LV County Championship Group 2, Somerset v Middlesex, Taunton, April 29th to May 2nd, Day 1 Middlesex 308-6
Having won the toss in conditions and at a time of year which suited the bowlers Somerset’s bowling and catching was below par. This was particularly evident in Tom Abell’s side being unable to build any pressure on the opposition batsmen conceding boundaries with alarming frequency. As a result Middlesex were able to rattle along at over three and a half an over throughout the day
The frustration of this performance built as the day went on, amplified by the fact that the two teams above them in the group at the start of the day were experiencing far worse fortunes. Leaders Hampshire ended the first day trailing Surrey by 39 runs at the Oval having been bowled all out for 92. Their hosts have 9 first-innings wickets remaining. Meanwhile up the road at Bristol Leicestershire batted throughout the day to close on 264-4.
I’m jumping ahead massively but a win in this game for Somerset combined with defeat for Hampshire and a draw for Gloucester would catapult Abell’s side into a position of some strength in the group.
This was one of those days where I woke up with proper game day nerves. You’d think at my age and well past my 50 of years following Somerset this wouldn’t be a thing anymore, but it is. That’s what Somerset Cricket does to you when it is in your blood. I’ve learned though that more often than not my stomach gymnastics are the portent of Somerset having a bad day, and while this was not terrible and in no way as irretrievable as the position at the end of day 2 at Lord’s Somerset will need to improve dramatically with bat and ball for the remainder of this game.
Three dropped catches in the first session, when Middlesex only lost two wickets, certainly hampered Somerset’s progress. 88-5 at lunch would have fully vindicated Abell’s decision to bowl first. The loss of Middlesex’s second wicket to the last ball before lunch was small comfort to the home side.
But if the first session was well below what was required, the afternoon was far worse. 126-2 at over four an over tells its own tale. The decision of the Somerset brains trust to leave Marchant de Lange out and replace him with Lewis Goldsworthy had some impact on the position due to the unfortunate loss of Josh Davey for most of the afternoon session. Fortunately the precautionary x-rays came back negative but Josh, as a result of his prolonged absence was not able to bowl until the very end of the day.
This meant that the “fourth seamer” in the shape of the Toms Abell and Lammonby had to put in a real shift bowling 33 overs between them in the day which while they contained plenty of good balls also included far too many loose deliveries and only had the one wicket to show for it. Jack Leach, making his 100th appearance for Somerset in first-class cricket was little used, bowling just seven overs. Although this appeared to be a surface that was not easy for Jack to bowl on surely he could have played more of a role when containment was needed.
The only bright spot for Somerset between lunch and tea was Roelof van der Merwe’s spectacular run out of Middlesex captain Peter Handscomb. Even more creditable as he’d only just come on as sub for the unfortunate Davey. But apart from that the Middlesex middle order continued serenely on, picking off the bad balls and (with a few slices of luck) avoiding the good ones.
The last hour of the day was one that Somerset badly needed to win both for their fortunes in this game and in the group. It took until the sixth over with the second new ball for Craig Overton to secure the second bowling bonus point. But that was it for the day with Middlesex’s seventh wicket pair seeing themselves through to the close with few further alarms.
This was the sort of day that Dad would have had chuntering on the phone for 20 minutes this evening. As ever it isn’t as bad as he would have thought but it could have been a lot better.
They say elite sport is a game of fine margins. The truth is that Somerset were more than a shade below their best. And while we won’t have a clear picture of the state of the game until both sides have batted they need to be at or above their very best for the remainder of this game if they are to take advantage of the travails of the two sides they are looking to catch in Group 2.