs until the new ball and a much better weather forecast for the morrow Somerset will need to make a couple of early breakthroughs and wrap up the Surrey innings with the new ball if they are to secure a comfortable first innings advantage. If they don’t their second innings could prove to be the toughest examination of their championship credentials yet.

Frustrating as the day was though, spare a thought for the BBC commentators. If being perched on top of the pavilion on a day like today was not hard enough they battled with gremlins which left them either talking to an audience that couldn’t hear or frantically unplugging, re-plugging and replacing equipment for much of the morning session.

It was, for all concerned just one of those days.