Roelof van der Merwe rescues Somerset from the brink with stunning unbeaten 165

Scyld Berry
Roelof van der Merwe scored 165 not out off only 122 balls - Rex Features

Followers of 50-over cricket in England have never seen the best of this format. It was a game of containment until the end of 2010, when it was abolished by the ECB for three years in an act of breathtaking short-sightedness which contributed to England’s wretched showing in the World Cups of 2011 and 2015.

But the potential for attack and counter-attack in 50 overs was advertised in this memorable game when Roelof van der Merwe scored 165 not out off only 122 balls, the highest limited-over innings in county cricket by a number seven.

All seemed to be over when Somerset were 22 for five in reply to Surrey’s total of 290. All would surely have been over if Kumar Sangakkara had not dropped as simple a slip catch as there could have been on a cold and grey afternoon.

It was offered by Dean Elgar, who sounds like someone who holds high office in Worcester Cathedral but is actually South Africa’s opener, and he went on to partner Van der Merwe in a stand of 213 which set a record for Somerset’s sixth wicket in a limited-overs game.

Had Sangakkara, now in his 40th year, held on after Sam Curran had found Elgar’s edge, Somerset would have been 28 for six. They had lost their two Championship games this season, demoralisingly because they had been in command at the halfway stage both times.

Van der Merwe's innings was the highest limited-over innings in county cricket by a number seven Credit: rex

Only two batsmen to that point had made a competitive 50, Elgar - when carrying his bat against Lancashire - and their left-arm spinner Jack Leach, who had been dropped for this game in favour of seamers. Yet the worm turned - spectacularly swiftly.

“At 22 for five you’re basically out of the game, so you’ve got the freedom to bat,” said Van der Merwe after what was - though he would not claim so - the innings of his life, in addition to his first limited-overs century. “I thought we’d be home by four.”

t20 guns for hire

Aged 32, Van der Merwe’s second forename is Erasmus, and he has been like an Erasmus scholar travelling round the world as a T20 journeyman after giving up representing South Africa, with a highest score in one-day internationals of 12.

He has switched to playing for the Netherlands and through his Dutch mother he is qualified for Somerset, while in the off-seasons, because he is a steady left-arm spinner as well as right-handed bat, he has become a Delhi Daredevil and Brisbane Heater, a Titan and Zouk.

England's Champions Trophy squad

“It was hard to get out on a wicket like that,” added Van der Merwe, rather too modestly, but that was the point. After the pitch had dried, it was a belter - unlike the traditional English green seamer that was used for 50-over cricket - and counter-attack was possible.

He never missed anything on his legs, cut Surrey’s seamers powerfully, pulled Scott Borthwick, and after reaching his 100 he did not get giddy like a hitter but carried on batting until the deed was almost miraculously done. With no less brilliance Ben Foakes had scored 92 off 65 balls for Surrey, lithe and fast of hands and feet, but he was completely shaded.

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