The Oh So Nearly Men

There is honour in a defeat like this but very little glory in victory. Imagine if the roles had been reversed we would all be agonising about how we nearly made a mess of such a small run chase. The victory would have felt as hollow as a catch claimed from a half-volley by a cricketing knight.

County Championship Division One, Somerset v Essex, The Cooper Associates County Ground, Taunton, Day 3, Saturday 16th April 2022  Essex 180 (Overton 7-57) and 84-9 (Overton6-30) beat Somerset 109 (Lammonby 48) & 154 (Davies 51, Renshaw 45) by 1 wicket

To be clear I’m not bitter about this defeat, far from it, it was a very exciting end to a game of cricket with three results possible until the very end. Well played Essex on a battling win. But I’d just like to ask the question of Somerset supporters, if we won the county championship on the back of our captain’s interference with the decision on whether the ground was fit for play or we won a game when one of our senior players claimed a catch that looked to have been scooped up on the half-volley would we be happy or would there be just that tiniest bad taste? I want Somerset to win every game they play but to do so by being the better side, maybe having the better fortune. Nothing else. 

If that sounds a little pompous or moralistic to you then sorry but that was how I was brought up and at my age, I’m not going to change now.

Somerset cricket, thankfully, has never been tarnished with the like. The loveable losers of the fifties and sixties, the “Team to Watch” of the eighties and in recent times the joyous carefree cricket of the likes of Marcus and Peter Trego have decorated a history of which we can all be justifiably proud.

But now we must stop for a moment amid all the disappointment of a sixth consecutive defeat in red-ball cricket and take time to savour the force of nature that is Craig Overton. As I alluded to yesterday the lazy narrative among those cricketing experts who think there is no red-ball cricket outside the international game, is that Craig Overton is short of pace to succeed at that level. As if pace is all you need!

I won’t be shaken from the belief that week in week out Craig Overton is head and shoulders above any other quick bowler in the County Championship. Having bowled his side back into the game on the second morning with 7-57 he then watched as the batsmen could not give him more than 83 to bowl at in the final innings. 

But, superbly supported by Peter Siddle’s 3-25 in 12 miserly overs Overton who removed nightwatchman Cook with the second ball of the day reduced Essex to 4-4 and 28-6. At that point you began to think that something incredible was possible. Yet again these columns have to recognise an occasion when the hope was killed. A seventh-wicket partnership of 29 would have seen like a minor bump on the road to victory if the target was around 150 but by doubling the score Wheater and Rossington reduced the requirement to just 27.

With Overton and Siddle understandably needing rest and Tom Abell needing to keep attacking fields Lewis Gregory was asked to fill the crucial third seamer role replacing Siddle. Lewis, who looked in this game like he needs a little match-sharpening, was unable to maintain the level of pressure his two colleagues had created, no criticism as the benchmark had been set incredibly high and the margin for error non-existent.

The quick wickets of Wheater and Harmer threw things back into the balance at 60-6 but Adam Rossington and Shane Snater took the scores level before Tom Lammonby held on to a steepler to remove the Essex number ten. Yet again there was hope and yet again it was punctured as Rossington justified with this innings, his move from Northants with the winning single. He finished 27*.

There is plenty to talk about pitches and the batting but the positive we can take is that it is clear that Somerset have one of the best if not the best bowling attack in the country. And Josh Davey (who would have been invaluable this morning) still to come back. While two defeats from the opening two games of the season is nowhere near what we hoped for the fighting spirit that has contributed so much to recent success for Somerset is very much still alive.

It sounds counter-intuitive to say a defeat like this is a positive but after five thrashings (sorry I can’t think of any other fair description) a narrow defeat with victory almost snatched from a losing position from the start of day one is something to cling on to.

But the only way to wrap this post up is to finish with a series of numbers that exemplify the magnificence that was Craig Overton in this game.