Lancashire 326 (Mitchell 105, Balderson 71, Overton 4-52, Henry 4-73) drew with Somerset 361 (Rew 105, Henry 50, Mitchell 3-32, Williams 3-71) and 398 for 5 (Rew 118*, Aldridge 101*, Lammonby 78)
It’s one of history’s grittier truths that since the founding fathers made it big in 1776, challenging explanations have been hard to come by. Even in cricket’s rich past, Stuart Surridge, Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie, Garry Sobers and Ben Stokes often occupy a distinctly unadventurous market and only Stokes played in the era when T20 shot palettes were ten runs and over perfectly reachable in the closing stages of a match.
It wasn’t until after lunch that Abell’s tactics became very clear. In the morning session, Somerset’s batsmen had acted much like the Trumpton clock: “steady, sensible, never too fast, never too slow.” Tom Kohler-Cadmore, who can shred an attack in half an hour, was bowled for 11 playing inside a ball from Will Williams, and Tom Lammonby then had a staggering two minutes in which he gave a stupid chance to Bell, who found it clumsy , and another the next ball, which the keeper didn’t take cleanly, but still cleared the bail before Lammonby had regained ground. But by then Somerset’s opener had made 78 and had his side ready for an attack should they choose to launch one.
They didn’t. They absolutely did not.
Finally, Rew reached his century with a pull through midwicket at Vilas. There were cheers from Somerset’s balcony, but not a single celebration from the batsman. Rew is clearly an intelligent cricketer and a very talented one too. And all this was watched by the members in the pavilion and the paying spectators under The Point. Hardly anyone moved, although in one or two cases it is possible that the severity had set in.
There was sympathy for the umpires, Nigel Llong and Tom Lungley, who had to act as conscientiously as possible in a test match. They did well and you wish they were together more often, not least because their surnames are so gloriously complementary. Llong and Lungley: Charles Dickens, who had a penchant for a dollop of alliteration, would have loved it.
But let’s see what defense can be offered to Somerset who choose to bat this final day to take the tie that puts them in eighth place, one place and two points behind Lancashire. a mediocre season in the previous three days of this game. Was it fair to ask them to risk defeat in such circumstances? To which the answer could be “yes”, especially as the tie leaves Somerset just above the relegation zone.
In addition, it is becoming increasingly clear that the reduction in the number of points for the draw from eight to five this season has a significant impact on the rankings. Lancashire would have been fourth rather than seventh when this game started had the original allocation been in place. Now they remain seventh, unbeaten and winless, as Somerset are two points clear ahead of their game against Middlesex at Lord’s on Thursday.
“We went to Lancashire for the second new ball yesterday afternoon about the possibility of making a game,” explains Abell. “We felt we needed the best part of 96 overs to bowl one way and that wasn’t good for them at the time, which is fair enough.
“A chase of only 50 or 60 overs only plays into their hands. We wanted to set up a game where both teams would have a chance to win, but in the end it didn’t feel right. Fifty or sixty overs on that surface wasn’t .” it will be enough. So it became a bit of a damp squib, but I don’t want to take that away from the effort over the four days. “
But statements were often about much more than agreed goals and bowling. The best of them surprise opponents by knocking out a match if it is the expected pattern. If Somerset couldn’t have 80 overs, couldn’t they have tried to set Lancashire a much harder target in say 60 and then see how the Vilas batsmen reacted to Craig Overton and Matt Henry with the new ball? Championship cricket is more open to original thinking than Abell’s comments suggest. Very often it’s not about pow-wows and “what are you going to chase?” It’s about doing what your opponent least expects and taking advantage of their discomfort. Spectators enjoy such battles.
This is of course not the first game this season to end in such a way. Sometimes there is nothing to do but to block; the problem was that there were far more creative choices available on this last day and at a time when four-day cricket must constantly prove its worth to the cynics and one-eyed reformists, it’s up to captains to explore them. But maybe we shouldn’t be too hard on the current skippers. Even in 1776, the cold truths of history fought to fend off the comforting blanket of nostalgia. It is even rumored that the representative from Georgia wanted to chat for another hour.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the TimeESPNcricinfo, Delete, Southport visitor and other publications