Red Rose Responsibilities

One day left of the season. One more rollercoaster ride of emotions for Somerset supporters (and others)

Warwickshire v Somerset, County Championship Division One, September 21st to 24th 2021, Edgbaston, Birmingham, Day 3, Warwickshire 367 (Hain 83, Overton 5-88)  & 179-1 lead Somerset 389 (Gregory 68, Ali 60, Lammonby 59, Davies 52, Leach 49) by 157

So it all comes down to this. Yet again Somerset are involved in drama on the last day of the championship season. And while they can’t win the title this year they bear a responsibility to Lancashire to ensure that if Warwickshire do triumph tomorrow they will have to do it the hard way.

I remember this day 5 years ago. Leaving the County Ground for the last time that season knowing Somerset had done all they could to win their first-ever title but also knowing it might not be enough. There are many Somerset supporters, of which I am one who believes that the events of the following day at Lords bordered on a stitch up to ensure Somerset were denied.

Yorkshire who were still in contention on that last day agreed to a deal where they would continue to chase the target Middlesex set them to the very end when the correct thing to do was to call off the chase and play for the drawer. 

This year is different, Somerset, the other protagonists in this denouement of the 2021 season have very little to play for (£7,000 of prize money to be specific) other than professional pride. For the first eight sessions of this game they played tough cricket, the sort of cricket Somerset fans have come to expect from their side.

Which made the last session, when some poor bowling (Craig Overton notably excepted) allowed Warwickshire to race to 179-1 off 36 overs at 4.97 per over. For a bowling attack that has based its success on keeping it tight aiming to go at under 3 an over (a point specifically referenced by coach Jason Kerr after day 1) this was unexpected and alarming.

When Lewis Gregory said at the end of the third day that his side were prepared to chase a “realistic” target the mind wandered to the prospect of an agreement as to the last day runs / overs equation has been reached. If it has I sincerely hope Somerset will not continue a reckless Yorkshire 2016-like pursuit if it becomes unattainable.

But these concerns are for tomorrow. For now it is important to bathe in the glow of another wonderful day of this most wonderful form of cricket. A day to warm the heart, a day that the high-ups at the ECB probably aren’t capable of appreciating, a day for the cricket savant. You can throw all the money you like at artificial franchises, DJs and fireworks but will never recreate the crescendo of drama and excitement the twists and turns that the games at Aigburth and Edgbaston produced. And it is not over yet. Warwickshire need to manufacture a win on the last day of the season to lift the title.

Written off by many who assumed Warwickshire would sweep to an easy win this week Tom Abell’s Somerset side have put in a performance over the last three days. We may not be ending the season with a trophy but we go into the long cricket-less winter with a performance worthy of this great club.

After a dreadful three weeks of division one cricket they had been written off by many as easy meat for a Warwickshire side chasing the title. Facing a substantial Warwickshire first innings yesterday lunchtime they batted for four sessions show guts and fight and in the process taking a slim first innings lead. My hope last evening that Somerset could get close to Warwickshire’s first innings and make the hosts task to win the game and the title that much harder was far exceeded.

Events 72 miles north-west of Edgbaston mean that Warwickshire have to win tomorrow to clinch the 2021 County Championship. Lancashire who had been set 196 on an Aigburth pitch that made that seem like over 300 looked to be in control by mid-afternoon on 112-2 before two quick wickets before the tea interval pegged them back to 118-4. After the break the experienced pair of Dane Vilas and Steven Croft took them to 151 before the latter was lbw to Mason Crane. 

Still with five wickets in hand and their skipper one of those they got the requirement down to 19 before Danny Lamb was sixth out. They reduced that to single figures before Luke wood was seventh out and just four when tom Bailey was run out without scoring. Three needed with two wickets remaining became 2 with last man Matt Parkinson at the other end from Vilas.

Parkinson, as redoubtable a cricketer as you could ever meet survived the last two balls of the over allowing Vilas, fittingly to hit the winning runs. You have to feel for Hampshire on that long journey home this evening and no one is better equipped to have that empathy.  

