Turning Point

Three days, one innings, one spell. That was all that was required to derail Somerset's 2018 County Championship title chase

County Championship, Division One, Guildford, June 20-22 2018 Somerset 180 and 210 (Hildreth 89*) lost to Surrey 459 by an innings and 69 runs

What a difference a week and a year make. Somerset arrived at Guildford leading division one having supplanted Notts at Taunton the week before in an enthralling four days.

One year later Somerset would arrive at Guildford and comprehensively outplaying the reigning champions effectively ending their hopes of retaining this title.

But these three days in the sultry heat of 2018 saw the hosts complete their third consecutive innings victory, pass somerset at the top of the table (a position they would not relinquish) and dent the confidence of Tom Abell’s young side.

As sliding doors moments go June 2018 and 2019 are right up there.

This is a game that it is best to gloss over. Rather than the usual day by day coverage here I am going to cover the three days in one hit. Like a painful visit to the dentist or a tough business meeting, it is best to get this over quickly.

Tom Abell made the decision to invite Surrey to bat first, encouraged by the steamy conditions, the heavy cloud cover and the fact that this is an out-ground were all contributory factors.

Unfortunately, the luck wasn’t with Abell’s bowlers who toiled manfully all day, regularly beat the bat but without success. The Surrey top order all got themselves in and made significant contributions.

Surrey added a further 108 on the second morning with local lad Ollie Pope finishing on 117. But the real drama of this game and the defining spell of the whole season was still to come.

Rikki Clarke, constant scourge of Somerset throughout his long career made the early inroads but, either side of tea, Eddie Byrom and Tom Abell began to build a recovery adding 54. Clarke returned to the attack shortly after tea and then it was over to Rayn Patel. His spell of 6-5 in 23 balls effectively decided the contest. With the benefit of hindsight, this spell was also the point at which Surrey took control of the title race.

Patel took a wicket with his first ball and for the next four overs could do no wrong. His achievement is all the more remarkable when you consider he had only taken two championship wickets before this game.

To add to Somerset’s woes Morne Morkel hit the returning Jack Leach on the helmet, ending his involvement in the game with Max Waller replacing him.

The only consolation, and a very small one at that, was that Somerset survived to the close with all their second innings wickets intact.

It was a short reprieve. Rikki Clarke and Morne Morkel combined for eight wickets on the third day as Surrey worked their way steadily through the Somerset batting.

Only James Hildreth, with a staunch 89* offered any prolonged resistance. His stand of 62 with Josh Davey for the 8th wicket added a veneer of respectability, but it was not enough to avoid an innings defeat.

Looking back, it is easy to see this game as a turning point in the season. Much harder though to ascertain why Somerset were so totally outplayed.

The two sides, as the rest of the summer would show, were evenly matched. Both well led with a blend of youth and experience. Both had potent bowling attacks. For me, it comes down to being one of those games. If Somerset had had more luck on the first day if Ryan Patel hadn’t chosen this game to be a, so far, career outlier if Somerset’s batsmen had got a share of the luck their Surrey counterparts had.

That’s why we love cricket. A game of ifs, buts and maybes! 

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