An extremely hostile spell of quick bowling from Jamie Overton in late evening sunshine seized back the initiative for Somerset in dramatic fashion on day two of this division one encounter with Middlesex at Taunton.
Bowling in short bursts in an extended final session, Overton proved the key difference between the two sides, taking three wickets for 42 to help regain control for his side after an attritional afternoon’s cricket in which Middlesex found runs increasingly easy to come by, despite poor light and drizzle.
Lewis Gregory also took two wickets in the evening session to go with the two he picked up in the morning, as Middlesex slumped from a healthy looking 199-2 to a precarious 306-7 at stumps, still trailing by 102.
At times Overton was genuinely unplayable, generating significant pace and getting the ball to shape away. He immediately troubled Nick Gubbins who had looked set to reach what would have been his maiden first-class century. The six-foot left hander was forced to duck and weave and at one point found himself forced onto the ground on his haunches.
Overton’s pace has rarely been in doubt throughout his short career, but the 21-year-old has faced justified criticism at times over his control, or lack thereof. This evening however, he got it just about perfect. Most of his bouncers were extremely well directed and it was no surprise when he ultimately found the shoulder of Gubbins’ bat with an absolute snorter of a delivery to have him caught at slip by Trescothick for 92, ending an excellent 139-run partnership with his captain Adam Voges.
Voges was joined by James Franklin and the pair put on a further 47 before the Australian became the second Middlesex player to fall in the nineties, when Gregory trapped him lbw for 98. Then, in his next over, Gregory struck again, taking hold of a caught and bowled chance offered by Neil Dexter and Middlesex were 256-5 in the 67th over.
Trescothick brought the two Devonians back to share the new ball, a move which immediately brought success when Simpson was bowled by Overton for 13 and then two balls later one of Rayner’s stumps was sent cartwheeling out of the ground as he fell without scoring.
Overton had a difficult 2014 where he was plagued by injury and poor form. It was heartening and genuinely thrilling to see him bowling like this today. Clearly the plan is to deploy him in short bursts this summer and as such he can be a really potent weapon for Somerset.
“It was seriously impressive to watch someone bowling that quick, with that shape that he’s got as well,” said Gregory of his team mate afterwards.
“Jamie’s a serious talent and when he hits his straps like he’s shown towards the end today, he’s sometimes unplayable and brilliant to watch. I’m really pleased for him and where he’s come from last year, it’s a huge step forward, so hopefully he can hang onto that and keep developing.”
Gregory added: “He can blow through teams. When you get a guy in your team who can bowl 90mph plus and shape it away, if he hits his areas, it’s impossible to play and towards the end there it was something special and hopefully he can continue to do that for the rest of the summer.
“Those poles have hopefully put the game in our favour so a big first session in our morning and we go from there.
It had all looked very different in the afternoon though. Voges and Gubbins had both looked certain to both reach well-deserved centuries during a partnership mostly forged throughout an overcast, damp period when Somerset looked never looked like taking a wicket.
Between lunch and a lengthy rain delay which forced an early tea, Gubbins and Voges took 71 off 15 overs with boundaries flowing readily in the gathering gloom.
Gubbins looked increasingly impressive, driving nicely and punching the ball down the ground. He reached his fourth first-class 50 off 88 balls by on-driving Peter Trego for four and then playing the same bowler through the covers for four more.
He had moved within three runs of his highest first-class score, also made against Somerset (at Uxbridge last July), when Overton claimed his wicket. In total he faced 170 balls for his 92 and hit 12 fours, as well as pulling Gregory twice over mid-wicket for six.
Voges who also prospered after lunch, moving to a 69-ball half-century with nine fours. He has adapted well to English conditions and continued his supreme Australian form which earned him a surprise call-up for the Ashes squad. His eventual knock of 98 came off 135 balls with 16 fours.
Earlier, the day had got off to the best possible start for Somerset with Gregory picking up former England opener Sam Robson with just only the second ball of the day. Not for the first time, Robson prodded at a ball just outside off-stump and was well caught by Marcus Trescothick at slip. It’s a problem area for the Australian-born batsman and one which sides will continue to exploit.
Nick Compton walked out to a muted response for his first innings at the County Ground since leaving the club last September to move closer to friends and family in London. He played a typical Compton innings: stout defence, some glorious cover drives and pulls, an upper cut over the slips for four and a few risky singles. No-one was in any doubt what he was capable of on a Taunton wicket. Somerset were therefore delighted to capture his wicket when he nicked one from Gregory behind to Alex Barrow.
Afterwards, Gregory agreed the final session had put Somerset in the driving seat, particularly with a good first session tomorrow.
“We came out after tea probably not having had the best of sessions that we could have done,” he admitted, “and as a team we pulled together and we put the ball in good areas more often and we got our rewards for that and tomorrow morning we’ve got to do exactly the same.”
Regarding his own return of 4-93 in 21 overs, Gregory said: “It’s always nice to take wickets and take wickets for the team and hopefully put us in good positions to win games of cricket and thankfully I’ve picked up another few.”
He was particularly pleased to pick up the wicket of Compton: “Compo was with us for five years and we know what a threat he can be.
“It’s also nice to get a former team mate out!” he said smiling. “He’s a high quality performer and it was nice to get him relatively cheaply and hopefully we can do the same second time round.”
Gregory noted how good the wicket was and paid tribute to the ground staff for their efforts.
“It’s a pretty good wicket. If you hit decent areas, there’s enough in it to keep you interested, but on the whole it’s a pretty good batting track. Teams that puts the ball in those good areas more often than not will pick up wickets and that’s what we’ve got to do, keep bashing that length.
“If we can get into the second dig with a decent lead and kick on with the bat, who knows where we could become day four.
“The ground staff have been brilliant so far this summer. They’ve put more hours into rolling the wicket, trying to get it that little bit harder and as a result we’re getting a little bit more pace and a bit more carry. Obviously for the likes of myself it’s quite nice seeing the ball go through to the keeper at chest high. So it’s been really good so far this summer and hopefully with a little bit of spin on day four, it could sway our way.”
Gubbins admitted to a feeling of déjà vu after falling to Somerset for the second time in the nineties.
“I wanted those three figures badly – more for the team, it was a more tricky period. Jamie Overton was bowling sharp after a rain delay.
“So there was obviously a personal milestone, but also for the team because we saw at the end there how wickets can fall when you first go out there.
“Overall a mixed day really, I think we were happy to bat out the day obviously, but obviously their tail is up again now. We’ve lost a few poles, but all in all a pretty good day.”
Gubbins said he had really enjoyed batting on this surface.
“I loved it. The ball came off the bat really nicely, there was something for the bowlers definitely, there was a bit of swing in the air, but as soon as you hit through the line and things like that, you know it’s a good pitch, so I really enjoyed it.”
He agreed it was the first session tomorrow would be crucial.
“Anything’s possible. We’re going to try to get a lead and then take some poles, because we’ve seen how these boys can collapse. A session could change it. It is hard to get in, so we’ll be looking to get up to them, get past them and really get into that middle order.”