My favourite cricket ground is still Taunton.
Everything I’d written last week about this small cricket ground nestled alongside the Rive Tone in south west England is just as valid following four days of nail-biting cricket.
The first impression of a ground Derbyshire had not visited since 2007 was that it looked different – a re-vamped Colin Atkinson Pavilion, the new Andrew Caddick Players Pavilion, 65 flats overlooking the ground, and the new 3,000-seater Somerset Stand. And yet, paradoxically, it was just the same.
The same raucous spectators seated - and standing - in the shadow of the church tower in the south-eastern corner of the ground; the Cornish and Devonians chattering in their unique accents; cider being dispensed in copious quantities at various outlets around the ground; the wise old sages ensconced in the Sir Ian Botham Stand passing comment on the niceties of leg-spin bowling; former Test umpire Ken Palmer seemingly on every corner greeting me with ‘Hello Derbyshire’ every time we saw each other.
The ground is more compact than ever, and with 2,500 spectators in on the first day there was a genuinely partisan atmosphere. Derbyshire followers were there in number, however, with more in attendance at an away Championship game than at any other this season, and with the weather set fair for all four days, we just needed the teams to deliver.
And didn’t they just? The three and a half days of Derbyshire’s 14th match of the season produced the most thrilling conclusion to a game that fluctuated from almost the first ball.
Marcus Trescothick won the toss on Tuesday morning and did exactly what Wayne Madsen would have done. Batted.
All went serenely for Somerset’s lauded openers, Trescothick and Nick Compton, as 25 runs were added in the first half hour before Footitt found the edge of the former’s bat and Madsen took the catch at slip.
As Somerset added their next 50 runs, Tony Palladino – restored to the side after injury – and Tim Groenewald took centre stage taking eight wickets between them whilst reducing the home side to 75-9.
Piyush Chawla played a couple of extravagant strokes to take the total into three figures but Derbyshire couldn’t have been more satisfied to have bowled Somerset out for 103 inside 34 overs with Groenewald taking 5-33 and Palladino 4-34. The smiles of these two bowlers as they left the field ahead of their team mates were wholly justified.
Ben Slater, playing the first of two excellent innings in this match, opened with Paul Borrington and the pair added a relatively trouble-free 52 runs before Chawla struck twice with his leg-spin to remove Borrington and then Madsen, and when Meschede trapped Chanderpaul leg before wicket Derbyshire were 67-3.
When Slater fell for 45 and Hughes followed shortly afterwards, Richard Johnson and Tom Poynton steadied the innings with a battling and determined partnership which helped their side through to 220-5 at the close with both players having completed half centuries.
Day two dawned with the nearby Quantock Hills shrouded in mist and the possibility of a delayed start, but the strong early-September sun soon burned off the cloud and play began promptly at 10.30am.
Derbyshire gained their second batting point, losing three further wickets in the process before Groenewald with an undefeated 36 steered Derbyshire to 298 all out. Their total was boosted by 18 byes of which there would be a further 21 in the second innings.
Somerset batted significantly better the second time around, amassing 438 with all but Alfonso Thomas reaching double figures. Compton batted in exemplary fashion and added a century partnership for the third wicket with Hildreth.
Craig Kieswetter, who had a nightmare match with bat and behind the stumps, became Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s first victim for Derbyshire when he was bowled by the final ball of the day. It was an inexplicable shot as he made room to cut a delivery that he could have smothered or padded away.
Nonetheless, even at 231-4, Derbyshire were still in control of the game with their hosts effectively 36-4 with two days remaining.
However, Somerset’s final six wickets added 207 runs on the third day as Palladino and David Wainwright claimed three wickets each and Chanderpaul ended with a creditable 2-32 from 12.4 overs of decent leg-spin.
Derbyshire therefore required 244 runs to win with at least a day and a half – about 150 overs – to get them. And although rain was widely forecast for much of the UK, Taunton was expected to remain dry until at least 4pm on Friday.
Derbyshire got the start they wanted as Borrington and Slater added 49 for the first wicket with Slater making a fine 59 giving him a total of 104 runs in the match.
Madsen fell cheaply and Chanderpaul came to the crease with most spectators eagerly anticipating the tussle between Chanderpaul and Chawla.
What followed during the final session was as fascinating as it was astonishing. Chawla, bowling his leggies from the River End, gained prodigious turn and bounce but saw numerous deliveries pass both bat and wicketkeeper and go for byes. One remarkable over included 19 runs with two lots of four byes. Keeper Kieswetter took his position well outside leg stump as a counter-measure – it failed; and Trescothick had to resort to deploying a short stop. It was remarkable stuff.
As the third day drew to a close, Derbyshire still required 117 to win with Chanderpaul undefeated on 20.
The final day started badly for Derbyshire with Johnson falling without adding to the overnight score, but Alex Hughes played his most important first class innings for the county as he helped Chanderpaul add 68 for the sixth wicket. Poynton and Wainwright were both dismissed for seven which brought Tim Groenewald to the wicket with 28 runs still needed to secure victory.
At the other end Shivnarine Chanderpaul continued to take the strike, occasionally stroking a boundary, but largely finding the gaps with exquisite timing and placement to take singles and twos.
Groenewald smashed a Chawla full toss to the mid-wicket boundary as the umpires delayed lunch by 15 minutes in an attempt to end the game before the break, but with six runs required – or two wickets for Somerset – Millns and Bainton took the players from the field with spectators bawling their displeasure at having to wait 40 minutes for the result.
The wait merely served to heighten the tension as Somerset supporters chatted about Derbyshire’s inevitable win and Derbyshire supporters reminded themselves that just two good deliveries could bring Somerset a victory.
Chanderpaul took singles off the 81st and 82nd overs before he aimed a leg glance at a Gregory delivery that flicked his pad and went for four byes.
Groenewald raced down the pitch and hugged his batting partner, lifting him off the ground as Derbyshire’s band of followers cheered and clapped on the boundary.
The smile on Chanderpaul’s face as he left the field belied his age and experience – he looked like a man who had played in a winning side for the first time in his life.
From an historical and personal perspective, this game and the final outcome puts it into the same category as the great one-day win in 1990 when Kuiper smashed the winning six off the final ball of the game. Considered purely in context of the 2013 season, it means so much more.
After 10 games, of which three were drawn and seven lost, this season looked dead and buried. The win at Hove was clearly a turning point and the follow-up victory over Middlesex at Derby raised spirits even more.
The game at the Kia Oval last week could have gone either way, but this latest win really gives Derbyshire hope of survival.
It also means that for the second season in a row, an exciting conclusion beckons for Derbyshire.
This was a splendid victory; Groenewald and Palladino led the attack in fine fashion ably supported by the other bowlers, while both openers plus Poynton, Johnson and Hughes all played crucial innings at different times.
Chanderpaul’s second innings 74 not out in over three and a half hours was a supreme effort, seeing off all the Somerset bowlers and playing the spinners with immaculate timing and precision.
Derbyshire’s win could not have come at a better time, lifting them out of the relegation places with just two home games against Durham and Warwickshire to come.
As for Taunton, well, the welcome was as genuine and friendly as it ever was and it will be a pity – a sentiment I applied to Hove earlier in the season – if we have to wait another six years to visit this lovely part of the country.
Somerset really is a true cricketing county with no major soccer teams offering any competition and with almost 6000 members they have wonderful support. Derbyshire did well to keep them quiet!
© 2015 Derbyshire County Cricket Club
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