July ’18: T20 Starts as Surrey Open Gap in The Championship

Having ended June on a very down note Somerset desperately needed to bounce back but frustratingly the structure of the 2018 season meant that we would have to wait until the 22nd of July to resume Championship action. In the meantime, 4 T20 Blast fixtures spread over the next 19 days were the matter in hand.

While this is a review of the season I think this is an appropriate point to jump sideways and examine the way the fixtures work. It is clear to anyone who spends more than a few seconds looking at the way the summer panned out for Somerset that the ECB’s priority is not ensuring that the Division One sides have a balance schedule. Having played three pivotal Championship games in the last three weeks of June, potentially twelve days cricket in 20 days we now have a maximum of 160 overs (under 2 days equivalent) in the next 21.

I was thinking how my 16-year-old self, fresh from O Levels and with a whole summer to look forward to would have reacted to knowing there was no championship cricket at Taunton until 19th August and only 2 T20s. I would have been insufferable at best.

I know it is only going to get better but it is when you take a more distant view of things that you realise how crazy this is. I am not suggesting more cricket just a better organisation of the existing number of games. Wouldn’t it be better to start the season a week later and slot that round of games into the first week of July? Surely 4 T20s in 10 days isn’t asking too much?

Azhar Ali

Anyway …. After that 19-day stretch Somerset were on a decidedly indifferent won 2 lost 2 pace. Surprisingly the opener against Gloucs wasn’t rain affected, inevitably Trego was the main man with 72* but surprisingly this time we were on the right end of a 6-wicket win.This was followed by a home 8 wicket defeat to Kent and this time, with the rain arriving in Bristol, a four-wicket defeat in a shortened game. Just pause for a moment, that last sentence encapsulates so much of Somerset’s one-day cricket in 2018. We did not win a rain-affected game and against Kent and Gloucestershire we under-performed on virtually every occasion.

Almost a week after the defeat at Bristol Somerset beat Middlesex at Lords by 4 wickets with 2 overs to spare to at least keep them in the conversation in the south group.

The return of the opening fixture saw Somerset travel to Worcester in what for both sides, at opposite ends of the table, was a must win. Somerset were bolstered by the return of Tres and Jack Leach and the arrival, for the rest of the season of Azhar Ali to replace Matt Renshaw at the top of the order.

Batting first Somerset amassed 337 mainly due to no’s 4, 5 & 6. James Hildreth with 57 and Tom Abell and Steven Davies with 72 and 70 respectively. In reply Worcestershire trailed by 80 thanks to Josh Davey with 4-68 and the returning Jamie Overton 4-61. The latter reminded us all of what we have been missing with a sustained hostile performance which the Worcestershire batsmen were unable to cope with.

Needing to press home their advantage Azhar Ali with 125 and Marcus (71) did just that enabling Somerset to declare on the third evening on 362-9. Crucially, with the wicket of Mooen Ali off the last ball of the day, Worcestershire closed on 50-2 still needing 392 on the last day.

The combination of Josh Davey and Jamie Overton repeating their first innings wicket hauls saw Worcestershire reduced to 165-9. Jamie Overton finished the match with figures of 31-6-143-8, vindication of the management and rehabilitation of him by Jason Kerr and Andy Hurry and a huge boost to Jamie and the rest of us for the remainder of the season.

But as ever with Somerset that was not the end of things. Debutant wicketkeeper Alex Milton and fully paid up member of the No. 11s club, Steve Magoffin, proceeded to add 136 for the last wicket before Craig Overton wrapped up a 22-point 144 run victory. The only consolation for the Worcestershire last pair was that they set a new record for the club surpassing the previous best set at the beginning of the last century against ….. Somerset.

Although the result was never really in doubt from the moment Moeen fell on the third evening the frustration and creeping doubt was agonising for all of us. While the victory moved us back into second in the table Surrey opened the gap further with a maximum point victory of their own, this time by an innings and 183 runs.

July ended with a rain affected T20 defeat at the Oval and a dominant win at Taunton against Middlesex to end the month P6 W3 L3. Clearly an improvement was needed if Somerset were to progress to the Quarter finals at the end of August.