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Somerset (336 & 2-0) beat Hampshire (79 & 258) by 10 wickets
In the Quantocks, once again, they have reason to dream that Somerset will finally end their wait to claim what the author Stephen Chalke termed Summer’s Crown: the County Championship.
Away at the Ageas Bowl – a fixture that, given Hampshire’s strength, qualifies as one of the most arduous challenges on the circuit today – Somerset produced a performance of clinical efficiency. As Eddie Byrom clipped away the first ball of Somerset’s second innings to seal this 10-wicket win it suggested, at the very least, that any team who outdo Somerset this season may well lift the title themselves.
It was to Hampshire’s credit that the moment of victory did not come until 5.02pm. Hampshire had begun the day with six second-innings wickets remaining; when the number was depleted by two an hour into play, Somerset would have designs on winning before lunch.
Instead, it took Somerset another 58.1 overs to chisel out Hampshire’s final four wickets. Hampshire’s final-day resistance was underpinned by James Vince, who played an admirable innings against type. In place of his normal dreamy cover drives, Vince displayed an impeccable defence and immaculate judgment of when the ball could be safely left alone.
Vince’s resolve was such that it was not until his 103rd ball, from Craig Overton, that he first unveiled one of his vintage drives. But from his 117th delivery, once more from Overton, Vince prodded forward at a ball that he perhaps could have left and was brilliantly taken by a diving Steven Davies.
After Vince, Felix Organ and Keith Barker continued to resist, just in very different ways. Organ batted as if almost comatose, taking 108 balls over his seven. All the while Barker showed altogether more intent, reaching an admirable half-century with a pull for four.
The dismissal of Organ – the ninth wicket, and with only the rabbit Mohammad Abbas remaining, the moment that made victory assured – was particularly apt. Organ prodded Josh Davey to second slip, where Overton took a fine low catch.
The dismissal was an alliance of Somerset’s two second-innings heroes, who snared five-fers apiece while getting through 64 overs. The remorseless excellence of Overton is now taken as a given.
Davey is altogether more unheralded. While Overton offers pace and bounce, Davey operates at a speed that would scarcely perturb a motorway speed camera. And while Overton is making an increasingly forceful claim to adding to his four Test caps, Davey plays his international cricket for Scotland.
Yet, just as Tim Murtagh has long shown, skills can overcome a paucity of pace. Like Murtagh, Davey rarely deviates from a length that compels the batsman to play forward without offering half-volleys. His line, similarly, is unrelenting, releasing the ball from close to the stumps, forcing batsmen to offer a shot delivery after delivery and trusting in a scintilla of seam movement to do the rest.
Figures of five for 30 from 23.5 overs attested to Davey’s accuracy and, given that he operated as first change, threat to the outside edge and front pad even when the new ball has lost its shine. There are few bowlers on the county circuit who are harder to leave, as Liam Dawson learnt when playing no shot to his tenth delivery and being snared lbw by a delivery that seamed in.
Davey was abetted by some adroit wicketkeeping from Davies, who happily stands up to the stumps when required, from where he clung on to a sliver of an edge from Joe Weatherley in the morning, ending Weatherley’s 209 balls of defiance.
If Davey is sometimes forgotten amid the county’s pace-bowling riches, unobtrusively he has developed a phenomenal record for Somerset, where he has now taken 110 wickets at just 21 apiece. You could call him the Scottish Murtagh.
Gloucestershire cruise to seven-wicket success over Middlesex at floodlit Lord's
Gloucestershire 93-3 & 273 beat Middlesex 210 & 152 by seven wickets
Gloucestershire nipped through the only gap in the clouds to dismiss Middlesex cheaply a second time and, set only 90 to win under the floodlights at Lord’s, won by seven wickets.
They became the first county to win four championship games this season, and Middlesex to lose four.
The surprising surge by Gloucestershire - given that they last played in the first division in 2005 - has put a fox rather than a cat among the pigeons in the Group 2 conference, because if they go on to qualify for the first division in September that will leave only one space between Hampshire, widely tipped for this year’s title, Somerset, still desperate for their first championship, and Surrey, with all their affluence.
Middlesex, three wickets down overnight, threatened to put together a partnership when Nick Gubbins began to use his feet to the visiting medium-pacers in a stand with John Simpson. David Payne, Gloucestershire’s tall left-armer, was brought back, dismissed both batsmen, wrapped up the tail, and finished with six wickets in the innings and eleven in the match.
The gap between the first and second divisions of the championship had traditionally been considered huge yet, with all the counties mixed up in conferences, Payne has taken 19 wickets at 17 and his new-ball partner Ryan Higgins 28 at 18 each, second in aggregate only to Craig Overton. In early season, especially damp May, the gap between the counties has narrowed.
Another difference for Gloucestershire this season has been a top order toughened by the signing of the West Indies captain and opening batsman Kraigg Brathwaite. In contrast to more eminent predecessors, Brathwaite has scored only 218 runs but has soaked up a lot of deliveries, almost 500, so the lower order has been freed to score off old balls.
Brathwaite also took a sharp catch, at sole slip, off Payne, and made the observation about his adopted county: “they are like family.”
"It was a difficult decision to come here having only had my daughter on Saturday and only had a few days with her, but I feel like it was the right thing now. To get 11 wickets is more than I could have ever expected," said Payne after the match.
"I feel in a confident place with my cricket. I’m confident enough that I can have two weeks away and still know I’m not going to have lost my skills. I’ve played long enough now and have the experience to know what I need to do.
"I look at the slope here and it always makes me feel the ball is going to do something."
Stuart Law, Middlesex head coach said: "We didn’t get enough runs in the first innings. The wicket did plenty that first day, but I still think we should have scored another 50-100 runs on that pitch.
"And getting bowled out again for 150 is not good enough. We batted under lights and gloomy skies, but the wicket wasn’t behaving too badly today. We are nowhere near going long enough with the bat in hand
"Robbie White is a good template for the rest of our batsmen to have a look at. He keeps it very simple and does the basics really well. His technique is suited for when the ball is seaming around."