David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps
IRE v AFG (1)
CWC League 2 (2)
Men's Hundred (2)
RL Cup (1)
ENG v SA (1)
BAH v KUW (1)
Women's Hundred (1)
WI v NZ (1)
ZIM v BDESH (1)
Somerset 218 for 8 (Smeed 98, Abell 70) beat Surrey 171 for 9 (Jordan 73, C. Overton 4-25) by 48 runs
Will Smeed is still awaiting his first T20 hundred, but he is wasting no time in ticking off the 90s one by one. After treating a capacity Taunton crowd to another typically bullish innings, he now has a 98 to his name to add to a 99 and 97 for Quetta Gladiators and a 94 earlier this season in the Vitality Blast against Glamorgan. All of them made since the turn of the year.
Smeed and his captain Tom Abell, in delightfully contrasting styles, ensured that Somerset joined Surrey in securing a home quarter-final in the Blast next week with a 48-run defeat of the Brown Caps at Taunton. Surrey, unbeaten in all formats for the first stage of the season, have now lost three Blast matches in four and are flagging at the wrong time.
It took 73 from 35 balls from their captain, Chris Jordan, to keep up appearances. Somerset, by contrast, are in form. But both will take some beating and Derbyshire and Yorkshire will head south with trepidation. Surrey play Yorkshire on Wednesday whilst Somerset must wait until Saturday before facing Derbyshire.
Somerset's third-wicket stand of 165 in 70 balls between Smeed and Abell was a delight for any West Country loyalist on a perfect night when the sun flooded onto the Quantocks and the crowd was awash with smiles. On nights like this, with the ball flying to all parts, there is no happier place in T20, perhaps no happier place in cricket, perhaps (for cricket fans of a certain disposition) no happier place in the world.
In the hands of Smeed and Abell, joy was unconfined. Smeed, at 20 is already a hulking presence. He sits on the back foot with an uncomplicated intention to wreak havoc, and included 10 fours and five sixes in his 51-ball assault. But his game is broadening, as it should, and there were a couple of rasping square cuts in his repertoire to keep bowlers thinking.
There may be better batters in the Blast - more dynamic, more destructive - than Abell. He has never played for England so that suggests as much. If England are looking at anybody, especially in their current mood, it is likely to be Smeed. But for the sheer delight of an educated batter at the height of a 360-degree game, choosing the best option and executing it brilliantly, there are few better sights in the domestic T20 game. Smeed is a potential colossus, and doubtless lifts sales of teenage-friendly dumb bells, but Abell is fast becoming one of the most respected players in Somerset history.
At 194 for 3 with 21 balls remaining, they should have made 230. They had to settle for 218 for 8 as Surrey summoned a response once Abell's slog sweep against Reece Topley had been brilliantly caught over his head by Gus Atkinson, running back towards long leg. Abell injured himself batting and did not field. Smeed was undone by a slower ball from Topley which he hauled to deep square. The thought of a couple of quiet singles for his maiden hundred does not seem to enter his mind and, in a format where no ball should be wasted, he is all the more impressive for that.
This time, he introduced himself with a 60-metre throw from deep square after Tom Banton risked a second. Banton spent a lot of time calculating the odds as he assessed Overton's progress towards the ball while he ran the first, but did not quite compute one of the strongest arms in the game pulling off a direct hit.
Craig demanded even more attention when it came to his turn as he had three Surrey wickets to his name in his first seven deliveries. Will Jacks attempted a pull on the charge and was caught second ball; Tom Curran, again trying the pull, this time without the charge, added a second-ball duck of his own; by way of contrast, Jamie Smith pushed at one and was caught at first slip.
Jordan and Laurie Evans then rescued that in an untroubled stand of 82 in 46 balls. Evans had fluffed a couple of chances in the field, including Smeed on 76 at deep square, to the derision of a section of the crowd, and was bent upon revenge, but his 39 ended with an excellent diving catch by Ben Green at long off. Jordan struck 23 off an over from Lewis Gregory, who was standing in as captain for Abell in the field, and he was to carry his resistance into the 17th over, particularly impressive over long off and extra cover, until Peter Siddle shrewdly plugged extra especially for him and the sub, George Bartlett, held a good catch.
But the crowd wanted to see: COverton vs JOverton, sibling rivalry write large, and they were not disappointed. With his penultimate delivery, Craig had Jamie caught at the wicket, cross-batting, and set off on a sprint of celebration. "I owed him after being hit on the head a couple of weeks back so it was nice to get one back," he said.
Perhaps only Surrey among the 18 professional counties can potentially act as if money is no option and Aaron Hardie, the Australia A and Western Australia allrounder, has been called for the end of the group stages (with qualification already assured) as well as the last-eight tie.
Hardie has just finished the Australia A tour of Sri Lanka where he scored 226 runs at an average of 75, was part of the Perth Scorchers' Big Bash-winning squad and starred in this year's Sheffield Shield final, guiding Western Australia to victory with an unbeaten 174 as well as taking three wickets opening the bowling. He has yet to fire for Surrey - one wicket and 26 runs in two knocks, Roelof van der Merwe bowling him on this occasion - but he is acclimatised for the quarter-finals and is dangerous.