June ‘18: Somerset, Surrey and San Francisco Sunshine

Writing these season reviews has emphasised to me how a different perspective changes so much. Usually the shift is a time one. Looking back on a particular game, a month or a season when you know the outcome fundamentally changes the view of that particular event, even when, in this I had planned ahead and kept a decent diary of the season day by day.

For me however, June had a completely different perspective, one brought about by being on the west coast of the United States. My wife and I boarded a plane for the 10-hour flight to San Francisco on June 10th just before Somerset resumed the second day of their four-day Championship game against Notts. So, I am going to divide this review into three sections; pre-Notts, Notts and post-Notts.

June opened where May had closed with Somerset playing a rain affected RLODC game. This time however the weather came to our rescue when having been bowled all out for 211 Gloucestershire were 29-0 off 6 in reply. Somerset had recovered well from losing Myburgh (again) in the first over to reach 145-2 (Trego 74) before subsiding to an indefensible total.

That defeat virtually eliminated Somerset from the competition but they went out in style chasing 357 at Southampton against the eventual winners. A performance which emphasised the Jekyll & Hyde nature of their 50-over campaign with a very poor bowling and fielding performance followed by a stunning run chase. Trego again led the way with a hundred ably supported by the rest of the top five before Craig Overton sealed it off the last ball.

And so back to the Championship and that Notts game. The context on the first morning that Notts, to the surprise of many, led the table by 7 points from Somerset with Surrey a further 2 points behind. Both Somerset and Surrey had however played a game less.

Somerset batted first and Matt Renshaw, in his last game at the CACG in 2018, signed off as he signed on with a hundred, this one 106 in Somerset’s first innings 392. I had avidly listened to the commentary on the first day as I went about all those pre-holiday chores and got the impression that this was a pretty good score on a pitch that was already showing signs of spin and Somerset’s close of play 307-7 was above par.

But as I flew west Somerset dominated the second day, firstly adding another 85 thanks mainly to Steven Davies unbeaten 92, and then reducing Notts to 28-5 before bowling them all out for 134 (Ross Taylor and extras combined for 92 in that total!). Following on Notts ended on 112-0.

Now imagine by confusion when as soon as I had Wi-Fi I saw that Notts had ended the day on 112-0. I didn’t think there was a prospect of rain and couldn’t imagine how this came to be. It took me a good bemused 10 minutes before I figured it out.

Day three saw the fortunes swing back more than a little with Notts reaching 468-8 – a lead of 210 – on a day where Josh Davey and RvdM were the pick of the bowlers. Worryingly Dom Bess was not the threat most of us had hoped he would be.

The final day was the first of many captivating last days that Taunton was to produce in 2018. Eventually all out for 505, Notts set Somerset 247 to win. A solid batting performance seemed to be easing Somerset home before Hildreth and Renshaw were out in the space of adding 9 runs to leave Somerset on 163-4 still 83 short.

But Tom Abell and, for the second time in the game, Steven Davies saw Somerset home by 6 wickets to go top. My enjoyment of that last day run chase was slightly more tense. I woke to find Somerset 148-2 and was feeling good about life but, returning to our hotel after breakfast, the score had moved on to 188-4. So we headed out for our second day in San Francisco with my nerves doing cartwheels.

I need to point out here that Mrs T simply does not get cricket. Her understanding of my passion for my home county and my favourite sport is slim at best. Agonisingly, while riding the famous San Francisco cable cars Tom and Steven were inching their way home while I was fearing the worst. Eventually around 10.30am (6.30pm in Taunton) I was able to find a Starbucks and, with the offer of an iced coffee, head off and check the score leaving my wife blissfully unaware of the stress I was suffering gazing out over the sunlit San Francisco Bay. I had to explain to the lady that served me that my exuberant whoop of joy was, nice as it was, not for my coffee but for a result in a sport she had probably never heard of, for a team that equally she was unaware of! As I returned with the drinks Debbie looked at me and offered, “So they won then?” Am I that obvious?

Joy of joys, brighter than the Californian sunshine, Somerset topped the table in mid-June. But, with Surrey trouncing Hampshire by an innings and 58 faced a second consecutive top of the table clash but this time with a far more credible title threat.

As we made our way down the Pacific Coast Highway to San Diego, Somerset’s lead in the Championship was pounded like the Californian beaches facing the powerful breakers from the Pacific. Surrey’s demolition of Somerset was comprehensive, by an innings and 69 runs before tea on day 3. And to add insult to injury the returning Jack Leach was concussed by Morne Morkel and on his return to first team action, unable to take any further part in the game.

In the space of under three days we were all served a shocking reality check. While we all knew that Surrey were powerful most of us felt that we had the tools to compete at the top of the table. As the score unfolded from Guildford the worrying realisation was that we were facing an opponent which no-one in Division One could compete with. That one game accounted for what seemed, from my distant perspective, to be an unsurmountable deficit.

As we headed east to Las Vegas and Yosemite, Somerset were travelling in the same direction headed for the considerably less photogenic Chelmsford and a day-night Championship game with the team emerging as the best of the rest.

As an advert for floodlit cricket this wasn’t the game to choose. On a pitch as lifeless as a Don Topley commentary Essex amassed 517-5 and 208-7 with Somerset replying with 407. Set a challenging 319 to win we were never in it and ended slightly precariously on 151-5. A disappointing 10-point haul saw Surrey, who won by 7 wickets at Scarborough to open the gap to 31 points.

As I reflected during the flight home on the events that had unfolded while I had been in the States there was a real sense of frustration. A belief that we were better than the last two games had demonstrated and a hope that, like all sides over the course of a long season, Surrey would hit a rough patch.

One thing was for certain. In order to have any chance of winning that elusive first title Somerset had to be flawless in red-ball cricket the rest of the way and hope Surrey did slip up.