County clinch sec­ond title in three years

For­mer Eng­land cap­tain holds firm in tense fin­ish Guard of hon­our marks Trescoth­ick re­tire­ment

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - By Nick Hoult CRICKET NEWS COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Es­sex won their eighth County Cham­pi­onship title and sec­ond in three years but it was a tense end to the sea­son at Taun­ton as Som­er­set threat­ened to add one more mir­a­cle re­sult to cap an in­cred­i­ble sum­mer of cricket.

Af­ter three days ru­ined by rain, and an­other de­layed start yes­ter­day, Es­sex looked to be coast­ing to the draw they needed.

But when their first in­nings col­lapsed from 102 for one to 141 all out it was sud­denly time for deep breaths and calm heads in the Es­sex dress­ing room. Som­er­set had to win to bring home their first cham­pi­onship title and so for­feited their sec­ond in­nings just 62 runs ahead.

With an hour left in the match, Es­sex had to sur­vive a max­i­mum of 20 overs or score 63 runs to win. Hav­ing lost nine wick­ets in fewer overs in their first in­nings, and wth the ball turn­ing like a fifth-day pitch in the sub­con­ti­nent, Som­er­set’s im­pos­si­ble dream was back on.

Then en­ter Alas­tair Cook, with his long reach and for­ward de­fen­sive that gave him a Test bat­ting av­er­age of over 50 in Asia. He saw his side home with an un­beaten 30, fac­ing eight of the 18 overs him­self be­fore Som­er­set agreed to end the match as a draw at 5.20pm with Es­sex 45 for one.

The weather robbed Som­er­set of vic­tory, for if this game had gone four days they would have won, but Es­sex de­served to be crowned cham­pi­ons, with their vic­tory built around a strong bowl­ing unit. Si­mon Harmer’s 83 wick­ets com­fort­ably made him the lead­ing wicket-taker in the coun­try, Jamie Porter took 48, and it was no­tice­able Es­sex had a card­board cut-out of Peter Sid­dle at their cel­e­bra­tions in recog­ni­tion of his 34 wick­ets in eight matches be­fore he joined the Ashes squad.

Es­sex won three matches by an in­nings and were un­beaten af­ter los­ing the first game of the sea­son. They be­came the first team to com­plete the Twenty20 Blast and cham­pi­onship dou­ble, a sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ment for coach Anthony Mcgrath.

Som­er­set won five of their first six games, a run stopped by Es­sex, and were left ru­ing a costly de­feat against Hamp­shire last week. The fact not a sin­gle bats­man av­er­aged 32 or more made sus­tain­ing a title chal­lenge hard.

Cook signed a three-year deal when he re­tired from Test cricket last sum­mer and, while he did not en­joy a vin­tage sum­mer, his 913 runs put him top of his side’s av­er­ages and his calm pres­ence gave strength to team-mates, par­tic­u­larly on the fi­nal day.

“We knew it was go­ing to be a real tough wicket to bat on just to sur­vive,” he said. “I am lucky be­cause I have ex­pe­ri­enced a lot of sub­con­ti­nent spin so I have a method against it but oth­ers have not had that.

“This is a proper Es­sex unit who have won it. It is an un­be­liev­able win for the guys. It is why I wanted to carry on play­ing and I know it has been a bit of fairy tale to win.”

Wick­ets fell in clus­ters. With field­ers crowd­ing the bat and Som­er­set bowl­ing spin all day, it was very dif­fi­cult for bats­men to start their in­nings. Es­sex lost six wick­ets for 15 runs in 21 balls af­ter tea, not through play­ing poorly but just be­cause sur­vival was a lot­tery, with Jack Leach tak­ing five for 32 to fire Som­er­set’s dreams. How­ever, to have any chance of win­ning they had to strike early and the new ball is harder for spin­ners to grip and hope faded with ev­ery Cook block.

The pitch turned prodi­giously through­out and Es­sex felt 140 was a par to­tal in the first in­nings. “There was a lit­tle bit of turn and it was in­evitably a dry sur­face at this time of year,” said Ja­son Kerr, the Som­er­set coach. “It was not the eas­i­est but the 10th wicket in our first in­nings put on 70-odd and they were 100 for one. I’ve seen some chal­leng­ing sur­faces this sum­mer for bats­men and that was cer­tainly one.”

Mar­cus Trescoth­ick fielded for the fi­nal two overs perched on his knees at slip be­fore walk­ing off into re­tire­ment through a guard of hon­our. There was no fairy-tale fin­ish for him or Som­er­set but the sea­son thrilled to the very end.

Emo­tional day: Es­sex’s Ryan ten Doeschate lifts the Spec­savers Cham­pi­onship tro­phy with his team-mates at Taun­ton, where Som­er­set’s Mar­cus Trescoth­ick (left) re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion on his re­tire­ment

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