Mixed Fortunes, Mixed Emotions

County Championship Division One, Somerset v Surrey, Taunton, Day 2 – Somerset 243-5 trail Surrey 380 All Out by 137 runs with 5 first innings wickets remaining, 

A game worthy of last season’s top two is unfolding at Taunton. After two days there is very little to choose between the two sides with each having had periods of ascendancy throughout the first two days. 

The morning session belonged to Somerset who bowled Surrey out for the addition of 50 runs, over half of which came in a frustrating last wicket stand. Having added 20 with Rikki Clarke in 10 overs and 45 minutes, a testament to Lewis and Craig’s control. Ironically it was a double bowling change which broke that stand, Jack Leach bowling Ryan Patel in his first over. Three overs later Groenewald struck getting Morkel caught behind for 1, and an over later Batty was gone LBW to Leach 352-9. 

Rikki Clarke has apparently scored more runs against Somerset that any other county. He added another 59 unbeaten (his seventh career score of 50 or more against Somerset) and with Conor McKerr added 28 for the last wicket before the McKerr was caught off Leach attempting something over-expansive 

Groenewald finished with 2-62 off 24 overs a return notable for its economy, thoroughly justifying his selection and proving once again that Jason Kerr knows a lot more about cricket than I do! Jack Brooks was unable to field or bowl due to a calf injury. Andy Hurry was quick to play down concerns in his lunchtime interview with the BBC but such injuries are a concern for quick bowlers and might be indicative of wider joint problems. It seems highly unlikely that Brooks will be fit for Warwickshire next Monday so the possibility of an immediate recall of Jamie from Northants appears highly likely. Overton, according to Charlie Taylor who is commentating at Old Trafford, bowled with considerable pace and hostility and much better than his 1-68 indicates. 

McKerr’s dismissal left Marcus and Azhar a nasty 20 minute spell to see out against Clarke and Morkel which they did to lunch at 10-0 off 5 overs. This sort of phase of a championship game is what makes the longer form first class game so wonderful. While we all enjoy the 50-over format given Somerset’s current success, a little spell like this, set in the context of the game and season is like no other. 

Being able to listen to the commentary of Anthony Gibson and Mark Church who are, while partisan in their support of their respective counties, proper cricket supporters. Gibson appreciative of the menace of Morkel, Church effusive in his adoration of an Azhar cover drive. Two consummate professionals with no media ego just a desire to share their enjoyment of the game we love. In a week where TMS is again letting itself down the powers that be at the BBC would do well to nurture Gibson, Church and their peers on the county commentary circuit.

Having lunched with a small sense of achievement of surviving that nasty spell, Trescothick went immediately after without adding to his solitary boundary. Having defended Marcus yesterday there is no doubt that 26 years and 2 days after he made his Championship debut for Somerset the great man is in desperate need of some runs.

We, as Somerset supporters in a horrible position. We have a team that is a very real championship contender. We also have a legend closing in, albeit painfully slowly, on the mythical mark set in the 50s by Harold Gimblett. All of us want nothing more than to see Tres’ making substantial runs and being an integral part of that side. But ever more vulnerable early in his innings is now the time to consider asking Banton to open with Azhar and move Marcus down to five? The logic is inescapable, Trescothick is more likely to flourish in such a less testing role away from the pressure and jeopardy of the new ball. The problem is such a move would involve dropping either Davies, with Tom taking the gloves, or George Bartlett or compromising the bowling depth. 

Where Next for Marcus?

Marcus’ dismissal heralded a sudden change in the direction of the day’s play. Whereas batting had been an Attritional task against quality bowling Azhar and James Hildreth proceeded to add 94 runs in 17 overs. It seemed midway through the session that Somerset were building a position to really put Surrey under pressure while the visiting bowlers were made to look distinctly ordinary.

But as abruptly as fortunes had swung in Somerset’s favour they swung against them with the dismissals of Azhar and the skipper as the introduction of the much despised Gareth Batty and reintroduction of Morne Morkel first slowed the run rate and then took the 2 wickets to reduce Somerset to 117-3 half an hour before tea. Azhar who had been imperious seemed to lose concentration while Abell inexplicably for a batsman of his class played perhaps the worst shot of the season to one of the worst balls of the season.

Pausing to reflect half way through the second day it is worth noting that Somerset had fought magnificently since mid-way through the final session of the first day reducing Surrey from 265-2 to 380 all out (115-8) and then reached 104-1 making the two careless dismissals of top order batsmen all the more annoying.

George Bartlett joined James Hildreth and the pair stabilised things up to tea to adjourn at 140-3. Bartlett seemed immediately at ease while Hildreth was purring and had reached 61 off 98 balls in just under 2 hours with 9 fours in that gorgeous way that only James Hildreth can.    

The final session began in identical fashion to the afternoon session with McKerr taking a wicket in the first over of the resumption this time removing George Bartlett palpably LBW this time Hildreth’s rebuilding job was in conjunction with Steven Davies. Davies, like Trescothick would have been aware of the growing clamour for Tom Banton to get a place in the championship side at his expense, unlike Trescothick able to respond with significant runs.

The partnership, while not as flowing as the earlier Hildreth / Azhar alliance, added a very good 70 when Hildreth was deceived by Rikki Clarke looking to push the ball into the onside and only succeeding in giving a return catch to the bowler. For the second time this season Hildreth perished in the 90s when something even more substantial seemed possible.

With another 18 overs to go in the day Somerset were grateful for the maturity of Lewis Gregory, curbing his natural attacking instincts to see out the day on 18 with Davies 54 not out. While they have only added 32 their joint contribution has closed a potential door of opportunity for Surrey.

James Hildreth’s post close of play assessment of the balance of the game being 60-40 in favour of Surrey might be a bit of a case of dressing room mind games rather than a fair assessment. His comment that the wicket is beginning to take spin and his hope that Somerset can build a position where we can “unleash Jack Leach on them” is perhaps more indicative of the mood in the home dressing room. 

Somerset will be hoping for the overnight two to push on tomorrow. With a new ball due in 12 overs there is every possibility that they will be able to take advantage of the harder ball. We all know what an hour of Gregory in his pomp could do and if Davies can avoid his recent propensity to get out early in a session when set Surrey might start their second innings with at best a slender lead and the momentum against them.

An intriguing third day awaits.