Worcestershire well placed for maiden win
Somerset 280 (Trescothick 72) and 203 for 4 (Suppiah 83, Langer 64) trail Worcestershire 571 (Mitchell 298, Wheeldon 87, Cox 61, Trego 3-89) by 88 runs
The batting paradise at Taunton is not immune to insanity, and more than a whiff of it seemed to affect the Somerset batsmen on the third day against Worcestershire. By the close they left their visitors eagerly anticipating their first victory of an otherwise disastrous season, as their fighting spirit failed them. The most memorable moments of the day took place during Somerset's hilarious last-wicket partnership of 23.
Somerset began the day on 184 for 3, needing a total of 422 to avoid the possibility of having to follow on. The sun of the first two days had been replaced by the traditional British low cloud cover and there was some rare (at Taunton) movement in the pitch. But Somerset's tribulations were mostly self-inflicted.
With only five runs added, Zander de Bruyn was the first to go, essaying a flat-footed drive at a ball from Richard Jones and being caught at the wicket for 15. He was soon followed by James Hildreth (24), driving in some desperation at an off-side delivery from Matt Mason and edging a catch to first slip - the shot of a man out of form. Thirdly, Peter Trego slashed a ball straight to gully, and three wickets had fallen with the total on 189. The follow-on loomed.
Alfie Thomas and Ben Phillips now had to try to repair the damage, and for a while they did a good job, although the latter was dropped at slip when he had 7. Thomas, after settling in, started to attack the bowling in his South African style, hitting up 38 off 53 balls with seven fours before he slashed at a ball from Gareth Andrew and was caught at the wicket. Phillips now began to open up, driving Jack Shantry for two successive powerful fours before rather senselessly holing out at mid-off for 18, all in the same over.
Despite the gloomy weather, there were several hundred spectators who were now treated to a traditionally rustic last-wicket stand between Peter Stiff and Charl Willoughby. On the stroke of lunch, Stiff, then with 10, was dropped off a huge skier at mid-off, and after the interval he continued his entertaining assault, surviving a confident appeal for a catch at the wicket first ball on their return. He sliced a number of runs to third man off the edge and hit two boundaries almost one-handed, a four over mid-off and a six to midwicket, in both cases his left hand coming off the bat in mid-stroke. He had made 30 off 24 balls when a cross-batted swipe from Willoughby lobbed a catch to mid-off and the innings closed for 280. Mitchell, it will be remembered, made 298 off his own bat.
Now 291 behind, Somerset were naturally required to follow on, although Worcestershire no doubt had reservations about the possibility of another five sessions in the field should their bowlers fail to do the job a second time. They received a huge bonus when Marcus Trescothick aimed a rather weak drive at the second ball of the innings, bowled by Mason, without moving his feet, and was taken at second slip without a run on the board.
That, however, ended the frivolity for a while and normal service was resumed on the Taunton pitch. Justin Langer, playing his final home innings as a Somerset player, dug in with typical grit, waiting for the bad ball and punching it viciously to the boundary. The opener Arul Suppiah was more fluent, taking particular advantage of the short boundary for his cover drives, and moved smoothly to his 50 off only 65 balls. At tea they had added 113 runs together.
They slowed a little in the final session, but Langer reached his gritty 50 off 101 balls. Two runs later he survived a difficult chance to the keeper, caught going the wrong way, but Ben Cox made amends a few minutes later as he dived well to his left to hold a leg glance from Suppiah, who was not happy to depart for 83. The pair had added 142.
Hildreth came out as if determined to hit his way back to form. He immediately hammered fours past point and over midwicket (just), followed by a fine cover-driven boundary in the next over. This seemed to inspire Langer to play rashly, as he lashed two boundaries and then sliced a low catch to second slip, departing for 64. Somerset's hopes of fighting for a draw slumped dramatically within ten minutes, 163 for 3 with more than a day to play and their three top batsmen gone.
Hildreth's rather frenetic approach brought him little success; in trying to hook a ball from Jones, skied a catch to the keeper for 18. Play ended seven overs early due to bad light, and Somerset face the final day with only six wickets left and still well behind. It will take a lot to prevent Worcestershire from enjoying the sweet taste of a championship victory at last.