Abell has his day as Somerset make hay
Somerset 569 for 5 (Trescothick 153, Abell 131, Cooper 118, Hildreth 71, Dawson 3-130) lead Hampshire 240 by 329 runs
The loveliest event of this day's cricket was one which Somerset supporters knew would occur at some time but which they feared they would not witness. At noon Tom Abell drove Mason Crane through the covers for three runs. His score went from 99 to 102 and he thereby reached his maiden first-class century.
The first person to congratulate Abell - indeed, an enveloping hug was deemed appropriate - was his opening partner, Marcus Trescothick, who had scored the 57th century of his first-class career only ten minutes previously. Abell was three months old when Trescothick notched his own first hundred against Surrey at Bath in 1994. The pair eventually put on 272 against Hampshire, one short of the first-wicket record for matches between the counties, and Tom Cooper later became the third Somerset centurion. By the close the home side's lead over Hampshire had been extended to 329 on what seems a flat pitch, although Dawson's three late wickets suggested it was beginning to turn.
The sporting press may say that Hampshire's bowlers stuck to their task in difficult circumstances and such a judgement will be true enough. But when three of the four batsmen you dismiss have scored hundreds, it is very clear what sort of a day it has been. James Hildreth's fine 71 was little but a footnote to the play. Hampshire's batsmen got their side into this mess and they will have to get them out of it. Otherwise, James Vince's side will become warm favourites for relegation ahead of the visit of the pitiless Yorkshiremen next week.
Yet for all that Cooper's first hundred for Somerset received the crowd's applause - and the ECB may care to note that yet another four-day game has been very well attended - it was the 21-year-old Abell and his partnership with Trescothick that commanded the warmest ovations. Abell was born in Taunton and attended Taunton School. He also played, and occasionally still plays, his club cricket for Taunton, so you could call him a local lad. One imagines that his three-year course at Exeter University was an awfully big adventure. The Taunton crowd rose to him because he is one of their own and that will always matter to county cricket supporters.
For his part, Keynsham-born Trescothick is loved beyond reason or measure on this ground. He is a steadfast cricketer who, rather than retiring when his England days were done, returned to county cricket and still derives deep joy from it. He has faced down tougher enemies than fast bowlers. His happiness at reaching his century was obvious and, for all his 39 years, rather boyish. His disappointment when he lost his leg stump to Fidel Edwards when he had made 153 was plain as well. Trescothick has just signed a new one-year contract simply because he wants to play professional cricket for Somerset as long as he can.
Trescothick's batting is characterised by his clattering pulls to square leg or his fearsome cover drives; Abell's by his classical correctness, the quiet perfection of his strokes and the time he has to play them. You would pay to watch him drive off the back foot. Jack Brooks twice had him caught in the slips at Headingley last week but there is no shame in that. Hampshire's bowlers could not deal with Abell until Gareth Berg had him leg before on the back foot for 131 half an hour after lunch. Then the crowd stood to him again and he waved back to them, which was also good to see.
And indeed, they stood and applauded in all the pavilions on this ground, for Taunton is well-endowed in such structures. There is a Colin Atkinson pavilion, an Ondaatje pavilion and an Andy Caddick pavilion. In the winter they knocked the much-loved Old Pavilion down and have replaced it with a viewing area, a stand reserved for subscribers of some sort and a media centre. They have named the new building….the Somerset Pavilion. It rather reminds one of Robert Grant's 1833 hymn "O worship the King" which contains the phrase "pavilioned in splendour", itself taken as the title of a fine cricket book by A A Thomson.
On a less-exalted level Somerset's pavophilia recalls a famous routine of the magician and comedian Tommy Cooper whereby he performed the trick of placing a cylinder over a wine bottle and making the bottle disappear. Before long everything would go "wrong" and there would be wine bottles appearing from cylinders all over the table while Cooper, himself, acted increasingly manic. It now seems that all Somerset need to do these days is throw up some scaffolding and a pavilion will appear. It is very like them.
For Hampshire's supporters this was a day on which they needed to show unquestioning loyalty; for Somerset's, it was a Thursday, the memory of which they will treasure when the rain clouds roll down the Quantocks and into the Somerset combes like gun-smoke. But Tom Abell is not yet the answer to any vacancy that might occur in England squads. He is a talented young man learning how to play professional cricket.
These, indeed, are Abell's "lamb white days" and he has a right to remain "young and easy under the apple boughs" a while longer. Experience and responsibility will come soon enough. Abell has not even played at Lord's, The Oval or Old Trafford yet, but he will surely do so. And as the leaves grow crisp upon the trees in the sharp, brittle light of early autumn, it was almost a reassurance to watch a batsman who, granted only a modicum of fortune, has years of cricket before him. We will remember this blue-domed day when Taunton was pavilioned in splendour and Tom was girded with praise.