Somerset thrive without weight of expectation
Somerset 234 and 108 for 0 (Trescothick 58*) require a further 136 to beat Durham 155 and 326 (Richardson 116, C Overton 5-63)
Expectation can be a burden. Following a testing 2013, Somerset, for once, had little of it before this season. Evidently that is suiting the club just fine. Tomorrow brings the promise of Somerset going second in the Championship. It has been a familiar finish in recent years, but now the circumstances feel very different.
There was no better indication of Somerset's quiet buoyancy than the ebullience with which Marcus Trescothick and Johann Myburgh approached a chase of 248 in the evening sunshine. With two golden ducks in his last three innings, Trescothick could have been forgiven for approaching the task with caution. Instead, he swatted the first ball through midwicket for four.
Trescothick remains an awesome sight, at moments such as these his game seeming designed around causing maximum damage with minimum foot movement. That his game remains in fine working order even in its 39th year was confirmed when Mark Wood, so outstanding in the first innings, entered the fray. A violent pull to long-on, a booming straight drive and a rasping cut provided three boundaries in one over. Over the wicket, or around the wicket? Wood zig-zagged between the two, but it made no difference to Trescothick in this mood.
In the circumstances it was easy to forget about Johann Myburgh - driving with power through the offside and playing the paddle sweep to great effect, he almost joined Trescothick in reaching a half-century by the close.
Somerset batted as if aware that the forecast for tomorrow is less encouraging than today's. By the close, the opening stand was worth 112 in 23 overs; so violent was the onslaught that, at one stage, it did not seem entirely facetious to ask whether Somerset would get into a position to request the extra half hour and so avoid any reliance on the weather tomorrow. The only moment of anxiety was when Myburgh offered Paul Collingwood a hard slip catch, diving to his left, when he had reached 40.
From this juncture rain seems to pose a bigger challenge to Somerset's victory hunt than the Durham bowlers. Admirably as Chris Rushworth and Wood bowled to limit Somerset's first innings to 234, a repeat performance seemed to be asking for too much, especially with the sun effervescent.
Ordinarily Durham could entrust the new ball to Graham Onions: a back injury means that he is not available. In the fourth innings Scott Borthwick is often a potent weapon. Now, the state of his right-hand rather embodies Durham's season so far: he sustained a flaked fracture on his middle finger in this game, a fortnight after chipping a bone on his index finger, and was only able to bat at No. 11 in the second innings.
And when Durham need a spark it is often Ben Stokes who provides it. They would have envisaged him providing a flying start to their Championship defence before England duty took over, but a locker that felt his wrist's wrath during the West Indies tour ended such hopes. At least there is encouragement on this front: he came through back-to-back T20s for the second team and a Championship return at Trent Bridge on Sunday is hoped for.
Still, there was considerable cheer for Durham earlier in the day. While his father David was busy with the latest corruption scandal, Michael Richardson compiled his second Championship hundred of the season. Mark Stoneman almost joined him but, three balls after dispatching Craig Overton over square leg, he misjudged another bouncer attempting to reach his century with a repeat.
Craig is the less well known of the Overton twins, largely because his 2013 season was ruined by a stress fracture on his back. He bowls slower than Jamie, so is perhaps less intimidating to face. But Craig is also more accurate, and generated dangerous movement away from the right-handers. In docile batting conditions, it was an opportune time to take his first five-for in first-class cricket.
George Dockrell, playing his first Championship game of the season, was a worthy ally. As he got the ball to grip off the pitch while maintaining immaculate control - and adding a sharp catch off Collingwood to boot - it seemed remarkable that he was not yet 22.