Thoroughly Deserved

25th July 2020

Worcestershire v Somerset, New Road Worcester, day four, July 25th, 2018 – Somerset 337 and 362-9 (Azhar 125, Trescothick 71) beat Worcestershire 257 (J Overton 4-61, J Davey 4-68) and 301 (J Overton 4-82, J Davey 3-43) by 141 runs

A comfortable victory, by 141 runs with ample time to spare which takes Somerset back to second place in the table over bottom and surely soon to be relegated Worcestershire seemed assured from the first hour of the day.

Jamie Overton and Josh Davey, who had done the bulk of the damage in the first innings took four wickets between them in the first hour leaving Worcestershire 71-6 with all their recognised batsmen gone.

But Alex Milton, debut wicketkeeper clearly hasn’t completed his induction to county cricket. Arriving to face the hat-trick delivery from Jamie Overton with just 377 needed and half his side dismissed Milton proceeded to play with guts, determination and no small share of skill over four and a half hours to register an unbeaten century of some quality.

But even after Milton had settled in and helped by Ross Whiteley doubled the home sides second innings total for the seventh wicket three figures seemed very far off. Luke wood couldn’t repeat his performance in the first innings and when he and Dillon Pennington were dismissed by Jack Leach in the space of three balls in the 48th over immediately after lunch Worcestershire had lost seven wickets in a fraction over one session..

For Somerset supporters of a nervous disposition the tenth wicket partnership of Milton and Steve Magoffin, which spanned the whole afternoon session, began to seem like Paradise Lost for their title chasing side. Abell rotated his bowlers and ensured his side maintained their intensity but the final wicket would not come.

Magoffin, at the complete opposite end of his career to his young partner, was adhesively effective as he compiled 43 off 142 balls. Milton reached his hundred off 180 balls but thankfully for all Somerset supporters his partner perished immediately thereafter caught fittingly by Josh Davey, who had done so much with the ball to engineer this win off the bowling of the older twin.

For those of you like me who have been longing for a bit of red-ball cricket the last four days have been a sheer joy. Every game in this round of the Championship had something to commend it and several could be in the running for game of the season. What a shame we have to wait almost a month for more of the same.

Somerset’s win is, of course, responsible for a large part of the feel-good factor but there were many other examples of why the Championship is such a great competition and why we, as devoted supporters of our counties, must do everything we can to ensure the competition isn’t further damaged by the powers that be.

Daryl Mitchel tweeted late on Wednesday that his team was comprehensively outplayed in every department. That is undoubtedly true and while Surrey’s maximum point demolition of Notts increased the gap at the top to 34 points there is plenty for those of us of a maroon and black persuasion to be excited about.

Somerset won all but one session of their game, the exception being the last afternoon. The intensity with which Somerset played throughout was something that Worcestershire, despite the admirable efforts of Moeen with the ball and Alex Milton with the bat, could not compete with.

Azhar Ali looks like a quality replacement for Matt Renshaw. He clearly has a hunger for runs as evidenced by his disappointment when he was eventually dismissed in the second innings. Marcus is back as good as ever, Jamie Overton looks a frightening prospect for opposition batsmen and Josh Davey continues the happy knack of taking important wickets and retain tight control.

With the ability to rotate the seamers that Jamie and Josh have now given us and with potentially four spin options there is every reason to believe that Somerset should be able to out bowl their opponents in most circumstances for the rest of the season. 

The management faces some challenges, not least in dealing with the potential Buttler-Kieswetter reprise with Jack and Dom, but Somerset are in a much stronger position than they have been for many years. 

The bizarre recall of Adil Rashid to the test squad will surely give extra motivation to the Somerset spin twins when they are back in four-day action and while it is frustrating to see them both overlooked by England Somerset folk will hope that England’s loss is the cider county’s gain for the foreseeable future.

Make no bones about it this is as good a Somerset squad as I have seen in my lifetime.

But is that going to be enough to catch Surrey? The Oval juggernaut rolled through Trent Bridge in comprehensive fashion, leading many commentators to as good as give them the title already. There is certainly strong evidence to suggest that Somerset are the only realistic challengers and they cannot afford to slip up before the two meet at Taunton in the penultimate round of fixtures.

However Surrey still have to play Essex twice and they aren’t going to allow the title out of their grasp without a fight. Surrey also have to play three games at The Oval, which as we head into the second half of the season in the current weather, may prove to be a challenging surface to take 20 opposition wickets.

Notts defeat seems to end their realistic title aspirations and I wouldn’t be surprised if a team which has punched above its weight so far this season slips away into the relegation dogfight along with Worcestershire, Hampshire and Lancashire.

Which leaves Yorkshire to consider. They are clearly an enigmatic side who at their best, and reinforced with their England contingent, are a match for anyone. But they are also capable of being downright filthy as they were at The Oval and Taunton earlier in the season.

There is something special about this Somerset team which leads me to believe that they are better equipped to deal with adversity and pull for each other. Surrey haven’t been tested yet and the cricket gods may decide to throw them a few slings and arrows to see if they are worthy champions-elect. It will be interesting to see how they respond.

It all points to the game at Taunton in September being pivotal, but don’t be surprised if it goes to the last round yet again.  

Meanwhile, in Division Two it has got very interesting all of a sudden. Middlesex beat leaders Warwickshire and Leicestershire beat Kent so with the fast-improving Jason Gillespie inspired Sussex demolishing Glamorgan 17 points cover the top 4 places. 

I for one can’t wait until red-ball cricket returns next month.

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