Surrey 345 (Stoneman 67, Bess 5-101) drew with Somerset 436 (Davies 142, Abell 96, Bess 55)
There is a danger that some will look at the venue for this match, draw conclusions, and dismiss Dominic Bess’ performances.
And it is true that, on at least a couple of occasions towards the end of the 2016 season, Bess benefited disproportionately from turning surfaces that even Matt Maynard, Somerset’s director of cricket, admits were not great for the game.
But Bess can bowl. As a wonderfully aggressive offspinner, he looks as if he will be intimidated by nothing and no one (he gave one of the umpires a fearful scowl mid-way through his first over on debut against Pakistan last year), he gives the ball a sharp tweak – “he turns it more than Robert Croft did,” Maynard enthuses – has a lovely change of pace and, for his age, impressive control. He celebrated his 20th birthday less than three weeks ago.
“He’s one of the better offspinners I’ve seen at this stage of a career,” Maynard said. “We had drinks with the opposition after the second day here and I was interested to see he spent an hour or so picking the brain of Gareth Batty. It’s probably Batty he reminds me of most.”
This surface offered little if any turn. There was a hint of uneven pace about it – Mark Stoneman was defeated as he pushed at one; if batsmen didn’t try to score, there was little here to worry them – but to dismiss his latest five-for as soft would be unfair and inaccurate. He now has five five-wicket hauls in six Championship games in his career to date and is averaging 16.63 across them. Yes, they have all been in Taunton. And yes, there will be tougher days ahead. But in a land not exactly over-burdened with good quality spinners, he is a significant talent and one to keep a very close eye upon. He can bat, too, as a maiden half-century here suggests.
Bess’ excellence helped Somerset achieve maximum bonus points with bat and ball for the first time this season. The rain-ruined third day pretty much eliminated any hopes of better and, though there was just a moment when optimistic Somerset supporters might have dreamt of taking 19 wickets in the day, Stoneman’s skill – and, later, Rikki Clarke’s – helped Surrey avoid the follow-on with seven wickets down. That guaranteed a dull draw.
To be fair, there has rarely been much wrong with Somerset’s bowling. Craig Overton is developing into a fine cricketer and is rated by many at Somerset as the more likely of the brothers to challenge for the Ashes tour. Crucially he has, as Maynard puts it “a change-up in pace” as well as a “change down”. At his quickest, with his height and his skills, he could prove a dangerous proposition. Crucially, from an England perspective, he appears to have added control to his game to ensure he can maintain pressure on flat surfaces.
Somerset also hope Jamie Overton may yet be available for the final three Championship matches of the season. He has resumed running and will start bowling again next week. If precautionary scans after that show no sign of a fracture, he will soon be back in the side. When he has been fit this season, he has looked as good as anyone in England.
“I expect, by the time they retire, they’ll both look back on England careers,” Maynard said.
The club have Dean Elgar for their next three T20 matches and hope to have the services for Fakhar Zaman shortly. He has obtained a work permit – which should prove the hard part – and is now just waiting for a visa. He has a plane ticket on hold and is expected to arrive within a week. He should arrive in time to help out in what is clearly a battle to avoid relegation.
The future, though, remains home-grown. While Championship results this season have been disappointing – almost entirely due to modest batting – Maynard is delighted by a transition towards a younger, more locally developed squad.
“We’re getting to the stage where we have a critical mass of players who have grown up wanting to play for Somerset,” he said. “It’s not 11 individuals out there; it’s a team of 11. I’m not sure that was the case before. We had some talented individuals – the likes of Nick Compton and Craig Kieswetter – but I don’t know if they were as committed to the success of the team.”
Intriguingly, Maynard also makes no secret of the fact that he “would love Jos Buttler back at Somerset”.
“I’m desperate to have him back,” he says. “I have been since I first signed here. Young cricketers here aspire to be Jos and, even if he wasn’t available much, I think he’d be a huge asset around the club. I’ve no idea what his contract situation at Lancashire is, but if he ever wanted to come back, we’d love to have him.”
There will be something of a clear-out at the end of the season. While no players have yet been told they are surplus to requirements – Adam Hose rejected a long-term contract – several have had mid-season appraisals that have left them in little doubt. Maynard, however, has provided assurances that he will remain until at least the end of his contract at the end of the 2019 season.
Surrey, meanwhile, move up to fourth with this result. With Stoneman picked by England they are, in their coach Michael Di Venuto’s words, “looking for an opener”. The loss of Dominic Sibley to Warwickshire “still really hurts”. Arun Harinath, who might have been allowed to leave with a year remaining on his contract had he found regular first-team cricket elsewhere (he has been on loan at Leicestershire in recent times), may well find himself winning another opportunity.
Looking further ahead, Di Venuto admits that Mitchell Marsh is a leading option as overseas player for the 2018 season – allowing him to gain familiarity with conditions ahead of the Ashes in England in 2019 – and is delighted with the recruitment of Clarke as an “attack leader” and role-model for the Curran brothers.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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