James Hildreth hit the most remarkable century of his prolific career to boost Somerset’s title hopes on the opening day of the Specsavers County Championship match with Nottinghamshire at the Cooper Associates County Ground.
However, Nottinghamshire seamer Jake Ball also had a day to remember, finishing with six for 47 as five wickets fell for no runs in the space of 22 balls at the end of the day, leaving Somerset 322 for nine.
Hildreth hit a heroic 135, having been struck a painful blow on an ankle by a delivery from Ball when on only seven. Despite struggling to walk and batting with a runner for most of his innings, the 32-year-old faced 233 balls, hitting 17 fours and a six, and shared a stand of 269 with Chris Rogers (132), a Somerset record for the third wicket against Notts.
Rogers 75th first-class century, his second for Somerset, was reached off 152 deliveries, with 14 fours, helping his side recover from 33 for two.
After Hildreth was dismissed Somerset tweeted a picture of his damaged ankle that showed it to be almost black with bruising. Should his innings help the county win their first ever Championship title this week, it will go down in cricket folklore.
Things didn’t look good for the hosts after they had won the toss when Ball produced an excellent spell from the Somerset Pavilion End, removing both openers. Marcus Trescothick had cruised to 25 when getting a thin edge to an attempted drive and being caught behind, while Tom Abell, on eight, chipped a simple catch to mid-wicket off a full delivery. Not long after joining Rogers, Hildreth failed to get a bat on another full leg-side delivery from Ball and hopped about clearly in a lot of pain before continuing.
Soon he had to summon Abell from the pavilion as a runner and it looked touch and go whether he would be able to continue. At times it was painful even watching him limp into position to face the bowling. By lunch Hildreth and Rogers had taken the score to 99 for two. They then batted throughout the afternoon session without giving a chance, adding a further 116.
Rogers reached his hundred with the total on 209 with a four through extra cover off Brett Hutton. The veteran Australian has not been as prolific as he would have liked in his first season with Somerset, but this was an innings to cherish.
Hildreth followed his skipper to three figures, moving to 98 with a six over deep square off Imran Tahir, before getting to his ton off 199 balls with the total on 260. When their stand reached 266 it beat the previous third-wicket record for Somerset against Notts, set by Chris Tavare and Richard Harden at Taunton in 1992. Shortly afterwards Rogers fell to the second new ball, caught at second slip attempting a back-foot forcing shot off Ball. He had faced 204 balls and extended his boundary count to 18.
Hildreth received a standing ovation from all around the ground after being caught behind fencing at a ball from Hutton. By then he had faced 233 deliveries, hitting 17 fours and a six.
At 308 for four, Somerset still looked on course for maximum batting points but Peter Trego and Lewis Gregory were both dropped in taking the total to 322 and what happened after that was the stuff of nightmares for Somerset supporters. Gregory was bowled aiming to hit Tahir through mid-wicket, Trego was pinned lbw by Ball and Craig Overton was taken at third slip off the same bowler. Roelof van der Merwe went leg before to Tahir and when Ryan Davies edged Ball to second slip the teams headed off with Somerset wondering how they had let such a promising position slip.
Taking about James Hildreth’s remarkable innings Chris Rogers said: “It was a fantastic innings and we knew we were in a little bit of a hole after losing a couple of early wickets and we needed a partnership. We have both been struggling for a little bit of form and something like this changed our mindset and it helped us both which was fantastic.”
Reflecting on the game overall Chris said: “It’s frustrating to lose seven wickets for 27 runs in that position. It’s almost unforgivable. A couple of words were said after the close, but we are still in a decent position looking at the other game that is going on. We are okay and just need to win the game now.”
James Hildreth said : “I was in a lot of pain but you are quite fortunate in cricket that you can have a runner, and although I was hobbling around at the crease a bit it’s not too bad and I didn’t have to do the running. I think I have worked out that it’s probably better if you don’t move your feet at all and maybe that’s the way for me to go!”
Reflecting on the last few overs Hildy said: “It was hugely frustrating at the end of the day. I think me and Chris getting out close together didn’t help but to lose seven wickets for 20 odd runs is not good at all. As a team we are very disappointed with the way that we finished the day. We had a chat and the boys aren’t happy, but if you take that away we are still in an alright position.
“If this last wicket pair can find us 28 runs from somewhere that would be amazing but we are in a good position compared to the other game. All of the points in this game are massive now so we are disappointed and didn’t expect that – especially with some of the guys in our team who are playing brilliantly. The new ball came and Jake Ball bowled quite well with it. The weather was gloomy but there aren’t too many demons in the pitch. A few balls have spun and I think our bowlers will exploit the pitch which looks like it is breaking up a bit now. It’s a pretty good wicket and if you bowl in the right areas it offers a bit of assistance to the bowlers.”