Due to the loss of six players to the IPL, the pair (along with bowler Jason Duffy) have joined up with the New Zealand squad for the warm-up matches and are not due to be involved in the tests. So unknown are they that the ground’s tannoy announcer had to ask the New Zealand fielders for Duffy’s name when he came on to bowl. But on the strength of what we have seen today, they are certainly making a case for higher honours.
From 202 for 7, Somerset polished off New Zealand’s tail in 45 minutes or so. BJ Watling added 13 to his overnight score before he was dismissed for 65 (125 balls, 11×4), caught at slip by Tom Cooper on second attempt off Tim Groenewald. Soon after, Craig Overton got rid of Neil Wagner (29) and Jason Duffy (0), both resoundingly bowled.
Somerset opened up with Tom Abell and Johann Myburgh, but were on the back foot in the second over when the latter fell lbw to Wheeler for 3. Abell was dismissed five balls later, caught by Mark Craig in the slips off Duffy for 1. It went from bad to worse when Tom Cooper was bowled by Wheeler for a duck, attempting an expansive drive but playing all around it.
There was a distinct feeling of ‘here we go again’ around the ground, but Jim Allenby provided some solace when he struck each of Doug Bracewell’s first three balls through the off-side for four. The final ball of the over produced the same result, but James Hildreth (13), Somerset’s most in-form batsman, soon chopped on to Wheeler.
Bowling with real pace and accuracy, the same bowler got rid of Allenby too, caught by Ronchi in the gully for 28 (all, in the end, fours through the off-side off Bracewell). Wheeler’s figures at this point were a remarkable 6.2-5-6-4.
At 54 for 5 at lunch, it was a familiar position for Somerset, and hopes now turned to the lower order to revive the innings.
Peter Trego made a good fist of it, playing some typically agricultural shots before he fell for 40 (46 balls, 9×4), caught by Santner on the leg-side boundary off Neil Wagner. His innings included an attempted leave off Wagner, which instead looped off the bat and over the slips for four.
Alex Barrow, meanwhile, started slowly and was dropped on 9 by slip Ross Taylor. He hit a few sublime shots and after an edgy start, was just starting to look settled when he was lbw to offspinner Craig.
Josh Davey had become Wheeler’s fifth wicket; the all-rounder was conclusively bowled for 15 to end his first first-class innings for the cider county. Number nine Craig Overton didn’t mess around, and hit four fours in his 24. After he was caught by Taylor off Bracewell, Abdur Rehman immediately went on the attack. He went after Craig from the off, slog-sweeping the bowler for six, followed by a run to third man for four. Two balls later, he went aerial again, lofting over the spinner’s head for four. After striking Bracewell for another boundary, he was caught by Ronchi off Wagner for 19.
Wheeler’s final figures were 5 for 18 as Somerset were all out for a disappointing 204, 33 behind.
On a pitch that seemed to be flattening out, New Zealand lost Hamish Rutherford (11) early on to Groenewald, but Tom Latham and Mitchell Santner were enterprising in a partnership of 124. Both batsmen blunted the Somerset attack effectively, and provided plenty of entertainment for the small crowd. Latham finally fell lbw to Allenby for 57, and night-watchman Neil Wagner (4) was caught by the same man off Groenewald.
That was the day’s final act, with Santner the not out batsman, his career high score of 118 in his sights. New Zealand are 149 for 3.
Somerset’s temporary captain Peter Trego said after close of play “I think the most positive thing for us was the last hour of play when Jim Allenby bowled a cracking little spell, and then Tim Groenewald had a blast and got another wicket which brought the game back into a good position.”
Regarding another Somerset batting collapse before lunch he said “When you lose a wicket roughly every 10 runs you are putting pressure on your bowlers so it is something we obviously have to rectify.”
He praised Ben Wheeler, saying “We can’t take anything away from him, he bowled a magnificent spell and was really on song. However this is first-class cricket and you expect people to be high-quality and bowl good spells, so we have to come up with a way of counteracting. This has happened three times this season and has cost us three games so we have got to put a stop to it somehow.”
Somerset fans will be hoping that last sentence rings true, because this was a wasted opportunity in a low-pressure situation for batsmen to find form. There are positives for Somerset to take – there was some excellent running between the wickets – but too many batsmen got in and got out again. One stat summed up Somerset’s problems well – it was their third consecutive innings in which no batsman made fifty.
As for the remainder of this game, New Zealand are in a winning position but Somerset will hope the two late wickets can give them momentum going into day three, where they will start trailing by 182 runs.