Lancashire continues to go winless as Somerset continue their pointless tie

James Rew scored two hundreds during the match

One of history’s most depressing truths is that it has been difficult to find challenging declarations ever since the founding fathers gave it the go-ahead in 1776. 

Even in cricket’s illustrious past, only Ben Stokes played in the era where T20 shot patterns made 10 runs an over absolutely achievable in the final stages of a game. Stuart Surridge, Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie, Garry Sobers, and Ben Stokes frequently cornered a distinctively unadventurous market.

Rarely, though, does prudence go down the paths of bloody-minded lunacy to the level that it did here at Emirates Old Trafford when Somerset’s Tom Abell elected to forgo making any declarations and instead choose to build up an absolutely useless lead, even if his side was safe. 

In the course of this farce, James Rew, a 19-year-old cricketer from Somerset, is thought to have become the sport’s youngest player to hit two hundreds in a first-class game. He also currently leads Division One in runs scored. 

The issue was that some of his runs were coming off of Dane Vilas and George Bell’s bowling. Rew is a good athlete, and his accomplishments merit a higher context. One-hand, one-bounce cricket was being played.

Abell’s strategies weren’t fully apparent until after lunch. The Somerset batsmen had behaved much like the Trumpton clock during the morning session: “steadily, sensibly, never too quickly, never too slowly.” Tom Kohler-Cadmore, who can destroy an attack in half an hour, was bowled for 11 when he played inside a ball from Will Williams. 

Tom Lammonby then had a merry two minutes in which he gave one stumping opportunity to Bell, who fumbled it, and another the next ball, which the keeper didn’t take cleanly but still removed the bails before Lammonby had recovered his ground. 

The Somerset opener had already scored 78 runs by that point, though, and had prepared his team for an attack should they decide to launch one.

They failed to. They most certainly did not.

When Steven Croft and Vilas began bowling seam up in unison just before 2.45 p.m., Lancashire’s opinion of Somerset’s strategy became clear. Although neither was even slightly dangerous, the point had been made. There was now a game of foolish buggers in place of cricket. 

Josh Bohannon then removed the gloves and protective gear so Bell could bowl for Lancashire for the first time. In case you were curious, the right arm offspin, but don’t anticipate seeing it again. County cricket’s response to reports of the great bustard sightings may be bell bowling.

Finally, a pluck from Vilas through midwicket let Rew reach his century. The Somerset balcony cheered, but the batsman made absolutely no noise in appreciation. In addition to being a really talented cricketer, Rew is also obviously clever. 

The Pavilion members and the paying spectators beneath The Point witnessed all that was going on. Though it’s probable that rigidity had already taken hold in one or two situations, hardly anyone moved.

Nigel Llong and Tom Lungley, the umpires, had to officiate as diligently as they might in a Test match, thus one might sympathize with them. Their surnames are so delightfully complementing, and they performed brilliantly, that one wishes they had teamed up more frequently. Charles Dickens, who likes a little of alliteration, would have adored the words “Long and Lungley.”

When we arrived at tea, we realized we just had another 50 minutes to put up with this. For his first-ever first-class century, Kasey Aldridge pulled Villas for six. 

An important milestone in a young cricketer’s career should be reached here, just as it was for Rew at Chelmsford 10 months ago. Instead, Aldridge arrived at his destination in a setting that alternated between monotony and hilarity.

However, let’s see whether an argument can be made for Somerset’s decision to bat on this final day in order to draw, which has put them in eighth place, one position and two points behind Lancashire. 

Some would argue that the first three days of this match saw some of Abell’s team’s strongest cricket in a disappointing season. Was it reasonable to ask them to take a chance on losing in these conditions? That question might have a “yes” response, particularly if Somerset is left barely above the relegation zone after the draw.

Additionally, it is becoming increasingly obvious that this season’s change in the number of points awarded for a tie—from eight to five—has a significant impact on the league rankings. 

If the first allocation had been made, Lancashire would have been fourth rather than seventh before this game started. They are currently still in seventh place, unbeaten, and winless, while Somerset is two points further down before their match against Middlesex on Thursday at Lord’s.

“We went to Lancashire yesterday afternoon before the second new ball about the possibility of making a game,”

Abell explained.

“We felt we needed the best part of 96 overs to bowl a side out and it wasn’t right for them at the time, which is fair enough.”

“A chase of only 50 or 60 overs only plays into their hands. We wanted to set up a game where both teams would have a chance of winning but ultimately it didn’t feel right. Fifty or sixty overs on that surface wasn’t going to be enough. So it turned into a bit of a damp squib but I don’t want to take that away from the efforts over the four days.”

However, declarations have frequently covered topics that go far beyond set goals and buffet bowling. The best of them catches their opponents off guard by changing a match’s predicted course. 

Could Somerset not have attempted to set Lancashire a considerably more difficult target in, say, 60 overs and then seen how Vilas’s batsmen responded to Craig Overton and Matt Henry with the new ball? Championship cricket is more receptive to creative thought than Abell’s remarks imply. 

Pow-wows and “what will you chase?” aren’t the main topics too often. It’s about doing what your adversary least expects you to do and taking advantage of their discomfort. These bouts are exciting to watch.

It goes without saying that this is not the first game this season to end in such a manner. There are instances when blocking out is the only option, but on this final day, there were a lot of other, more original options that captains could have looked at since four-day cricket is constantly having to defend itself against cynics and one-eyed reformists. 

We might not want to be too hard on the existing skippers, though. Even in 1776, nostalgia served as a comforting diversion from the cold realities of history. The Georgia delegate allegedly wanted to continue talking for an additional hour.