Ball one: By Jove Byrom, you made a ton!
One of the less mentioned delights of county cricket is the margin for error. In Test cricket, any weakness would be probed relentlessly by the likes of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne – today, analysts get involved with their match-ups and databases. Better cricketers emerge, but (possibly) not better cricket.
Eddie Byrom couldn’t buy a run in the Bob and owed his place to Tom Banton’s decision to do whatever he’s doing in the IPL – net bowling and sanitiser replenishment I think. On commentary, Niall O’Brien was quick to identify the left-hander’s shoulder misalignment at the point of contact, opening up his stance and making him a candidate to be caught in the cordon.
But the Lord’s pitch was flat and slow and the Essex bowling, while good, is not international standard. Byrom had a bit of luck, showed a lot of heart and eventually found a partner in Craig Overton in his all-rounder guise. The Zimbabwean’s century kept Somerset in a match they were in danger of losing before they had a chance to win. Byrom would have been lucky to last 12 minutes, never mind 312, against an Australian or Indian Test attack, but that would have denied us the chance to watch a man make the most of his day in the
Ball two: Cook still on the boil
Sir Alastair Cook’s innings was a sharp contrast. Soft hands and that docile pitch saved him from a couple of outside edges that didn’t carry early on but, once the eye was in, Cook showed us the flowing batsman he might have been.
The familiar cuts and pulls were used on anything short, but he punched hard through the covers (I’m still not convinced that they were full-blooded drives) and rotated the strike with Steven Smith like dibs and dabs just wide of the fielders. In terms of shot selection and pacing, his 172 should be required viewing for any opener over the winter – it was a masterclass in batsmanship.
Moreover, on a day when the wind whipped in with winter on its breath, Cook, a man for whom Test cricket was a mentally taxing affair, managed to convey the simple enjoyment and pleasure of batting for his one and only county without ever suggesting he wasn’t deadly serious about winning the Bob. Anyone who saw this innings from Cook, the fifth highest run-scorer in the history of Test cricket, will not say: “Well, it was only the Bob Willis Trophy.”
Ball three: Lammonby’s tender years no obstacle
Two contrasting second-innings knocks brought the match to life and then sent it back to sleep. Tom Lammonby is county cricket’s Zak Crawley: a big blond breakout star who has the fearlessness given to all youth, but a talent given to few. The 20-year-old made 116 in a final, under pressure, against the best attack in the country at a strike rate of 77. He won’t make a century in every other first-class match he plays, but it’s going to be fun watching him trying to add to the three he has after just six matches.
Two weeks ago, this column noted that Ryan ten Doeschate’s experience is “a handy insurance policy for a team that seldom needs one”. With his side wobbling at 98-4 with 44 overs left in the match, the 40 year-old erstwhile biffer came in, blocked the good ones but still put away the bad ones, and didn’t leave until the job was as good as done. Having a man like that in at No 6 gives you a direct line to success.
Ball four: Not much changes about English seamers
Lewis Gregory (8-124), Sam Cook (5-132) and Jamie Porter (6-158) took 19 of the 31 wickets to fall for the two teams widely acknowledged to be the best in the country, in a final that lent an objective dimension to that subjective view. None of them will bowl for England in Test cricket.
Does this matter? Nobody quite knows the alchemy that produces the 90mph men and we seem no further advanced in the precarious job of keeping them fit than we were in the era before biomechanics, ice baths and limits on kids bowling in youth cricket.
What never stops being a slow joy is the sight of a county pro working out the lengths and lines required to dismiss another county pro 22 yards away and then, probing and persisting until pinpointing the exact delivery to do it. All three made for a wonderful watch, while the sixes rained down on empty stands in the IPL.
Ball five: Tom Abell refuses a gamble and misses the jackpot
It may be churlish to criticise anyone involved in such a full-blooded contest played under the trickiest of conditions, but did Somerset give themselves their very best chance? They had a good idea of what they needed to do from about the midway point of the match yet they did not react. Essex did – witness their playing out the first innings’ full allocation of 120 overs rather than risking a higher but all-out score that would have handed time back to Somerset.
On Day Four, at the loss of their second wicket with a lead of 119, should the Somerset captain have sent in Craig Overton for quick runs? Should those batting ahead of the all-rounder – Eddie Byrom, George Bartlett and Steve Davies – pushed on even at the risk of losing wickets? Nobody is suggesting it was easy to fling the bat, but their combined 25 off 99 balls used up precious time to little effect.
Most of all, Abell’s declaration meant that his attack bowled a mere 27 balls more at Essex than his batsmen had received (in a win or bust situation). Maybe declaring at the last moment at the start of Day Five, setting a target of 192, would be too radical, but had 32 runs – and not 12 – been taken from the last eight overs on the previous evening, 212 would definitely have been worth setting as a quid pro quo for a whole 10 overs more than Somerset gave themselves in pursuit of 10 wickets.
This may be harsh, but chances to win trophies do not come round often and it was a highly unusual situation given the tie-breaking first-innings lead Essex had secured. Boldness verging on the reckless may have been the only real option.
Ball six: Sky’s the limit if streams are funded adequately
While we must be grateful for a widely accessible, decent quality stream supported by elite commentators, should we demand more? Anyone who has peeked behind the scenes to see Sky’s operation at a Test will know that, like a reverse Great Oz, there is actually even more wizardry than you expected, miles of cables, armies of technicians and caravans of trucks.
Nobody, even without Covid’s strangling of cricket’s finances, would make a case for that level of investment. But, with feature films being shot on iPhones and Go-Pro cameras, should the visuals be stronger? I’m no techie, but there is surely room before next season to find a sponsor for (say) one first-class match per round to be streamed with a full complement of cameras. If Sky’s full operation delivers 10/10, this match was a 6/10. It shouldn’t take too much to get to 8/10 – and that would make a big difference when you’re watching all day.
• Gary Naylor is the host of the new podcast, The 80s and 90s Cricket Show
• You can follow Gary on Twitter and read him on The 99.94 Cricket Blog