Taunton, September 12 – 15, 2017
, Specsavers County Championship Division One
Somerset won by 7 wickets
Lancashire 133 and 247 for 8 (Hameed 62, Livingstone 57, Leach 4-79) lead Somerset 335 by 45 runs
When, in due time, one receives that peremptory invitation to attend the Clogpoppers’ Ball, it will be a comfort to recall this day’s cricket at Taunton.
Lancastrians will select their side’s resilience and the fifties made by Haseeb Hameed and Liam Livingstone as the most pleasing features of affairs; Somerset followers in the Marcus Trescothick Stand might bemoan the opposition’s scoring rate but salute their own spinners’ persistence and accuracy in taking them to the brink of their second successive victory.
And so they should, m’dear. A glorious day ended with Jack Leach and Dom Bess bowling in tandem, just as they had done for most of three sessions. The pair bowled 85 overs to take seven wickets for 164 runs. They wore down Lancashire’s batsmen and at some stage around lunchtime on Friday they should receive their due reward with the sight of a Division One table showing Somerset out of the relegation positions. Lancashire’s chances of the title are with cricket’s undertakers but the survival hopes of Tom Abell’s team live and breathe.
Yet there was even more to the day than food for partisans or points for tables. There was a richness to the cricket, an intensity of competition which was only augmented by September’s elegiac sunlight and the possibility that showers might halt our sport. The game unfolded on one of early autumn’s more blustery days when clouds raced across an unsettled sky and barged each other out of the way like shoppers at the January sales. Sunlight and shade flitted over the Blackdowns like skittish girls and there were rumours of heavy rain in Wales. Trains raced through the distant station and the man was a fool who wished himself aboard one of them.
The first hour of the day belonged to Lancashire and in particular to their openers, Alex Davies and Hameed. Both batsmen played cautiously, their memories of the second day’s rapid collapse fresh in their minds. Davies was busier and bustled about the crease, as if reminding the bowlers that he knew what their little game was. But he was also the first to be dismissed when he attempted to drive Leach through wide mid-on but only gave a sharp return catch to the bowler off a thickish leading edge. He departed one short of his fifty, smacking his bat and doubtless offering a rich Darwen curse or two.
Hameed was as watchful as ever, as if determined to reinforce his critics’ astringent judgements that he “pokes about” too much. Then, as classy players always will, he confounded that view by taking three boundaries off successive Bess overs: a late cut and drives through the covers off front and back foot. In the innocence-light of early morning the wind had tossed the field maples and alders in Vivary Park yet the breeze hardly ruffled Hameed, who on occasions has the air of a man who would rehearse letting the ball go even as the jaws of Armageddon snapped around him. A square drive off Craig Overton’s half-volley left him undefeated on 31 when an early lunch was taken, itself prompted by the morning’s second brief shower.
For the first hour of the afternoon session Lancashire’s progress was untroubled. The pitch lost much of the life it had offered Leach and Bess on the previous afternoon and for the first time since lunch on the first day Somerset’s cricket lost a little of its fiery purpose. Hameed cut Tim Groenewald backward of square for four and reached his half-century off 151 balls with a cover-drive for two off Leach. That made it the quickest of his three first-class fifties this year, although rapidity is becoming a relative concept when applied to Hameed.
But just when Bolton’s “Great Wall” seemed set on constructing his first century in over a year, Leach dismissed him for 62 when Hameed drove a catch straight to Abell at short cover. Some thought the ball had stopped but Somerset supporters were not about to concern themselves with the “filthily technical” as Mr Pickwick might have put it. What mattered was that Hameed was gone and the joy on Gimblett’s Hill was unbounded, although it may not compare with the euphoria in that sacred area once occupied by the Sydney Hill should Hameed be dismissed at the SCG in a few months’ time.
More joy lay in wait for the locals. Steven Croft was leg before on the front foot for 5 when sweeping at Bess and the offspinner then took the even more valuable wicket of Shiv Chanderpaul who broke the habit of a career by letting the ball pass between bat and pad. At tea Lancashire were 175 for 4 and Somerset’s players enjoyed their fruit salad in the knowledge that a new ball was available.
Overton made the best use of that ball when he had Dane Vilas caught behind for 14 and that dismissal heralded a fine session for Somerset as they finally broke Lancashire’s batsmen on the twin wheels of the spin and flight. The crucial wicket of Livingstone was taken by Leach, who had the mystified batsman caught behind when wicketkeeper Steve Davies and the close fielders were appealing to Billy Taylor for a stumping. But those dozy folk inclined to stereotype cricketers and place them in the convenient pigeonholes should note that Livingstone had batted two minutes longer for his 62 than Hameed had for his 57. Their scoring rates were almost the same. Livingstone is a very serious cricketer and it is fascinating to ponder what lies ahead for him.
Barring one of cricket’s most improbable recoveries, Lancashire’s fate was decided in the last half hour when Ryan McLaren and Stephen Parry fell to close catches off Leach and Bess. That Lancashire had lost seven wickets for 94 runs hardly reflected their stubbornness or their determination to compete until the very end. The mood was buoyant at the County Ground in the evening as the locals savoured a probable victory. But no one should be too downcast if they were at Taunton, for they had seen the county game at something like its very best and the cricketers on their green fields of praise.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications
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