Wood draws on spirit

Somerset 299 and 430-8 Northamptonshire 567 Match drawn
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The Independent Online

Two career-best innings by Matthew Wood and Ian Blackwell helped Somerset secure a draw, which looked very unlikely on the first morning when they were in the sorry state of 35 for six. They needed a century from Blackwell to rescue them and, after the dismissal of the 20-year-old Wood in the second innings, he delivered again, becoming the 14th Somerset player to score a century in each innings of a Championship match. He biffed drives, swatted full tosses and generally took full advantage of the poor-quality bowling that Northamptonshire offered, Darren Cousins excepted.

Graeme Swann and Jason Brown were particularly disappointing, proving that the quest for the England spinners of the future continues and, if their experiences of touring with England are to be learned from, the selectors should refrain from taking young tweakers abroad just to carry drinks.

Swann, 22, toured South Africa two winters ago and, apart from the higher standard of accommodation, it differed little from the experiences enjoyed by the many back-packers out there at the same time. Enjoy the sun, regard the scenery, ferry a few drinks to friends and enjoy the occasional lie-in. He certainly didn't do much bowling.

Not the most glowing end-of-term report followed, but he did respond with 41 Championship wickets at an average of 33 last season. This compared favourably with Roberts Croft's tally of 29 at more than 40 apiece, but Croft and Brown wintered in Sri Lanka, Croft returning a hero, Brown a dab hand with the cocktail shaker.

The club should be concerned, if not outright worried, at their inability to bowl sides out, and this season Swann and Brown have taken five and eight wickets respectively. Swann was forced to leave the field yesterday, suffering from hay fever, but much of his and Brown's offerings were insipid and uninspired. So much so that Paul Taylor resorted to left-arm tweakers after his opening medium-pace spell.

It was surprising that a team desperate for a win to have any hope of retaining their top-division status could be so lacklustre in the field. The pitch was still the batsman's paradise and Wood batted with aplomb and style, but there was little positive energy radiated by the Northamptonshire fielders.

Cousins is different, however. Having conquered rejection from Essex, he is enthusiastic and reaps the rewards. He has 35 wickets this season and should improve on last year's total of 67.

Otherwise, Northamptonshire lack the fight of the Somerset team and that is why they are far more likely to suffer the ignominy of relegation. Blackwell's resilience is indicative of that combative spirit. If only his bowling matched his batting he would be a valuable all-rounder but, sadly, his figures compared to Swann's and Brown's one wicket for 227 runs.

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