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September 25, 2013
Somerset 183 for 2 (Hildreth 102*, Compton 62*) trail Nottinghamshire 406 (Hussey 125, Lumb 107, Thomas 4-103) by 223 runs
Sometimes in late season you can become so obsessed with the intricacies of promotion and relegation - how this bonus point lost will affect this bonus point gained - that something dreamily proficient can almost pass you by. James Hildreth's unbeaten hundred at Trent Bridge felt like that.
Hildreth batted beautifully, scoring at roughly a run a ball for his entire innings, and soothed talk of a possible Somerset relegation, yet did it in a manner which made no grand statement, a west country lad protecting their Division One status in understated fashion. Like many Somerset batsmen this season, he has been short of his best, but here was a reminder of his mellifluous talent.
Given a Derbyshire win 20 miles or so down the A52, the side that loses at Trent Bridge could be relegated. If that sounds unlikely now thanks to Derbyshire's struggles, it was not the case in early afternoon. Nottinghamshire's total of more than 400 had left them feeling comfortable. Attention was very much on Somerset.
Notepads were grabbed, calculations hastily scribbled. Finally, after many crossings out, everybody concurred: Derbyshire would have to manage one more batting point than Somerset as well as beating Warwickshire. Somerset would have to lose. Given that scenario, Somerset would be relegated.
Somerset were 11 for 2 in as many overs when Hildreth came to the crease - Marcus Trescothick lbw to a decent delivery from Harry Gurney, Chris Jones caught at the wicket off Luke Fletcher. They seemed destined for an afternoon of pain. Pessimistic talk abounded about how they would be relieved just to avoid the follow-on and collect a couple of batting bonus points to put Derbyshire under pressure.
It is doubtful that Hildreth busied himself with working out the Division One table. He has had a largely unproductive season and, even though he has nearly 11,000 Somerset runs to his name, England have stopped looking. But in most situations he bats agreeably and then when the day is done he often slopes modestly away.
Hildreth dealt with Notts' attack in wristy fashion from the outset, reminding onlookers that his talents deserve this stage. He made his move just before tea: three boundaries in an over by Paul Franks, repeated by Nick Compton off Brett Hutton in the next over.
Compton also played with certainty in a third-wicket stand that had swollen to 172 in 33 overs when bad light brought a premature end to a day restricted to 51.5 overs. Considering the unsettled weather, the odds on a draw that would automatically spare both sides from the drop are shortening - with Tony Pigott, the ECB pitch inspector, on hand to ensure there is no hint of collusion.
Nobody much believes the national selector, Geoff Miller, when he says the door is not closed on Compton - it feels made of foot-thick English oak, with sentries stood above it with vats of boiling oil - but Compton is within range of 1000 Championship runs for the season nonetheless. He reached his 50 with an emphatic straight six off the left-arm spin of Samit Patel.
Such meagre rewards were less than Notts must have expected after vigorous new-ball spells from Gurney and Fletcher. Charles Dickens, who liked names to give a clue to his characters would have named the Notts pace attack the other way round. Harry Gurney would have been the big, broad-beamed fast bowler, whilst Luke Fletcher would have been the slim whip of a lad. But we're not in Dickens country - more DH Lawrence around here.
As for Hildreth, in a Dickens novel, he would have been a bank clerk, unassuming , perhaps ill-treated at times, never entirely achieving the fortune he deserved, but with enough talent to ensure that his end was a happy one.
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