Fletcher Pierces Somerset Hearts

Luke Fletcher, the sort of salt-of-the-earth county pro that we all admire struck three times in the second half of the day to add to his fifth first-class fifty as Nottinghamshire assumed total control on day 2.

County Championship Division One, Taunton, August 30th to September 2nd, Day 2, Nottinghamshire 448 all out Patterson-White 101, Clarke 59, Fletcher 51, Abell 3-84 lead Somerset 87-7 by 361 runs

The name Fletcher is defined in the English dictionary as “someone who makes arrows”. Luke may no longer ply the trade that his name attests to but his strikes left Somerset’s title ambitions seriously punctured. 

The day was defined by a five-minute spell at around a quarter to five has left Somerset in peril of slipping to defeat in their opening division one game. The dismissal of Tom Lammonby and Tom Abell, who appeared to be repairing the damage caused by the early loss of Steven Davies, both to catches behind, in the space of four balls in Luke Fletcher’s seventh over reduced them to 51-3. Bizarrely as Abell trudged off having been strangled down the leg side the floodlights went out leaving the umpires to temporarily suspend play for bad light. From there Somerset’s day deteriorated from poor to terrible (the club’s own social media’s word) in the space of an hour.

How we all wish the fuse had blown a ball earlier and B&Q had been out of stock of a replacement as Lewis Goldsworthy, James Hildreth, Roelof van der Merwe and Tom Banton also perished before the close to leave Somerset on after a spell of 6-36 in 68 minutes. Yes the light was poor but this is not a time for excuses.

Luke Fletcher must love playing at Taunton. The “Barwell Bomber” made his fifth first-class fifty earlier in the day, his second at Taunton. He has only made one half-century at Trent Bridge. Fletcher’s innings put the cherry on top of the Nottinghamshire first innings cake which had already been iced by Liam Patterson-White’s maiden hundred and valuable supporting contributions from Tom Moores and Brett Hutton. 

The visitors completed a Somerset-like lower-order recovery from 208-6 shortly after tea on the first day defying the new ball to add a further 240. In truth it was not the most exciting cricket either side have played this season with Notts seeming to want to wear Somerset down in the hope of batting just once on a surface that looked increasingly benign as the Notts tail eased its way to an imposing total.

So why you may ask if the surface is so benign, have Somerset struggled in reply? The first reason is that Fletcher bowled better than any of the Somerset attack, and was well supported by Hutton and latterly Patterson. Consistently hitting a line and length to hit the top of off stump and giving the batsmen very little to hit whereas Josh Davey, Jack Brooks, Marchant de Lange and Tom Abell were consistently inconsistent delivering at least one “four-ball” an over. Ironically the worst two balls that Fletcher bowled both produced wickets as both Abell and Goldsworthy were caught behind in similar fashion. 

It is one of those immutable laws of cricket, that the side batting after they have been in the field for the best part of five sessions, will always struggle when it comes to their turn to bat. The wisdom of asking Steven Davies to open after having kept wicket for 142.1 overs has to be called into question. Surely Davies deserved a rest especially with Tom Banton in the side?

The early loss of Davies wicket seemed to be being repaired by Abell, batting beautifully after tea and Lammonby, less fluent but equally determined but a flail to a wide ball by the left-handed Tom and another strangle down the leg-side to account for the skipper in increasing gloom. When Goldsworthy followed in identical fashion to his captain the reply had slipped to 68-4 still 231 adrift of the follow-on target. 

A day on the field as gloomy as the weather mirrored the mood in the Somerset cricket community from the previous evening that Lewis Gregory will not bowl again this season as a result of a back injury. A prognosis delivered by Jason Kerr in his interview with Anthony Gibson the previous evening. The task of winning the first title had already become that much harder even before a ball of this dispiriting day was bowled. 

Gregory’s injury, picked up during his stint as captain of Notts Outlaws will doing nothing to persuade Somerset supporters that the ECB’s new child is a good thing. But it is entirely possible that Lewis could have been similarly inflicted if he had been playing for Somerset in the One Day Cup. For once I can’t expend my emotional energy bitching about The Hundred. Sorry.

Whether Lewis will be able to lead the side on finals day playing purely as a batsman is not yet known but the fact that he played on Thursday can be seen as encouraging both for finals day itself and the non-severity of the injury. But his absence from the bowling attack for the remainder of the Championship season really worries me.

As we know Somerset’s team ethos is one of great positivity and boy will it be needed now. I’m not prepared to jump to the easy, lazy conclusion that the title bid is all over after two days out of a possible sixteen but what is clear is that the batting which needs to provide the runs to give this depleted attack something to bowl at is way short of what is required at present.

With Yorkshire well on top against Hampshire and Lancashire’s game with Warwickshire looking at the moment like a draw the advantage Somerset had before the start of this round of games began looks like being eroded. After this round of games all but Hampshire look likely to be pretty closely bunched in division one. Somerset are going to have to turn things around very quickly if they are to feature in any way. Another performance like this and the chances of being champion county will be very slim.  

Keep the faith.