ESS v SOM, Chelmsford, 28th April - 1st May 2004
Unfortunately, I arranged this visit a while back, so my itinerary was for an early morning start Wednesday, a couple of nights b&b, and a late journey home Friday, certain the game would be wrapped up inside 3 days.
Wednesday: A fairly fast train from Bristol to Paddington, tube to Liverpool Street and a quick Chelmsford train to the main home of Essex again, almost 3 years since my last visit when Somerset virtually relegated Essex from division 1 immediately after our successful 2001 C&G trophy final.
Alas, the welcome was a thoroughly dampened outfield with covers on, and a pitch inspection at 3pm. Chelmsford now boasts permanent floodlights at this small ground, and a brief look at their NCL and 20:20 fixtures showed they were going to have more day/night matches than day matches! Is this a good thing? Deciding against the £12 entry fee at 12:30pm, hoping that entrance might be reduced later, I ventured to my first public house just outside the ground; and what seemed moments later to my second when the first was not open all day!
Play did start at 4pm, but the entrance fee had not been reduced, so thinking of all counties plight this summer to balance their books, I gave up my hard-earned (hard-saved) dosh and ventured in to the ground. Shepherd Neame is their tipple, so I paid for one (£2.75 !!!) and took a tour of the ground. Four other Somerset fans were in one of the stands, with another contingent headed by our ex-Chairman Richard Parsons in front of the main pavilion. Wherever you travel, it's good to see someone else has made the effort.
Somerset: Bowler, Francis J, Wood, Cox, Burns, Laraman, Turner, Dutch, Johnson, Caddick, McLean with Parsy as 12th man.
Essex: Flower, Jefferson, Cook, Habib, Pettini, Foster, Middlebrook, Napier, Stephenson, Kaneria, Brant.
Somerset had won the toss and were going to bat for the designated 40 overs remaining that day.
There were deliveries that just missed outside edges, and some loud lbw appeals, but Bowler and Francis took their time to block, drive when the ball was there, and generally looked to be going along steadily, the ball holding up on the extremely slow damp outfield. So it was with some surprise that Stephenson pitched one up to the driving Francis, found his inside edge and the ball looped up to Pettini at square leg, and he was out for a dogged 18.
Wood had looked very good at no.6 against Derby last week, but with the absence of Edwards in the squad, he was promoted to no.3. Bowler and Wood then ensured no further losses that evening, despite a pressure spell from their spinner Kaneria, with a crowded field, and plenty of appealing; Bowler playing out the last few overs on 49. Close of play: 87 for 1 off 40 overs.
Thursday: After sharing a few stories at breakfast with Radio Bristol commentator Phil Tottle who was staying in the same hotel, I remarked that at least it was dry that morning. Within minutes, the heavens opened and remained so for some considerable time. At 10am I certainly wasn't going to cough up another £12 just yet, so I ventured into Chelmsford's shopping precinct to check out some pubs that I thought I might visit that day. I found The Ivory Peg, a Wetherspoons pub that was ok, cheap, and sold Blackthorn (£1.85). Around 4pm, the rain seemed to have stopped, so I walked alongside the river, up over the bridge and down the other side of the river to the riverside entrance where there were no gatemen; now this was a bit cheaper! Umpires Cowley and Jones (Alan Arthur) were just on their way out to the middle for an inspection, so perhaps I might get some play? I went straight to the pavilion and purchased some more Spitfire, this time £2.50 (don't know why, perhaps feeling sorry for us West Country folk), and settled down just in time for the announcement that play had been abandoned for the day!
Friday: Surely it couldn't be as depressing as yesterday, but the forecast was bleak and the roads and pavements were wet; at least it wasn't raining. I went back to the Ivory Peg and resumed where I'd finished yesterday. I left there at 10:55am, went round to the manned gates just as the umpires were coming out. The gatemen's advice was to go for a walk round Chelmsford because play was almost certainly going to be halted very shortly. I explained this was my last day, and I was going to see a bit more cricket, so I bit the bullet, paid another £12 and made my way to the pavilion. Within 5 minutes, and another £2.50 Spitfire, the players were leaving the pitch because of light rain, and covers came on!
Thankfully it was a break of only 5 overs, so it wasn't too long before play resumed. I was then joined in the pavilion by Dasher and his good lady, plus a.n.other (forgotten his name, sorry), and the beer consumption picked up pace a little!
There seemed to be a little more urgency out on the pitch too, Matt Wood quickly advancing to 34 before Kaneria got through his defence and bowled him.
Jamie Cox then entered the arena, stamping his authority on proceedings with some aggressive batting before edging one from Brant to Jefferson in the slips for a quick 22.
Captain Burns was next in. There certainly wasn't any joke bowling, so runs had to be taken (rather than given) and both played their shots, Bowler more circumspect, Burns aggressive. By late afternoon it became obvious that we were after all the bonus points we could get. We declared exactly on 400 with the loss of just 3 wickets, Bowler and Burns both undefeated on 187 and 124 respectively, both deserving of the rapturous applause from the small Somerset contingent, and gracious applause from the sparse Essex crowd. So now to get Caddick & Johnno fired up to get after their batsmen for the remaining 10 overs or so before close of play. No wickets were taken, but both bowlers let the Essex openers know they were around!
Unfortunately, this was my last spell at the game, but I left safe in the knowledge that this was a game we couldn't lose; could we get them out twice? Would there be some sort of agreement? Would Essex make a declaration to stop us getting all bowling bonus points? In the end, no to all these, but we certainly gave them a scare, dismissing them and enforcing a follow-on before bad light called a halt to the proceedings, Dutchie taking a 5-for on his return to Championship cricket. In the end, an entertaining game over approx 2 days, but another case of 'what might have been but for the weather'.