The Most Important 12 Minutes of the Season?

That luck of the coin had required Somerset’s young and inexperienced top order to bat on a morning at Lords that was suited to seam bowling. If the roles had been reversed I’d have been disappointed If Essex had reached 90-3 at lunch.

Bob Willis Trophy Final – Somerset v Essex, September 23rd – 27th 2020, Day 1 Somerset 119-4 (Byrom 51*, S Cook 2-38)

You could have predicted it couldn’t you. The first ever five-day game that Somerset County Cricket Club would be curtailed by the weather. We did get some play, an uninterrupted first session and forty minutes in the first part of the afternoon but thereafter the change in the weather that arrived in the UK overnight took its toll as Autumn very definitely replaced late Summer.

What is clear is that Essex have had by far the better of the conditions thanks to winning the toss and in the short session that took place after tea could have inflicted if not mortal then very serious damage on Somerset’s cause. That session only lasted 12 minutes but, perhaps importantly, allowed Eddie Byrom to reach his 50 with a sumptuous on drive and crucially he and Steve Davies survived to the close.

By late afternoon I’d come to accept that we were done for the day and, to be honest, was not unhappy with that, hoping that Somerset could avoid a tricky hour late in the day and instead resume their innings in the (hopefully) better weather of Thursday. But, almost miraculously at 5.05 Eddie Byrom and Steve Davies emerged to resume the Somerset innings in, from what you could see on the live stream, looked pretty poor light. There were a theoretical 14 overs left in the day. 

That luck of the coin had required Somerset’s young and inexperienced top order to bat on a morning at Lords that was suited to seam bowling. You’d have found it tough going against any first-class seam attack in these conditions but this was a whole different challenge being confronted with the second-best bowling attack in the County Championship. That they finished the first session at 90-3 and in the last 30 minutes before lunch added 36 runs with considerable authority is a great tribute to the skill and determination of Somerset’s top five. 

Did Essex insert Somerset as an attacking move or were they concerned that Somerset’s bowling attack could do so much damage that the game would be lost before it even had the chance to get going? We will never know of course but if the roles had been reversed I’d have been disappointed if Essex had reached 90-3 at lunch. Even more so if they had been 0-1 in the second over.

Somerset’s batsmen showed great resolve against the Essex seamers and could consider themselves a little unlucky to have lost three wickets. Tom Abell, who was batting regally, was caught down the legside for the third or fourth time this season but this was a catch for the ages by Adam Wheater, pouched somewhere around third leg slip.

Conversely Somerset could consider themselves lucky that the Essex slip cordon spilled two perfectly catchable chances

Ben Green, who had seen Tom Lammonby depart for a third ball duck, was the epitome of gutsing it out. He and Abell had added 34 and were beginning to look to be getting on top when the skipper departed. Eddie Byrom, slightly surprisingly batting at 4 above George Bartlett joined Green and immediately seemed to have decided to play more positively than we have seen him in this season’s first-class games. 

Green who was ideally suited in this mode to play the supporting role was beyond devastated when Sam Cook bowled him. His evident disappointment as he dragged himself off the ground was testament to the fact that he had done the hard work and was entering the phase where he would hope to cash in.

At 54-3 with 30 minutes to go to lunch George Bartlett arrived with a clear initial objective to see his side to lunch. A task made increasingly difficult by the weather appearing to close in. Not only did Byrom and Bartlett achieve that initial target but they did so with some panache, Byrom, who took three sumptuous boundaries off Aaron Beard, had moved to 39 off just 45 balls with five fours. 

The return of Beard, who had been by far the least impressive of the Essex seamers in his first spell highlighted what may yet turn out to be a key difference between the sides. With Harmer already into the attack Essex’s lack of a fourth seamer gave Somerset some breathing space in a passage of play which saw them restore a degree of parity at lunch. 

The rain that arrived at lunchtime delayed the resumption until 2.35 and then only 40 odd minutes play were possible. In that time Essex struck another big blow removing George Bartlett who, while never looking comfortable was showing signs of coming to terms with a surface that seemed harder to bat on after lunch than before.

The curtailed afternoon session produced 17-1 in 11 overs evidence that Essex’s bowlers like Somerset are masters at building pressure which lead to wickets but also to the high level of skill that Porter and Cook were delivering in this phase of play.

What can we glean from this first day? My first thought is that this is not a surface or conditions on which batsmen are going to dominate for long and so a score of 250+ on first innings would be around par. The second point, with thanks to VJ Marks is that spin may be more of a factor than you’d expect at Lords or in late September. And with that Essex’s decision to bat first may, with Jack Leach chomping at the bit to make a contribution this season, may yet come back to haunt them.

The key difference however is going to be the relative performances of the seam attacks and at present it is impossible to tell whether Somerset’s more varied skill set will have the advantage we all crave.

But after losing the toss I’d have taken the Somerset being past a hundred with four down. I’m sure the neutrals will say that Essex have probably had the better of the first day. For me it’s honours even. The evident disappointment that the Essex players showed when the umpires went off at just after 5.15, lingering on the outfield as the covers were put in place, suggested to me that they knew this was an opportunity missed on their part.