Cricket: Somerset tail frustrates Essex on another short day
PUBLISHED: 18:03 24 September 2019 | UPDATED: 18:03 24 September 2019
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Roelof van der Merwe breathed life into Somerset's title challenge on a rain-affected second day of the Specsavers County Championship match with leaders Essex at the Cooper Associates County Ground, Taunton.
Only 45.5 overs were possible after a delayed start until midday, much to the frustration of the home side, who resumed their first innings on 75-4, needing to win to overtake their opponents and claim a first-ever title.
And their prospects looked bleak when Simon Harmer and Sam Cook reduced them to 144-9 by early afternoon, but batting at number ten, van der Merwe smashed four sixes in a 42-ball half-century, sharing a last-wicket stand of 59 with Ashes hero Jack Leach (11 not out).
The hosts were finally dismissed for 203, a total that could prove challenging on a pitch offering seam movement and turn.
Off-spinner Harmer claimed his 11th five-wicket haul of the season, but conceded 105 runs in the process, while seamer Sam Cook returned 4-26 from 19 overs.
Essex were left with 40 minutes to negotiate before tea and Lewis Gregory and Craig Overton both went past the outside edge on several occasions, but Alastair Cook and Nick Browne survived to post 25 without loss by the interval.
The rain then set in again forcing umpires Alex Wharf and Rob Bailey to abandon play for the day at just before 5pm.
A wet outfield had prevented any play until noon and Somerset suffered an early setback when in his first over Harmer, bowling with three close fielders, induced George Bartlett to glance a catch to Ravi Bopara at leg-slip.
Gregory decided attack was the best form of defence and took four fours off a Harmer over, two of them edges, before departing for a chancy 17, lbw advancing down the pitch to Cook and then playing no shot.
Somerset skipper Tom Abell gave a lesson in how to play the turning ball, moving stylishly from an overnight 24 to 45 by lunch, which was taken with his side 126-6.
But Abell's resistance ended soon after the break when he was pinned lbw on the back-foot, a rare error in an accomplished innings.
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Overton soon followed in similar fashion and at 130-8, Somerset fans were subdued. But out strode van der Merwe, exuding positive body language, to hit his first ball from Harmer for six with a slog sweep.
Three more maximums followed, one with a reverse sweep, as van der Merwe moved to a valiant fifty as Dom Bess had departed for ten, bowled middle stump by Cook.
Leach walked out to warm applause for his Ashes heroics and was soon defying the bowlers again, looking a lot more solid than some of Somerset's top order and keeping van der Merwe company in a stand that gave Somerset some momentum before the South African was bowled by Aron Nijjar attempting another reverse sweep.
Heartened by the boost to their score, the hosts came out firing and Gregory beat Cook three times in an over.
Overton also went past the bat on several occasions, but Cook and Browne rode the storm and reached the sanctuary of the dressing room.
With a better weather forecast tomorrow and Thursday, Somerset will still hold out some hope of victory, while Essex remain favourites to condemn them to runners-up spot for the sixth time this century.
Van der Merwe said: "We knew that anything around 200 would be a good score and today was my day. On a turning wicket I came through.
"It's quite tough when Harmer is in that kind of mood and bowling well. There were men around the bat, so I tried to put a bit of pressure on him.
"There is some turn out there. We just have to be patient in the way we go about things, not worry too much about the scoreboard and land the ball in good areas.
"The guys are very positive and hoping to get two days of good cricket."
Essex head coach Anthony McGrath said: "The pitch has turned from ball one and some have gone through the surface. But that is nothing to do with me and we play the conditions in front of us.
"Credit to van der Merwe and Leachy for what was a very good partnership. I think it had reached the stage where van der Merwe knew he had to take some chances and it came off for him.
"He was very positive against Simon Harmer, who has had a brilliant season, so fair play to him. We now have to bat well, but we are right in the game."