Roelof van der Merwe and Jack Leach secure Somerset batting point but Essex maintain edge in title decider

Marcus Trescothick interview: ‘It’s time. The brain just wouldn’t operate like I wanted it to… I had lost the spark’
Provided Essex do not lose 20 wickets in the next two days, they will become county champions for the eighth time – an admirable feat considering they did not win their first championship until 1979 – while Somerset will retain their title of perennial bridesmaids.

Somerset were fortunate to squeeze 44.5 overs into day two of their must-win match while most of the country was washed out, and their own specially prepared turning pitch is working in their favour. But Sir Alastair Cook is not.

Without the stimulus of international cricket, Cook has not had a vintage season but is Essex’s leading run-scorer – 835 so far at 43 – and he can still sense a challenge when he sees one; and there it was after Somerset had briskly cobbled together a working total of 203.

Immediately Cook was playing and missing outside offstump as phlegmatically as in his prime. Somerset will be doing well if they find the time to dismiss Cook twice, and bat a second time themselves; but a rainbow crowned the Quantocks at the start of play and there might yet be a crock of gold at the end of it.

Had Somerset taken early Essex wickets before rain ended play at tea, it would have been a double-edged Excalibur, because it would have made them more liable to have points deducted for their home-brewed pitch. But Jack Leach’s over of left-arm spin saw nothing untoward, while the next over from Dom Bess did not contain one off-break that turned.

What was suspicious was the low bounce: the ball should not be keeping low within 50 overs of the start, as it did here, but nothing so far has taken off from the worn brown surface to endanger batsmen. “The pitch has turned from ball one and some have gone through the surface,” said Essex’s coach Anthony McGrath. But on the overall evidence to date the championship will not be decided by the ECB’s liaison officer, Phil Whitticase, deducting points from Somerset for an unfit pitch.

Simon Harmer was a handful in taking his season’s aggregate to 83 until a last-wicket stand of 59 put the poor footwork of Somerset’s earlier batsmen – except for Tom Abell – in perspective. When Roelof van der Merwe defended, he played right forward, and also thumped four sixes in his 60 off 51 balls.

Nowhere is the widening gap between traditional red-ball batsman and new white-ball hitter more apparent than when it comes to defending on a turner. The half-forward push, or stab, with hard hands was meat and drink for Harmer. Then his South African compatriot van der Merwe swept him for one six, reverse-swept him for another and slog-swept him out of the ground.

It was Jack Leach’s first home appearance since the Ashes, and he was received royally, though again the ground was less than half full, as if local supporters had given up believing after Somerset’s loss last week to Hampshire. Leach did his redoubtable stuff in adding 59 with van der Merwe and giving Somerset a batting point.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *