Determined Lancashire stay in title race
Lancashire 247 for 3 v Somerset 380
If anyone believed the Championship race was over after the first day of the final round of matches, their views must surely have been dispelled by day two.
Had Lancashire scripted the second day of this match, it could scarcely have gone better for them. After taking the final five Somerset wickets for just 66 runs in the morning they scored at nearly four an over for much of their reply and were only slowed in the last hour as Somerset's spinners found their line.
As things stand, however, Lancashire could still win this game and fail to clinch the Championship. They could lose this game and still win the Championship. Warwickshire and even Durham remain in contention. There's much to unfold over the next two days.
That Lancashire remain in contention going into the penultimate day of the campaign speaks volumes for their resilience as a team. Many of their rivals would have lost heart after a trying first day, or lost focus amid the unfolding drama.
Lancashire did neither. Their top order accumulated runs nicely without ever betraying any of the anxiety that might have caused them to falter and they go into the third day with their dream of a first outright Championship title for 77 years still alive. And they did it all without their captain, Glen Chapple, whose hamstring injury prevented him from taking the field all day.
It took only a few minutes to claim another bonus point in the morning session. With just 13 balls left of the 110 overs, Kyle Hogg produced a surprisingly sharp bouncer that took the glove of Craig Meschede on its way to the keeper.
Somerset's tail folded rather meekly. James Hildreth's excellent innings ended when he aimed a footless waft at one well outside his off stump and only succeeded in edging to slip, while the spinners made quick work of the final three batsmen for the addition of just eight runs. Gary Keedy, who might be playing his final game for Lancashire if Warwickshire are successful in luring him to Edgbaston, finished with 4 for 57 and now has 60 wickets in the Championship season. Somerset's final total - 380 - looked someway below par on this pitch.
That thought was soon underlined as Lancashire's openers started brightly in reply. Paul Horton, driving beautifully, raced to 50 and passed 1,000 first-class runs this season - though without a century - while Stephen Moore played the anchor role and helped post an opening stand of 104.
Though Horton's pleasing innings ended when he edged an attempted cut and Moore pulled a filthy long-hop to deep midwicket, Karl Brown also timed the ball sweetly in becoming the third Lancashire batsman to record a half-century. He and Moore added another 102 for the second wicket.
Somerset, meanwhile, were not quite at their best. While Steve Kirby and Alfonso Thomas both bowled decently, Geemal Hussain looked so out of his depth it was tempting to throw him a rubber ring. When he didn't drift down the leg side, he bowled too short and his record since arriving at Taunton - 20 Championship wickets at 47 apiece - represents a major fall to earth after his success with Gloucestershire.
Murali Kartik also struggled. Reduced to bowling in the rough outside the right-handers' leg stump in an attempt to frustrate the batsmen, he also delivered five no-balls - though one was for allowing a third fielder to slip behind square on the leg side - and afterwards commented, while rolling his eyes: "To say it's a flat pitch is an understatement. It's an old school Taunton wicket." He could, at least, take some satisfaction with the wicket of Brown, who prodded forward and edged one that turned and left him.
Somerset also missed Charl Willoughby. The 36-year-old left-arm seamer is Somerset's leading wicket-taker in first-class cricket this season with 53 victims but he was left out after it was concluded he lacked penetration with the new ball. He has one year remaining on his contract at Taunton but it seems that he may well be on the move. Essex could well be his new home.
Meanwhile both Kartik and Brown could find themselves in some trouble with the ECB. Kartik was reported by the umpires after an incident where Horton played the ball back to Kartik who, in attempting to threw down the stumps, threw the ball very close to Horton's head. It surely wasn't intentional, but it didn't look pretty.
Brown was called in to see the umpires after appearing to question whether his edge to Trego had carried. To be fair, he appeared to be asking for clarification rather than showing dissent.
"We've given ourselves a chance of winning it," Moore said. "We can't control what's going on elsewhere, so all we're aiming to do is focus on our own cricket. Our target was to bowl them out for under 400. It's obviously a good pitch and you can score quickly here, so we're in a very good position."
Indeed they are. Their first priority on day three is simply to claim maximum batting bonus points (for 400 runs within 110 overs), though they could decide to accumulate a vast first innings total and bat just once in the match. While the pitch might be expected to turn a little more as the match progresses, however, it's worth noting that Somerset chased down 228 in 40 overs without losing a wicket here against Yorkshire earlier in the Championship season. Anything is still possible in this absorbing title race.