May ’18: Batting Fragility Puts Title Ambitions in Doubt

As we countdown to the start of the new season Steve Tancock has been busy looking back on last season month by month and thanks to the diary he kept comparing and contrasting his feelings at the time with those the end of season perspective gives.

It is very strange how a season is viewed differently during it to how it may be viewed at the end. Results which appear dreadful at the time often come to look not so bad at the end of the season, other great results turn out to be fruitless.

But sometimes when you look back over a part of the season you are startled by how your impressions then aren’t changed at the end of September. Perhaps it is just a factor of age (or I’d like to think experience) which gives you that perspective, this was after all the 49th season I’ve avidly followed Somerset cricket.

George Bartlett gets his maiden ton

May 2018 was very much one where the optimism of April, and those two convincing home championship wins, began to evaporate before the 50 over white ball “block” got underway.

One thing that didn’t disappoint in May was the weather which continued to be spectacular. Manchester over the first bank holiday weekend of the month was glorious, I know I was there, and Somerset arrived at Emirates Old Trafford full of confidence and optimism. Four days later they travelled back down the M6 and M5 with the worst end of a draw and with Marcus Trescothick on crutches and likely to miss a significant part of the season.

All had seemed set fair on the first day. The early morning cloud had cleared and despite losing Matt Renshaw early Somerset – in the shape of Marcus and George Bartlett – were sailing along at 192-1 when Marcus was hit on the foot 5 short of his hundred. Bravely, painfully he stayed at the crease and somehow managed to reach his hundred before being caught behind and hobbling off.

Trescothick had been at his imperious best driving and slashing the Lancashire bowlers for 15 fours in his 138-ball ton. For a good session and a half I had dreams of a golden season for Marcus, runs flowing as of old and, dare I say it, a Championship to round it off. It was a measure of Tres’ control that James Anderson, sporting a short-lived bleached blond look, but really trying in each of his spells, was unable to stem the flow of the Somerset legend.

Despite this setback Bartlett went on to his maiden ton and with the skipper 48 not out overnight Somerset closed on 321-5. The second day belonged to Lancashire as Somerset were bowled all out for a disappointing 429, Tom Abell falling one run short of what would have been a richly deserved hundred. The home team closed on 217-2.

Day three went even more in the way of the home team as Jennings reached 109 and Vilas went on to an unbeaten 235. Trailing by 63 Somerset – in the shape of Renshaw and Steven Davies – had wiped off all bar 12 of them to close on 51-0.

Any thoughts of Somerset forcing an unlikely win on Day 4 evaporated as they subsided to 145-6 before Jack Leach (66) and Tim Groenewald (36*) saw Somerset to safety. Marcus was bravely padded up and prepared to bat if needed.

I wrote in my review of the game at the time that it was a draw that felt like a win. In hindsight that was probably an emotional response to the rear-guard action avoiding what seemed like certain defeat augmented by Marcus’ bravery. In truth this was an opportunity missed against a side who struggled all season and were eventually relegated.

With little time for breath Somerset hosted Hampshire the following weekend and started brightly bowling Hampshire out for 231 with an all round bowling display. But the batting problems that were apparent in Manchester resurfaced 5 days later as Somerset inexplicably subsided to 134-5 before stands of 133 for the 6th wicket and 145 for the 9th restored pride and created a match winning position with a lead of 275.

James Hildreth, who had contributed only 31 in his two innings the week before, was back to his imperious best ably supported by Craig Overton with 80 and Dominic Bess 92.

But, while Somerset’s recovery was a source of encouragement, it soon became apparent that the Taunton pitch had gone to sleep. Hampshire, in the form of the wonderful James Vince and the classy Hashim Amla with 201* and 107 respectively saw Hampshire comfortably to safety at 432-4.

The one thing Somerset needed to have any chance of forcing a win was for both spinners to bowl at their best. Dominic Bess wasn’t able to reproduce his batting heroics with the ball and Jack Leach was unable to take any part in the last day’s play having broken a finger in the Monday morning warm-ups. Cruel as that break was for Somerset it was even more cruel for Jack who was on the verge of an England call-up. Ironically it was Dom Bess who was the beneficiary.

So at the end of the first block of Championship games Somerset, who had played a game less than most of their rivals and, despite drawing their last two games, were handily placed in second, behind Notts who had been beaten by an innings by Lancashire at Trent Bridge. Surrey, having played the same number of games as Somerset, picked up their second win, thumping Yorkshire by an innings and 17 runs.

Before the end of May Somerset had played six Royal London One Day Cup games, beating Surrey away and Glamorgan and Middlesex at home but losing at home to Sussex and at Chelmsford and Canterbury.

Yes Canterbury. Unsurprisingly in the midst of the warmest and driest May most of us could remember the ghost of the Hop County reared its ugly head again. In a game reduced to 42 overs and in conditions which, had it not been for the presence of the Sky cameras, might not have started, Somerset lost the toss, subsided to 221, a wholly inadequate total but representing a recovery from 65-5 thanks to Matt Renshaw and Lewis Gregory.

The weather returned to curtail Kent’s reply at 88-1 but that was enough to see them home under the Duckworth Lewis method.

So a record in all comps of P8 W3 D2 L3 wasn’t much to write home about. A month of disappointment, two crucial injuries and a case of several what might have beens.