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Tim Wigmore at Taunton
August 16, 2014
Warwickshire 367 (Westwood 129, Overton 3-59, Gregory 3-97) and 1 for 0 lead Somerset 286 (Abell 95, Gregory 47, Jones 4-81, Patel 4-81) by 82 runs
Somerset are a club that holds local talent in particularly high esteem. They do not come much more local than Tom Abell. He was born in Taunton, educated at Taunton School, and plays club cricket for Taunton Cricket Club. On the evidence of his first innings in professional cricket, they do not come much more talented, either.
Debut innings can prove deceptive: England's leading Test runscorer begun his Test career with a pair. But, while his colleagues departed to a series of shots so ill advised that Abell might have thought that he was still playing second team cricket, the 20-year-old displayed a composure and poise befitting his cricketing credentials.
In his career for Taunton School first XI, Abell hit 17 centuries. In 2012, his final year, he hit 1156 runs at an average of 193 apiece. It was the highest aggregate in the history of Taunton School. Abell was named Young Wisden Schools Cricketer of the Year as a result; Somerset fans will hope he stays at the club rather longer than the winner three years earlier, Jos Buttler. Abell has been making copious runs for Somerset's second XI ever since, including 205 not out against MCC Universities a fortnight ago.
Only a series of unfortunate Somerset events gave Abell his opportunity. Craig Kieswetter's horrific blow to the eye; Chris Jones' sudden retirement from the game; and a knee injury to Alviro Petersen combined to create a berth. As Taunton broke into applause to welcome Abell to the wicket, the first observation was of his slight build. Short and fresh faced to boot, he might have difficulty getting into a nightclubs - not that there are any near Taunton to distract him.
Warwickshire may have thought they could intimidate him. They welcomed him to first-class cricket with a series of well-directed boundaries both from over and around the wicket, but Abell showed admirable technique to resist, accumulating unobtrusively off his legs and through steers on the offside and running assiduously between the wickets. As he grew in confidence, Abell begun to unfurl a wider range of shots: after taking 130 balls in making his first 44 runs, Abell took just 55 over his last 51.
Abell delight at debut 95
His duel with Jeetan Patel was particularly enthralling. Abell is unlikely to have encountered an offspinner of similar quality in competitive cricket, and at the start of the innings he showed understandable discomfort against Patel: one leading edge on the legside looped up invitingly, but just out of the reach of any Warwickshire fielder. But as he became more accustomed to Patel, Abell became increasingly confident against him, cutting delightfully and on-driving with grace.
Even with only last man George Dockrell for company, the Taunton faithful were becoming increasingly convinced that they were about to witness the first hundred by a Somerset-born player on their Championship debut since Harold Gimblett in 1935. Alas, not, Abell chipped Patel straight to short midwicket on 95.
But Somerset had no right to complain. Without Abell's intervention, they might have given Warwickshire the opportunity to enforce the follow-on. Nevertheless, Warwickshire are in a position from which they will expect to give Patel the chance to spin them to victory on the final day.
Even on a day two Taunton wicket, there were signs of turn for Patel. He bowled with unremitting accuracy in the afternoon, choking Alex Barrow until he edged to short leg. Craig Overton was well taken by Jonathan Trott at midwicket attempting to seize the initiative and then - perhaps ominously - Alfonso Thomas was beaten by a beautiful delivery through the gate.
But the bulk of the damage to Somerset was the work of Warwickshire's patched-up seam attack. Even without Keith Barker, Boyd Rankin, Chris Woakes and Chris Wright, the seamers still extracted considerable life from the surface.
Their success was not confined to the ball, either: the final wicket pair benefited from Somerset's sixth dropped catch to extend their stand to 62. In his free-swinging 40, Oliver Hannon-Dalby more than doubled his previous first-class best.
Hannon-Dalby then set to work with the ball. A Marcus Trescothick hundred has underpinned three of Somerset's four Championship victories this season, but Varun Chopra greedily snaffled Trescothick's drive. That dismissal increased the onus on Nick Compton but he played on to Hannon-Dalby. No wonder some supporters resorted to asking him to predict the lottery numbers. Two balls earlier, Johann Myburgh followed his skipper in flashing to Chopra, a slip fielder of whose ilk Somerset would love, this time off Richard Jones.
His bowling provided intrigue all day. Jones bowled as if the short ball was his stock delivery. And while it leaked plenty of runs - an economy rate of 5.40 - the short ball delivered two wickets, as James Hildreth and Lewis Gregory both perished hooking.
But before his dismissal, Gregory was responsible for the most intoxicating cricket of the day. He succeeded where Overton failed in attacking Patel, twice smashing straight sixes, and swatted a six off Rikki Clarke that easily cleared midwicket. Gregory added 84 in 15 overs with Abell. His Division One statistics in 2014 - 261 runs at 32 and 40 wickets at 24 apiece - suggest that he might just be the most improved cricketer in the country.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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