Published On: Sun, Apr 22nd, 2018

Hildreth punishes Worcestershire's drops

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James Hildreth batted Somerset into a dominant position © Getty Images

Somerset 202 (Barnard 5-52 and 255 for 9 (Hildreth 107*, Barnard 5-37) lead Worcestershire 179 (Gregory 4-51) by 278 runs

When talk turns to the contemporary Somerset batsman who might have contributed far more to England, it is usually presumed that the conversation is about Marcus Trescothick.

But James Hildreth, too, might have gone on to do fine things at Test level. He went close at times, captaining what is now known as the Lions side and being labelled “an extraordinary talent” by Justin Langer. But, when the door was ajar, he lacked the consistency required to kick it open. Now aged 33, that chance has probably gone.

But here, in scoring the 42nd century of his first-class career and his 40th for Somerset (only Viv Richards, with 47, Harold Gimblett with 49 and Trescothick, with 51, have more), he once again showed his class as a batsman and worth to his club. Just as he saved them in the final game of last year, when his century against Middlesex staved off the threat of relegation, he has so far contributed 159 runs in this low-scoring contest. There is every chance that could prove the difference between the teams.

Whether it does or not, this innings was a reminder that few batsmen in England time the ball so sweetly or have such a natural range of strokes.

If Somerset do go on to win this game, however, Worcestershire will rue their squandered opportunities. Hildreth alone has been dropped four times in this match – twice in each innings – including a let-off in the slips (Tom Fell put down the chance off Joe Leach) before he had scored on the way to this hundred. Had it been taken, Somerset would have been 11 for three. The second drop, also in the slips (George Rhodes put down a more straightforward chance off Steve Magoffin), came when Hildreth had 54.

Craig Overton was dropped early, too. Had he been taken, on four, as he should have been – Travis Head put down a simple chance at cover – Somerset would have been 159 for seven. As it was he helped Hildreth add 53 for the seventh-wicket and Somerset’s lead stretched beyond 200.

“We’ve dropped five chances in this game,” the Worcestershire bowling coach, Alan Richardson, said. “So if we win, we’ll have asked our bowlers to take 25 wickets.

“We genuinely believe we can still win this game, but we haven’t taken all the opportunities that have come our way and that’s frustrating.”

Defeat for Worcestershire would also be cruel reward for Ed Barnard‘s excellence. Having come into this game without a first-class five-wicket haul, he now has two of them and a maiden 10-wicket match to boot. And, as if that was not enough, he took Worcestershire within 23 runs of Somerset’s first-innings as he top-scored for his side with an increasingly elegant half-century.

It wasn’t just the calm head that impressed, either. Barnard produced some high-class strokes including a back-foot drive that would have pleased many Test batsmen.

The comparisons with Chris Woakes, at the same age, are obvious. Both have that calm, easy-going temperament that make them an asset in any dressing room. Both have all-round talents. And both, in their early 20s, faced questions over whether they have the pace to go a step further in the game.

As things stand, Barnard bowls at about 80mph. In conditions like this, with a Dukes ball and well-grassed pitches where no heavy roller is used, his ability to swing the ball away and persuade the odd one back in with a wobble seam is more than enough to render him a valuable player. He knows, though, that to progress to international level he requires more pace. And while he has certainly gained a yard in the last year or so – and feels there is more to come – he doesn’t quite have Woakes’ height or frame to suggest he will be able to replicate that level of success. He is, however, going to score many runs and take many wickets for Worcestershire.

While the pitch has eased a little, the indentations created on the first day will mean enough deliveries will continue to misbehave to ensure bowlers remain in business for the rest of this match. So while you suspect Somerset already have enough runs, they will be acutely aware of a similar game at this stage last year when they set Essex 255 to win in the fourth innings and lost by eight wickets courtesy of an Alastair Cook century.

A second successive defeat would look grim for Worcestershire. In truth, though, they look every inch good enough to play in this division. They have looked every bit of potent with the ball as Somerset and, while their batting was a bit flaky, there is a lot of that about in English cricket at present. It is their fielding that has really cost them, though if one of their top-order makes a century tomorrow, they could yet leave Taunton with a victory.

Off the pitch, meanwhile, Jamie Overton has been sent for a scan on his sore side and Lewis Gregory has been the subject of a 28-day approach from another county. As part of Somerset’s campaign to keep Gregory, the club have embraced the idea of preparing more seam-friendly surfaces at the expense of the spinning pitches which have been characteristic in recent seasons. He has also been appointed captain of the T20 side.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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