Richard Clark reports from Wombat CC
The simple story of this match is that Devon beat Somerset by 2 wickets. But that really is just the simple story, because there was so much more to it than one team beating another.
It may not quite have “had everything” in the way that a certain other match taking place on Sunday seemed to, but it had “most things” needed to make a compelling tussle, and as a final instalment – if that is what it was – in the story of the Women’s County Championship it did the game proud.
There was, of course, nothing at stake. Tell that to the players, though! Local pride is never to be sniffed at, and for Somerset’s part they were clearly eager to secure the six points required to climb above Worcestershire and out of the notional “relegation” zone.
Arrival at Wombat CC – a beautiful setting, and tremendously proud and enthusiastic hosts on the day – brought a scene to encourage any cricket lover. Yes, both teams warming up with the gusto one might expect ahead of the opening game of a new season, but also a lively All Stars session in full swing, with around 20 youngsters enjoying the warm sunshine
And those children would have a role to play shortly afterwards as they lined up for a guard of honour for the Devon team and the two Somerset openers as they took to the field. A lovely touch, the loveliest of touches.
The early stages gave little indication of any drama in store. Skipper Sophie Luff and Nicole Richards settled in, picking off the odd boundary and rotating the strike, whilst Devon were guilty of helping them along with a (un)healthy dose of wides. At 61 for none in the fifteenth over all was going swimmingly for the home side.
Enter Charlie Phillips with her gentle spin, first inducing an edge from Richards to Amara Carr behind the stumps, and then two balls later trapping Rebecca Odgers LBW for a duck. 61 for 2, and Somerset would never quite regain the control of the game that they looked to have during that initial period.
But Luff was still there and ticking along nicely. Along the way, she tucked Sophie Florides into the leg-side to move to 23 and in doing so passed Bryony Smith to become the leading run-scorer for the season across both forms of the game.
However, Phillips would prise her out on 30 with one that perhaps bounced a touch more than expected and took a top edge to lop up to Georgia Hennessy at slip, and then Hennessy repeated the dose at midwicket to claim Nat Wraith off Becca Silk. Somerset now 90 for 4 and in one of those could-go-either-way positions.
Emma Godman and Niamh Holland added 28 for the fifth wicket, but both went in the space of a few balls and from there the innings petered out somewhat. With more than seven overs unbowled Somerset were dismissed for 137, collecting just two bonus points, and meaning that they would almost certainly need to win the game (or take nine Devon wickets) to collect the points needed to lift themselves above Worcestershire.
The visitors began their reply in bullish style, Hennessy driving Georgia Tulip through extra cover, and then straight, for two picture-perfect boundaries in the opening over, but Tulip had her revenge soon afterwards as Hennessy feathered the ball through to Wraith to depart for 9. Game on?
Carr joined Claire Varcoe in the middle and the pair batted as fluently as any batsmen had all day, adding 41 for the second wicket. Both hit sixes – Carr depositing hers into the adjoining tennis courts – and for a while the match seemed to be heading inexorably Devon’s way until Luff turned to Richards, whose second over threw a major spanner in the works.
First Carr, who had looked utterly untroubled, attempted a sweep and was pinned in front for 16; two balls after that Emily Edgcombe picked out Godman at midwicket; and then from her second ball Olivia Churcher went the way of Carr for another duck. Three in five balls. 58 for 1 had become 58 for 4. Inexorable had become anything but.
And drama became crisis when, having watched all this unfold from the other end, Varcoe, on 28, then tickled the very next ball from Tilly Bond into Wraith’s gloves. Four in six balls. 58 for 5.
In hot water all of a sudden, Devon needed a cool head, preferably two of them. Rebecca Halliday and Milly Squire provided stability for a while, adding 18 for the sixth wicket before Richards picked up Squire for her fourth wicket. 76 for 6. Edgy stuff, this…
Once again a partnership developed as Becca Silk joined Halliday for 20 precious runs. Silk accumulated intelligently, whilst Halliday found the boundary from time to time, but with 42 still needed Niamh Holland found the perfect yorker to rattle her stumps and swing it Somerset’s way once more.
