Abdur Rehman had already, and rapidly, established himself as one of the most popular overseas players in Somerset’s recent history, even before claiming a remarkable nine-wicket haul against Worcestershire.
The 32-year-old Pakistan spinner, who last week flew through the night from Sharjah after a one-day international to play at Hove the following day, recorded career-best figures of 9-65 on the opening day of the final LV= County Championship Division One match of the season yesterday.
Brought on to bowl with Somerset wicket-less and seemingly lacking ideas against their relegated visitors, the slow left-armer struck in his first over – and then worked his way through the Worcestershire order.
He claimed the first seven wickets for Somerset, as Worcestershire’s 74-0 quickly became 174-7, only for Pete Trego to deny him the opportunity to go for a ten-wicket haul when he had Chris Russell caught behind to claim his 49th Championship victim of the season.
Rehman tidied up the tail, though, having both Nick Harrison and Alan Richardson trapped lbw to post the 14th best first-class bowling figures in Somerset’s history – and the best since Andy Caddick’s 9-32 against Lancashire at Taunton in 1993.
Worcestershire were eventually dismissed for 212, before Somerset – with Arul Suppiah unbeaten on 73 and Marcus Trescothick on 66 – reached 142-0 at the close, trailing by 70 runs with all ten first-innings wickets intact.
If Somerset end up finishing second in the Championship, after a season undermined by injuries and player availability issues, they will owe plenty to the likeable Pakistani’s late-season contribution. In three-and-a-half matches, he has taken 22 wickets at 15.77.
“It was a fantastic day for me, and for my team as well,” said Rehman. “It’s my best figures in first-class cricket and I hope I can keep going in the second innings.”
An official, believed to be an ECB pitch inspector, was spotted having a close look at the wicket between innings – but Rehman denied he had been given too much assistance by the pitch.
“When the fast bowlers get the wickets, no one talks about that – but when the spinners do, everyone says the pitch is not good!” joked Rehman.
“But they have two spinners there and we are batting on 142 with no wickets down, so there’s nothing in there – it must be up to me bowling in good areas! A few balls turned – but not every single ball. I try my best to hit on the target where I want to bowl.”
Rehman, his wife and young son have been made to feel welcome at Taunton, and the Pakistan star admitted Somerset have already sounded him out about returning next season. Only a hectic international schedule would prevent such a return.
“Before today, they asked me about next year,” he confirmed. “I’m looking forward to my national duty – and I’m busy with that. But, if I’m free, I would definitely prefer to come back.”
Somerset looked a little troubled early on, with Worcestershire bringing up their 50 inside nine overs as Phil Hughes and Daryl Mitchell began confidently. But the introduction of Rehman, in the 16th over, changed the contest.
He had the former caught by Trescothick at slip for 42 to an arm-ball in his first over, before having the latter held by James Hildreth at second slip for 28 in his next. Neil Pinner was Rehman’s third victim when he got a leading edge and was caught and bowled for six.
Moeen Ali, who got off the mark with a six and seven – three runs and an overthrow – in successive balls, rode his luck a little, before being held by Chris Jones at short leg for 24, before Alexei Kervezee was the first of four lbw victims for the left-arm spinner.
Aneesh Kapil was bowled for 22 as he pushed forward – but, just as everyone inside the County Ground began to sense the possibility of only the third ten-wicket haul in Somerset’s first-class history, Trego dismissed Russell for two. The all-rounder is now one wicket short of a half-century in the Championship this season, and Rehman said: “Pete said, ‘next innings, save another one for me!’”
After Rehman dismissed Harrison and Richardson to finish with 9-65 from24 overs, eight of which were maidens, Somerset set about making light of the Taunton pitch. Trescothick and Suppiah played fluently, the skipper reaching his fifty from 75 balls, before his fellow opener reached his in 70 balls – and then passed 5,000 first-class career runs. Play resumes this morning with Somerset firmly in command.