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September 11, 2013
Surrey 195 for 8 (Batty 39, Davies 38, Meschede 3-37) v Somerset
There is a growing sense at Taunton that change is inevitable. They are agonising over it in the committee rooms and rueing the fact in pubs across the county. At the centre of the discussions is the future of Marcus Trescothick, one of county cricket's most treasured figures. He might have skippered Somerset to a cupboard full of one-day trophies. Instead, he is in the middle of a relegation battle.
Doing the right thing for Marcus is the phrase which repeatedly occurs. Somerset continue to hope that he will play until his 40th birthday, an ambition he expressed soon after ending his England career to control a stress-related disorder, but after four years it might be beneficial for all concerned for him to hand over the captaincy. He has served his time. Let him wind down quietly, biff some fours, leave wider concerns to others.
He will not be short of suggestions. Somerset are committed to a supportive transition and it would be no surprise if England offered him a role while his playing career continues: he would make a good talent scout, perhaps even a selector as a player still actively in touch with the game. He suffered his stress-related ailment playing for England and, as one of the most popular players of his generation to have worn the England shirt, cricket will not be blind to its responsibilities.
It is conceivable that county cricket is discussed in Somerset pubs more than in any other county in the land. (That includes Yorkshire where people normally begin by discussing the price of a pint). Eavesdrop in pubs and you tend to get pub talk, but when the word "debacle" was used to describe Somerset's defeat against Nottinghamshire in the Yorkshire Bank 40 semi-final at Trent Bridge on Monday night and it seemed an appropriate charge.
Add further disappointment this season in the Friends Life t20 quarter-final and the realisation is dawning that Trescothick's fine Somerset side is reaching the end of the line and will never secure the titles it deserved.
Instead, Trescothick stands at slip and tries to marshal an escape from the Championship's bottom two. The season has reached a critical juncture. Somerset began the match 15 points ahead of Surrey, who have a game in hand. Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire remain in touch, but this is not the time to lose ground. By restricting Surrey to 195 for 8 in 81 overs, before bad light stole an hour from the day, Somerset will rightly feel they have had a good day, but both these sides are low on confidence.
That was evident in a careworn Surrey batting performance. The pitch is far from a batting paradise once so common at Taunton, but Somerset's pace attack, if maintaining exemplary accuracy, was hardly life-threatening. Surrey made 61 for 4 in the morning, 63 for 2 in the afternoon. The game limped ahead around two runs an over. The cider felt less satisfying than usual; the air, full of foreboding, also became full of drizzle.
Surrey's executive director, Alec Stewart, has set a target of two wins from their last three games to escape the drop. Having rubbished those last week who have called for an influx of youth at such a critical stage, he sprang a surprise by including Dom Sibley, who is still doing A-levels at Whitgift School. Sibley ground his way to 10 before he was lbw, squared up on the back foot, and became the first of three victims for Craig Meschede.
Meschede's delight, understandably, was even more apparent in his next over when he dismissed Hashim Amla fifth ball for nought. Amla's preparation was hardly ideal: a flight back from South Africa, where he was showered with awards at their annual ceremony, and a quick drive down the M4 from Heathrow. He got out to the sort of leg-side strangle to make his eyes pop and, on this occasion, probably make his ears pop as well. Kieswetter's catch to rid Somerset off Rory Burns was more spectacular.
Surrey's resistance was most passive when Zafar Ansari was at the crease. His 8 encompassed 70 balls and he needed 42 of them to get off the mark. Test cricket has thrown up longer feats of inactivity: Stuart Broad blocked out 62 balls in England's rear-guard in the Auckland Test earlier this year, but it was a strange sight on the first afternoon of a Championship match.
Steve Davies' 38 was a more selective affair, but when he fell to Piyush Chawla's legbreaks, Gareth Batty and Stuart Meaker adopted a more attacking outlook in adding 64 in 13 overs. Batty had form and was roundly booed on his arrival at the crease. It was a leftover not just from his antagonistic send-off to Peter Trego in the Flt20 quarter-final, a display which saw him banned from Finals Day, but also from his refusal to withdraw Murali Kartik's appeal against Alex Barrow last season when Kartik ran out Barrow backing up
The crowd shouted for Trego to take revenge - the obligatory bouncer arrived second ball - but instead they had to watch Batty drag Surrey back into contention. Revenge would be sweet, but they cannot be at all certain they will achieve it.
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