Cricket: Essex win county champtionship to complete double
PUBLISHED: 18:57 26 September 2019 | UPDATED: 18:57 26 September 2019
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Essex were crowned 2019 Specsavers County Championship title winners after a rain-shortened, yet ultimately compelling, fourth day of the deciding match against Somerset at the Cooper Associates County Ground, Taunton.
It ended in a draw at 5.20pm, as Vitality Blast T20 champions Essex completed the double, but that didn't begin to tell the story of a dramatic finale to the season.
By tea, Essex, requiring only a draw, had reached 118-4 in their first innings in reply to Somerset's 203.
Alastair Cook had contributed a patient half-century, sharing a stand of 67 for the second wicket with Tom Westley.
But an amazing collapse in the final session brought a slump to 141 all out, the last six wickets falling for 15 in the space of 5.2 overs. Jack Leach claimed 5-32 and Roelof van der Merwe 4-41 on a pitch offering extravagant turn and lift.
Somerset, needing a win to overtake their opponents and claim the pennant for the first time, forfeited their second innings with a lead of just 62. It was a necessary gamble and Essex were left with a little over an hour to bat to secure the title.
Suddenly spectators were on the edge of their seats as opener Nick Browne was dropped off the third ball of the Essex second innings by Murali Vijay at leg slip.
The last hour began with only a single on the board and Somerset had a minimum of 16 more overs to complete one of the most unlikely comebacks in cricket history.
But Cook was a reassuring presence for Essex again, contributing an unbeaten 30. By the time Browne fell for 10, 38 runs were on the board and, with seven added, the players shook hands, Cook punching the air in delight.
There was a poignant moment in the closing overs when Marcus Trescothick took the field as a substitute for his final Somerset appearance to warm applause.
Essex took eight points from the game to claim the title by 11, while Somerset had to be content with nine, runners-up spot for the sixth time this century, and a feeling of what might have been had so many overs not been lost.
Only 12 overs were possible in two spells before lunch after a delayed start until noon. They brought only the wicket of Browne, caught at silly point off Dom Bess for 18.
Cook and Westley took the score to 36-1 the interval. That had become 74-1 when another short shower sent the players off.
Cook reached a 147-ball fifty, with his seventh four, through the leg side off Leach. But the next ball saw the former England captain snapped up at short-leg.
Leach struck again two deliveries later as Dan Lawrence edged to slip and Somerset homed in with seven fielders clustered around the bat.
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Soon Ravi Bopara succumbed to one of them, caught at silly point, pushing forward to van der Merwe. But Westley, beaten on numerous occasions by some extravagant turn, was unbeaten on 32 when tea was taken.
The final session was the stuff of fiction. Ryan ten Doeschate was caught at gully off Leach and Adam Wheater dropped on nought in the same over before Westley edged to slip off van der Merwe.
The South African quickly struck again to dismiss Simon Harmer with a ball that spun and lifted. Leach pinned Aron Nijjar lbw and then bowled Sam Cook in the same over.
When Wheater was caught behind off van der Merwe to end the innings, nine wickets had fallen for 39 runs either side of tea. But, for Somerset, the brave effort had come too late.
Essex's leading wicket-taker Harmer said: "The last couple of weeks have been difficult for me, with the anxiety of not knowing whether we were going to win ono trophy, two or none.
"You play through a million scenarios in your head, especially coming here knowing the wicket would play as it did and that it would be tough for us to get a result.
"Nobody gave us a chance in the T20 finals and we proved everyone wrong, but there was a lot of expectation on us this week, with our lead in the table and some bad weather around.
"At the moment the feeling is one of massive relief. I am sure we are going to enjoy ourselves because it has been a long season.
"Hats off to Anthony McGrath, who has been the constant within our group and kept us level-headed. He has the right people around him and when things were not going so well he was always the voice of reason.
"If people thought it was a fluke when we won the Championship in 2017, we have now shown that we are a really good four-day team, as well as being very competitive in T20.
"For me it has been an unbelievable season, but I would happily have swapped any personal accolades for the team winning the title."
Cook made it clear that this success was not the end of his illustrious playing career, adding: "People have been asking me about that, but I have promised Ryan ten Doeschate that I will be playing for another year at least.
"I feel like an old man at times, trying to run between the wickets, but I have a few miles left in the legs yet.
"I didn't even know how many we needed to win the game when going out for the second innings. It was all about protecting wickets and when Somerset offered to shake hands on a draw I was more than happy.
"Fair play to them because they won a trophy this season and it could have gone either way this week. To win nine games and not take the title must be tough to take.
"I was nervous all week. I had a feeling there might be a twist at the end. You don't play on a wicket like that and expect to cruise through."
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