Chopra restates England case
Somerset 286 and 1 for 0 require a further 403 runs to beat Warwickshire 367 and 322 for 7 dec. (Chopra 117*, Clarke 83)
Varun Chopra might easily be vying to replace Sam Robson opening the batting for England. He is among the most consistent openers in Division One, topping 1000 first-class runs in each of the last three seasons. They have been attractive runs, too: sumptuous off drives and languid flicks off his legs.
As recently as February, Chopra was playing alongside Robson for the England Lions in Sri Lanka. While Robson has been given an opportunity in Test cricket, Chopra has endured a miserable 2014 in whites. After a loose drive to the fourth ball of the game, his Championship average for the season slumped to 20.
All of which made his first first-class century of the season particularly commendable. During the morning session, Somerset bowled with parsimony and vim, generating significant movement beneath the clouds. It was enough to account for Ian Westwood, Will Porterfield and, most significantly, Jonathan Trott, who nicked an outswinger from Peter Trego behind after a series of inswingers. At 40 for 3, leading by only 121, Warwickshire were perilously placed. "It's tough out there," Dougie Brown opined.
But Chopra was displaying admirable resolve. The conditions, and quality of the bowling, dictated that he eschew eye-catching strokes. Playing stoutly forward to negate the movement, and leaving whenever he could, he mustered only two from his first 42 balls.
It has been a characteristic of this match that batting has become drastically easier as the ball has got older. And so it proved once more. Tim Ambrose was in pugnacious mood in his 54, cutting with characteristic venom. Rikki Clarke was even more aggressive, bludgeoning anything short from George Dockrell to the boundary and playing some crunching lofted drives off the seamers in the evening sun, which had finally won its battle with the clouds just as Somerset were losing theirs.
Chopra could not have wished for a better ground to regain his form. He scored 210 in Warwickshire's win at Taunton three years ago and, amazingly, has now scored more hundreds - three - in seven games at this ground than at Chelmsford and Edgbaston - the two home grounds in his career - in a total of 56 matches.
Though this was an unusually slow Chopra innings, it still contained glimpses of his attacking verve. Judging length early and rocking back decisively, he dispatched anything short as if affronted that any bowler would try and get him out in such a way. Consecutive pulled fours from Craig Overton brought his fifty; a similar shot off Lewis Gregory, brought him his century. It was the cause of great cheer among the vociferous Warwickshire contingent.
This could turn out to be a very significant week in Chopra's career. In six days time, he will have the chance to lead Warwickshire to the NatWest Blast trophy at Edgbaston. Chopra, whose limited overs form has been excellent in spite of his woes against the red ball - he averages 42.90 in the Blast and 104.66 in the Royal London One Day Cup - will be boosted by the return of Ian Bell, who has been declared available for Finals Day.
For all his fortitude, Chopra would not have reached a century without considerable fortune. He was badly spilled by Alfonso Thomas off Lewis Gregory at square leg when he had made 84. More crucially, Dockrell spilled a facile chance at midwicket off Johan Myburgh when Clarke had 1. Had that been taken, Warwickshire would have led by 171 for 6, leading by 252; chasing a target of 300, Somerset might have been marginal favourites. They will reflect on how different the match would be had they not spilt eight catches in the game.
After a day of profuse early promise, Somerset must have found the evening onslaught particularly deflating; some of the side's body language hinted at as much. In the circumstances, the prospect of facing four overs before the close cannot have done much for Marcus Trescothick's mood.
A target of 404 in 100 overs displayed admirable intent from Chopra, realising that a draw is of scant help to Warwickshire's lingering title aspirations. Given that they intend to spin their way to victory, the sight of Jeetan Patel ripping the new ball past Trescothick's groping bat felt a little ominous for home supporters.