On 17 July 2002, the turnstiles throbbed as thousands flocked into the County Ground in Taunton in hopeful expectation that Somerset could negotiate a tricky looking quarter-final clash and progress towards a third final appearance in the Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy in four seasons. But standing in their way was a very useful Worcestershire side – Solanki, Hick, Batty, Rhodes, Ali et al.
Somerset were in the middle of a challenging season after arguably their most successful ever in 2001, when a second-place finish in the Championship was negotiated and the club had won the C&G title at Lords. The hero on that memorable day in St Johns Wood was Taunton’s own Keith Parsons and it would be he who dominated proceedings in this clash.
Somerset were able to put out a decent looking side on paper but there were issues. To their advantage the home team had Marcus Trescothick available from England duty, and he would captain the side. The club skipper Jamie Cox had been injured but would play in this game, albeit a little rusty with minimal match practice. To their detriment Andrew Caddick was one of six seamers injured so Somerset pulled Paul Jarvis out of retirement to help the pace attack.
Trescothick won the toss and invited the visitors to bat first. Peters and Solanki showed scant regard to Somerset’s opening attack of Bulbeck and Jones as the runs ticked over. Jarvis was first change but the gamble to play him hadn’t worked and his two overs cost 25 runs, and he was cast out to the boundary edge for the rest of the game. This would be his final List A appearance. Jones snared Peters leg before to offer some hope, but this brought Somerset’s nemesis Graeme Hick to the crease but, luckily for the home side, he was largely out of sorts even if the runs still flowed freely initially. But his major contribution being to hit a hard ball that struck Trescothick’s hand to put the cider county’s captain on the day out of the rest of the game and for six weeks after. Somerset needed their support bowlers to stand up and be counted and Parsons and Mike Burns did just that.
First Burns accounted for Solanki then Parsons started a memorable day for him by bowling Hick with an in-swinger for 39. 153 for 3. The whole mood of the game had changed and the away team felt the need to take a few chances. The two Somerset men combined to get rid of Leatherdale and, as well these vital wickets, stopped the runs flowing. Ben Smith batted until the end for a competent 85 but Parsons, with two for 37 from ten overs, and Blackwell, with one for 37 from nine, had turned the game. Scoring 158 in the first 25 overs, Worcestershire looked set for a huge total but had to settle for just a good one instead, only adding 113 in the second half of their knock. That said, chasing 271 without being able to call on their best batsman was going to be a stern test for Somerset.
Cox had assumed captaincy duties following Trescothick’s injury and he opened with Bowler, but both men were out with the score on 36. When Burns (24) departed on 87 hard looked much harder. But that’s when Parsons took over. With Blackwell (30) he helped the score to 145 and restored the required run rate. With Rob Turner (47) he put on 106 for the sixth wicket and the game had transformed. Somerset were in sniffing distance of a famous victory.
Parsons was magnificent. His previous highest List A score was 72 yet he reached three-figures in this game after facing 77 balls in 109 minutes hitting 14 fours and 1 six. He would hit one more boundary as his innings ended on 121 after 100 deliveries. He left the field of play on 251 for 5 to a standing ovation from the Somerset faithful, many who were there claiming to this day that this was one of the finest limited overs centuries witnessed at the ground.
When Turner was out Bulbeck and Dutch saw the home side cross the line with 15 balls to spare. It was a very handsome win.
Somerset won a thrilling semi-final against Kent in a game where they looked dead and buried before playing Yorkshire at Lords, where Parsons scored 41 but his team lost the game by six wickets with Matthew Elliott dominating. Summing up the 2002 season – one where both Somerset and Yorkshire would end up relegated from the County Championship’s top tier – Wisden said: “Yorkshire had some consolation for a miserable summer. Somerset had none.”
But this game against Worcestershire is one that helped Keith Parsons achieve legendary status with Somerset supporters in a career where he would score over 12,000 runs and take 250 wickets. And it is one that he reflects fondly on. Speaking to The Incider in 2015 he recalled: “The quarter-final against Worcester was my favourite game when I got 120 in, I think, 2002. I bowled a floating half volley to Graham Hick who smashed it to Marcus at cover and smashed his thumb so we were already one down with our best player out of the game chasing a large score. I think I got out just before we won but that was probably my best innings.”