County Championship Division One, Hampshire v Somerset, The Rose Bowl Southampton, Day 2
Somerset 180 (Hildreth 87) and 15-0 trail Hampshire 428 (Green 3-30) by 233 runs
I have a notebook which I keep with me throughout the cricket season. It is where I scribble thoughts, notes and ideas for posts and on match days write notes through the day of the scores at intervals, and usually a summarised scorecard. It is something I’ve done for years long before I started writing this blog. It is a sort of comfort blanket.
I’m sure most of you can understand the excitement when the new notebook arrives with all those blank pages offering the promise of a summer of cricket with runs, wickets tables and stories all waiting to be written.
Well today the page headed Friday 8th August, Hampshire, Championship Day 2 stayed blank until late afternoon. A reflection of my sombre mood listening to the commentary as I waded through a long list of work tasks that I needed to complete before the weekend.
This was a day that even devotees of championship cricket would struggle to eulogise about. But as the day progressed the drama and tension grew culminating in a nerve-jangling last twenty minutes. If the roles had been reversed there would have been plenty of criticism of Somerset’s batting in the second half of the day. Hampshire’s lack of ambition meant that they were left with only six overs to bowl at the end of the day. A horrible six overs but I’m sure Kyle abbot, James Vince and the Hampshire brains trust would have liked at least double that to make early inroads into the visitors top order.
But as the day progressed I began to feel a lot more cheerful. Why you might wonder as the Hampshire lead grew beyond 200 were there any grounds for optimism. Is this another case of the oft accused, Maroon-tinted SomersetNorth spectacles? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Let me explain.
Somerset started the day in a parlous position and for the first session it got no better. Hampshire were level when they lost their first wicket and with Nick Gubbins and James Vince chomping at the bit. The top four took Hampshire to 323-2. You would have not been surprised if Somerset’s very much makeshift bowling attack had wilted at this point but they didn’t, in fact they fought back to take 106-8. Yes the conditions weren’t ideal for batting with cloud cover and a little uneven bounce beginning to come from the hitherto bland surface but Somerset took full advantage against Hampshire’s much-vaunted batting lineup.
Ben Green who I am rapidly beginning to think is one of the most under-rated players in County cricket was the pick of the bowlers with the astonishing figures of 2-31 in a total of over 400. With Matt Renshaw scheduled to be available next week Green may have to wait for another chance in the first team but he showed his worth with the bat as well surviving to the close alongside Tom Lammonby in the no-win, last few overs of the day situation that openers hate most.
Why you ask did the skipper not bring Green on until fourth change and why only give him eight and a bit overs? Kasey Aldridge and Ned Leonard should also be proud of their shifts of 20 and 18 overs respectively. They will have taken a lot of “learnings” from this innings which will stand them in good stead in the years to come. And Peter Siddle showed his quality with a fine spell of bowling, surround him with Overton, Davey and Gregory and he will bowl a lot worse for better reward.
When you hear as good a judge as Kevan James say, with understandable Hampshire bias, that he was impressed with how Somerset kept going in such adversity you have to take note. And you cannot ignore the impact of those eight absentees. With the exception of Surrey, who could probably be without eighteen and still field a strong side, I challenge you to name another county who could cope with such a situation.
Hampshire, after coming so close last year (let’s not forget Somerset’s failure to bat out the last day at Edgbaston denied them the title), are many peoples favourites to go one better this year and with a full-strength side would have been a tough challenge for Somerset’s strongest XI. So the resistance shown in the second half of day two should not go unnoticed.
If I were a Hampshire supporter there would be a nagging doubt in my mind after today. Maybe Hampshire aren’t as strong as we thought, a side with title aspirations should have been much further forward in this game than they are at halfway. I’d have wanted a lead of around 300 and a couple of wickets by the close for not many.
There are many who will accuse me of making excuses but I think that is unfair. But actually, I don’t care. I have no agenda here, no editorial guidelines or masters to keep happy. This blog is for my thoughts and I’m happy to say it as I see it. From what was a pretty dark place there are some green shoots of recovery, we couldn’t ask for much more.
Let’s be honest, Somerset are still staring down the barrel here. Even if they bat all day tomorrow Hampshire will still be favourites to seal a win on day four such is their first innings advantage but if they show as much guts as they did today maybe, just maybe there is a glimmer for this game.