Middlebrook stands tall as Caddick takes six
Somerset 11 for 1 trail Essex 400 for 9 (Middlebrook 115, Caddick 6-80)
It was a day for tall stories. For much of the morning session, Will Jefferson bestrode play like the 6ft 10ins Colossus that he is, before Andrew Caddick, one of yesterday's tall men (and a mere 6ft 5ins) wrenched the initiative back Somerset's way. Then James Middlebrook, no dwarf at an inch or two over six foot, hit a glorious maiden Championship hundred to give Paul Grayson a full set of batting points and the luxury of declaring. Essex bowled three overs - time enough to remove Peter Bowler.
Grayson must have been relieved to win the toss: batting first at least meant Essex would not be following on - as they had the last three times they played Somerset in the Championship. Still, Caddick, who exploited the early moisture in the pitch to send back Alastair Cook and Grayson, quickly snatched two wickets.
That brought Andy Flower to join Jefferson and, as the pitch eased to a typically true Taunton track, the runs came at a handsome four an over. Flower was effortless, gently accumulating, while Jefferson seemed to caress boundaries almost at will. Losing those two wickets was an acceptable price to pay if it allowed these two to make hay in the Somerset sun.
As lunch beckoned, Essex were cruising at 140 for 2, the third-wicket stand worth 107 and a fat total seemed guaranteed. But from nowhere, Caddick got the ball to seam, Flower played down the wrong line and the bails flew. Just two balls later Caddick trapped Aftab Habib lbw to grab his - and Essex's fourth wicket. If not quite steaming in as he did in all those second-innings bursts for England, Caddick certainly gave a reminder of what he could do. Perhaps he had seen David Graveney and Rod Marsh looking on.
They may have been in the West Country to see if James Foster could build on his double-hundred against Leicestershire. He did add a few, though he shouldn't - he was badly dropped by Bowler at first slip on 1. Soon after, Jefferson, within five of a classy hundred, made a mess of an honest ball from Nixon McLean, and was bowled.
Jefferson had seemed as permanent as a Lombardy poplar. And so, in fact, he was. The fine old tree that had graced the lawns of the County Museum a short walk from the ground was toppled at about the same time. As a spectator sport, there wasn't much in it; if anything, the poplar proved more popular than Championship cricket.
At 205 for 6, Essex seemed to have squandered the advantage of batting first on a beauty, but James Middlebrook and Graham Napier, their unheralded allrounders, then redeemed the innings. Initially batting within themselves, they took the score to 262 by tea, and then opened up against the insipid medium pace of Keith Parsons and Michael Burns. Between them, their 20 overs cost 104.
Middlebrook was a revelation, mixing rock-steady defence with a barrage of aggressive cuts and, latterly, rasping pulls. His maiden Championship hundred kept Essex in the game, allowed Grayson's timely declaration and gave the visiting dignitaries something to think about. The most memorable display, though, came from someone else; Caddick's 6 for 80 was a class act - yet at 35 and with a successful young Test attack looking better by the day, the resumption of his international career is surely the tallest story of all ... isn't it?
Hugh Chevallier is deputy editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack.