So with the disappointment of last season’s last day drama tucked firmly away and a decent preseason behind them, Somerset’s players were in buoyant form for the visit to the CACG of newly promoted Essex on what promised to be an Easter special.
The team were being led by Tom Abell for the first time and South African Dean Elgar was welcomed back to the fold after his many international successes in recent years. Steven Davies was also making his Somerset bow behind the stumps. With an abundance of young, local talent and a sprinkling of experience this team is one many believe could go one step further from last years second-place finish in the County Championship and there was certainly a buzz in the air when Abell won his first ever toss and opted to bat.
Essex arrived having already played one game where Dan Lawrence hit an unbeaten 141 to earn a draw at home to Lancashire. The inclusion of former England captain Alastair Cook in the Essex team was one of those things that could have gone for or against Somerset. On one hand he took away much of the attention so the Somerset players could concentrate on their own game, but let’s not forget this is a world class player capable of winning a game on his own. There were a few famous faces in the away changing room, including Ravi Bopara and Ryan ten Doeschate, but Somerset supporters were united in the belief that this was a game that Somerset had to win if the team was to become serious title contenders.
Somerset 209 all out.
So Somerset batted first and it was initially to the script. Tres looked in good nick with the odd crashing drive while Elgar was batting slowly but surely at the other end. The two brought up 50 but then Bopara came into the attack and he and Cook joined forces to remove Tres and Tabes and 52 for 0 became 54 for 2. The young skipper scoring only 1. Hildy offered some brief respite with a classy 36 but he and Elgar went within 3 overs so 108-2 became 112-4 and the away team had their tails up. From there wickets fell regularly against tight –if unspectacular – Essex bowling. Only Tregs looked comfortable and Somerset were definitely grateful for his 48, which included 5×4 and 1×6. Eventually the score passed 200 and a first batting point of the season was delivered, but it was a poor batting display.
Essex 129 all out.
There was early success for Somerset when the dangerous Browne was bowled by Cove but Cook was showing his class as his side reached 60 with no further loss at the end of day one.
There was immediate success on day two when Merv bowled Westley without further score and from there wickets fell consistently. Cook passed his 50 in his first innings after retiring the England captain’s job but he was fifth man out on 85 and the innings ended on 129. Somerset had a decent lead of 80 and the bowlers shared the wickets between them.
Somerset 174 all out.
This was pretty miserable viewing for the Somerset faithful. Tres went early for 5 and Tabes nabbed an unfortunate duck to end a disappointing first game for the new skipper. Again Hildy (35) looked in decent form with Elgar (27) but, again, they both fell within a few balls and runs and Somerset looked shell-shocked. It was simply bad batting from the home team with six of the dismissals to short-pitched deliveries. Tregs and Gregs had starts but Somerset were grateful to a last wicket stand of 50 between Cove (22) and Leachy (27 no) as they crawled to 174 all out.
Wagner took 6 for 48 for Essex on a day when 18 wickets fell.
The away team needed 255 to win a first game back in the top tier of the Championship. Essex started what proved to be the last day on 10-0 and reached 82 before Somerset enjoyed any success when Browne was caught behind off Jove. Being brutally honest it all ended a stroll in the park with Cook helping himself to a very good century – his 57th first class ton – before he was second man out for 110 off Elgar’s bowling.
The bowlers huffed and puffed and tried their best but the day three wicket offered nothing and the inevitable result was finalised just after tea.
Essex (19 points) beat Somerset (4) by 8 wickets.
Officials: Michael Gough, Graham Lloyd
Most of the headlines centred around Alastair Cook, of course, and his 162 runs in the match. The Guardian said of his knock: “Cook’s was an untroubled, unfussy innings in a cruise of a chase, a surprise given 18 wickets had fallen on the second day. All it took, it turned out, was some better batting, because the surface – unlike last season – offered no great help to bowlers, fast or slow.”
It was a disappointing game for Somerset’s new captain, Tom Abell, who said after the game: “We let ourselves down with the bat and I am absolutely gutted with the result. It was a strange game that ebbed and flowed and at the start today I felt we were in a pretty good position.
“Training and pre-season had gone really well so it’s massively disappointing to lose our first match. But we cannot let it define our season and now it is all about working hard to improve in our next game against Lancashire.
“We know we are better than what we have shown against Essex. But credit where credit is due. Alastair Cook is a world-class player and Tom Westley played really well too. We found it hard to extract as much out of the pitch as we had done in the first innings.
“The wicket may have flattened out, but with an 80-run lead we should have applied ourselves better.”
Essex enjoyed their deserved win and their batsman Tom Westley said: “It’s brilliant to have registered our first win back in Division One. We took a lot of momentum from drawing with Lancashire into this game and this result confirms that we can be a force at the higher level.
“Somerset were runners-up last year and we have ended up beating them by eight wickets. We know our strength is in our batting so we were always positive about chasing down 255 and it helped that the pitch was not as helpful to the bowlers as on the first two days.
“Neil Wagner turned the game for us with his second innings six-for and then Cookie did what Cookie does and scored a match-winning hundred. It’s great to have him at the other end and we get on well so it was nice to repeat the big partnerships we shared in Division Two.”
Somerset supporters bemoaned a poor batting display and a pitch that offered little to the bowlers on day three.
The team head to Manchester for the next game, the second of the season and a last Championship game for a month as the 50-over tournament starts, so the side will want to put this miserable result behind them as quickly as possible.
It will be interesting to see if Matt Maynard makes changes to the batting line-up. Johan Myburgh, Jim Allenby and Adam Hose could be considered but the 2nd XI also batted badly at Sidmouth on Sunday so no-one has really put themselves into contention. I expect the team to remain the same.