New Road Hard Yards

A fascinatingly tough first day at New Road sees the game between the Central Group's top two interestingly poised.

Bob Willis Trophy Central Group, v Worcestershire v Somerset, Worcester, September 6-9, 2020, Day 1 Somerset 251 (Abell 59, Gregory 37) lead Worcestershire 14-0 by 237 runs

Somerset have, let’s be honest breezed through the Central Group of the Bob Willis Trophy and would, had it not been for the capricious Birmingham weather, be virtually assured of a place in the Lords final. Paradoxically the lowest ranked team in the group (second bottom in last year’s division two) have been Somerset’s closest challengers and look like giving Tom Abell’s side the toughest test they have faced this season.

There was plenty to talk about even before a ball was bowled. James Hildreth’s hamstring injury, which will probably rule him out for the rest of the season, forced a re-jig of the batting order. While we all hoped that Babar Azam would be a like-for-like replacement at 4 it was not to be. Ben Green got the nod to replace him but was then asked to join his fellow Devonian Tom Lammonby at the top of the order with George Bartlett moving up to 4 and Eddie Byrom dropping down to 5. The returning Lewis Gregory replaced the now departed Jamie Overton.

Jack Leach came in to play his first game of the season in any format for any team but both Roelof van der Merwe and Dom Bess will feel hard done by not to have got the nod, especially as their respective batting would have been useful in the lower middle order. But, I suspect, Leach’s superiority as an attacking spin bowler got him the final place in the side.    

Tom Abell’s decision on winning the toss to bat first seemed at first look to be a surprise but, having taken the decision to pick Leach, the option to given him use of the pitch in its last innings could not be passed up. 

That gave Abell and his top order colleagues a tough task in the first session and they passed it with flying colours. The only wicket to fall was the self-inflicted run out of Ben Green who had shaped up well in his new role. Thereafter the two Toms carried on where they had left off against Gloucestershire at Taunton two weeks ago, albeit in a more testing mode reflecting the tougher conditions for batting and better bowling they were facing.

At lunch Somerset were 83-1, Abell 41, Lammonby 27 which was well “above par” and did not reflect either the surface or the overhead conditions. Worcestershire also contributed to the balance of power at the interval by bowling far too many balls that did not require the batsmen to play.

It was immediately obvious after lunch that the Worcestershire bowlers weren’t going repeat the same mistake in their line and it immediately paid dividends. Within 13 overs of the resumption they had reduced Somerset to 120-4 when Tom Abell went for 59. Lammonby and Bartlett had preceded him both playing on to Pennington and Tongue respectively.

It was to get worse for Somerset when Steven Davies and Craig Overton were despatched within 8 balls. 134-6. The responsibility for the recovery fell on Eddie Byrom, who no doubt, would have felt a little jilted at his demotion in the order and Lewis Gregory, who has shown little form with either bat or ball since he emerged from the England white ball bubble. But recover they did, initially and understandably a little uncertainty but gradually with more confidence. Gregory was by far the more aggressive hitting four sixes in his 52 ball 37 which propelled his side to within 5 runs of what could be a crucial bonus point.

Lewis’ departure followed shortly after by Byrom who yet again was unable to get out of his personal twilight zone of 20-30 left Somerset on 203-8. Hopes of a second bonus point seemed, at this point, as slim as had hopes of a first when Overton departed in mid-afternoon. Josh Davey and Jack Leach though had other ideas and built a very neat and well-made 39 run ninth wicket partnership. With a little help from Jack Brooks 250 was passed.

Two of the nineteen points required to seal a place in the final were secured and, while it remains to be seen, the scores at Chelmsford and Liverpool indicate that neither Essex nor Derbyshire are going to pick up more batting points. 

Worcestershire, in the form of their very reliable opening pair of Daryl Mitchell and Jake Libby saw their side through the final five overs of the day without loss adding 14 runs in the process.

For Somerset’s much-vaunted bowling attack tomorrow will be their most important day of this truncated season so far. They will not want to concede a first innings lead and ideally would like a lead in excess of 50 on first innings. They have shown this season that they are more than capable of doing so but all their efforts so far this season will count for nothing if they fail to deliver tomorrow. Cricket is a cruel game.

Elsewhere in the central group there was a reminder of how lucky we have been to see so much cricket without interference from the pandemic. The game at Bristol was called off at lunch with the home side 66-6 as a result of a Northants player testing positive. The individual who has not been named was not playing in the game against Gloucestershire but under ECB protocols the game had to be called off. While this game has no impact on the BWT we wait to see what effect this will have on the Blast where the two sides currently sit in first and second place in the central group.

Jamie Overton opened the bowling for Surrey at The Oval but bowled only 9 overs but is still waiting for his first wicket for his new county (0-35). Jamie will be hoping that his fortunes pick up soon after bowling just a single over in the two T20s he has played since his move which went for 13 and 12 runs respectively.