Bob Willis Trophy Central Group, Somerset v Gloucestershire, Taunton, August 22 – 25 2020, Day 1 Somerset 237 (Bartlett 100*, C Overton 32, Brooks 24) lead Gloucestershire 13-4 by 224 runs
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Chris Dent, having won the toss, elected to field for one reason and one reason only, to avoid facing Somerset’s much vaunted bowling attack on a first day pitch in conditions that favoured the bowlers.
Unfortunately for Dent and his top order colleagues it was a case of delaying the inevitable. By the close of play in just 12 overs Craig Overton (6-2-9-2) and Josh Davey (6-4-4-2) had reduced their visitors, who have used two night watchmen to utter disarray. Gloucestershire would have hoped to survive the day without loss of a wicket. Somerset for perhaps two. The four dismissals represent a seismic shift in the balance of the contest.
Another 25 are needed to avoid the follow on and with a night’s rest and early morning conditions I wouldn’t bet against Craig and Co inflicting that ignominy.
This was Somerset’s pace attack doing what they have done consistently since the start of this shortened red ball cricket and in truth the bunch from Bristol were lucky to be only four down at the close. Jason Kerr wants his side to dominate their opponents and this was twelve overs of utter domination where the Gloucester batsmen were rendered stroke-less and clue-less against the country’s finest new ball pairing. Dent himself, Charlesworth, van Buuren and Shaw were all removed in single figures and will no doubt be able to testify that the older Overton and Davey are the real deal.
Somerset, in the space of the last two-thirds of the final session had first wrested the initiative from their opponents and converted it in a match winning position. Much of the credit for the turnaround though should be directed towards George Bartlett who made an unbeaten hundred, his first at Taunton.
The young middle-order batsman, who had previously made three centuries for the county and had hinted at huge potential in county cricket, came of age with this innings. While the rest of his colleagues struggled to cope with bowler-friendly conditions Bartlett was in control from the outset and looked a class apart.
Coming to the wicket when the totally out of form James Hildreth departed shortly after lunch, Bartlett made 100 out of 193 while he was batting. His fluent 143 ball innings included 17 sumptuous fours and was decorated by elegance and timing throughout. But what impressed me most was the maturity Bartlett showed throughout. Remember the date, the prince of Somerset’s middle order batting had become a king in front of our eyes.
Without Bartlett Somerset would have been in a parlous state thanks to conditions which, for a while made journeymen bowlers seem like world-beaters. After Eddie Byrom went early the two toms, Lammonby and Abell seemed to be building a promising second wicket partnership but both failed to capitalise on their starts and when Steven Davies was caught down the leg side the familiar peril of having lost all but one of the specialist batsmen was with us. 89-5.
Thankfully Craig Overton’s batting has developed significantly and he, like Bartlett was able to ally skill and discipline as the pair pulled Somerset to parity in the contest before and after tea. Their stand, worth 75, was broken when Craig got a ball which kept low and 164-5 became 176-9 as Roelof, Jamie and Josh all departed in quick succession.
It appeared that George and Craig’s example of how to prosper on this surface against this attack had passed numbers 8, 9 and 10 by in a passage of play that brought Anthony Gibson close to apoplexy.
But Jack Brooks, average 55 before this innings, thankfully was able to do what was required at this stage of the innings, simply to keep Bartlett company.
The tenth wicket pair saw Somerset past their first bonus point and, remarkably, what seemed a distant prospect of a Bartlett century began to become a possibility. Gloucestershire’s tactics, which were as unfathomable as some of the recent Somerset batting, turned that possibility into a probability as Bartlett needed no invitation to pierce the gaps Dent’s field placings provided.
Brooks, having seen his partner to three figures seemed to decide it was time to turn the screw on the opposition. Unfortunately that approach led to his immediate demise, 13 runs short of the 250.
It occurs to me that Bartlett’s success not only cements his place at 5 in the batting order but has wider implications for Tom Banton. Should Somerset reach the Lords final they will need to find a way to accommodate Banton and, unless they play an extra batsmen it would seem to me that the only place would be at the top of the order in place of either Byrom or Lammonby. That would be a nice problem for Jason Kerr to resolve.
Meanwhile elsewhere of significance in the BWT. Warwickshire, mainly in the form of their captain and opener Will Rhodes (142*) frustrated Worcester as the visitors crawled to 228-3 in a full day’s 90 overs. The only other contender for Lords who made any progress was Derbyshire who have Durham 219-6 at the Riverside it could have been a lot better for as the Durham seventh wicket partnership has currently added 64. Derbyshire have only bowling point to show for 83 overs work and have a lot of work to do to develop a winning position.
Yorkshire managed only 2.1 overs in Leeds but that was 13 balls better than Hampshire and Essex who saw play abandoned without a ball bowled.
Definitely advantage Somerset.