Aaron Beard's electric spell brings talk of Fortress Chelmsford

Somerset 32 for 1 trail Essex 216 (Cook 80) by 184 runs

Only three counties have never won the Championship, but once again the perception is growing that this finally can be Somerset’s year. Their lead is already 24 points, stoking optimism that the south-west’s roll of honour will no longer be restricted to the three unofficial titles that Gloucestershire won in the 1870s.

It was a time when WG Grace was in his prime, still young enough to write that he was observing “a little care in my food” before cutting the sentence when presumably realising that the sentence risked either years of abstinence of endless ridicule.

On a day when another great west-country servant, Marcus Trescothick, dropped down to Somerset’s 2nd XI in a search for form (he has only 86 Championship runs at 10.75 this season), Somerset arrived at Chelmsford for a test of their mettle. Essex have won three home matches, enough to place them third, within six points of Hampshire who they trounced here last week.

The core of this contest, one suspects, will be how Somerset fare with the bat against the offspinner, Simon Harmer, who already has 42 wickets at 17.07. But they began well enough with the ball, dismissing Essex for 216 after they had been 126 for 1. For once it had appeared Harmer would no longer have to feel sorry for Essex’s batsmen – his comment last week after he twice rolled Hampshire on a difficult batting track – but there must have been the odd tear of sympathy by the time the last wicket fell.

Somerset lost Azhar Ali before the close, but their captain, Tom Abell, who had taken responsibility for the opener’s role in Trescothick’s absence – the dashing limited-overs batsman Tom Banton was another option – survived the 16 overs to the close.

Without Sir Alastair Cook‘s 80, from 186 balls, Essex would have fared a good deal worse. Cook has not become easier on the eye since retiring from international cricket, but one sensed that he was relishing the battle, strikingly animated between deliveries and with hints of majesty during them.

His defence was solid, he looked in command square of the wicket and he remained imperturpable when batting was tough under afternoon clouds. When he survived a tough caught-and-bowled chance to Jack Brooks on 64, the ball fading low to his left, a second hundred of the season looked likely. But Tim Groenewald had him caught in the gully off bat and pad on 80 and, had bat not been involved, he would surely have been lbw.

Jamie Overton appears to have returned in good order from his loan spell at Northants, although as ever with Overton that judgment is only provisional. He brought one back to strike Nick Browne’s off stump before lunch and contributed to Essex’s loss of five wickets in the afternoon session as the weather became muggier, finding pace and bounce to defeat Tom Westley’s pull shot and having Ryan ten Doeschate lbw on the back foot.

This Somerset season always includes a contribution from Lewis Gregory, who is arguably the best uncapped allrounder in the country, and who had Dan Lawrence lbw and ended Ravi Bopara’s uncertain stay courtesy of an uncertain leg-side whip. Bopara looked perplexed.

Essex have recalled Peter Siddle for this game, after resting him during the Hampshire match because of a niggle or two, filling the vacancy left by Sam Cook who will miss the next six weeks with a side strain suffered in the previous match against Hampshire.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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