Kyle Abbott claims 17 wickets to put another dent in Somerset’s title ambitions

Cricket

Hampshire 196 (Dawson 103) and 226 (Vince 142) beat Somerset 142 (Abbott 9-40) and 144 (Davies 51, Abbott 8-46) by 136 runs

For the second day in a row, Kyle Abbott caused a major dent in Somerset’s title ambitions by running through their top, middle, and lower order to finish with 17 wickets in the match.

Abbott’s 17 for 86 amounted to the best first-class match figures since Jim Laker’s 19 for 90 against Australia in the fourth Test of the 1956 Ashes.

After a wicketless five-over opening burst, Abbott ripped the heart out of Somerset’s side in his second spell, getting the ball to reverse as he took six wickets in as many overs, pegging them back from 86 without loss to 100 for 7 in pursuit of 281. He returned to take two more wickets in his third spell, finishing the game by rearranging last man Josh Davey’s stumps to end with the fourth-best analysis in County Championship history, and the best-ever by a Hampshire bowler in any game.

For Somerset, it means that with Essex winning at Chelmsford against Surrey, they must beat the division’s new leaders at Taunton next week if they are to seal a maiden Championship title.

Also read: Surrey can’t stay out of Harmer’s way

Clutching as many bottles of beer as he could fit in his hands, Abbott sat out in the middle with his team-mates as the sun set over the Ageas Bowl and tweeted: “@EssexCricket you’re welcome….”

Abbott had suggested on the game’s second evening that the chance to “spoil Somerset’s party” had acted as a source of motivation, and that much was evident in his fiery spells.

“Especially once the captain and Hildreth went, we put a lot of pressure on that middle order,” he told ESPNcricinfo today. “There were a couple of youngsters in there, and even a couple of the senior players – we let them know that if they mess up, it’s gone. There’s a lot of pressure on winning this Championship.”

And if he needed a further carrot, it was clear that the sight of them lifting the Royal London Cup at Lord’s in May had offered one. “They celebrated against us at that final,” he said, “so we wanted to give them some hard work for next week against Essex.

“There are one or two teams around the country that set up for the way I like to bowl. I suppose they’re one.” It was quite the understatement; Abbott now has 35 wickets in his past six innings against Somerset, with a staggering average of 8.51. His career average in first-class cricket has dipped under 21 after his latest effort.

Signing a Kolpak deal in 2017 made plenty of sense for him and his family, but it should be a source of regret for the wider cricketing community that this great bowler will never again play internationally.

“From the first innings, with the new ball nipping, to now when it got flat – it was two different skillsets, with the reverse-swinging ball. I’m pretty happy to know that my skills are up to scratch, and whatever the conditions, I can take some wickets,” he reflected.

It had briefly seemed as though Somerset had a reasonable chance of chasing their target, with the pitch flattening out and drying under the baking sun, and their 86 was comfortably the highest opening partnership of the match.

But the procession started in tame fashion after lunch, as Murali Vijay skewed a pull shot to wide mid-on. As the ball began to reverse, their middle-order’s shortcomings were exposed. Tom Abell was taken by surprise by a ball that got up well off the pitch, before Tom Banton and George Bartlett were lbw playing across the line to successive inswingers.

Steven Davies – who held the key after starting brightly on his way to 51 – edged behind to one that nipped away, before Dom Bess was trapped leg-before to effectively finish the game as a contest.

Craig Overton summoned the spirit of Old Trafford to hang around as Lewis Gregory’s partner for a gritty stand of 40 in 14.2 overs, but fended a catch to slip from a back-of-a-length ball, before Davey was bowled to seal the game.

All told, 10 of Abbott’s 17 wickets were bowled or lbw, with four caught behind, and one held at slip, short leg and mid-on respectively. It was a relentless performance, and one that proved too good for Somerset.

Picking his players up from this disappointment will be the biggest test of Abell’s captaincy to date, but it is a task that he thinks he is up to.

“It’s a balance,” he said. “Obviously it’s not good enough, how we’ve performed, and today in particular. I think it was a relatively good wicket, and we haven’t put up enough of a fight.

“Equally, we want to be in as positive a frame of mind as we can be for next week. We all know we need to be better. I don’t think we’ll need too much picking up – there’s so much on the line and we’re all aware of what’s at stake. Ultimately, we’ve got to perform, and we’ve got to beat Essex.”

The elephant in the room for the Championship decider is that the forecast is poor for the first few days of the game, meaning that Somerset may have to force a result in double-quick time.

Outgoing groundsman Simon Lee – who ironically takes over at the Ageas Bowl next season – has always been willing to sacrifice his own reputation for the good of the side when necessary. While they will be conscious of the fact Essex have Simon Harmer in their ranks, the return of Jack Leach from England duty may tempt them to prepare a turning track.

“We’ll look at our squad and try and produce a wicket that best fits that,” said Abell. “Leachy’s had a fantastic summer, and he’s a world-class spin bowler, so hopefully he’ll have a big role to play.”

For the time being, though, it will feel like a long bus ride home to Taunton, with the lingering memories of Abbott’s remarkable haul to consider.

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