The Marlborough region of New Zealand doesn’t just export fine wines. It has also sent to England Ben Wheeler, known as the Marlborough Express. The young left arm quick bowler starred for the visitors with five wickets for just 18 runs as New Zealand built up a strong position on day two of this four day match. By the close, they were on 149-3 in their second innings, a lead of 182.
Although early-season touring team matches can become little more than prolonged practice sessions, both teams at Taunton have reasons for treating this as a serious contest. New Zealand know that they have limited time to acclimatise before the first Test against England. Somerset, languishing in the lower reaches of the Championship’s top division, have plenty of players in need of a change of form and fortune. So we were treated to a keenly contested day’s cricket under increasingly blue skies. In the first half of the day, the ball swung sufficiently to make batting an occasionally precarious occupation. Later, conditions eased and, in the evening sunshine, the tourists built a good lead.
Speaking to Deep Extra Cover at close of play, acting Somerset skipper Peter Trego remained optimistic of a successful run chase on the last day, seeing a target in the region of 350 to 375 as potentially achievable. For that to become a reality, however, Somerset will need to improve on both their batting and their bowling performances in the second half of the match.
In the morning both teams made early efforts to make up for time lost on the first day. B.J.Watling and Neil Wagner played a series of crisps shots on either side of the wicket. Tim Groenewald beat Wagner’s bat several times and then had Watling taken at second slip by Tom Cooper, who did his best to drop the catch before clutching it to his chest. After a first over that seemed to consist of six looseners, Craig Overton came to life and brought the innings to an end by bowling both Wagner and Jacob Duffy. New Zealand’s total of 237 had taken 71.1 overs. Tim Groenewald took the bowling honours with 4-71. Scottish international Josh Davey, with 2-51, suggested in this, his debut match for Somerset, that he might have something to offer the county.
Somerset made a dubious start to their reply. Left-armer Ben Wheeler twice hit Johann Myburgh’s pads, succeeding with his appeal on the second occasion with the batsman trapped on the crease. At the other end, Tom Abell edged Jacob Duffy into Luke Ronchi’s safe hands at second slip to leave Somerset struggling on 4/2. This became 9/3 when Tom Cooper’s leg stump cartwheeled out of the ground before he had opened his score. When Doug Bracewell replaced Duffy, Jim Allenby struck four deliveries in his first over for off-side boundaries to enliven the Somerset innings.
Ben Wheeler, known to Central Districts fans as the Marlborough Express, bowled a fine spell of left arm pace from the Old Pavilion end, not conceding a run until his fifth over. He deceived James Hildreth who shouldered arms and was bowled for 13 to leave Somerset struggling on 43/4. In contrast to Wheeler, Bracewell’s first three overs went for 30 runs. Wheeler struck again when he got a ball to lift to Allenby, who tried to avoid it but only managed to steer it inadvertently to Luke Ronchi in the slips. Allenby’s innings of 28 had consisted of seven fours, all struck through the off side off Doug Bracewell.
At lunch, Somerset were struggling on 54/5. Ben Wheeler had figures of 7-5-6-4.
In the afternoon session, Somerset captain Peter Trego followed his natural inclination to regard attack as the best form of defence and struck a swift if slightly chancy 40. He then holed out at deep square leg, mis-pulling a short ball from Neil Wagner to Mitchell Santner.
Wheeler bowled Josh Davey for 15, and though Craig Overton and Alex Barrow raised the score beyond 150 when spin was introduced for the first time, Barrow played all across an off-spinner from Mark Craig to be lbw for a hard fought 32. Somerset were now 165-8, which became 182-9 when Craig Overton edged Bracewell to Ross Taylor at first slip.
The match was skipping along at a good pace with runs and wickets in plentiful supply. Abdur Rehman hit off-spinner Mark Craig for 14 in one over, including a six over mid-wicket. But Neil Wagner had Rehman caught by Luke Ronchi for 19 and Somerset were all out for 204, conceding a lead of 33. Ben Wheeler took 5-18 in eleven overs. He looked in a different class from his colleagues. The remaining four New Zealand bowlers took five wickets for 175 runs at almost five an over.
New Zealand began their second innings with 36 overs in which to build on their lead. They lost Hamish Rutherford early on when he drove Tim Groenewald hard to cover and departed for 11. Thereafter, Tom Latham and Mitchell Santner batted serenely in the evening sunshine with few alarms, putting together a century partnership. Santner reached his fifty off only 56 balls with ten fours. He then lofted Abdur Rehman for six over long off.
Tom Latham’s fifty was slower but almost equally impressive, coming off 88 balls with six fours. He looked to be in for the duration but managed to play across a straight ball from Jim Allenby just before the close. In the day’s final over, nightwatchman Neil Wagner fell to Tim Groenewald, but New Zealand are still in a strong position to build on their lead tomorrow.