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County Championship Division One, Somerset v Hampshire, Taunton June 30th to July 3rd

Hampshire 16-1 trail Somerset 408 all out (Hildreth 105, Abell 82, Banton 79, Bartlett 68)

Somerset returned to Taunton after over a month away from headquarters to play the team they vanquished in that Lord’s final. Hampshire like Somerset were beaten at Chelmsford in their last game and were, like Essex last week, hoping to close the gap between them and the leaders. 

After a week in which a large proportion of Somerset supporters, your correspondent included, were desperate to see changes in the Somerset batting order Tom Abell won the toss and led his side to full batting bonus points to put themselves into a position of dominance after the first day at Taunton.

It is to the eternal credit of Jason Kerr and the coaching team that they refused to listen to those many calls for change and equally pleasing to see the batsmen show what they are capable of. How nice it is to be able to relax when Somerset are batting for a change. And how good it is to see some scoreboard pressure the other way around.   

Even more pleasing from a personal perspective is to see Dom Bess included in the XI. His inclusion gives greater variety to the bowling attack as well as adding depth to the batting and as importantly demonstrates the logic behind the loan to Yorkshire. On a wicket which has already shown signs of turn Bess will have a big role to play in this game and the rest of the season.

This is a Hampshire side that seem to me to have outperformed themselves in the first half of the season and without the talents of James Vince and Liam Dawson, two of the very best in division one, they may be running a little on empty at present. The loss of wicketkeeper batsman Tom Alsop to a hamstring injury in the morning session has weakened them still further in this game – it remains to be seen if he will be able to bat.

Their bowling attack in this game is comprised of bowlers toward the latter part of their careers with plenty of miles on the clock in the cases of Abbott, Barker, Edwards and Fuller and the highly erratic Mason Crane. It was the perfect attack, even allowing for the challenging batting conditions in the first hour, for Somerset to rehabilitate their batting confidence.

Abell, in partnership with James Hildreth, saw Somerset through the first session after the early loss of Azhar Ali with a gutsy performance. The loss of only one wicket in a session which Hampshire would have hoped to pick up four or five wickets may prove to be the pivotal session in the game.

The platform built before lunch allowed an increasingly expansive batting performance in the second session. Hildreth went to his hundred in mid-afternoon and the second wicket partnership had added 178 when Edwards got him with his second successive short ball, the first had hit Hildreth in the grille of his helmet and clearly unsettled he fended the second to short mid-wicket.

Hildreth had gone to his hundred with a six off probably the worst ball that will be bowled in first class cricket this season. Crane, who delivered this rank leg side long hop was in the process of a spell of 3 overs for 37 in mid-afternoon which allowed Somerset to accelerate at such a rate that they added 191 in 34 overs in the second session.

Tom Banton joined his captain and reprised his battle from the cup final with Fidel Edwards. Abell was dismissed for 82 ten overs before tea, a fine innings which deserved a hundred and will have warmed the hearts of all Somerset supporters. A measure of Somerset’s control was that Banton and Bartlett added 52 in the period up until tea to adjourn at 289-3.

Both Banton and Bartlett reached their fifties but were unable to go on to three figures falling for 79 and 68 respectively. Banton was dismissed with the score on 353-4 but from that point only Lewis Gregory (25) made any meaningful contribution as the hosts were dismissed for 408.

Hampshire were faced with a tricky 6 over spell and lost opener Ollie Soames in Jamie Overton’s first over to close at 15-1.

If Somerset can bowl with more control and discipline than their opponents tomorrow they will be confident of securing a substantive and potentially match winning lead and the prospect of the spin twins being let loose in the latter part of the game in an enticing one.