Hildreth's fortunes stir as Somerset scent a rare victory
Somerset 268 and 234 for 3 (Hildreth 85*, Rouse 69) lead Yorkshire 213 (C Overton 5-87, Groenewald 3-43) by 289 runs
Last September James Hildreth broke his ankle in the early stages of an innings against Nottinghamshire. The monopedal century he then made on that lustrous day at Taunton has quite rightly passed into his county's folklore as an example of devotion to the cause. Hildreth's travails this season - 294 runs in 14 innings - have therefore been all the more painful to his many supporters and to a player whose loyalty to Somerset is both quiet and deep.
All the greater then will have been the pleasure in the pubs of Taunton on the third evening of this game when it became known that Hildreth had returned to the pavilion at North Marine Road with 85 unbeaten runs against his name. He had made his first fifty of the season and helped build a strong position from which Somerset may yet win their first championship victory of the season.
There were few of the Hildreth flourishes in his 111-ball innings and none of the dreamy cover-drives that make one wonder why the selectors have not looked more closely at him. What the 3002 spectators saw was a fine demonstration of the batsman's craft by a player who may have thought himself deserted by the muse. There were six boundary fours but what was quite as impressive was the security of Hildreth's defence and his determination to capitalise on the opportunity to bat against a Yorkshire attack containing only two front-line seamers.
Indeed, just as the spectators in the Peasholm Park Stand applauded Hildreth's half-century, they had probably also bemoaned their fate when Liam Plunkett left the field with a yet-to-be-diagnosed injury. Like Ryan Sidebottom, Plunkett will not bowl again in this match although he will bat if required.
But this day's cricket was not only memorable for Hildreth's return to something like form. It also saw significant innings played by two young batsmen who probably wondered if any opportunities at all would come their way in 2017. And at the midpoint of a rather troubling summer in the West Country, it might revive the yeomen of Bicknoller and Combe Florey a little to note that both Eddie Byrom and Tim Rouse revealed a mature appreciation of their side's needs in their contrasting contributions.
On yet another grey day at Scarborough, one on which the monochrome sky was reflected in the subdued appreciation of Yorkshire supporters, Byrom's 40 in 136 minutes against the new ball showed an understanding of the fundamental truth that there are times when the only purpose of facing a set of six deliveries is still to be there when the next set begins. Later in the afternoon Rouse brought up his maiden first-class half-century on his championship debut and shared an increasingly fluent partnership of 144 with Hildreth against Yorkshire bowlers who flagged a little as their workloads increased.
However, any praise one accords to the Somerset freshmen should still be edged with caution. "Youth is to all the glad season of life," wrote Thomas Carlyle, "but often only by what it hopes, not by what it attains or what it escapes." Those stinging qualifications (or something like them) may be on Tom Abell's mind this summer as he seeks to find some form. For those who saw Abell's maiden century for Somerset a couple of years ago, his struggles are troubling to see and a reminder that the progression of a cricket career is rarely smooth.
Byrom, of course, is only one of five young batsmen in this game who looking to make their way in professional cricket. His innings was ended by another of the quintet, Harry Brook, whose inswinging yorker defeated Byrom's jab. And Brook's medium-pacers were useful to Yorkshire, as was Ben Coad's ability to concede little more than two runs an over while taking the wickets of both Marcus Trescothick, who made 27 before edging to slip, and Rouse, who played on for 69.
The desire to make a career in professional cricket is also shared by Adam Hose and the slightly more experienced Tom Kohler-Cadmore and only life's curmudgeons are not encouraged by their enthusiasm. Ambition is always a fine thing, though it comes in many forms. One recalls a college friend who was a great fan of the American soul singer, Gladys Knight, and aspired to join her backing group. While others dreamed of a career in academe or the foreign office, he wanted nothing more from life than to be a Pip. But things do not always turn out as we envisage: the friend became a Labour MP and Kohler-Cadmore has taken the midnight train to Yorkshire.
The former Worcestershire batsman will probably get another opportunity to prove the wisdom of that choice when he bats on the final day of this match. Somerset, for their part, will surely seek to build on their 55-run first innings lead and extend their advantage over 300 before declaring. Then they will challenge Bresnan's batsmen to chase a target and secure the victory they need to strengthen their championship hopes. Somerset also need a win, though, and the last day at Scarborough may be memorable for even more than the Hildreth century few would begrudge.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications