Bob Willis Trophy Final – Somerset v Essex, September 23rd – 27th 2020, Day 2 Somerset 310 All Out-4 (Byrom 117, Overton 66, S Cook 5-76)
Before we start on day two I’ve got an addendum to day one’s report. It didn’t occur to me until later in the evening, the irony of the Essex players lingering on the ground as the hover-cover was manoeuvred into place. Exactly a year ago by day, on the Wednesday of the game at Taunton last year the Essex captain did everything in his powers to keep the players off the pitch when the conditions, apart from one patch, were far better than they were this afternoon. Both to me are indications that Essex occupy a space very close to the wrong side of the line of influencing the umpires.
I’d love to speak to Rob Bailey, umpire then and now to hear his point of view.
Was this a manifestation of the Essex players view that this was an opportunity missed? Or was it a further manifestation of the ethos of the eastern county? Whatever when you compare this to the sight of Jack Brooks and Jamie Overton helping to get the covers on at Taunton on the third evening against Gloucestershire I have my answer!
If Essex were feeling like they had missed an opportunity on Wednesday evening they must have cursed their position at lunch. The overnight 119-4 had been transformed to 233-5 principally by Eddie Byrom, who continued on serene way and adding 46 in the session and a very determined and disciplined Craig Overton who lunched on 51.
How cricket confounds and makes a fool of you! Last evening’s sentiments on the Somerset Podcast and social media was that a first innings of 250 would be pretty decent, beyond that dreamland. The better than expected overhead conditions certainly helped Somerset’s cause in the first session but Essex were in an untypically generous mood bowling well below par (with the notable exceptions of Porter and Cook).
Aaron Beard was for the second morning running profligate in the extreme (11-1-68-0) at the break meaning that Tom Westley had to turn to Paul Walter to fill in with four overs of his left arm medium pace (he is no Tom Abell as a fourth / fifth choice seamer). We were also treated to an over of, to use Ravi Bopara’s vernacular (summarising on the BBC TMS coverage) pure village leg spin from Dan Lawrence. The fact it only went for two was I suspect due entirely to the fact that neither Eddie nor Craig would ever have lived down being dismissed by that.
Lawrence’s over was purely to allow Harmer to switch ends, an indication in itself that the South African slow bowler was finding the Somerset batting more of a challenge than his opponents in the south group who headed to the pavilion at the first sight of his twirlings. Harmer’s success owes as much to his ability to restrict and frustrate batsmen, in turn forcing the error. Somerset have shown in this innings to date, in a game significantly away from a Chelmsford pitch tailored to his requirements, that ticking along without seeking to do anything overtly aggressive, reverses the force-flow frustrating Harmer who bowled a surprising number of poor deliveries.
My thoughts last evening were that if one of the overnight pair could go on to make a ton and someone else could chip in with a fifty, we would be in a good place. With Craig Overton having got to fifty shortly before lunch Eddie Byrom proceeded to his 100 shortly after with a lovely straight on-drive, reminiscent of the way he brought up his fifty last evening. What was also great to see is the way Craig Overton set off for the first run, head down, flat out knowing the importance to his partner of reaching that milestone even if the ball didn’t reach the boundary. It was one of those moments of significance well beyond the context of this game and one that will have gladdened the hearts of all Somerset fans.
Eddie became the sixth Somerset player to score a first-class hundred since 1 August joining Lammonby, Abell, Davies, Bartlett and Jamie Overton. It was the eighth century for the club in just five and a half games with the two toms having scored two tons each.
Shortly before 2pm, with only 7 overs having been bowled since lunch the rain arrived. It couldn’t have come against a better time for Essex who were clearly beginning to struggle. The simple fact is that neither of these sides have had to spend too long in the field in this truncated season. For Essex, where Porter and Cook have had to carry the bulk of the work in this innings (58 of the first 80 overs), this may be a factor as the game goes on. At this moment they will be very grateful for the 120 over first innings limit.
The rain interruption was a time to think ahead. We now get into a completely different phase of the game. 36 overs to go for Somerset with 5 wickets in hand and the added dynamic that if the game ends in a draw the trophy will be decided on first innings (I still think it should be on points from the group stage). It seems almost immoral to be looking at how many we should be targeting given the prognostications of the first evening but that’s a reflection of how well Eddie and Craig have batted.
The pragmatic approach would be to bat for the next 20 overs in a similar fashion, especially with the second new ball due after 90. If Somerset could get to around 325 after 105 overs (three and a half an over from here) with wickets in hand the possibility of above 400 is a real one. Those additional runs are valuable for the obvious scoreboard reasons, but I believe doubly so from a psychological point of view. Essex would have believed themselves capable of bowling Somerset out for around 200 at the start of day one. Such tricks of the mind can affect a side’s batting.
Tea was taken at 3 with a view to the umpires taking a look at 3.10. This transpired because of further rain to result in an eventual resumption at 4.35. Within three overs the new ball was taken and within a further three Somerset had declined to 279-8 with the sixth wicket pair and Lewis Gregory all departing. The disappointment was tinged with the thought however that this is a surface which is still providing assistance to the bowlers and that Essex have much work to do against the recently christened “Taunton Four”.
Josh Davey batted like a proper batsman, which of course he was when he first joined Middlesex and Jack Leach showed admirable adhesive qualities for someone who has had so little match play this year. But, the advent of Harmer as the light deteriorated brought Leach’s demises, LBW, although unusually Jack didn’t seem at all happy with the verdict. Jack Brooks perished first ball bowled off the last ball of the 102nd over.
301 represents a fine effort and far exceeds my widest hopes last evening so the perhaps over-optimism of lunch should not tarnish the final score. The old adage of not judging a surface until both sides have batted holds true but I know which side I’d rather be. Now its over to the bowlers.
Praise for both Eddie Byrom and Craig Overton’s innings cannot be understated. Both arrived at the wicket at a crucial time for their side and both seemed calm and in control from the very start. Neither were fazed by the reputation of their opponents or the experiences against the same opponents last season. If anything they were inspired and hugely motivated.
Essex had a theoretical three overs to bat at the end of the day but, and its difficult to tell on the live stream, either the light deteriorated substantially in the ten minutes between innings or when the umpires spoke to Sir AC they asked him if he fancied a bat this evening and he kindly declined their offer.
The third day in a golf tournament is often referred to as moving day. I have a feeling that tomorrow at Lords is going to be this games defining one.
Come on Somerset.