County clinch second title in three years
Former England captain holds firm in tense finish Guard of honour marks Trescothick retirement
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