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The Sun Shines on Exmouth - Devon Under 21s Fall 115 Short against strong Somerset Side

Sunny Exmouth was a picture and the arrival at the Maer was an easy one without the normal school holiday crowds. This early game against Somerset could have been many things but it indeed ended up as being very meaningful to the Devon Under 21 squad. The team sheets revealed a great deal as did the confidence of Somerset’s captain, Andy Caddick, as he advised Devon’s new captain Jack Porter that the twenty pence coin would come down heads and Somerset would bat, it did and they did. Devon were fielding a side with an average age of just over eighteen and a half, Somerset a team with 72 test caps, 64 ODI appearances over 12,500 first class runs and 1,633 wickets. An interesting encounter it would be. Carl Gazzard and John Francis opened up, Adam Dibble bowled a maiden all was right in the world. After another nine overs Somerset were 70-0, the fielding restrictions of the Southern Counties did not help the bowlers but 38 of the first 60 deliveries bowled by Dibble and Mark Orchard were dots interspersed with seven fours and three sixes as the good was left or blocked and the bad despatched, the stats reveal Devon bowled more good ones than bad! Ross Acton replaced Orchard at the pavilion end and second ball had Francis caught by Lewis Gregory, new batsman Wes Durston took the one run off Acton’s first over off his first ball. Adam Dibble then finished his six over spell, which had shown much promise but when pitching slightly shorter he tended to be deposited in the car park or cafe, In fact only three of the scoring shots off his bowling were not boundaries so he could be pleased with his performance. The captain came on at the sea end and Devon started to control the scoring rate with some first class keeping with Yau standing up to both, tight bowling and excellent fielding. After twenty the score was 102 and twenty five 120 as Gazzard and Durston demonstrated how to bat on a typical Exmouth track that after all the recent rain had amazingly some bounce and carry. Chris Metters replaced Porter at the half way stage and his spell of ten overs 1-41 confirmed his promise. Ross Acton completed his ten overs with the excellent figures 1-37. Metters removed the second Somerset batsman, Wes Durston, in the thirty-third over when the captain held the catch. This brought to the wicket King’s under 17 Jos Buttler who had been a key batsmen in the West of England’s win at the national festival the previous summer. His school average was approaching 200 for the season and his forty-eight minute stay at the crease revealed his immense potential and talent. He faced just 61 balls in reaching his 86, his fifty came off 44 and he was pure quality. The ball eluded fielders' vain attempts to catch him and perhaps, later in the season with more confidence, the catch would have been opted for on a couple of occasions as opposed to the run saving approach. Gazzard was holding down the other end as the pair put on 122 with Buttler given total freedom and he took it. Joe Thompson was given his first county bowl and, after five overs which went for under seven in the onslaught, was replaced by Devon’s shock bowler, Josh Bess, who went for thirty off his three as the momentum was building despite a confident appeal for a caught behind off Gazzard being turned down. Porter came back to stem the tide and Buttler unwisely picked out the seven foot nothing Adam Dibble who plucked the ball out of the air as it was on target for the bowling green. Mark Orchard had returned to the attack and his final two overs went for nearly as many as his first five as Somerset was rampant. Cornwall’s Carl Gazzard reached three figures and Buttler had been replaced by Banks who hit 15 off five including the one chance that went down all innings when Hardy put him down at long off. Next ball Tim Piper gave Orchard his deserved wicket as he caught Gazzard. The final ball off the innings crossed the rope on the bounce and cottage pie was enjoyed in the knowledge that a run rate of just under 6 was needed against a reasonable attack! Rocks and hard places entered the mind. The fielding had stood up to the test with the arms of Bess and Porter ensuring that there were no threes in the innings. A conscious decision had been made in preparing for the summer that there was no room in the side for passengers in the field, there were none today –outstanding.

 Being naturally a pessimist it was easy to see disaster on the horizon, inwardly you knew that Somerset would not want to humiliate this young group but it never crossed the mind that Devon would lose only one more wicket than their opponents, this was only due to a middle order collapse against spin and that at one time the captain would be setting a target of 200 plus for his batters. It was only two and a half for the first ten but no wickets and Caddick easing himself back in harness with Andrew Sutton, who had joined Somerset from the MCC Young Cricketers. Hardy tested second slip and gully but the general atmosphere in the pavilion was improving.  The openers reached 43 off fifteen when Josh Bess took on Caddick but found his climb too steep and his attempted pull ended up down Craig Merchede’s throat for 21, he had been at the crease for a minute under the hour and looked in good form. With other priorities and hopefully a long run in the county team in front of him this might be his final appearance at this level. He has developed well over the years, to share the Player of the Year Award last summer and given much to Devon youth cricket.  Enter Lewis Gregory and with Hardy now starting to feel at home in this company the pair put on 79 in six minutes over the hour and off 107 balls. Gregory’s pedigree has never been in doubt but it would not have been a surprise if he did not have a couple of butterflies in his stomach as he was tested by some early short deliveries by the visitors' captain. The opening bowlers had now been replaced by Merschede and Philip Steffan Jones, who was a joy throughout the day, The hundred was reached in the twenty-eighth over and the home side captains' horizons were starting to change. Both batted beautifully with Gregory taking a liking to Lloyd Alley’s bowling. After seventy eight balls Dan Hardy scored his first county fifty since he took 62 off Gloucestershire in 2006 and hopefully he is now fully recovered from his injury problems that restricted his opportunities at this level in 2007.  Caddick turned to spin in the shape of Omari Banks and Jack Leach and Devon commenced the only really disappointing section of the day. First Gregory was leg before to the impressive under 17 Jack Leach for a splendid 35 (65 mins, 66 balls, six fours), Leach then had Joe Smith caught by Durston at slip off his quicker ball, Chris Metters faced 19 in 19 for five to be Leach’s third and second leg before and with Durston’s off spin replacing Leach (3-18 off six) at the pavilion end, Piper left his crease to be smartly stumped by Gazzard. From 120-1 Devon was 169-5 with spin taking a tight hold. This spell reinforced concerns about our ability to play this type of bowling and the importance it will play in the competition. Meanwhile Hardy was approaching his maiden county ton. Our visitors decided he would not get it as they gave him one and bowled at the other batter. With Caddick now in overdrive, Hardy was on 94 as the last over arrived to be bowled by Durston, Hardy took a one first ball and it proved impossible to get him back on strike which was really disappointing as he deserved to go away with three figures to his name Two batters in this game Gazzard and Hardy had been in for 99.9999% of the game one scoring a ton the other five short. Hardy will however be very pleased with his performance, the scorecard clearly shows how important it was to his side but let us hope he goes five better later in the summer. 

Many many plusses, some areas of concern, competition for places as never before, a quick read of the Independent and devoncricket.co.uk the day before gave a good guide to this, so we now face Dorset and the Isle of Wight let it be action not words in 2008.

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