LV County Championship Group 2, Middlesex v Somerset, Lord’s Day 3, Middlesex 313 Gregory 5-64 & 143 lead Somerset 172 and 112-3 Abell 62* by 172 runs
It is sad to say that a wonderful day’s cricket was defined by two very doubtful leg before decisions in the space of half an hour mid-afternoon. First Tom Banton who had made a very encouraging 37 and then James Hildreth for use 11 were dismissed “lbw” by rookie umpire Watts. Toby Roland-Jones was the beneficiary on both occasions of decisions that would certainly have been overturned on review. Somerset’s chances at 112-1 would be very interesting.
Having lost Tom Lammonby to the first ball of the second over the other two Toms had seen Somerset to 79, almost a third of the way to an improbable 285 that their bowlers had set up by virtue of a stellar performance in the first session.
I try so hard not to criticise umpires with these posts but Watts was clearly all at sea coping with the effect of the Lord’s slope on his decision making. Hildreth had ironically been given not out to a ball that would have hit middle halfway up a couple of overs earlier. In the words of Anthony Gibson a decision that seemed to influenced by the umpire’s error for Banton’s dismissal. For a Somerset side that had spent the first half of the day clawing their way back into this game, this was a grievous if not fatal blow.
Bad light brought an early tea with Somerset still needing 173 on 112-3, Tom Abell leading the way on 62 off just 87 balls and George Bartlett on 2 off 20. The conditions did not improve leaving us with a very interesting day tomorrow.
The fact that Somerset are even in this game going into the final day owes a huge deal to their bowling performance in the morning session. After an hour though that prospect seemed unlikely with thoughts turning to when Middlesex would be looking aiming to declare.
Despite Craig Overton’s early strike to remove Nick Gubbins and reduce Middlesex to effectively 229-3 the home side had extended their lead to 244 without further damage. Within the space of 14 overs Jack Leach and Josh Davey had picked up six wickets and with Lewis Gregory chipping in for his sixth wicket in the game Somerset were preparing to bat again.
This was the Somerset of previous seasons. Driven on by their inspirational captain, led by the menace of birthday boy Craig Overton and superbly backed up by Jack and Josh they looked capable of taking a wicket almost every over.
The bowlers confidence was fuelled by, in contrast to the first innings, an exemplary catching display, with slip grabs by Craig and Lewis in the exceptional category. Davey and Leach conceded just 34 in two balls under 23 overs evidence not just of their quality but also that Somerset’s fielding matched their bowling and catching.
It fills my heart with joy to see this Somerset side at any time. When they are in this hunting mode, swarming all over the opposition. For a Middlesex side who haven’t been in the first division since 2017 this was a level of intensity and ability they have not faced and were clearly not able to cope with.
Middlesex’s approach in the first half of the morning session was bizarre. In a commanding position with wickets in hand and in pretty good batting conditions they opted to bat with an unbelievable level of circumspection. If Somerset had been in a similar position I’m pretty certain we would have seen aggressive cricket with smart running between the wickets and the pressure being put back onto the fielders and bowlers.
Middlesex’s dithering was definitely to Somerset’s advantage and as we all know Messrs Abell, Overton and Co need no second invitation. Whether the efforts of the morning were too little to late are still to be seen. There are so many variables that will influence the outcome, not least the overhead conditions let alone the unpredictability of this Somerset batting lineup. But wouldn’t it be wonderful for Tom Abell to still be batting deep into the second session tomorrow?