Somerset 408 (Hildreth 187, Trescothick 140; Harris 5-83) and 310 (Hildreth 86, Trescothick 76, Cooper 42; Harris 3-64, Finn 3-66, Rayner 3-90); Middlesex 317 (Voges 98, Gubbins 92, Franklin 46; Gregory 6-101, Overton 3-45) and 31-0. Middlesex require another 371 runs to win with 10 wickets remaining.
Somerset’s first innings mainstays Marcus Trescothick and James Hildreth starred again on day three of Somerset’s contest with Middlesex at Taunton. Both players looked in great touch to establish Somerset in a strong position going into the day four, which will start with the cider county needing 10 wickets and Middlesex 371 runs for victory.
With James Franklin and James Harris – both accomplished batsmen – not out overnight, Middlesex were disappointed to add just four runs to their total, which ended on 310. They weren’t helped by the absence of Tim Murtagh, whose back injury also prevented him from bowling in Somerset’s second innings.
Lewis Gregory had been informed of his England call-up to face Ireland the previous evening, and evidently spurred on, he got rid of Franklin for 46 and Steven Finn for 4 in the day’s fourth over. Both wickets came via lbw decisions after a short break for rain.
Somerset were happy with a lead of 91 after the first innings – when Middlesex were 199/2 during the previous day it had looked like they would concede a significant deficit.
Tom Abell sliced a four over the slips early in Somerset’s second innings, but he had no more luck and was bowled by Harris for 13.
Trescothick, who was watchful early on with the occasional boundary, then came together with Tom Cooper to set a platform for the rest of the innings. They had taken their partnership to 82 when Ollie Rayner, who found turn throughout the day, bowled Cooper for 42 to bring Hildreth to the crease.
He and Trescothick briefly rekindled their partnership from the first innings, before Trescothick was dismissed in the same manner as Cooper for 76 off 115 balls (12×4, 2×6).
Somerset’s lead was 250, and it is around this point that the batting line-up has too often collapsed this season. But Jim Allenby and Peter Trego put those fears to bed with cameos of 28 and 25 respectively, with 4 fours and 3 sixes between them, to advance Somerset to a substantial lead.
Their innings were sandwiched by another low score from Alex Barrow (4), who is coming under increasing pressure to perform. Doubts are growing among some fans as to whether he is cut out to be first-choice ‘keeper, although he has kept extremely tidily throughout this game. However some have called for James Regan or an external replacement to come in if his form does not improve with the bat. He is expected to be given further opportunities after a promising end to last season, although the upcoming New Zealand tour game does present an opportunity for Somerset to experiment with Regan in the line-up should they wish to do so.
Hildreth and new batsman Lewis Gregory briefly consolidated, but with the close of play looming, and the lead healthy, they went on the attack. Although the latter fell for 12. Hildreth hit a six and a four off Dexter, but there was no century for him this time as he was bowled by Finn for 86 from 153 balls (9×4, 1×6). Taking into account the Champion County match and the warm-up against Durham MCCU, Hildreth now has an impressive 574 first-class runs already this season.
Tim Groenewald (5) didn’t last long, and the innings concluded with a flourish when Jamie Overton struck his first ball for six off Finn before being bowled with his next delivery. Finn, Harris and Rayner finished with three wickets apiece.
Somerset now had seven overs to bowl at Middlesex, whose target is 402. After Overton’s success with the new cherry the previous evening, he was handed it again in search of wickets before the close. But this time the decision backfired – he was clearly in pain towards the end of his first over, and left the field after the first ball of his second. Tim Groenewald took over, but neither he nor Lewis Gregory at the other end had any success. Middlesex finished the day on 31/0, with Nick Gubbins on 8* and Sam Robson 15*.
After the conclusion to the day’s play, Overton revealed that his injury is “a heel problem which we will assess in the morning and go from there”.
Regarding his bowling he said, “It felt really easy and everything just clicked into place for me. The pace was there and the ball swung for me which was even better.”
Reflecting on a productive day for the team he said, “Marcus and Hildy both batted well for us and we worked hard to get the total we have. 400 in the last innings is a tough challenge.” Looking ahead to day four he said, “Hopefully we can get a few wickets early and put them under pressure. It’s not going to be easy but we feel we have enough runs on the board and can bowl them out in time.”
Meanwhile Middlesex’s Ollie Rayner told BBC Sport that his side are “still well in the game.” He went on, “This is a fast-scoring ground and James Hildreth proved that if a batsman gets in it is possible for him to make big runs. Even if we get tied down for a period there will be time to get the required runs.”
The teams enter the last day with all results possible, although it will take an incredible effort for Middlesex to chase down a target in excess of 400. As Somerset have shown before (most notably in 2009 when Peter Trego hit a 54-ball century chasing 476 against Yorkshire), it is possible at Taunton, but on a pitch offering turn it will be an arduous task for Middlesex. Much relies, then, on spinner Abdur Rehman, whose signing was made partly to rectify Somerset’s struggles in bowling teams out on the final day of Championship matches. Jamie Overton’s fitness will be a major factor too – if he has recovered by the morning he will be key for Somerset as the strike bowler.
The forecast for tomorrow is good, with a few showers possible, but nonetheless it should be an interesting day as Somerset search for victory to put the demons of the Durham loss behind them.