“Three Certainties in Life – Death, Taxes and James Hildreth piling on the runs” Ryan Hemmings (@RyanHemmings) on Twitter
Don’t mention in James Hildreth’s hearing that runs against the MCC Universities in general and their Welsh iteration in particular don’t count. After helping himself to and unbeaten 250 odd the last time the Welsh students came to Taunton Somerset’s stalwart added a sublime 158* this time around in Somerset’s 387-4 declared in 88 overs.
Both teams lost four wickets on day one but there was the small matter of 374 difference between them at the end of the day! There was enough time in the 10 remaining overs for Somerset to reduce Cardiff to 13-4 with Lewis Gregory and Jack Books taking two wickets each. Gregory finished with the remarkable figures of 5-4-1-2.
Somerset fielded as strong a team as was possible given the absence of white-ball contracted pair skipper Tom Abell and Dom Bess who are currently playing for MCC in Dubai.
The main interest was the top order Somerset employed for this game with both James Hildreth and Steven Davies moving up a place from last season to 3 and 5 respectively. Whether this is a portent of the season to come or just an adjustment in Abell’s absence remains to be seen but with Azhar opening with Marcus there was a powerful and experienced look to Somerset’s top order.
Abell may well slot in at 3 or 5 when he returns allowing Hildreth and Davies to return to their 2018 places in the order. One thing this configuration achieved was separating the young tyros Bartlett and Byrom who on numerous occasions last season found themselves at 2 and 3 with all the attendant pressures that brings.
Both openers got a start before falling in the 20s, but by then Hildreth was already moving through the gears so Somerset were 81-2 when Azhar Ali was bowled. George Bartlett appeared to be continuing the form he showed in Abu Dhabi when he played on for 38, to his evident disappointment. Davies made 46 in a partnership of 128 for the fourth wicket before Byrom breezed to 58* off 54 balls in an unbroken 110 fifth wicket stand.
While the Cardiff batting lineup is nowhere near the strength Somerset will be facing in division one this season (with the exception of a Denly and Billingless Kent!) we got to see how potent Somerset’s bowling attack is. When you consider that Jamie Overton is not playing in this game and his brother, Josh Davey and Jack Leach have not picked up the ball, yet the damage done by Gregory and Brooks will not have gone unnoticed at Canterbury, Chelmsford, Edgbaston et al.
Expect Somerset to bat again tomorrow rather than enforcing the follow on and Azhar to get more “middle time” as well as the lower order before a second bowl later in the day. And don’t bet against a two-day finish.