James Hildreth performed a different but nonetheless vital role for Somerset as they drew with Middlesex in the Specsavers County Championship at Lord’s.
Normally one of the most attacking batsmen on the circuit, the 31-year-old dug in for nearly four hours for his unbeaten 85 in Somerset’s second innings to take his First Class aggregate to 631 this season.
Having conceded a first innings deficit of 47, his side were effectively 10 for 4 in the 19th over and ran into more trouble when off-spinner Ollie Rayner picked up three wickets in 11 balls after Hildreth and Peter Trego had put on 99 for the fifth wicket.
Craig Overton showed once again that he is a more than capable number nine as he helped Hildreth put on an unbeaten 44 for the eighth wicket either side of tea. When bad light stopped play Somerset were 202 for 7, a lead of 155, and the players shook hands on what was both teams’ sixth draw out of six shortly afterwards.
Tim Murtagh picked up both openers Tom Abell (9) and Marcus Trescothick (5) in his new-ball spell before Rayner, who came on at the pavilion end in the 12th over, began to make his mark. With his sixth ball he removed Somerset skipper Chris Rogers, who was caught behind pushing forward to a ball that turned just enough to find a feint outside edge. Rayner then took a one-handed catch at second slip, diving to his right to remove Jim Allenby who was tempted into a drive when James Harris pitched the ball up.
Somerset were in trouble, but Hildreth and Peter Trego used all their experience to blunt Middlesex for 25 overs either side of lunch. Trego made 58 from 80 balls with six fours and a six and couldn’t believe his luck when his slog sweep off Rayner was superbly caught by Harris, running in from the deep backward square-leg boundary.
Middlesex were revived and the momentum shift continued with the next ball which Lewis Gregory pushed at and was held at slip by James Franklin. When Ryan Davies missed a forcing shot through the leg side in Rayner’s next over to also fall for a duck Somerset were wobbling on 158 for 7, a lead of just 111. But Hildreth remained unmoved. His footwork against Rayner, who remained the biggest threat, was exemplary with several of his 11 boundaries coming from piercing drives through the off side. He faced 146 deliveries and batted for 206 minutes.
Overton was less certain against the turning ball but both were able to negotiate the seamers operating in rotation at the other end with relative ease. Earlier, slow left-armer Jack Leach bowled Tim Murtagh for 14 to finish with 5 for 77 from 30 overs as Middlesex were bowled out for 423 in their first innings.
Shortly after the game ended as a draw Chris Rogers said: “If we had been offered a draw at the start of the day I would have said yes please because Middlesex were really the only side who could win it at that stage. There just wasn’t enough time for us to take 10 wickets. Equally we let an opportunity slip because we went into day two in a relatively decent position and we weren’t quite on our game. We would have liked to have got a few more runs and then bowled at them and taken some early wickets. They got to almost 200 without loss which was not good enough on a wicket that was offering a little bit with the new ball.
“If we had got ourselves into a better position after the end of the first innings for both sides I think we could have had a crack at them at the end of day four when batting was at it’s toughest. There have been some very good signs in this game with a lot of important individual performances but I want to see more of us contributing all of the time.”
The skipper was full of praise for Hildreth. “I am particularly pleased with Hildy’s performance,” he said. “He is becoming one of the best number four batsmen I have been lucky enough to play with in domestic cricket and that is saying a lot. He has dug us out of a hole a couple of times and he should be very proud of that.”
He added: “We are only one win away from being right up there, so we just have to keep on playing well and putting four days of cricket together and that’s the key for me.”