Luff rang the changes with her bowlers, but Silk and Phillips continued to collect the singles and Devon’s target came down, run by run. For a match that had nothing of any significance riding on it this was seriously gripping stuff. With 19 needed, Wraith claimed her third victim as Phillips edged Jodie Filer behind for 6. 119 for 8.
Yet again, a partnership, as Silk and Amanda Higginbotham stuck at their task, and this one would take Devon home pretty much one run at a time. Somerset did nothing wrong, there were no loose deliveries, no horrendous misfields, nothing handed to Devon on a plate. They had to work for every run.
To Tulip fell the honour of delivering the final ball in “official” Women’s County Cricket, and to Higginbotham the pleasure of swinging it out to deep midwicket and running through for a single. And that was that.
Silk deserves a mention here. A bowler by trade, her 15 wickets saw her finish as one of four joint leading wicket-takers in the Championship, but her batting won this day. Before the match her highest score in competitive county cricket this season was 5 (although she has a career top score of 40). Carrying her team to victory with 28 of the coolest and calmest unbeaten runs you could hope to see made her my player of the match.
That apart, one could pick at the bones and examine where the game was won and lost, the little things here and there that add up to make a difference, but somehow it feels irrelevant. It was a cracking match, and that’s all that needs to be said.
Somerset skipper Luff was philosophical afterwards. “It’s always challenging defending a below-par score. We back ourselves to defend anything but we probably missed two key bowlers yesterday. We didn’t quite have that fire power to bring back on to try to finish Devon off.”
On her own success with the bat, Luff added, “Personally it’s been a decent season, there have been a fair few times when I haven’t gone on and gone big and that’s been frustrating. You always want to be better, I guess. But in the majority of games I’ve led from the front and that’s something I really pride myself on.”
“We’re a very young group and I’m desperate to lead by example at the top of the order. Ultimately the way I played in a number of the T20s was down to the way we performed as a unit with the ball – chasing down less than a run a ball allowed me to take responsibility opening up the batting.”
Luff also expressed pride in the team’s T20 Division 2 triumph.
“I’m super proud of the girls for the way we performed in the T20. To finish top of the table is a fantastic achievement for this young group. They deserve that success and recognition and it’s been a complete team effort throughout that competition.”
Of the youngsters in the Somerset squad, Luff picked out Holland as one to watch for the future.
“Niamh is only 14 and has shown just what she is capable of at senior level. A genuine all-rounder, she’s been a great find with the ball for us this year. Having worked with her over the winter as her coach, to step on the field with her as her captain has been a real highlight. Seeing how she’s developed has been really pleasing.”
“Representing Somerset means an awful lot. It’s something I’ve done since the age of 12. It’s been a huge part of my life and to captain the team over the last couple of years has been a real privilege. Playing in what may be the last ever match is something I’ll probably look back on in years to come, and it’s fitting that it was against Devon. It’s always a close contest and a game I’ve always looked forward to over the years. Amara and I have played against each other for as long as I can remember so for us both to be out there as captains shows the journey within the county game. We’re great friends and I think that’s definitely a special element of county cricket and what it offers.”
Carr echoed Luff’s thoughts on the County game.
“County cricket over the years has opened up a lot of opportunities in the women’s cricket pathway and enabled me to experience different challenges along the way. I started my county cricket career as a shy 13-year old where women’s county cricket was the only cricket really available and I’m finishing having captained my home county for many seasons.”
“It’s exciting to see how much the women’s game has developed even since my childhood and all the opportunities it now has to offer young girls. I feel very proud to have been a part of the process and playing alongside some of the younger girls who I’ve since coached and seeing them playing their own part has been very rewarding.”