Somerset 203 for 4 v Warwickshire
To find Warwickshire battling for Division One survival in the first week of September comes as no surprise, but that cannot be said of Somerset, who were denied a maiden County Championship title on the final afternoon of last season after Middlesex’s dramatic win over Yorkshire at Lord’s.
Yet their season has been scarcely less awful than Warwickshire’s, prompting director of cricket Matthew Maynard to lament that they looked like a team resigned to relegation as they were beaten by Essex last week.
Their outlook need not be quite so bleak. The gap between themselves and the safety of sixth place – 23 points as they enter the final four rounds – is by no means unassailable, particularly if they can nudge their opponents a little closer to the exits by winning here. That would raise the possibility of dragging one of two teams immediately above them into the fight – those two teams ironically being Middlesex and Yorkshire. They meet Middlesex at Taunton in the season’s final round.
Warwickshire are a further 12 points adrift, the consequence of a decline that has been set in for some time since the players who won the title in 2012 began to find their powers on the wane. They, too, are not doomed yet but, as captain Jonathan Trott spelled out rather starkly on the eve of this match, they might need to win all four remaining fixtures.
“It helps that we know what we have to do,” Trott said, doing his best to find a positive spin. Given that they have won only four of their last 22 Championship matches, however, it does seem to be asking rather a lot.
On the subject of spin, it is the slow bowlers who look likely to determine the outcome of this one. Somerset came armed with two in Jack Leach and Dominic Bess and after taking a look at the pitch, which is the same one used for last Saturday’s NatWest Blast final, Warwickshire chose to follow suit, dispensing with the idea of giving England Under-19 seamer Henry Brookes his debut and opting for the slow left arm of Sunny Singh to share the load with Jeetan Patel.
It was a wise move. After a start delayed until ten past one, Trott tossed the ball to Patel with the contest just seven overs old and having the New Zealand off-spinner bowling in tandem with Singh after only 18. There was turn for both from the outset. By the close they had bowled 38 of the 56.3 overs possible and taken three of the four wickets.
A test for the batsmen, particularly for those at the starting-out end of the experience scale; Eddie Byron, opening with Marcus Trescothick, is just 20, and George Bartlett – Brookes’s England Under-19 colleague – only 19.
In the event, Trescothick – a tad more experienced at 41 – was the first to go. The former England opener, another with whom time is catching up now, looked in good order initially on a ground where he has scored five hundreds but, having rapidly scored half a dozen boundaries, fell to the first ball of Patel’s second over. The left back went back to cut, another four in his sights, but made a misjudgement this time to a ball that was perhaps a shade too full and a thin edge had him caught behind.
Byrom, in only his fifth first-class match, played very nicely for his 43 – matching his best score so far – but after reverse-sweeping Singh for his sixth boundary attempted – perhaps unwisely – to give the next delivery the same treatment. This time it ended up in the hands of Trott at slip.
Singh, a tall 21-year-old born in India but developed in Warwickshire’s academy, looked competent and confidant, tidy until weariness began to creep in towards the end. He claimed his second success when, getting one to turn sharply, he had James Hildreth caught at slip, driving.
The Warwickshire seamers were less impressive, although Keith Barker was a little unlucky in his second spell. Ryan Sidebottom – the Australian-born right-handed version – bowled a mix of good and bad balls, graphically illustrated when he bowled Bartlett through the gate with a real jaffa, having offered up a wide long-hop with his previous delivery, duly crashed away for four by the teenager, who had announced himself as audaciously as you might like by getting off the mark with a reverse-sweep for four off Patel.
At 131 for 4 with Hildreth’s wicket, it was shaping up as Warwickshire’s day. By the close, though, Steve Davies and Tom Abell had turned things round rather impressively, applying themselves well in a stand that has so far added 72.
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