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Tim Wigmore in Taunton
May 19, 2014
Somerset 51 for 2 trail Durham 155 (Borthwick 59, Thomas 5-41) by 104 runs
Alfonso Thomas is a cricketer who could have been designed for the age of the pop-up Twenty20 league. His canny bowling, a fusion of yorkers, slower balls and supreme accuracy, has enjoyed success the world over.
Thomas has thrived in the Big Bash, the Bangladeshi Premier League and the Indian Premier League, as well as in England and South Africa. There is no need for him to bother with the rigours of county championship cricket.
He evidently takes a different view. Even the morning after a T20 game, when his excelling with bat and ball could not prevent Somerset slipping to defeat, Thomas was full of vim. Bustling in with a smooth, economical run-up, Thomas retains deceptive pace: rare is the 37-year-old who can hit batsmen with his bouncer.
But it was another delivery that provided the day's defining image. With Paul Collingwood relishing firefighting duties, Thomas produced a delivery that pitched up, kissed the seam, and moved late enough to defeat a groping bat to dismantle the top of off stump.
Such sights have been familiar at Taunton since Thomas joined Somerset in 2008. His limited-overs nous is renowned - South Africa tried to persuade him to play in the 2012 World T20 but he declined in order to preserve his Kolpak status - but Thomas's virtues as a first-class performer should not be underestimated.
Into his seventh season at Somerset, he has claimed 243 first-class wickets at 26 apiece. Given that Somerset have been in Division One for the duration of his stay at the club and Taunton remains one of the best batting tracks in the country, it has been quite an effort.
Seldom will Thomas have encountered more responsive conditions than these at Taunton: a different track to one that produced a sedate draw against Nottinghamshire a fortnight ago, and copious cloud cover to boot. Even so, Taunton remains the archetypal bat first track, as Durham chose to do after winning the toss.
Thomas and Peter Trego, Somerset's opening attack, had a combined age of just 69, compared to 75 the day before. They bowled expertly. Yet Durham will reflect on some poor shot selection; Mark Stoneman was bowled playing across the line, and Michael Richardson was lbw trying to pull a ball that was not short enough for the shot.
When Phil Mustard edged his first ball to slip, Trego was on a hat-trick. That proved beyond him, but Durham were 24 for 4 on the first morning at Taunton. These things are not meant to happen.
A knack for crisis management earned Collingwood his Brigadier Block sobriquet for England. But that was not apt today, with Collingwood in counter-punching mood. With Scott Borthwick seeming to have more time than the other batsmen and drivingly pleasingly through the covers, the two targeted the Overton twins.
Both tall and powerfully built, they look identical, although they can be recognised by their bowling styles. Jamie, who earned an England ODI call-up last summer, is sharper but he was also more erratic and susceptible to bowling no balls. Nine overs from the twins yielded 47, but Thomas returned to end Durham's hopes of amassing a respectable score.
Borthwick was aghast to be caught at midwicket, and Mark Wood was trapped plumb on his back leg to give Thomas his second five-fer in consecutive Championship games.
With Somerset's leading wicket-taker Lewis Gregory ruled out for several weeks with a hamstring injury, George Dockrell played his first Championship game of the season, and bowled smartly to snare two lower-order wickets. There was turn for his left-arm spin, too, vindicating the decision of both sides to pick two spinners. Borthwick will be expected to add to the three Championship wickets he has taken in 2014, while offspinner Ryan Pringle was handed a debut.
Neither Durham spinner has yet bowled, but they did claim two wickets before showers halted the day. Collingwood, frustrated by Durham's batting flakiness resurfacing, was notably vocal as Durham took to the field, anxious for the attack to assert themselves with Graham Onions injured.
When Collingwood's old England team-mate flashed, leaden-footed, to slip to the first ball - Marcus Trescothick's second golden duck in three innings - it would have gone some way to lightening his mood, and was a reminder of Chris Rushworth's qualities on the day he signed a new three-year contract.
Resilience in conditions such as these earned Nick Compton a Test debut two years ago, but he poked rather tamely at Mark Wood's first ball. Had Johann Myburgh, promoted to open after Chris Jones was dropped, been run out by Phil Mustard's throw, Somerset would have come uncomfortably close to ruining Thomas's sterling work.
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