Stretching – muscles and minds

Mid July sees the end of the first part of the County Championship before it gets really complicated in late August and beyond and sees me rock up to the Oval for days 3 and 4 of Surrey v Somerset. The latter seem assured on a place in the top tier whilst Surrey need a good win and for results elsewhere to go in their favour in a big (and I mean BIG) way

Day 3 sees Surrey start their reply to Somerset’s 429 begins in earnest and they reach shy of 100 before lunch and the loss of their first wicket as the inner bell for lunch rang. Batting looked reasonably straight forward with few alarms.

Jack Leach in full cry

The prospect of three spinners in each side – Ashwin in his only game for Surrey (before heading to the India test side ‘thanks for the practice/heads up guys’) and Leach are the world class spinners on show. Close fields, prodding and stretching are going to be the order of the day!

Stoneman has to stretch
Just not quite sure of the bounce!

Silly impatient shots resonated for the rest of the day as Surrey slump from 136/1 to 239/8 by the close and risk following on. Leach looked unplayable at times and the value of Ashwin’s contribution was to date (1/99 and golden duck) was the talking point for the Surrey faithful.

Day 4 dawned brighter weather wise but Surrey soon succumbed to Leach and Surrey are back in the hutch before the morning coffee had got cold. There then followed one of the most bizarre days of cricket I have seen for some time.

One of the delights and mysteries of cricket is trying to understand the strategy of each side across all scenarios over a number of days. With Surrey batting badly, their brains scrambled you would have thought that enforcing the follow on with a lead of 189 would have been a no-brainer.

But no! Somerset bat again! So the thinking changed…rattle up a quick hundred in 90 min or until just after lunch and then declare. Two sessions and 60+ overs to bowl them out and win.

So, the extremely slow start and pace of the innings show that thinking to be rubbish. One wicket falls, then a second and a third and before you know it 60/7 at lunch. Ashwin taking five wickets with such ease and the demeanour of a man having a gentle net session throw any doubts about his value out of the window. Somerset still lead by over 240…so will they declare is the question over lunch as I take the opportunity to look over the new stand at the Oval and find my name on the honours board of members in Surrey’s 175th year.

Hildreth squared up and lbw!
Ashwin weaves his magic
Virdi stretches too but with no reward

But on they bat but not for long since within the half hour Surrey are chasing 244 to win in just under two sessions. Ashwin took 6/27 – and a good quiz question (name the Surrey player who scored no runs in two innings and took 1/99 and 6/27 in his only appearance for the club?)

Lammonby stretches even further

Burns and Stoneman start at pace with a clear intention of a good run chase. However both are back resting with the score at 25/2 which soon becomes 40/3 and Somerset back in the hunt.

And Stoneman lobs to Green

But then another change of strategy – fields set to stop the runs, not take wickets; the pressure eases as Amla and Smith take their time. They’re behind the run rate and the match is going nowhere unless…

I should stress that in both sessions before tea, all we saw was spinner after spinner – a refreshing change from the usual diet of speed, swing and seam! Various theories abound as to the strategies on show – Somerset don’t need to push for the win as they can still come second and qualify; spinners too tired; Leach restricted by ECB regulation about his workload; Surrey building a score using Amla as the anchor before launching a one day style attack?

Well, all came to nowt as the hour after tea was played out without concerns. Green tried his medium pacers but the Somerset quicks were clearly having a day off. On the stroke of 5, as the results from elsewhere were announced the teams shook on a draw.

Baffling and bizarre to say the least, poor captaincy in evidence, all results possible as the day developed and swung one way and then the other and back again but overall one for the cognoscenti and a sheer delight to watch unfold.

It wasn’t just the batsmen who had to stretch, our minds were filled with belief, disbelief, incredulity and sheer bafflement but that’s why lovers of the longer game just love it!

No more county championship mind-stretching until late August…but can’t wait!