LV County Championship Group 2, Middlesex v Somerset, Lord’s Day 4, Somerset 172 and 285-6 Abell 84, Bartlett 76*, Gregory 62* beat 172 Middlesex 313 Gregory 5-64 & 143 by 4 wickets
Where do you start? Let’s look at the big picture. The eight-point penalty has been wiped off at the first time of asking and getting a monkey off all our backs. With Hampshire and Gloucestershire winning Somerset find themselves third but clear daylight ahead of the two London counties already. And that could change dramatically further in Somerset’s favour if the ECB do the right thing and impose a severe penalty on Hampshire.
The message delivered to the rest of the competition is far more significant. This was a victory which was achieved from an almost impossible position, one which will have implications for the remainder of the competition. With all the other counties considered the powerhouses of the competition this year, Yorkshire, Essex and Surrey either losing or getting the worst of draws Somerset have put themselves in their rightful place as the side to beat.
Remarkably a victory which, remarkably seemed, for most of the final day to be almost assured. Apart from the blip of three wickets in twelve overs immediately before lunch which threw the game back in the balance Somerset were in the ascendent.
Before the start of play I planned out the key benchmarks to the run chase. One of the overnight pair had to be still there at lunch. The deficit had to be reduced to around to a hundred by the first interval with a maximum of only two wickets lost.
Tom Abell and George Bartlett saw off the first hour with few alarms, which in itself was very encouraging but the loss of the captain was a grievous blow. Steven Davies could not contribute to the run chase on this occasion and Craig Overton’s positive approach was undone by a beauty by Tim Murtagh. 163 – 3 had become 187-6.
The lunchtime position, 98 needed with four wickets left gave Middlesex genuine hope of wresting the game back their way. Surely all that good work couldn’t be undone? But in their very different ways George Bartlett and Lewis Gregory quickly disabused Stuart Law’s side of that hope. The first 40 minutes after lunch saw the sixth wicket pair more than halve the 98 required and from that point Middlesex were powerless to stop the flow of runs.
Two technical elements of this run chase stood out for me. The first was the clear plan to get onto the front food and outside the line of off-stump whenever possible to eliminate the chances of any more dubious lbw decisions. The second was the perfect time of the acceleration. Many sides would have gone into their shell after the loss of three quick wickets before lunch. Bartlett and Gregory in their very distinct ways seized the initiative no doubt encouraged by the coaching staff and captain.
Of course, it is not as easy as that. The batsmen needed sound technique especially as the surface was showing signs of variable bounce but Abell earlier and latterly Bartlett and Gregory used their underlying classic techniques to negate the excellent Middlesex attack.
I christened George Bartlett the “Prince if Somerset’s batting” on this site previously. Here, on the most apposite of weekends the Prince showed once again his immense gifts, both technical and mental to bat through the day. With Lewis Gregory, who fortunately eschewed Middlesex’s advances a few years ago, excelling again in St John’s Wood victory was achieved just before 3pm Bartlett, who had been happy to play a supporting role in the afternoon ending on 76 off 150 balls and Gregory on 62 off just 72.
No doubt the naysayers on social media will point out that Middlesex are a division 2 side. That Somerset’s plight at the start of day three was of their own making by virtue of a sub-standard performance and even that the conditions over the last two days were very much in their favour. All of which are or may be true. But that is missing the point.
Even the most ardent Somerset supporter will have been anticipating defeat from the point that Marchant de Lange and Jack Leach came together on Friday afternoon. Yet you sense that Tom Abell and his side did not have the same mindset and when the chance arose they were more than capable of taking it.
Somerset are up and running. The County Championship is alive and well and I love this Somerset side more and more every day.