Somerset 250 (Hildreth 41, C Overton 41; Morris 5-71); Worcestershire 35-2. Worcestershire trail Somerset by 215 runs.
Sunday was a good day to ply your trade as a seam bowler on the banks of the River Severn in Worcestershire. With overcast conditions and moisture in the air, there was plenty of movement both in the air and off the pitch.
Given the brittle nature of Somerset’s batting so far this season, the visitors would have been forgiven for feeling a sense of trepidation on losing the toss after heavy early morning rain.
But despite the conditions, Somerset’s batsmen could largely hold themselves responsible as they slumped to 134-6 by mid-afternoon. Rather than watchful defence, Somerset played a succession of attacking shots, better suited to a flat surface on a sunny day. If the performance was entertaining, it also bordered on the reckless. Of the top order, only Marcus Trescothick got out to a genuinely good ball.
For once this season, with wickets falling so regularly, Somerset did not collapse from a position of strength. Other than a few decent cameos, they never really got going. An excellent unbroken spell of 11-2-34-4 from Charlie Morris helped reduce Somerset to 71-4 after 20 overs. A product of the reliable King’s College in Taunton, Morris managed to extract plenty of pace and bounce from the surface and was the pick of the Worcestershire attack. Somerset will perhaps be ruing not picking him up as a youngster.
Ultimately the visitors had to thank all-rounders Craig Overton and Lewis Gregory who shared a partnership of 52 for the eighth wicket for bringing them back into the game and giving the innings a whiff of respectability as they closed on 250.
With Alfonso Thomas and Lewis Gregory nipping in with a wicket apiece before the close, the match was ultimately evenly balanced at the end of day one.
Trescothick opened the innings with Johann Myburgh, who had missed the Middlesex game to attend the birth of his child. Their reunion at the top of the order was a short-lived one when Trescothick got a faint glove on a lifting delivery from Morris and was caught behind by ‘keeper Ben Cox for 10 in the fourth over.
Tom Cooper joined Myburgh and took the attack to the Worcestershire bowlers, striking 4 fours and hooking a big six into the car park.
However shortly after Cooper had hit Morris for three to bring up the Somerset 50, both batsmen fell in close succession.
Myburgh prodded at one from Morris outside off-stump and was caught behind by Cox. Then, in Morris’ next over, he tempted Cooper to play a big, loose drive, only to get an edge behind. The Dutch international had become the third wicket for the caught Cox/ Morris combination of the morning. Morris now had figures of 8.5-2-27-3 and while he rotated bowlers at the other end, Worcestershire skipper Daryl Mitchell was understandably keen to keep Morris bowling through much of the morning session. He didn’t have to wait long for his next wicket.
Jim Allenby has been short of runs since he moved from Glamorgan to Somerset and needed a score here as much as his team needed a partnership to rebuild the innings. However in Morris’s next over he pushed at a moving ball outside off stump and was caught by Mitchell in the slips.
Allenby was replaced by another man who has been short of runs this year in Alex Barrow and he and the in-form James Hildreth started to slowly rebuild, taking Somerset to the relative safety of 98-4 at lunch.
The pair extended their partnership after the lunchbreak and had put on 61 for the fifth wicket when both fell in successive overs. First Barrow was caught by Mitchell off the spinner Sachithra Senanayake for 26. It was runs on the board for the under-pressure keeper-batsmen, but not the score he needed to relieve some of the pressure on him. Hildreth was then caught by Cox off the bowling of Joe Leach and Somerset were 134-6.
Peter Trego was joined by Lewis Gregory and the pair brought up the Somerset 150, but a promising 35-run partnership came to an end when Trego failed to get his bat out of the way of a lifting a delivery from Leach and edged the ball to provide Mitchell with his third catch of the innings at second slip.
Craig Overton came out to the crease to play his first innings of the summer and almost managed to run himself out first ball. If he looked nervous after such a long lay-off through injury and with his team in such parlous straits at 169-7, it was perhaps understandable. However once he settled, he and Gregory took the attack to the Worcestershire bowlers and shared a stand worth 52 in 15 overs, which took Somerset past the 200 mark. Overton smashed seven fours and a six in his innings of 41 off 56 balls, while Gregory struck five fours in his 58-ball knock of 30.
Both eventually fell in successive overs. First, Gregory was caught by Senanayake off the bowling of Leach. Then, Overton became the fourth wicket of the day for the caught Cox, bowled Morris combination, which also gave Morris a well-deserved five-wicket haul. Somerset were 227-9 in the 69th over, still someway short of the 250 observers felt they needed to be competitive.
That Somerset reached that milestone was down to final pair Alfonso Thomas and Abdur Rehman who stuck around for seven overs and hit a brace of boundaries each before Jack Shantry had Rehman caught by Tom Fell for 13.
It was important that Somerset made some early inroads into the Worcestershire batting and they were delighted to nip out two batsmen before close of play. Gregory picked up opener Richard Oliver caught and bowled for 3 and then Thomas had Fell caught by Trego for 1 as Worcestershire closed on 35-2, trailing by 215 runs.
This is destined to be a low-scoring game, so it will be important that Somerset strike early with the ball on the second morning.
Afterwards James Hildreth said: “The game is certainly moving forward and I think that 250 was an OK score although we won’t really know for sure until we finish bowling, but at the moment we are reasonably happy.
“You always want more runs it goes without saying, but it was hard out there. We had some rash shots at times whilst others have just had some good balls so all in all we will take that total.
“You always want to get maximum batting points in every game you play but you have to adjust that according to the wicket and I think on that wicket that is a better score than it might have been.”
Looking ahead to the morning Hildy said: “On this kind of wicket the game plan is pretty boring. It is bowling channels at the top of off. You have to try to put the ball in the right areas and the wickets will come. It’s pretty obvious what we have got to do.”