Somerset 330 for 9 (Davies 111; Parkinson 4-68) v Lancashire
Time was when Steve Davies was considered an England cricketer of some promise. But so transitory can be international fame and so rapid the churn of players that his eight one-day internationals now seem distant occasions. Add a recent loss of form to the mix and Davies has been returned to the ranks of county professionals, one of a dozen or more admirable wicketkeeper-batsmen in the first-class game.
All of which tempts one to forget what a fine player Davies still is and how capable when it comes to organising an innings. To their relief, however, Somerset supporters at Taunton were reminded of those virtues on the first day of this match when he made a painstaking 111, an innings that was as welcome to home supporters as ginger cake on a mellow autumn afternoon.
But Davies's 226-minute hundred was warmly appreciated by the ruddy regulars at the County Ground not so much for its rich luxury as its grave necessity. Despite last week's victory at Edgbaston, Somerset trail the teams above them by at least 13 points and surely need to win at least one of their final three games if they are to stay up. Davies's innings may have had its slight longueurs - it contained only a dozen boundaries - but it held the Somerset effort together against Lancashire bowlers who were striving to justify Steven Croft's decision to bowl first in a game where both sides have picked two spinners.
That decision was probably explained by the belief that the Lancashire seamers would make early breakthroughs but by the close it was Matty Parkinson's leg-spin that was causing Davies and his colleagues most of their problems. The four wickets Parkinson took and the turn he extracted suggested batting last will not be a straightforward task on this Taunton pitch against a side which already has 330 runs on the board. That does not bode well for the visiting batsmen in a game they almost certainly need to win to sustain their own championship ambitions.
It barely seems a year since Somerset were striving to win the title while Lancashire were struggling to avoid their third relegation in five seasons. The teams began this game having swapped concerns, although that in itself is not so surprising in an eight-team division, where mid-table respectability is a mirage. Lancashire have toughened up under Glen Chapple and Mark Chilton's new regime while Somerset's hopes have foundered amid batting frailties. "The wheel is come full circle. I am here" says Edmund in Act V Scene iii of King Lear.
During the morning session it seemed that the sides would play their accustomed roles. Three of Somerset's top order played themselves in and then duly got out for scores between 25 and 38. Their dismissals illustrated Somerset's problems this season. Marcus Trescothick, having batted pleasantly for 25, was leg before when playing around his front pad to Tom Bailey. George Bartlett, whose crouching stance suggests imminent rheumatism rather than obvious comfort, was lbw to Kyle Jarvis for 3 when falling across his off stump. Neither batsman demurred at their decisions.
James Hildreth hit four boundaries, a couple of them as pleasant as anything one has seen this season, before he played loosely at McLaren and was bowled off the inside edge for 25. Hildreth has now been dismissed between 22 and 43 in 11 of his 21 championship innings this season. Such fallibility is endearing only to slack-minded neutrals. In Somerset it produces irritation that one of the most abundantly gifted batsmen in the English game manages at times to make relatively little of his talent.
As three of his colleagues departed, young Eddie Byrom batted with conscientious care and a pleasing awareness of the location of his off stump. His reward was to be 38 not out at lunch but he had not added to that total when McLaren moved the third delivery after lunch away from him and he failed to cover the deviation.
But as the ball aged and Parkinson initially struggled to find his length, Somerset recovered from 105 for 4. Davies added 119 for the fifth wicket with his captain, Tom Abell, whose own innings of 46 was a reminder of how sweetly he times a cricket ball when the gods are with him. It seemed likely that the pair would steer Somerset to tea without further loss but Abell edged Parkinson's fine leg-spinner to Liam Livingstone at slip in the over before the break, a wicket which encouraged Croft's bowlers without restoring parity.
Parkinson added the scalps of Peter Trego, Craig Overton and Dom Bess, two of them stumped by an alert Alex Davies, in a gloomy rain-threatened evening session, and one wondered if his namesake would run out of partners before reaching three figures. But Jack Leach offered stout support and was unbeaten on 26 at the close of a day's cricket which had been packed with delights. Davies, himself, had been bowled off the inside edge by Bailey three overs before the close. He played a tired shot but he will enjoy the sleep of the just. One or two Lancashire batsmen, on the other hand, may be haunted by visions of spitting balls and predatory fielders.