Somerset V Gloucestershire, County Championship Group 2, April 15th to 19th 2021 Day 1, Somerset 312 (Davies 87, Overton 54) lead Gloucestershire 13-0 by 299 runs
A bit of a day of dates today. The Hillsborough Anniversary remains incredibly poignant for me as does Jackie Robinson Day, the breaking of the colour bar in Baseball. This year, on a much happier note that big yellow joy that is Wisden arrived and will remain next to me in my study until the 2022 edition turns up.
It is also 567 days since we were last in the County Ground to witness Tres’ retirement on a dramatic last day when Somerset were unable to achieve the impossible and wrest the title away from Essex.
Thoughts of the title pervade the minds of all Somerset fans. Thoughts that this might be the year are more than a little brighter after Somerset achieved the almost impossible at Lord’s last week. But that is only one game out of ten and as professional sportsmen are fond of saying, it will count for nothing if we don’t win the next one.
So, to the old enemy, at Taunton. Both winners in round 1, Gloucestershire somewhat surprisingly over Surrey although the combination of the turgid Bristol surface, unfamiliar to the visitors and the their underperformance throughout most of the game may have had a significant impact on the result.
This was a day where the shape of it was never clear until its conclusion. Fascinating for all spectators a nightmare to write about. A proper day of combative championship cricket with both sides having periods of superiority.
The first session saw a pitch with pace and bounce that would have had both Craig Overton and Marchant de Lange salivating but when George Bartlett departed 25 minutes after lunch to leave Somerset in some peril of another poor first innings total bereft of bonus points half the side had departed for 110 the two big quick bowlers realised they had work to do with the bat first.
Craig looked in good touch and determined from the outset a combination which usually spells danger for the opposition. His scoring strokes were pleasing to the eye and technically correct. With Steve Davies quickly into his fluent best, all elegant effortless caresses through the off-side and pugnacious back foot cuts. The pair were immediately into their stride together rotating the strike with good running between the wickets while being swift to punish the bad ball.
This was the approach Abell and Kerr would have wanted to see in the first innings that was so lacking at Lord’s. A shame that it had to begin from a position of some jeopardy, a result of a morning session was one for the Gloucestershire bowlers, rewarding their captain, Chris Dent who inserted Somerset despite many sage observes thinking it might have been a morning to bat.
Somerset’s ambition would have been to get through the session for the loss of only two wickets, three at worst. The loss of both Abell and Hildreth in the 30 minutes before lunch left that ambition in tatters with the pair joining Lammonby and Banton who had both perished within the first hour. The former perished to a catch at third slip to his sixth ball, the latter, who had shaped really well applying himself well but at the same time scoring with real authority, unluckily seeing a gentle forward defensive roll back to dislodge his off bail.
The sixth wicket pair had more than doubled the score by tea, which came not a moment too early for a Gloucestershire attack struggling with a ball and surface that was beginning to favour the bowlers. The resumption saw the Gloucestershire bowlers, particularly Ryan Higgins find the control that had been lacking and five overs yielded only five runs before Overton departed for a splendid 54. Brotherly bragging rights duly secured after his younger twins 40 at Bristol last week.
Craig’s departure was a huge disappointment. He was playing well enough to anticipate something more substantial and with Lewis Gregory falling in the first over of the second new ball 222-5 had become 255-7. The balance of control for the day was back in the balance. Anthony Gibson’s view that 250 was par suggested Somerset in the ascendant but while you sensed Somerset’s bowlers should outperform their opponents a total in excess of 325 would do very nicely.
Davies was on 83 when Lewis departed and was joined by Josh Davey, who got off the mark with a six. To huge disappointment though Davies could only contribute four to their partnership before Payne picked up his and the second wicket with the new ball. Davies’ innings deserved a century not just for the quality of his stroke play but for the intelligent way in which he managed the task, cautious and watchful when needed, pugnacious when the bowlers flagged. How I wish I could have witnessed this wonderful three-hour plus endeavour.
Marchant did Marchant things before he skied another attempted huge heave to end the innings. A total of 312 was far more than anticipated at lunch but maybe a little less than the home side’s aspirations in mid-afternoon when Davies and Overton were in their pomp.
Dent and Brathwaite survived a potentially tricky three overs before the close to reduce the deficit to one run under three hundred.
We will have to wait to see how good this total is in the context of the game but the suspicion has to be that the pitch is improving and batting on day 2 may be easier than on day 1. Somerset’s bowlers will need to be at it from ball one on day 2.