It’s Fine

Another compelling day at Taunton saw Hampshire fight to keep a foothold in the game and the group. This promises to be a pivotal weekend in the outcome of group 2

Somerset v Hampshire, County Championship Group 2, The Cooper Associates County Ground, Taunton, June 3rd to 6th 2021, Day Two, Somerset 360 (Gregory 107, van der Merwe 88, Barker 6-72) lead Hampshire 285-7 by 75 runs

Before this game started the consensus seemed to be that a high scoring draw would be a perfectly acceptable result. At lunchtime on the first day I’d have bitten of anyone’s arm who offered me that result and yet the lower order heroics change your perspective. Suddenly we were going to bowl Hampshire all out with a big lead and be batting again by the close building an impregnable lead.

So let’s take a step back and view the position at the end of day 2 from the perspective of Thursday at 10am. Somerset are in a very good position and still have a chance of securing a first innings lea. Of course we have to bat well in the third innings of the game, and many will point out that isn’t anywhere near a given for this team, but there is every chance we will secure seven bonus points. Given the current state of the other game in this group, more of which later, 15 points from the draw would do very nicely.

The last session was disappointing with Hampshire adding 128 in 32 overs for the loss of just Keith Barker. Lewis McManus made 73 of those as the combination of benign conditions and a tiring Somerset bowling attack made life easier for the batsmen.  

McManus who was given a torrid examination when he first came in before tea by de Lange and was clearly inconvenienced by a blow to the hand rose to the task as the evening progressed to finish on 91. There was a delicious irony late in that session when he appeared to be caught behind and about to walk when Steve Davies signalled that the ball hadn’t carried. I wonder how Mc Manus, who was “involved” in the phantom stumping at Grace Road early in the season, was feeling when his Somerset counterpart employed the spirit of cricket as it should be? I could say much more but I’ll leave it at that.

Somerset’s bowlers stuck manfully to their task throughout despite the difficulties later in the day.  What impressed me most about Somerset’s bowling performance, was the fact that, for most of the day they kept things so tight. Even in the early afternoon when Hampshire’s two premier batsmen, the captain James Vince and Sam Northeast, were putting together a stand of 66 it took them 27 overs. On a flattening track in glorious weather with a quick outfield that was some achievement.

That fourth wicket stand had partly extricated Hampshire from a position of some jeopardy of 31-3 thanks to excellent opening spells from Davey, Gregory and, glory be, Marchant de Lange who looked quick and hostile and decidedly unpleasant to face.

Dan Kingdom of Somerset Podcast fame, who was in the ground and kindly helped me with this report today felt that it was the best de Lange had bowled for Somerset so far, citing his hostility as the highlight of the morning. Given that we both felt Vince looked the more comfortable of the Hampshire pair during their partnership it was a surprise that the skipper was the first to go.

That dismissal, with the score on 97 in the 42nd over was one that made me think that perhaps, finally, those little bits of luck that you need to win a championship are with Somerset. The absence of the diminutive Lewis Goldsworthy, nursing a slight ankle strain meant that his replacement, Kasey Aldridge was in his place at backward point. Aldridge belies his “tall fast bowler” classification with his fielding which is very athletic and for me puts him in the Waller / Abell category.

Kasey Aldridge – impressive day-long stint as twelfth man

Vince, playing albeit loosely, was caught by Aldridge high above his head, a dismissal which owed a significant amount to the extra dozen or so inches Aldridge has over the Cornish all-rounder. 

While Vince had unveiled a few of his sumptuous trademark drives and pulled a six onto Gimblett’s Hill he was never allowed to get going, a fact that might have contributed to his dismissal. The prompt removal of Liam Dawson for 3 (he now averages 1 over three innings against Somerset this season) meant that somerset had half the visitors dismissed by mid-afternoon for 117.

Northeast was joined by Mc Manus and the pair slowly built a 38 run partnership until just before tea when the skipper, having switched himself to the “Tres’ End” hurried Northeast with a bouncer. Yes that’s right, a bouncer and a good one at that. The former Kent skipper top-edged his attempted pull into the gleeful hands of Steve Davies.

At tea Hampshire were 157-6, still 43 short of a bonus point while Somerset already had their seventh of the contest. But the most striking statistic at the interval was the economy rates of the four Somerset seamers; Davey 2.71, Gregory 2.13, de Lange 1.73 and Abell 2.28.

The context of this game has shifted significantly however because of a catastrophic second day for the leaders at Leicester. Having batted until after lunch to reach 451 Leicester then proceeded to bowl Gloucestershire out for 158 and remove the skipper, Chris Dent a second time before the close. The group leaders at the start of the round still trail by 288 runs and have only picked up two bowling points. I’m going to say it but you read it here first – Gloucestershire are fading.

Somerset now lead group 2 by two points and could extend that by a further 9 which will take them 15 points clear of Surrey and 10 ahead of Hampshire. That high scoring draw looks a pretty good outcome now doesn’t it.

But this time yesterday we were saying how this side manages to produce the unexpected and I’m not ruling out a victory. If that is the case we are set fair for a tremendous weekend of Championship cricket.

One final thought. For those of you who were lucky enough to be in the ground today you will have missed the live stream commentary and will not have heard the comments of Kevin and Kevan – Howells and James respectively who were at regular points moved to mention the backing of the Somerset crowd. To the 2,000 members in the ground well done, no other county has loyal vocal support like we do. Let’s make it count by driving Tom Abell’s side home over the next two days.