Future England Captain

Those Somerset supporters who were lucky enough to have picked the third day of this game were treated to a real captain’s innings, one of those knocks which a leader’s side needs and one which sets him head and shoulders above his teammates.

Gloucestershire v Somerset, County Championship Group 2, Bristol, May 20th to 23rd 2021, Day Three, Somerset 45-1 (Abell , Gregory)

Somerset have put a marker down. The players demonstrated on the third day of this rain ruined game that they are motivated to avenge that defeat at Taunton last month and they are determined to re-assert their pre-eminence in this competition.

Led by their captain they corralled three batting bonus points and then showed the Gloucestershire batting that any play tomorrow will not be an enjoyable experience.

Bristol is, without doubt, one of the un-loveliest cricket grounds in the country. I formed that opinion during my undergraduate days when I was “lucky” enough to train there both indoors and out and while there have been a lot of years and a lot of development since then it hasn’t changed my opinion.

By complete contrast a substantial Tom Abell innings is a thing of beauty. This Tom Abell hundred will not, in all probability lead his side to a win given the weather forecast for tomorrow but it has put a big marker down for the group and the competition.

Somerset resumed on 45-1 and made relatively serene progress through the first part of the day progressing to 127-2 with just the obligatory loss of Eddie Byrom who having done the hard work was unable to go on and make the substantial contribution we all crave for him. 38 off 110 balls for the Harare born left-hander in very tough conditions for batting does however indicate that at long last he may be coming to terms with the demands of opening in red-ball cricket.

James Hildreth was bowled by David Payne in the 45th over at a time when hopes were high that the third wicket pair could build something substantial and take their side toward the bonus points that have to be the sole objective of this game given the time lost. Yet again the somerset middle order icon had got a start, looked in good nick and then perished.

Somerset supporters who allowed themselves to think just before that dismissal that finally our batting was going to deliver us some stress free runs (like me) will have almost immediately felt that pang of guilt that accompanies a batting collapse after such thoughts.

And collapse they did. Bartlett 5, Goldsworthy 2 and Davies 0 were all back in the pavilion for the addition of only 16 runs. Suddenly even a solitary batting bonus point seemed to be more than a little distant. Craig Overton staunched the flow with a restrained and responsible 15 off 51 balls, the seventh wicket only added 33 at 2 an over but the flow of the innings was changed crucially.

Lewis Gregory, certainly the best no 9 in the County Championship became the ally the skipper needed and deserved. It is fatuous to say that they changed the course of the game but they changed the tone of the innings.

Gregory ticked along nicely, as is his wont, crucially taking the pressure off his captain with 57 off just 94 balls which included six fours and two sixes as the pair added 116 in 32 overs. The only disappointment was that they were marginally short of the 300 they had clearly targeted when Lewis was bowled by Matt Taylor.

The third bonus point arrived just four balls later as Abell advanced to a superb unbeaten 132 (287 balls, 16 fours). Typically the captain sprinted off at the closure, an indication of his desire to put the opposition under pressure despite his obvious tiredness. That in itself says so much, Abell the fittest man in the side had concentrated so hard all day in the cause of his side. 

The short spell to the close was intense, exemplified by the first Craig Overton over. By the end of it Brathwaite was hobbling having failed to connect with a laser-like inswinger and Dent had perished first ball.

Josh Davey removed England star to be James Bracey, a very unhappy soldier when he was “caught” behind to reduce the Bristolians to 14-2 at which point we saw the arrival of a Bonus Point Watchman. I know, you couldn’t make it up. 

Now, I try not to criticise umpires on this site, it isn’t an easy job but they don’t make it easy. In the following over Brathwaite was so palpably lbw to Craig, plumb in front, deep in his crease. But it was given not out, almost certainly a misguided attempt to compensate for the Bracy dismissal. Overton finished up almost beyond the batsman in utter disbelief but the umpire’s crucial digit remained unmoved.

Abell has, in the words of Anthony Gibson “not quite fulfilled his potential” since coming into the Somerset side. When I asked him about this on the Somerset Podcast a couple of weeks ago his response his, entirely reasonably, explanation was that he needed to go on and convert more 50s into 100s.

There is no doubt the captain has the potential to play at a higher level. If he can continue this form through the season he will force himself in the selectors eye. Somerset supporters will know, whatever the opinion of Messrs Silverwood and Co, that their leader has matured into what we all hoped way back in 2017. The next step has to be to lead Somerset to more silverware. If he continues this form the chances of that will be significantly enhanced.