Strap Yourselves In!

County Championship Division One, Surrey v Somerset, Guildford, Day 3 – Surrey 231 (Patel 63, Foakes 57, C Overton 5-38, J Overton 3-46) and 99-2; Somerset (Bartlett 137) and 153 (Hildreth 64, Dunn 5-43)

Surrey require a further 168 runs to win with 8 second innings wickets standing.

Remember Essex and Lancashire at Taunton last season? Remember Warwickshire last month? Well guess what Somerset fans, it looks like we are in for another nerve-jangling rollercoaster ride in the County Championship tomorrow.

The GPs of Somerset would be well advised to be on standby because if Somerset’s Championship campaign continues like this for much longer there are going to be a lot of us needing help from out physicians before September is done.

By half way through the afternoon session of this tense, tight game Somerset looked to be easing into a position of control and putting the game and probably with it this year’s championship out of Surrey’s reach, but from a position of 114-3 with James Hildreth and George Bartlett batting as calmly as was possible on this surface.

James Hildreth constructed a beautiful 64

At that time the lead was 227 and an advantage of over 300 seemed well within Somerset’s capabilities. Such a total would have effectively batted Surrey completely out of the game and made victory a formality. The loss of James Hildreth for a beautifully constructed 64 began a decline almost as startling as the Ryan Patel inspired one last June. In the space of just 18 overs Somerset conspired to lose 7-39 to set Surrey 267 to win.

By the close Surrey had, improbably given what had gone before on day 3, got over a third of the way to their target for the loss of only two wickets. It could have been even worse for Somerset had Jack Brooks not got Surrey skipper late in the day. 

Put rationally into context of what has gone before in this game, on a pitch that shows increasing signs of unpredictable bounce to go with significant lateral movement, Surrey’s task seemed extremely difficult. While Somerset may still have the advantage of runs on the board the balance of the game has swung back towards Surrey.

Ahead of the third day it seemed to me that Somerset needed to secure a comfortable first innings advantage to provide themselves with some comfort ahead of their second innings at Guildford. In the event Somerset achieved a better first innings lead than they could have reasonably anticipated (113) but found their second innings far from comfortable.

Resuming on 188-5 Surrey’s game plan would surely have been to bat themselves into a position of near parity, a task which would have probably occupied most of the first two session. As it was Surrey’s first innings and Somerset’s second were completed within that time span. 

A game that, while not pedestrian was moving at a relatively sober pace suddenly accelerated in a bewildering flurry of wickets.

Within the first hour Somerset had wrapped up the Surrey innings, seven overs before the second new ball. On a pitch that for the first two days became significantly easier to bat on as the ball got older this was a superb effort. For a bowling attack without either Lewis Gregory or Josh Davey and with Jack Leach only required to bowl five overs I am struggling to find the right superlative. 

Somerset’s twitter account probably best summed it up, “Absolutely brilliant by Craig Overton” though in fairness the other bowlers weren’t far behind. Craig took 3-12 on the third morning to enhance his lead atop the PCA rankings. But that will be secondary I am sure to his placing Somerset in a potentially winning position. Ably supported by Jamie who has clearly found both his mojo and fitness while at Northampton Surrey’s lower middle order and tail were blown away. 

Only Ryan Patel who was last man out and Rikki Clarke showed any signs of disrupting Somerset’s progress. Every run of the 43 added by Surrey came off their respective bats. Of the others Will Jacks was caught at second slip without adding to his overnight 13 and Morkel and Batty both departed for ducks.

On a wicket that seemed to provide greater help to the Surrey seamers as the innings went on, both in terms of vertical and lateral movement they were bowled all out for 153 in 49 overs.

In the 14 overs and three balls that were possible before lunch Somerset lost, Abell, Trescothick and Banton in adding 50. There was a fair degree of misfortune for the visitors in that session, Marcus being adjudged caught behind off the thigh pad and Tom Banton went to the last ball before lunch.

There is a real possibility that this was Marcus Trescothick’s last Championship innings for Somerset. His failure to make a significant contribution will be eating at the great man and with Azhar Ali likely to return next week he seems the most vulnerable. But if the cricketing Gods have any sense of occasion surely they will not allow such a glittering career to end in such a way. Surely he, we deserve a golden ending? 

Hildreth and Bartlett added 64 after lunch in 17 overs in a manner that suggested Somerset were imposing themselves not only on this game but also this season’s division one. The opportunity of moving 15 points clear of Hampshire and 53 ahead of last year’s champions seemed within reach and perhaps as importantly such a position seemed possible in a calm, controlled way.

But, we should have known as Somerset supporters is it was not going to be that straightforward. Never has been. Probably never will be.

Somerset have, for the majority of this season been a dominant force, playing a brand of bold attacking cricket and finding a variety of ways to win. There will be a belief, a steely determination in the dressing room tomorrow morning that we should all take solace in. If any team in the country can take the 8 wickets required to seal what could be a pivotal win. 

While it is worth bearing in mind that defeat tomorrow will not be catastrophic. There is plenty of cricket left this season. One reverse will not suddenly make this Somerset a poor team. But boy would victory be so so sweet.