Essex take the title as Somerset rise in the west
Somerset 335 (Davies 111, Parkinson 4-68, Bailey 3-40) and 69 for 3 beat Lancashire 133 (Croft 41, Leach 5-47) and 269 (Hameed 62, Livingstone 57, Leach 4-94, C Overton 3-39, Bess 3-85) by seven wickets
There was no need to dust off the Lazarus metaphors. Neither tempests nor tailenders could stop Somerset completing their seven-wicket defeat of Lancashire on Friday morning, a result which absolutely confirmed Essex as the 2017 County Champions. There may be a few thick heads in both Baddows this weekend.
But even as Somerset’s director of cricket, Matthew Maynard, was offering his congratulations to the new champions on another blissful morning in the West Country, his own priority was, of course, fixed firmly on the impact of his own side’s win on their battle to avoid relegation. Likewise the skipper, Tom Abell, who for a lovely few hours on Friday afternoon could glance at the First Division table and see his side occupying fifth place. What were the odds against that a couple of weeks ago?
Abell, one suspects, has learned a lot about himself since April. Already a proficient captain, he has over the last five months become a leader of cricketers, some of whom are a generation older than their skipper. As he reflected on the two victories that have revived Somerset’s season, Maynard identified Abell’s address to his players before the Warwickshire match ten short days ago as a pivotal inspiration.
“The skipper’s speech at Birmingham set the tone,” said Maynard. “He told the batting group that they couldn’t be fearful. That was absolutely brilliant and they are the things that people don’t see. I can’t take credit for the response we’ve produced to our defeat at Essex. I think the captain’s address to the team played the biggest part in that.”
Yet neither captain nor coach can take a group of cricketers where they do not wish to go. Somerset’s players outfought those from Lancashire this week in as tough a game of professional cricket as one could wish to see, a match which mocked the domestic game’s detractors.
That toughness was evident on the final morning when Craig Overton ran in from the Pavilion End and plucked out Kyle Jarvis’s off stick with a laxatively rapid delivery. It was plain yet again exactly six overs later when Overton reverse-swung a ball into Tom Bailey’s pads to leave Somerset needing 68 to record their first win of the season at the County Ground. After the game Maynard spoke about the possibility of Overton being named in England’s Ashes squad and the idea is not silly in the slightest. Instow’s finest all but decapitated a couple of Yorkshire’s batsmen at Scarborough. What price on him unsettling a few Australians at Melbourne?
Not, you understand, that most people at Taunton cared much about England’s Ashes prospects this Friday morning at Taunton. They were more bothered that the forecast rain stayed away long enough to allow Somerset to complete the win they deserved. And early in Somerset’s second innings, they were also grateful that Abell’s batsmen were not chasing a hundred runs more. A pitch which gave Jack Leach and Dom Bess plenty of help on Thursday was no less generous to Matt Parkinson, who turned one inside Eddie Byrom’s airy off-side drive and hit his leg stump. Four overs later Marcus Trescothick slog-swept Parkinson into the Somerset Stand but then clipped the next ball, a low full toss, straight to Liam Livingstone at square leg. James Hildreth edged his first delivery to Haseeb Hameed in the gully and the game had to be finished by Abell and George Bartlett, the latter making 27 not out.
“I thought the attitude of the team throughout the game was first class,” said Maynard. The bowlers did a great job for us, but it showed most in our fielding. You expect your younger players to excel in that department, but when the older guys like Tim Groenewald are throwing themselves around to prevent runs it really means something.
“Craig Overton set the tone for us with the ball in both innings. He would have been a tired lad going out there this morning, but still took two wickets with a brilliant aggressiveness. A big shout-out to our two spinners as well. We now go to Surrey in a really positive frame of mind, but with a lot of work still to do.”
Some of that work will be done by Abell, who must now seek to inspire his players again for their matches against Surrey and Middlesex. The job may be easier than it was before Edgbaston – victories in September do wonders for morale – but no one will remember this victory over Lancashire very fondly if Somerset are relegated. Abell, though, takes all his responsibilities very seriously When there was almost no one left in the County Ground the young skipper, still in his whites and Wyverns, was trotting over to thank each member of the groundstaff for their work. But as Maynard pointed out, it is the things you don’t see that often make the most difference.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications