It’s Been A Funny Sort of Day

There was a sense of optimism for Somerset supporters last evening. A squad which hinted that Somerset were going to be able to field a first choice bowling attack raising hopes, if not of winning the title, at least putting on a performance in the last home game of the season. But all the air went resoundingly out of the collective maroon balloon at 10 am when the side was announced.

Somerset v Lancashire, County Championship Division One, Taunton September 12th to 15th Lancashire 364-8 (Wells 100, Croft 71, Bailey 54*, Bohannon 50, Brooks 3-70, Abell 3-63)

Arkwright, the eponymous hero of Open All Hours, played by Ronnie Barker, always finished each episode with that phrase. The much beloved shopkeeper must have been, despite the series northern setting, a Somerset supporter as we all could easily similarly opine after each day’s play. And today was very much a case in point.

Tom Abell won the toss for the third time in a row and decided on a pitch that at 10am was barely discernible from the surrounding green wisely elected to bowl first. It was the sort of pitch that Craig Overton, Josh Davey would have loved to bowl on but, to the intense disappointment of all home fans, none of the three were, despite being in the squad of sixteen, were not selected, all due to “injuries”. Add in the unavailability of Jack Leach due to “covid Protocols” and Abell was left to rely on his side’s second-string attack.

There was one significant addition to the bowling attack with Ned Leonard given a debut after a strong season and a particularly good all-round performance in the second XIs win over Northants last week. 

And Leonard almost immediately repaid the selection, opening the bowling with Jack Brooks, dismissing George Balderson, one of two wickets that fell with the Lancashire score on 27.

But, yet again, the inability of the Somerset seamers to locate consistent line and length, gave their opponents top order ample opportunity to move along quickly. 70-2 after and hour became 127-2 at lunch. In the hour after the first break Lancashire’s scoring rate accelerated further, to the point where it was getting ugly. 

Luke Wells had just reached his hundred  (113 balls, 20 fours) when the skipper removed him to a neat catch by James Hildreth at first slip. 182-3 quickly became 201-5 as Abell struck twice more but the problem was that Somerset’s bowlers could not staunch the flow of runs. Abell, who decided not to bowl himself again for the rest of the day finished with 3-63 but off just 7 overs. 

The Somerset bowlers did claw it back as the day progressed but it was all a little too late as Steven Croft and Tom Bailey combined to add 95 for the eighth wicket albeit taking 36 overs to do so.

A large part of the credit for the degree of control Somerset exerted in the last session goes to Roelof van der Merwe with his spell of 13-5-14-0. The fact that Somerset bowled only 17 maidens all day, the vast proportion in the last session, says it all.

Roelof van der Merwe – the sole Somerset bowler to exert any control on day 1

Given the Bulldog’s economy late in the day there are grounds for asking why he was not used earlier – a refrain that became all too loud on social media as the day progressed.  But in Abell’s defence the surface did not look like one that would suit slow left arm. 

For me the poor state of Somerset’s bowling resources was best emphasised by Tom Lammonby taking the second new ball. An indictment particularly of Marchant de Lange who yet again passed up the chance of showing he could lead this attack. 

But, it seems to be the case that Somerset have decided that the best chance of securing silverware this season is on finals day next Saturday with everything being done to ensure Craig and Josh are at their best.

The wicket of Croft at the very end of the day revived hopes of Lancashire being bowled all out for under 400, but that is just not good enough. Lancashire would not have been allowed to score more than 250 against a full-strength attack. They should not have been allowed to top 300 by this attack.

So now we face the prospect of a yet again rejigged batting line up being asked to deal with scoreboard pressure. It hasn’t gone well on the last two occasions, let’s hope tomorrow sees a marked improvement.