Bristol Fashion – Function Over Beauty?

I did my degree in Bristol and spent many a winter’s evening in the nets at Nevil Road. My memories are of a dreary old pavilion and a ground that even in summer was not a place to love. Gloucestershire have made huge strides with the ground and facilities and while it is no Taunton it is a much nicer place to watch cricket. But the pitch, oh the pitch. It has been the antithesis of “pace and carry” for many years, somewhere where medium-pacers are far better rewarded than the quicks. But after the run fest when Surrey visited two weeks ago it seems that no bowlers will enjoy themselves on this track.

County Championship Division One, Gloucestershire v Somerset, The County Ground Bristol, May 12thto 15th, Day 1 Somerset 319-4 (Renshaw 94, Lammonby 76, Hildreth 53, Abell 52*)

You won’t be surprised to read that my belief is that Gloucestershire’s decision to insert Somerset at the start of day one was due entirely defensive. I’m pretty certain that this wicket has been prepared with the intention on the host’s part to nullify the potent threat Somerset’s seam attack offers.

The Glosters have previous this season with the last game here which in three days produced 1,046 runs (including two double-hundreds and a 124) for just 12 wickets When you factor in the fact that Surrey were 37-3 after 19 overs including Burns and Amla the subsequent dominance of bat over ball (1,009-9) is even more stark.

Any fair-minded person would feel sorry for Gloucestershire and their injury denuded bowling attack, but I am not at the best of times a particularly fair-minded person and where “Proctershire” is concerned even less so. The childhood/teenage scars still remain.

With no disrespect to Ryan Higgins the home bowlers absent Amir and David Payne, who would have both been a handful at 11 am, were not going to strike fear into the heart in the way Overton, Siddle, Gregory and Davey would. 

The decision to insert Somerset has almost certainly determined the only route to success for Tom Abell’s side. While you cannot ignore the maxim of not analysing the pitch until both sides have batted I don’t think it requires a huge leap of faith to conclude this is going to be a surface where it is very hard to bowl the opposition out twice.

Don’t be disheartened however, the local intelligence seemed to be that this surface has a little more of a green tinge to its compatriot of two weeks ago. Jack Leach will also have been happy to see a little bounce and turn in the afternoon session for Zafar Gohar.

In a moment of extreme blue-sky-thinking on Monday’s ALOTBCL podcast I postulated a scenario where Somerset bat for 5 sessions and reach 600 before the bowlers are let loose on a tired Gloucestershire top order before Jack Leach spins Somerset to victory on day four. Unless the home side bats really badly or the Somerset seamers exceed even their lofty standards this seems the only possible way Somerset can win this game.

So, having set the bar ridiculously high for Tom Abell and the top order, it is important to measure what has been achieved on day one on a less partial, more rational basis. Sophie Luff, who on her commentary debut was informative, insightful and a natural behind the microphone estimated par to be between 370 and 400. But, to every Somerset supporter’s delight the opening pair of Tom’s (as Matt Renshaw is Matthew Thomas I’m going to use his second Christian name so we have a top four of Toms) reproduced their first session performance from two weeks ago taking their side to 114-0 at lunch at better than 3 an over. 

Renshaw had started much the quicker but as the session progressed Lammonby got into his fluent stride and was matching Renshaw pretty much run for run. They took repast on 65 and 44 respectively.

The opening partnership was set to pass the 137 they amassed against Warwickshire and 150 before Zak Chappell removed Lammonby (we won’t dwell on the shot that brought his demise) for 74 with the total on 172. One brought two as Renshaw followed to the same bowler six short of his second consecutive hundred on 179. Tom Banton joined his skipper and continued where he left off against the champions moving quickly to 18, which included a six, but just when you were thinking that Banton could propel Somerset to something intimidating at the end of day one he nicked behind off Ryan Higgins. 207-3.

There was much talk yesterday of Gloucestershire’s decision to parachute in 3 short-term loanees. After the first session, in which Brad Wheal and Zak Chappell had done little to persuade the Hampshire and Nottinghamshire brains trusts that they could force their way into their parent sides, Chappeli in particular was much better in this phase of the game showing glimpses of the promise that persuaded Notts to tempt him from Grace Road.

If this is the scale of Somerset batting “collapses” these days I’ll take 35-3 when you start from 172-0 but in the context of the game objective it was still immensely frustrating.

Banton’s dismissal seven overs before tea may well have changed the course of the rest of the day, we will never know. But was became clear pretty quickly that Tom Abell’s priority was to bat time rather than look to score quick runs with the soft ball against a tiring attack. James Hildreth seemed to buy into the plan to the extent that his natural talent and instincts permit with the result that in the 16 overs between tea and the new ball Somerset added just 43 (Abell 13, Hildreth 25). To Hildreth’s credit he resisted manfully the temptations of Jacob Bethell’s 79th over slow left arm to stay with his captain which given the last couple of games was a major improvement.

So the stage was set. For Somerset the objective had to be to get through the final 16 overs of the day without further loss thereby setting a platform for day 2 and a total nearer Steve’s 600 than Sophie’s 400. 

The initial new ball spell was thwarted but Matt Taylor struck in the 87th over removing Hildreth who had just gone past 50. Another catch for Bracey. This was not the big innings you feel James Hildreth needed for his own peace of mind but he more than justified his retention for this game. If he gets 53 every time he bats in a first-class game no one should complain but Hildreth will I am sure feel he left runs out there having being culpable for his dismissal playing what was described as an “indiscriminate waft” to a ball outside off stump which could have been ignored.

James Hildreth – a fluent 53 at a crucial stage of the day

The captain however was not to be denied his objective. Accompanied by a staunch Steven Davies, Abell saw his side through to the close unbeaten on 52 off 138 balls. Tom will wake this morning pleased with what he has done so far but by no means satisfied, he will know that if he can bat beyond lunch and Davies and those that are to follow can contribute his attacking options when Somerset come to bowl will be greatly enhanced. On a surface like this that could be very important.