The only way is…?

Essex 216 all out (Cook 80, Leach 3-30, J Overton 3-43) & Somerset 32-1 (Abell 22 not out). Somerset (3 points) trail Essex (1 point) by 184 runs with 9 wickets remaining

Somerset’s impressive bowling unit once again showed their worth on the first day of their Specsavers County Championship Division One game at Essex to reduce the hosts to 216 all out after the home team looked set for a big score at 126-1.

Jamie Overton (3-43) led the charge at the top of the order, but Jack Leach (3-30) flew the flag for the spinners with some late wickets. Lewis Gregory (2-48) and Tim Groenewald (2-45) also featured in the wicket-taking honours.

Essex would be grateful to former England captain Alastair Cook, whose 80 runs in 186 balls (including 12 fours) gave his team a solid start but when he was sixth man out Essex started to crumble and, in the end, lost the last 9 wickets for just 90 runs.

Tom Abell’s unbeaten team would have been highly-confident as they travelled to Chelmsford for this fixture, their seventh in the 2019 campaign. The previous six have generated five wins and one draw and they sat proudly at the top of the table some 24 points ahead of second-placed Hampshire, who have played one game more, and 30 points ahead of the hosts who had also played six going into this game.

Somerset made just one change to the side that started at Kent eleven days ago with Tim Groenewald replacing Craig Overton, who had failed to recover from a slight strain. Since that exciting encounter at Canterbury, Essex actually did Somerset a major favour by thrashing Hampshire in just two days whilst also highlighting their own title-winning credentials.

Essex captain Ryan ten Doeschate won the toss and decided to bat under blue skies, which would turn cloudy over throughout the day. Both sides observed a minute’s silence before play started and wore black armbands in tribute to Somerset chairman Charles Clark who sadly died on Friday.

Cook and Nick Browne (29) took the score to 50 when the latter shouldered one to Overton, and the same bowler accounted for Tom Westley when the score was 126 and Essex looked set for a big total. The number three bat had looked impressive for his 36 runs. Lewis Gregory returned to the attack to remove Lawrence and Bopara cheaply when Overton nabbed a third for himself when he had ten Doeschate leg before wicket.

When Groenewald removed Cook on 182 the Essex innings started to collapse as Leach grabbed the wickets of Harmer, Siddle and Porter with feint resistance.

Somerset would have been very pleased with their efforts but had to face 16 overs before the close of play. They lost Azhar Ali for just 8, but nightwatchman Tim Groenewald joined skipper Abell to negotiate a tricky period under lights and they ended the day 32-1.

After the game Overton said his side were targeting a lead of 150 in an attempt to notch a sixth win this campaign and said he felt in good form. “I feel like I’ve been in some good rhythm in the last month or so, he said. “Two weeks ago at Kent I only bowled nine overs in the game but then today I got through a few overs and bowled nicely as a result.

“I try to bowl fuller nowadays and hit the stumps as much as I can and it seems to be swinging a lot at the moment.”

He went on to say: “We will want to get a batting lead of 150 as that will make it harder for Essex – then hopefully we won’t chase too many in the last innings.”