Yorkshire cricket is the epitome of hard, correct cricket. Lancashire cricket is always bowling into the wind, beating the edge and wondering if luck will ever shine on the Red Rose. Kent cricket, I somehow feel, should always be played in a manner that has the ghosts of Woolley and Cowdrey murmuring their approval.
These, of course, are generalisations.
So if Trent Bridge remains the loveliest of Test grounds ("A lotus land for batsman", as Cardus wrote, "where it is always afternoon and 360 for 2"), I’ve nonetheless always thought of Nottinghamshire as a kind of junior Yorkshire. From Arthur Carr and Larwood and Voce to Clive Rice and Richard Hadlee, Notts cricket has been tough, serious* and purposeful. It’s a surprise, then, that this is only their sixth championship.
Somerset cricket is rather different. Often hopeless but never serious, it’s been a struggle most summers. 12 Wooden Spoon finishes tell you that. If one associates Derbyshire cricket with three-jumper, drizzle-infested April days, Somerset cricket is at the other extreme: carefree late-summer afternoons as some beefy-shouldered local lad entertains a crowd of red-faced rustics with the last lusty hitting of the year.
Harold Gimblett, Arthur Wellard and Ian Botham are part of this story and so, slapping bowlers through cover in his uncomplicated style, is the latest Taunton hero Marcus Trescothick.
But because the county has never produced enough quality players, it has frequently relied upon outsiders to provide the leadership. There was the Australian Bill Alley and then, in the 1970s, Brian Close – the sine qua non of mad, magnificent Yorkshire bastards – brought some grit to ciderland. Latterly, another pair of Aussies, Jamie Cox and Justin Langer, have performed similar functions. And yet, for all this and despite the talents of Richards and Garner, Crowe and Cook, Ponting and Waugh and many others, the County Championship has always evaded Somerset.
It was Botham who brought me to Somerset or Somerset to me and I’ve spent 30 summers waiting for a tilt at history. Only once, in 2001, had Somerset looked like they might finally make it. But that was the summer Yorkshire regained the championship for the first time since 1968 and, clearly, the romance of a Somerset triumph couldn’t compete with a White Rose side awakening the echoes of past glories.
This year was different. A team that was half Somerset born-or-educated and half-imported from elsewhere seemed to have as good a chance as any in a season without an obviously outstanding side. And so it proved: Trescothick led the way and James Hildreth enjoyed an England-quality summer while Willoughby and Kartik provided the bowling. Only twice were Somerset defeated and as Notts faltered in the final stretch it looked as though, after 120 years of trying, the title could be won.
This afternoon’s drama was excruciating: Yorkshire fell against Kent while, at last and all too soon, the rain relented at Old Trafford permitting Notts to chase the batting points they needed to overhall Somerset who, all day, were the leaders on the road. But Durham batted stubbornly and time was running out at the Riverside even as it seemed to expand in Manchester.
In the virtual tug-of-war between them Notts began to make some headway as they searched for 400. The last-wicket pair of Pattinson and Sidebottom ground out the final ten runs needed knowing that failing to do so would almost certainly hand the title to Somerset. Meanwhile, in Durham, Somerset faced an improbable 180 to win off just 16 overs. Kieswetter and Trescothick heaved valiantly but only briefly and all too quickly it was clear that it would not be enough and Somerset were left hoping Lancashire could guard their wickets stubbornly.
They tried but Notts’ dander was up and, requiring three wickets but having at best an hour to get them, there was a keeness to Nottinghamshire’s bowling that proved damnably irresistible. Brown fell in the fourth over before Adams, fittingly the leading wicket-taker this summer, roared in to dismiss Chilton with the first delivery of the fifth over and then, with a boisterous sense of inevitability, Chanderpaul three balls later.
And that was that. To Nottinghamshire the spoils; to Somerset the sorrow. In truth, Notts earned their spurs today but Somerset were left with a rueful sense of what might have been that is all the more sorry for its novelty.
Maybe next year? But when it’s been next year for 120 years and you come within 20 minutes of finally winning the Championship you wonder if next year really exists. Another summer that’s good and gone, all that’s left are the memories and might have beens.
*Derek Randall, bless him, is an obvious exception to this.