The Draw That’s A Loss That’s A Win

Tom Abell we are so proud of you and your team. Talented, exciting to watch and above all playing this wonderful game the right way.

Bob Willis Trophy Final – Somerset v Essex, September 23rd – 27th 2020, Day 5 Somerset 301 (Byrom 51*, S Cook 2-38) and 272-7 (Lammonby 117, Porter 4-73) drew with  Essex 337-8 (Cook 172, Gregory 6-72) and 179-6

Somerset have now come second four times in the domestic first-class competition in the last five years. The fates continue to find ways to conspire against Somerset. There is no denying  that it doesn’t get any easier does it.

The destiny of the trophy was decided by a Lords pitch which killed the contest as much as the toss on Wednesday morning. Both contrived to give the side that wanted to win this game all the disadvantages and the timid, negative side all the advantages.

Throughout the first four days one of the thoughts that sustained me was that Somerset’s bowlers had the use of the pitch in the fourth innings. But this surface died in a way that turned what was supposed to be a showpiece for the county game we all love into a damp squib. Add in the electronic problems at the start of the day that prevented scoreboards working and live-streams streaming and it was not a great day for the home of cricket.

The way Craig Overton and Josh Davey added 45 runs in half an hour to set up the declaration while encouraging in terms of setting the desired target offered little hope that the last day surface at Lords would provide much assistance to the Somerset bowlers.

Left 80 overs to score 232, or more relevantly given the Essex mindset in this game, survive for the draw Essex tottered in the mid-twenties in their reply with Browne and Westley departing in consecutive overs. The third wicket of the morning session which Somerset so coveted would not come, especially that of Sir Alistair.  

That pattern continued, you always felt during the course of this final day that Somerset were one wicket behind the game. At lunch Essex were two down with Cook and Lawrence having survived a torrid spell against Lewis Gregory in the period immediately prior to the break. 

Somerset’s approach in the post-lunch session was to some extent dictated by their opponent’s ultra-defensive mindset. The unwillingness of the Essex top order to engage in anything approaching a run-chase allowed Tom Abell to persist with attacking fields while at the same time building mental rather than scoreboard pressure by drying up the runs.

Lewis Gregory, who seems to thrive when bowling at Lords, was absolutely superb in this spell. He was unlucky not to have picked up a couple of LBWs before and after the break but got his reward when Cook was adjudged caught behind. Disappointingly and rather un-edifyingly the cricketing knight and former England captain lingered far too long on being given out in a show of dissent which was revealing. Whether Cook felt he hadn’t touched it we can only speculate but replays suggested that if he didn’t he was probably LBW! 

Cook’s departure, half an hour into the afternoon session, left Essex on 68-3 placed a lot of reliance of Dan Lawrence who was beginning to look very permanent when Jack Leach got him LBW for his first wicket of the season. Somerset were not only battling against the batting line up of last season’s champions but a Lords pitch which was proving to be pretty unsuitable for such an occasion. 

The mentality of days like these for the supporters is so tough. You have the exuberance of a dismissal followed by the period of increased frustration as the new pair build a partnership. I found myself almost every ball saying to myself, “come on [insert bowlers name]” (and on quire often out loud! It was mentally exhausting for me so you have to wonder what impact it has on the players who are literally living every ball.

After tea, with Somerset’s chances of victory diminishing with every passing over the end appeared to be close when Tom Abell turned to Eddie Byrom for an over. But as we went deeper into the final hour, with no sign of the Somerset skipper offering a metaphorical handshake to the Essex batsman, the thought occurred to me that Somerset were sending a very subtle message to their opponents. In the context of Essex’s conduct after the conclusion of last season Somerset seemed to be saying “we will give you nothing here, you don’t adhere to the spirit of cricket so neither will we.

The game ended in a tame draw. Essex win the trophy but Somerset, by far the best team in red-ball cricket this season, were the moral victors.

Tom Abell we are so proud of you and your team. Talented, exciting to watch and above all playing this wonderful game the right way.