By the end of August Somerset could honestly have done no more. Across the T20 and Championship they had played 9 and won 8. The 1 was, you’ve guessed it, in controversial circumstances, at Canterbury so we can all agree doesn’t count, although you have to ask when will the cricketing Gods wake up and realign our fortunes against those Kentish boys.
From a position in the T20 of W4 L3 at the end of July, Somerset beat Hampshire home and away, thrashed Essex by 10 wickets with over 8 overs to spare (Myburgh 103*), won a great game at Hove by 3 wickets with 3 balls to spare (thanks to RvdM’s 34 off 19 balls) and beat Surrey and Glamorgan at home in the space of 3 days. At that point Somerset topped the group P13 W10 L3 and were assured of home advantage in the semi-finals.
So, on the 19th having confirmed qualification at the top of the south group in the Blast and with the prospect of a mouth-watering home quarter-final against Notts, Championship action resumed with a home fixture against Essex. This the same Essex side that had moved steadily up the table and were now the “best of the rest” as Notts fell away.
The first day was a day of proper championship cricket, tense, hard fought and with much to admire as Somerset, thanks to 96 from Tres and 70 from the skipper Tom Abell closed on 302-7. Peter Siddle had taken three wickets including Dom Bess late in the day, but with Lewis 42* there was hope of total of near 400.
The second morning dashed those hopes as Siddle took two more to restrict Somerset to 324. In reply, however, Essex were unable to capitalise on that early progress with a tremendous all-round bowling performance reducing the away team to 191 all out – a deficit of 133. Jamie Overton bowled with hostility ably supported by Josh Davey and Jack Leach but Dom Bess was worryingly ineffective yet again.
Apart from Ryan ten Doeschate with 73 no Essex batsman could cope with the varied Somerset attack, even Azhar Ali joined in with figures of 4-1-5-1 with his more than passable leg breaks.
Somerset, with 16 overs to negotiate, lost Marcus for 7 but closed on 32-1. However, like Essex on day 2, we were unable to capitalise on the advantage and subsided to 202 all out. A total more frustrating for the fact that nine Somerset batsmen got into double figures, but none passed 50. Eddie Byrom top scoring with 42.
Essex left with a good chunk of day 3 to bat and a target of 336 closed ominously on 147-1. I for one, as I noted that evening, felt Essex were favourites now despite having to score the highest total of the game to win. I also noted that it was going to take a combined superlative effort from Jack and Dom to keep us in the title hunt.
And so unfolded one of the best days of the season, one of the best days seen at Taunton for a long while. The overnight pair could only add 24 before Jack Leach got Browne for 86 caught by Jamie Overton who in the next over trapped Westley lbw. Still needing 165 the game was back in the balance.
Daniel Lawrence and the skipper added 54 before Jack Leach, who bowled unchanged all day, bowled him 225-4. Leach repeated the dismissal with a peach to get ten Doeschate for exactly 50 leaving Essex 256-5.
Adam Wheater fell 2 runs later to a shot he will probably still be having nightmares over. Somerset were now firmly in control but then the pendulum swung again as an ailing Ravi Bopara and Simon Harmer inched the total closer. A repeat of the ‘two wickets in two overs treatment’ got rid of that pair, this time Dom Bess and Jack Leach combining to leave Essex 281-8.
9 runs later it was over, Leach taking the final two to finish with the remarkable figures of 48-16-85-8. He had indeed delivered an effort that was beyond superlative, even more so when you consider Bess’ return was 1-78 in 26 overs.
As if that drama wasn’t enough Lancashire, who had looked beaten at the end of day 3 at The Oval, were for a good part of the day closing in on an improbable victory. It was almost unbearable following the twists and turns of both games but Lancashire, having got the target down to single figures, fell short by 6 runs. Somerset’s 22 points closed the gap on Surrey by 2 but it could have been so much more.
The format of the T20 quarter finals is now well established, the winner of the south group is at home to the 4th placed team from the north etc. Somerset’s reward for topping their group was a home tie against the team I considered to be the best in the north but who had only just qualified after a mixed campaign, Notts.
The game was scheduled for the Sunday of the August bank holiday weekend but rain scuppered that. Even more frustratingly, with the Women’s T20 finals day taking up Sky’s coverage, those of us unable to get to the game were fortunate to have access to the BBC commentary and Somerset’s live stream. The effort was worth it.
Somerset amassed 209-5 thanks to another Hildreth 50 and a wonderful late flourish by Lewis and Ton Abell with 50 off 24 and 46 off 30 respectively.
In reply Notts were 122-2 in the 13th but the loss of Alex Hales, who had looked like he could win the game on his own, and the pressure of the chase, told on the visitors. Wickets fell steadily with Jamie Overton who had endured a nightmare first over ended with 5 wickets, three in the 18th over of the innings all caught by Max Waller on the mid-wicket boundary to seal the victory. Lewis Gregory followed up his heroics with the bat with 2 wickets including the dangerous Dan Christian when the game was still in the balance.
All of which meant that Somerset entered the last month of the season with high hopes of clinching the T20 trophy and still, with the potentially pivotal last home game of the season against Surrey to come, harbouring hopes of an outrageous come from behind title.