Hugely Encouraging

27th July 2020

Somerset v Gloucestershire, 2020 Pre-Season Friendly, Taunton – July 26th & 27th, Bristol July 28th & 29th – Days 1 & 2 Gloucestershire 273 All Out, Roderick 106, N Gilchrist 4-32, C Overton 3-34 ) Somerset 217-3, Byrom 70, Abell 64*, Hildreth 48)

There is a conceptual problem with a pre-season game played in late July. You normally associate pre-season games with sparse crowds in bitterly inclement weather on tricky patting surfaces. 

If you think back to Championship games played at Taunton at this time of the year your mind will immediately switch to flat-track batsmen friendly surfaces with Marcus Trescothick and James Hildreth compiling glorious hundreds and opposition bowlers toiling in the heat. 

The weather gods clearly were thinking of late March pre-season conspiring over the first two days to produce glowering skies, blustery winds and significant rain which have shortened the first two days to a total of 132 overs.

Significantly perhaps the Tauntonian cricketing Gods graced the County Ground with glorious July sunshine only for the last hour of the second day. Metaphorically Tom Abell and James Hildreth, two of Somerset’s finest and most graceful were batting with mid-summer flowing grace by this time, moving Somerset into a position of some promise.

This last session was in stark contrast to the bulk of the Gloucestershire innings where, with the exception of Chris Dent and the pugnacious Gareth Broderick, the batsmen struggled against fine Somerset bowling. The spin-twins still bio-secured in Manchester with the England Test squad. Lewis Gregory is in Southampton with the similarly curfewed one-day group while Tim Groenewald is now plying his trade at Canterbury. Four top-flight contributors missing but Somerset were still able to field; the Overton twins, Jack Brooks and Josh Davey, all integral to the success of the past two seasons. 

They like, Tom Abell and Roelof van der Merwe though played a largely supporting role to one of Somerset’s up-and-coming stars, Nathan Gilchrist who either side of Sunday’s early closure of play took 4-32, including both wickets on the second morning. Gilchrist is tall and upright and runs through the crease with a quick action. He reminds me a little of Gary Palmer although Nathan is taller and has some physical development still to come. It is a testament to Somerset’s bowling depth that Gilchrist would probably be ranked seventh or eighth in the Somerset seamers but proved too much for the middle and lower order of the visitors.

The options available to Tom Abell allowed him to constantly rotate his bowlers retaining control whenever any of his attack started to leak runs (Jack Brooks worryingly so). This was an experience that Gloucestershire’s batsmen hadn’t enjoyed in their years in the lower division, and consequently, they found themselves unable to either resist or counter-attack. The difference in class of the two divisions was never more evident.

Abell was able to wrap up the Gloucestershire first innings so quickly on the second day, after a delayed start, that his main bowlers weren’t needed. Six overs were sufficient for Broderick to register his hundred before being well caught by Jack Brooks diving forward at mid-on and Josh Shaw to perish to a neat catch at midwicket by Roelof. With the injured Graham van Buuren unable to resume the visitors closed on 273.

Tom Lammonby was given his chance at the top of the order, a move that intrigued me hugely thinking ahead to next Saturday. He never looked out of his depth but equally wasn’t able to get out of first gear nicking a good length ball to James Bracey. His 5 took 50 balls.

At the other end, Eddie Byrom was the complete opposite. He batted with the same freedom he had demonstrated in the latter part of the 2019 T20 competition. After a sensible period of initial circumspection he blossomed accounting for over three-quarters of the opening stand of 31 and over half of his partnership with Tom Abell which added 77 in just 18 overs.

I’ve always felt that Byrom is someone who is never satisfied that he has scored enough runs. If that is the case it bodes well for Somerset in the next few years; it certainly seemed the case when he, rather loosely, clipped to mid-wicket on 70. A hundred was there for the taking and he knew it.

Byrom’s departure brought Hildreth to the wicket to join the skipper. In a shade under 20 overs, they added 98 glorious runs. It was for Somerset supporters an hour to melt away the hard times of the last few months, the despair of that Thursday in late September last year, and remind us that this Somerset side is capable of greatness, capable of bringing joy and happiness back into all our lives.

Hildreth fell two short of what would have been another glorious 50 (off 58 balls, seven 4s and a 6) but his skipper remained unbeaten of 64. Now he has the slightly odd prospect of taking guard in Bristol tomorrow morning on a completely different surface (readers will know my thoughts on the Nevil Ground surface). His task will be to help his side bat for as long as possible, ideally into the final session, and then let his bowlers loose for a second time.

Yes, this is only a pre-season game. Yes, it is being played under slightly artificial conditions. But this is the old enemy and one of our group in the Bob Willis Trophy. A strong performance here would, in such a compressed season, have huge consequences.

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