Rain, Somerset Lower Order Inch Division One Closer

Somerset’s middle and lower order completed part one of the game plan magnificently. Rain which prevented any further play after mid-afternoon nudged the Group 2 leaders closer. At least one of every Somerset pair of eyes will be on Cheltenham for the next two days. It looks like tomorrow and Wednesday could well be “two live stream days”.

Surrey v Somerset, County Championship Group 2, The Oval, July 11th to 14th 2021, Somerset 429 (Hildreth 107, Lammonby 42) lead Surrey 24-0 by 405 runs

The Somerset game plan, clearly displayed yesterday, to bat as long as possible and put any chance of defeat was slightly dented in the last hour when the stars of day one James Hildreth and Lewis Goldsworthy were both dismissed. 260-3 became 280-6. That setback was more than cancelled out by the diligence of Roelof van der Merwe and Ben Green who, having seen Somerset to the close last evening, continued their partnership for an hour and a half this morning. The seventh wicket pair added 71 in 28 overs, picking up a third batting point in the process but more importantly taking yet more time out of the game.

Van der Merwe, who has found a rich vein of form with the bat in his Championship games this season proved my fears of yesterday utterly groundless with a display of gutsy and responsible batting. His “dismissal”, caught bat-pad at least in the opinion of umpire Russell Warren, for 41 was clearly a source of great frustration for the most competitive cricketers ever to have represented the county but he and his teammates will take solace from the not unexpected lift and bounce Virdi produced.

With Ben Green batting at a level near his best from last season’s Bob Willis Trophy and Jack Leach quickly settling in Somerset eased to 360-7 at lunch without further alarm, Green 37, Leach 5. Surrey’s game plan undone by the loss of the toss and the Hildreth / Goldsworthy partnership on day one further unravelled by needing to bowl a clearly not fully fit Rikki Clarke in conditions favouring seam over than spin at the start of day two. Jamie Overton’s continued absence will not have improved Rory Burns outlook on life one jot.

Ben Green departed 20 minutes in the afternoon session for a very well made 43, the sixth Somerset batsman to make 40 or more in a reassuring display of solidity. Add in the garnish of Devon Conway’s 21, an unbeaten 28 from Jack Leach and a lively 29 from Marchant de Lange who, to mix metaphors, iced the cake in a 45-run partnership in seven overs and you have as good a team performance as you could ask for. 

You know you are in trouble as a fielding side when Jack Leach is into his routine of cleaning his glasses regularly. Add in the arrival of de Lange after 135 overs and you’d forgive the Surrey players of wanting to be anywhere else. But it was Leach who was the first to clear the ropes in the partnership with a handsome straight drive off Virdi. De Lange was soon into his stride and passed Leach on the scoreboard in an over that started 4-6-dot. Sadly, the next ball brought his departure caught at slip and 14 runs later Jack Brooks drove the same bowler loosely to be caught at cover.

Rory Burns and Mark Stoneman began the Surrey reply at 4 an over in the six overs the Kennington climate allowed against the Somerset opening pair of Brooks and de Lange who were not at their best.

There is enough in this pitch to suggest that the six wickets Somerset need should come tomorrow but Jack Leach hinted that Somerset’s aspirations are far more than doing enough to qualify. The weather forecast is far more encouraging for the next two days There will certainly be a lot of interest when Leach comes on to bowl tomorrow morning.

Elsewhere the most significant developments were at Derby and Cheltenham. The game between Derbyshire and Essex, which Essex were already well ahead in after 13 wickets fell on day 1, was abandoned as a draw due to COVID. Essex who needed a win and then hope either Notts or Warwickshire lost to make division one seems, unless the governing body’s machinations say otherwise, will not make the top division. At Cheltenham Hampshire made short order of the Gloucestershire first innings for 229 and reached 88-0 in their response by lunch. The onus is all on Hampshire to win as the draw will not do it for them. By the close they had advanced to 269-5 somewhat short of their aspirations before tea and a tightening of control by the Gloucester bowlers intervened. The loss of de Grandhomme without scoring in the last half-hour a further blow to Hampshire’s aspirations.  I sense though that this is a game that is far from done and dusted as a tame draw. A lead of 75 plus for Hampshire by shortly after lunch tomorrow and a home batting collapse may not be far away