County Championship title goes to Essex as Somerset despite late drama
Essex survived a nervous finale brought about by an extraordinary first-innings batting collapse to win the Specsavers County Championship with a Taunton draw against title rivals Somerset.
With more than 200 overs lost on the opening three days, Somerset’s hopes of forcing the victory required to overtake Essex and win the pennant for the first time appeared remote.
Somerset director of cricket Andy Hurry had produced a stirring speech to the media on Wednesday evening, insisting his players would not “wave the white flag” and that taking 20 Essex wickets on the final day was possible.
On another truncated day, where overnight rain had delayed the start by 90 minutes, there seemed little chance of that happening.
But Somerset’s trio of spinners, with England’s Ashes hero Jack Leach to the fore, produced some sorcery to fray Essex nerves.
Essex had to bat for 68 minutes – needing only 63 to win after Somerset had forfeited their second innings, but knowing losing 10 wickets would rank among cricket’s greatest acts of carelessness.
In the event, play was called off eight minutes before the scheduled close of 5.30pm – Essex having reached 45 for one to secure their second title in three years.
So to Essex the glory of an eighth Championship title. But so much credit should be reserved for gutsy Somerset hosts who had been in pole position to win the title before losing at Hampshire last week.
With Essex 102 for one after lunch and, with Alastair Cook having scored his seventh half-century of the summer in reply to Somerset’s 203, the contest looked as good as over.
Cook had played some delightful backfoot cover drives to reach 53, but Essex collapsed after his 148-ball stay ended with a deflection off Leach to Tom Banton at short-leg.
It was the start of Essex losing nine wickets for 39 runs in 18.4 overs as Leach (five for 32) and Roelof Van Der Merwe (four for 41) rolled through the innings with seven fielders often crowding the bat.
Browne (18) had been removed by Dominic Bess before lunch when the skies were grey and the Taunton faithful were grateful for the County Ground floodlights.
But as the day brightened up, so did Somerset’s belief that the impossible was possible.
Dan Lawrence steered his second ball from Leach to Craig Overton at gully and Ravi Bopara, like Browne earlier, was pouched at silly mid-off after pushing forward to Van Der Merwe.
There were still whispers of an early finish during the tea interval, but Somerset backed up Hurry’s bold words as Essex lost their last six wickets for 15 runs.
Skipper Ryan Ten Doeschate (4), Tom Westley (36) and Simon Harmer (0) fell to more catches around the bat in successive overs from Leach and Van Der Merwe.
Leach then had Aron Nijjar lbw prodding forward before completing his five-wicket haul next ball by beating Sam Cook with a full-length delivery.
Adam Wheater was the last man out for 12, bottom edging Van Der Merwe to wicketkeeper Steve Davies, as the decibel levels rose both and off and off the pitch.
Essex had some anxious moments when they batted again, Browne and Cook were beaten several times and vain appeals went unheard.
Bess removed Browne for the second time, but Somerset – who gave Marcus Trescothick a farewell appearance in the field in the closing stages, with the former England batsman’s 26-year stay at the county coming to an end – were destined to finish runners-up for the fifth time in 10 seasons.