Attention had for most Somerset fans had been understandably drawn away from Edgbaston for that dramatic last hour. Especially as that period of play was the one that somerset fans would least want to remember. Dominic Sibley was scoring freely for goodness sake. 

But that last two hours should not detract from the previous two where Somerset ground their way to a 22 run first innings lead in initially testing circumstances. When you see a photo on the Somerset twitter account of the covers on at a gloomy Edgbaston an hour before the scheduled start you fear that the pattern of first sessions on days 1 and 2 of this game is going to be repeated and that Somerset would do very well to get close to the Warwickshire first innings.

The added worry of Warwickshire having a new ball available pretty early in that session was only exacerbated when Steven Davies, the anticipated linchpin in the task of surviving the early exchanges went quickly for 52 before the new ball was taken.

But by lunch Somerset had reached a position 325-8, a deficit of just 42 runs which reflected particularly creditably on Lewis Gregory. The decision to play the injured T20 captain as a specialist batsmen paying off handsomely. Lewis deserves huge credit for a mature, disciplined innings which allowed his side to continue to frustrate Warwickshire’s title ambitions. It was a huge disappointment when Gregory was out to the last ball before lunch for a fine 68 as an hour of Lewis after the break would have been rather fun. But Gregory had done his job splendidly.

Lewis Gregory, superb disciplined innings

Hopefully those who are swift enough to criticise Andy Hurry and Jason Kerr will be big enough to admit that the DoC and coach who’s difficult decision to leave James Hildreth out and include Gregory, against the views of many of us, paid handsome dividends

I had settled on my title for today’s post a few minutes before 3pm. It was going to be “The Happiest Minute of the Week” – anticipating when Jack Leach reached his fifty. Typically for one of Somerset’s best-ever player’s luck he went for 49 to a fine low slip catch off his slow left arm counterpart.

It seems I wasn’t the only one. Somerset’s superb social media guru had a graphic prepared for Leach’s 50 and decided to post it anyway.

Jack Leach – so good he gets a “50” graphic for 49

To say Leach had done his job by that point however would be an understatement as he had helped his side move ahead on first innings by 14. Leach’s innings had taken the score from 271-7 to 381-9 in 43 and a half overs with 5 fours and a six. To start with it wasn’t Jack’s most convincing display with the bat with Chris Woakes giving him a tough time early in his innings but he gutted it out and by the afternoon session looked completely at ease.

When Josh Davey was last man out for 16 off 83 balls Somerset had eked out a lead of 22. Not only had Warwickshire’s game plan at the start of the day been completely frustrated but Somerset had denied their opponents a crucial third bowling point. With the game at Aigburth moving toward a positive result Warwickshire’s title hopes were receding before their eyes.

Remember that Warwickshire have to win this game and to do that they need to give themselves enough time to bowl Somerset out in the final innings on a surface that is showing little sign of becoming harder to bat on at the three-quarter stage. The fact that Somerset took a lead of any sort into the second innings meant that Warwickshire needed to score in the region of 120 per session up to lunch tomorrow to give themselves a chance. Ideally a declaration half an hour before lunch would seem to offer their best chance.

I wondered if the body language of the Warwickshire fielders in the last couple of hours would translate into an early batting collapse but pragmatically on this surface it was not to be. Warwickshire’s openers saw off Craig’s opening burst and, in truth were able to score with some comfort. Sibley went for 50 caught at deep cover off Josh Davey, not a mode of dismissal Sibley will have fallen to very often!

I’ve got to say that heart-breaking as it is that Somerset aren’t in with a shout it has been a lot of fun following the emotions of the Lancashire, Hampshire and Warwickshire supporters. I’ve lost count of how many times today I’ve wondered how I would be coping if Somerset were in the place of any one of those three. It actually doesn’t bear thinking about. 

And if that wasn’t enough excitement for the day Eddie Byrom took 2-29 in a Surrey first innings of 387-2. Eddie Byrom takes more wickets in a day than the Somerset bowling attack. Even I don’t need Dan Kingdom to tell me that hasn’t happened before!