Somerset 269 (Davies 86, Trescothick 65, Clarke 7-55) and 113 for 4 trail Surrey 433 (Sangakkara 157, Stoneman 51, Pope 50, Clarke 50, Trego 5-67) by 51 runs
The majesty of Kumar Sangakkara‘s innings, which extended to 157 in a blissful hour’s batting in the morning, gave way to an afternoon of attritional cricket in keeping with the gloomy skies at The Oval.
For Somerset, facing a deficit of 164 runs while trying not to be disheartened by events five miles north, where Middlesex were securing a crucial Championship victory, this was a day to scrap and fight, knowing that their cherished Division One status could depend upon it.
On an Oval wicket offering unusual assistance for seam, at least by its normally docile standards, the task threatened to be a daunting one, especially when Sam Curran curved the eighth ball of Somerset’s reply away from Marcus Trescothick, who glided it into the hands of third slip.
By the time play was truncated, as bad light and then rain left 37 overs in the day unbowled, Somerset had given an unwelcome reminder of the batting frailties that have undermined a season that had begun with genuine hope that they could improve on their Championship position by a solitary position and so take the title to the Quantocks for the very first time.
Such optimism died long ago, replaced by the sobering reality that Somerset’s Division One berth is imperilled. They have enjoyed 10 unbroken years in Division One, the highest of any county – and, indeed, an all-time record.
It is a testament to what Somerset have achieved with an exemplary youth system – one that develops talent not just in the county’s confines but in the entire South-West, with Devon producing alone producing a formidable home-grown bowling attack in recent years – and fierce local pride.
They have outperformed counties who enjoy the benefits of hosting Test cricket and financial clout, either from their grounds or, more often, from generous local backers. Their status as the most popular second county in the shies, both for what the success of the club means to the county and for how they have challenged financial determinism in domestic cricket, is well-established.
If three Championship runners-ups medals in seven seasons have brought no medals – and there has been copious heartbreak in the other competitions too – their performances have brought huge pride.
After a chastening season, marred both by defeats on the field and poorly managed contractual situations for their players off it, the same pride has been evident in recent weeks too. Somerset responded to a thumping at Chelmsford with back-to-back victories at Edgbaston and at home to Lancashire. These were compelling all-round performances, the sort to briefly rekindle memories of those September dreams of 2016.
Escaping The Oval with a draw would be a huge help if Somerset are to winter looking forward to an 11th straight year in Division One.
The diligence with which Somerset approached their task in sepulchral conditions reflected how seriously they are taking their task. What was lacking – Somerset will hope it comes tomorrow from Tom Abell or Steve Davies, and preferably both – was a truly substantive innings, the sort of exercise in bloody mindedness that can inoculate a team against defeat.
There were admirable contributions from George Bartlett and Eddie Byrom, infused with grit, but both departed before the weather intervened.
Bartlett, like James Hildreth, was the victim of Stuart Meaker, who showcased the pace, reverse swing and ferocity that makes it easy to see why he played for England in some limited overs cricket in 2011 and 2012. Both batsmen succumbed to full deliveries, though Hildreth might have got bat on the yorker before it hit his pads.
Byrom’s dismissal was bizarre. Gareth Batty, astute and showcasing immaculate control, produced a beautiful offspinner which just evaded Byrom’s edge and then just missed offstump too – at least, that’s how it appeared. As Batty turned in despair at his own ill-luck, only Ben Foakes noticed that his delivery had actually clipped the offbail, so delicately that it might not have disturbed a zing bail. Byrom remained motionless for a few seconds after, unable to believe his fate.
Somerset will need the same obduracy, and a little more luck – either on the field or from the heavens – if they are to avoid a sixth Championship defeat of the season. Should they indeed leave London with another five points, they will guard them as closely as a parent would their newborn child.