In what was an engaging match from start to finish, the home side just could not find a way to press home a hard-fought advantage that they had gained on the first two days at the Home of Cricket.
On day one, all eyes were on Sam Robson; the English opener had really struggled for form in recent years but he put on a dazzling display, scoring 165 runs before Lewis Gregory had him caught behind in a scintillating display of long-form batting.
The Seaxes battled beyond the 300 mark on a difficult pitch to secure a third batting point, thanks in no small part to some sensible tail batting from Toby Roland-Jones, before being bowled out for 313 – Lewis Gregory the pick of the bowlers taking 5-68.
In recent years, Middlesex’s biggest issue has been putting together a complete performance, being able to put on a score with the bat and then take apart the opposition with the ball; you tend to get one or the other. But this match felt different.
A combination of veteran Tim Murtagh and youngster Ethan Bamber caused the Somerset batsmen endless issues and, at one point, the team from the South-West were reeling at 89-9, well short of avoiding the follow-on. Enter Marchant de Lange.
Somerset’s new overseas signing raised some eyebrows from fans, who maybe wanted an experienced batsman in their overseas slot to bolster the team’s engine room. Now, De Lange cannot be described as a batsman in the classical sense of the word; he tends to employ a more aggressive approach to run-scoring. However, when you have an eye as good as his, this approach is as good as any.
The South African, ably supported by Jack leach (who has some experience in crucial tenth wicket partnership situations), slashed his way to 51 runs off only 50 balls, hitting five fours and one maximum. A clever in-swinging Yorker from Martin Andersson eventually accounted for his wicket, but not before Somerset had avoided the follow-on.
Once again, Middlesex had got close to showing off the ability that this squad’s potential suggests it is capable of but failed to truly press home their advantage.
What came next was something that I am only really comfortable with referring to as sorcery. For some quick context, the weather in London this weekend was Baltic; what most village cricketers would refer to as a ‘double jumper day’. The wicket was also as green, as you would expect a wicket in England on the 10th of April to be. Nevertheless, England’s front-line left-arm spinner had the ball turning at right angles.
His control and aggressive lines and lengths, combined with some great bowling from his teammates Gregory, Davey and Craig Overton (who took an impressive four wickets), meant that by the middle of the 52nd over, Middlesex were all out for 143. Suddenly, Middlesex’s position of control in the match had disappeared completely in the space of 11 wickets across two innings.
Now in the position that Middlesex had been in two days prior, Somerset decided to show the Seaxes how you press home an advantage. Once again, Bamber impressed with the ball (finishing with match figures of 33.2 – 9 -101 – 6) but there was not much in the way of support from his fellow seamers.
Apart from a brief wobble just before lunch, they never looked like they expected anything else but to win.
Somerset captain Tom Abell was the pick of the batsmen, scoring 84(145), but once again it was Lewis Gregory that came to the fore for Somerset as they began to falter. Alongside a stoic looking 23-year-old George Bartlett, who himself scored a patient and disciplined 76(150), the allrounder scored an unbeaten 62 from only 72 balls, that quickly took any chance of a result away from the home side.
Between them, they achieved a match-winning, unbeaten partnership of 98 runs.
For Somerset, this is a huge result. One would assume that things will only get easier for their bowling unit, as wickets dry and their big quicks and clever spinners are able to extract even more bounce and turn. To have come from a position that looked sure to result in a follow-on, to eventually win on the final day without much trouble shows just how good this side continues to be.
Middlesex on the other hand will only be feeling frustration. This was their chance, against the level of opposition they believe they should be playing against, to make a statement. Instead, they failed to enforce a follow on, they failed to post a big final innings total for the visitors to chase, and finally, they failed to defend the runs they did score.
I wrote on day one that Middlesex had all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order. Well, just when the cacophony seemed to finally be building into a symphony, they forgot how to play their instruments.