Tom Abell, Captain, Batsman, Bowler, Leader

Tom Abell’s skilful and diligent half-century has put Somerset in a strong position at the end of the first day. On a day and a pitch where runs were worth at least double their scoreboard value Somerset’s captain’s fine performance is worthy of the highest praise.

Hampshire v Somerset, County Championship Group 2, The Ageas Bowl, Southampton, May 6th to 10th 2021, Day 1, Somerset 142-5 (Abell 52*) lead Hampshire 79 (Gregory 4-26) by 63 runs with 5 first innings wickets remaining

It seems entirely appropriate on the day after the anniversary of my Dad’s death that Somerset have made all my pre-match predictions look like nonsense. Somewhere up there he is having a really good laugh with the words “well you got that completely wrong didn’t you” not far from his lips. 

Jason Kerr’s selection was not the extra bowler but a straight replacement of Tom Banton by Eddie Byrom at the top of the order.  “Jase” must be a pretty formidable poker player on the basis of the hint the threw out at the end if the Middlesex game – deciding not to recall the “rested” Marchant de Lange. 

I’d also thought this would be a batsman friendly surface with spin playing an important part and the prospect of rain on Saturday making the draw the most likely result. After the first day’s play that result seems highly unlikely.

Tom Abell won the toss and decided to bowl first, a decision that was thoroughly vindicated by the harvest of six first innings wickets in that first session for only 43. The four seamers (Abell filling that final role superbly) were all outstanding in that 29 over session – Overton 2/16, Gregory 1/9, Davey 1-13, Abell 1-2.

It was a session of two halves as Hampshire in the shape of principally Joe Weatherly (20 off 69 balls) and Alsop (5 off 40) took Hampshire to 26-1 in the 16th over. The next 13 overs were carnage with these two, Northeast, Vince and Dawson all being dismissed. Somerset’s fielding backed up their bowlers with both chances offered being held and George Bartlett effecting a direct hit run out.

Immediately after lunch the much maligned in these parts McManus and the wonderfully named Felix Organ added 23 at a brisk clip taking their side to relative prosperity at 65-6. But it was a false dawn for home hopes as Lewis Gregory led the wrapping-up operation to finish with 4-26 as the last four wickets fell for 14 in under 6 overs.

Lewis Gregory – 4-26 in Hampshire’s First Innings 79

The old adage about you only know how the game stands after both sides have batted, especially when the second innings’ in Somerset seemed very relevant when Lammonby, Byrom and Hildreth were all dismissed with just 36 on the board. Lammonby palpably LBW, Byrom – clearly seeking to be more aggressive from the start caught in the slips and Hildreth, who once again looked in lovely form playing (again) across the line to be LBW to Abbott.

Abbott who had come on as first changed had started poorly with too many “four balls” which Hildreth, Abell and Bartlett were able to take advantage of. A shower brought an early tea with Abell (12) and especially Bartlett (2) finding batting no easy prospect. Somerset were 41-3.

The overhead conditions improved significantly after tea and while the pitch still misbehaved frequently batting became marginally easier at the same time the Somerset pair adopted a pro-active strategy of batting on off-stump and well outside their crease. It doesn’t look aesthetically pleasing but was proving very effective. With 20 overs left in the day at just after 5.30 Somerset’s lead was 11 but George Bartlett had gone caught by Dawson at second slip off Abbott.

The apparently imperturbable Lewis Goldsworthy didn’t find batting any easier than any of his predecessors but as we are already becoming accustomed to, he battled it out for 62 balls for 24 adding a priceless 47 with his captain and equally importantly 19 overs late in the day. His dismissal to the first ball of the penultimate over was disappointing but in the context of the game and the day the young Cornishman can consider his job well done again.

Jack Leach survived a relatively straightforward chance to Dawson at third slip but was still there with his captain at the close having taken every remaining ball of the session. It is a measure of both Tauntonians who walked off together at the close that they will not entertain a thought of the job well done, only anticipate what they need to do tomorrow. A lead of 63 runs with five wickets in hand is far more than any of us could have hoped for at the start of the day but all the hard work can easily be undone and quickly on a treacherous surface like this.  

Pretty much every Somerset supporter will be asking the question, after a day when only 221 runs were scored off 93.3 overs for the loss of 15 wickets will the ECB’s pitch inspectors be taking a look at Simon Lee’s handywork? This was, and there may be extenuating circumstances for the ground staff, a pitch that is wholly unsuitable to first-class cricket. 

Elsewhere in our group Surrey had another tough day in the field before a late collapse by Leicestershire who closed on 306-6 at Grace Road while Middlesex struggled to 210 before removing Chris Dent in Gloucestershire’s 19 in reply. And,Notts, with Haseeb Hameed to the fore, have a lead of 89 with six wickets in hand after dismissing Essex for 99. It could have been a lot worse for the visitors at Trent Bridge but for Nick Browne’s 59.  

To conclude with a crumb of comfort for my badly bruised ego. I felt that Hampshire had out-performed in the first couple of games which judging by them being dismissed for under 100 in the first innings of their last two games seems a decent shout.