A Very Satisfactory End To An Unsatisfactory Day

The flaws in this format of the County Championship have been exposed and we haven't even reached the "business end" of the Competition. But for Somerset it is a case of coming up smelling of roses!

Surrey v Somerset, County Championship Group 2, The Oval, July 11th to 14th 2021, Somerset 429 (Hildreth 107, Lammonby 42) and 69 (Ashwin 6-27, Moriarty 4-20) drew with Surrey 240 (Leach 6-43, van der Merwe 4-54) and 106 – 4

The flaws in this format of the County Championship have been exposed and we haven’t even reached the business / pointless phase of the competition.

This was an unsatisfactory day on the field for Somerset cricket. While I understand the sentiments expressed in reaction to my lunchtime post, that this game didn’t matter once Somerset had achieved their objective of reaching Division One, I couldn’t disagree more. Championship wins are a thing to be cherished, the opportunity to clinch one should not be lightly passed up. By refusing to enforce the follow-on Somerset did just that. I’ve spent long enough seeing Somerset in the doldrums at the bottom end of the table to accept tame draws when notable victories could be achieved.

The most worrying thing is that Surrey comprehensively out-bowled Somerset or, if you want to look through the other end of the telescope, that Surrey’s top order coped far better with the vagaries of the pitch and the opposition bowlers. 

To be bowled out for 69 in 29.1 overs whatever the circumstances and pitch is very disappointing. To place yourselves in a position where such a collapse is possible unacceptable.

Hashim Amla and Jamie Smith put the fall of 15 wickets by just after lunch into context with a fourth wicket stand of 66 in 27 overs to ensure the game meandered to a draw. Amla went lbw to Roelof in the penultimate over but that was the height of the excitement. In all honestly meander is breakneck compared to what we saw in the last three hours play! And therein lies the problem. We are in mid-July and neither side have any interest in a positive result because of the format of the competition.

Think back to 2018 or 2019 and imagine Somerset or Surrey having such an outlook mid-season. And it wasn’t just the game at The Oval that petered out. And all this is before we enter the phase of the season where 12 of the 18 counties have nothing to play for. While you understand, given the continued effects of the pandemic, that the current format allowed a credible competition to be held in 2021 it should be a one-off with a return to the two divisions from next season.

The one exception to the banality of the day was at Cheltenham. Gloucestershire needed to bat beyond tea to earn a draw and pip their opponents Hampshire for the second division one berth from group 2. When they reached the 20 minute interval with three wickets in hand the job seemed done, thanks principally to a century from Tom Lace. But a 14 ball spell in which three wickets fell for 1 run undid all the hard work and left Hampshire with 20 overs to chase 54 to win. Doing a passable impression of how Somerset would probably have gone about such a task they were 0-1 and 37-3 before Nick Gubbins and Colin de Grandhomme saw them home.

Such an outcome makes a big difference when the Championship resumes with Somerset the beneficiaries. They start the final four game phase with 18.5 points, 2.5 behind Warwickshire. Lancashire have 16.5, Hampshire 8.5, Notts 5 and Yorkshire 4.5. That’s very handy indeed especially if you agree with my view that Notts and Yorkshire should be in a much better position. They will find it hard if not impossible to overcome that deficit.