Warwickshire 135 and 103 for 6 (Hain 43*) need a further 136 to beat Somerset 209 and 164 (Norwell 7-41)
Paul Farbrace would not be human if just before start of play he did not feel a tiny pang of regret when England’s World Cup squad was announced over the PA system. Timing does not always work out perfectly, and to accept Warwickshire’s director of cricket role he had to relinquish his job as England assistant coach with cricket’s biggest one-day tournament beckoning.
What is more, instead of a chance to share in history, he now knows he has walked into a Warwickshire relegation fight. A largely youthful squad looks up against it and will be releved that only one county will be relegated at the end of the season.
They are not entirely out of this match at Taunton, but to be 103 for 6 at the close of a hectic second day, chasing 249 on a sporty pitch, identifies them as big outsiders. Much rests with Sam Hain, whose unbeaten 43 is the top score in the match. Few, if any, batsmen in a match where 36 wickets have tumbled in two days have looked as assured. Not that many have even tried to look as assured.
If Farbrace was in search of optimism he found it in the performance of Liam Norwell, a close season capture from Gloucestershire, who took 7 for 41 on his Warwickshire debut with a controlled display of swing and seam bowling. Sporty pitch or not, he has wasted no time in proving he can make the step up to Division One cricket.
Somerset have played down fears that Tom Banton could miss Saturday’s Royal London Cup final against Hampshire at Lords after he withdrew from a 2nd XI match at Taunton Vale with a back spasm.
Banton’s wicketkeeping duties are bound to accentuate Somerset’s concerns, but their head coach Jason Kerr said: “We think it’s quite mild. The picture will be a lot clearer for us tomorrow but he is moving around at the minute in the dressing room so I anticipate he will be fine.”
Signing Norwell was a bit of a gamble for Warwickshire. He had spent eight seasons at Gloucestershire, though missed the entire 2018 season with recurring hamstring problems, but he has always been capable of hot spells when the conditions are in his favour.
His debut for Warwickshire was delayed when he strained a pectoral muscle while fielding in a practice session at Edgbaston, inviting fears that ill luck had begun to follow a bowler who had previously enjoyed a decent enough injury record, but he felt the sun on his back at Taunton as he hustled in with an open action and revelled in the murmurs of a good crowd as the wickets built up.
“I was quite fired up for it,” he said. “Warwickshire have been so great for me since I’ve been here and it’s nice to repay some of their faith. My bowling in the first innings was a bit rusty. I’ve had quite a long injury lay-off – a dark season in a way last year with three tears on the same hamstring – but today felt like I was back to where I was a year and a half ago. So it’s come back quite quickly.
“I think it’s a good cricket wicket. Yes, it’s low scoring, but if you are going to be highly critical there is a lot of batsmen error as well as good bowling. There is pace in the wicket and a bit of nip, but I’d much rather play on these wickets and I think a lot of people would much rather watch cricket on these wickets than just getting to the third innings and shaking hands.”
Somerset have batted in a frenzy in this match, regarding the surface with fatalism. The result of that was scores of 209 and 164 and an average run rate across the two innings of more than four an over. It was primarily down to Norwell that they subsided to 78 for 7 and it was largely in his absence that Craig Overton organised some late-order resistance for the second time in the match.
Azhar Ali and James Hildreth were snaffled in his first two overs, both of them without scoring. Azhar fell to bounce and movement when he edged to the wicketkeeper; Hildreth was wary of something similar when he was lbw to one that held its line.
His new-ball spell then brought wickets in consecutive overs for a second time. Marcus Trescothick released a few square drives, inviting hopes that his measured tread would bring some ballast to Somerset’s batting, but he became Norwell’s second lbw victim, 23 logged, his highest score to date in his 27th season. Tom Abell fell defensively to a ball that left him.
When Norwell swung one back to bowl Lewis Gregory immediately after lunch and caused Steve Davies to follow a wide one that went wider, Somerset only had a lead of 152 and their hold on the game was tenuous at best. But Overton, who had begun the day by extending his Championship wickets tally to 22 at 14.77, responded with gusto as the last three wickets more than doubled the score.
Tim Groenewald caused most merriment. Disconcerted by Henry Brookes’ pace, and struck on the hand, he was dropped at deep mid-on by Oliver Hannon-Dalby, a reprieve he celebrated by hauling a length ball over midwicket for six. “Short or yorker,” was probably the gist of the advice given to Brookes by his captain, Jeetan Patel. Brookes went short, and Groenewald was duly on his way, making room for a failed wind-up.
Warwickshire lost two for 26 by tea. Will Rhodes fell in the first over, caught behind of Gregory for a duck and Rob Yates suffered the same fate. Jack Leach was popped on for a while and turned one to have Dom Sibley caught at slip for 26, so ending his run of centuries in successive first-class matches on six. Adam Hose completed an unhappy return to his former club by falling lbw to Overton for 4.
This Somerset side can excel in the field, too, as was shown by the run out of Tim Ambrose. Hain ran the ball through point, the pair went for a quick single, but George Bartlett pounced to hit direct with a single stump to aim at. They will be confident about completing the job on the third morning.