The Telegraph

Somerset’s home record in peril following latest batting collapse

Somerset (312 & 149) lead Gloucestershire (309) by 152 runs While Hampshire, armed with their new-ball attack, continue to set the pace in Group Two of the new (and officially one-off) championship structure, Somerset were widely assumed to be the second county from that group who would qualify for the top division when that stage is reached in September. They have, after all, been runners-up in four of the past five county red-ball seasons. This assumption, though, was challenged when Gloucestershire made a splendid fist of this derby, and a surprising one too, as they had been blown away for 76 and 70 last year. The visitors achieved parity on first innings then forced Somerset’s top order to collapse not for the first time this season, so that they are close to losing their first home championship game since 2017, and Gloucestershire – chasing 153 – to winning their first red-ball game in Taunton this century. In this season’s edition of their eternal pursuit of the holy grail which would be their first-ever championship, Somerset have a pace attack as potent as ever, and Jack Leach for spin until June, but retain a rookie opening partnership which makes their batting vulnerable. After they collapsed against Middlesex at Lord’s, Somerset’s bowlers bounced back with ball and bat to win from far behind, and they have been forced to depend on a similar formula here. The heir apparent to Jos Buttler as England’s white-ball keeper/batsman, Tom Banton, who has played 15 white-ball internationals and is still only 22, has been given the task of opening this championship season. It would be the making of Banton’s batting if he can rise to this occasion after his disturbed winter, which brought a halt to the brilliant successes he has had in T20 cricket. Banton has been the youngest cricketer locked in England’s biobubbles – even younger than Sam Curran – so it may not be coincidental that nobody has found it so hard. Having gone on the white-ball tour of South Africa before Christmas, Banton did not play a game and, after being stuck in a Cape Town hotel for a month, decided to go home instead of quarantining in Australia in preparation for their Big Bash League. After this fruitless autumn, Banton played a little after Christmas, in Abu Dhabi and Pakistan; but that was white ball, this is April in England when the red ball is nibbling around. Their captain, Tom Abell, is booked in at three, and their senior batsman, James Hildreth, at four, to rescue them from top-order collapses like their second innings in this game. The only spare spots are No 5 and opening. Banton gamely took first ball when Somerset started their second innings four runs ahead, and immediately threw his bat at a wide half-volley, then missed two consecutive balls in defence, all in David Payne’s first over. Banton’s first eight runs were edged fours. He began to time a few, especially off his legs, but was soon caught at third slip pushing at Matt Taylor from round the wicket. So difficult for a player brought up on white-ball hitting to defend with a dead bat. Tom Lammonby was another young Somerset batsman to prove there is nothing harder in county cricket than learning on the job as an opener without an experienced partner to supply the details. A tentative half-forward push at Ryan Higgins gave him his third duck in a row, after making three centuries in his six first-class games last season, including his one in the Bob Willis Trophy final at Lord’s that was not much inferior to Sir Alastair Cook’s. Hildreth, 36, held up Gloucestershire’s medium-pacers either side of the 80-minute break for the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral, but overall Somerset’s batsmen were too passive, lacking any urgency in their search for a single as they were rolled for 149. Day two: Bracey makes Test case with timely century Gloucestershire (301-8) trail Somerset by 11 runs

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