Somerset 339 for 7 (Abell 135, Trescothick 60, Bailey 4-53) v Lancashire
When the 2015 season ended Tom Abell and Tom Bailey shared more than a first name; both cricketers were entitled to feel that their careers were launched. Abell's 726 Championship runs had included a maiden century against Hampshire on a September day which many Somerset supporters will recall as long as they can remember anything. Bailey's 35 Division Two wickets had proclaimed the arrival of a fine seam bowler.
Since then "Mother Cricket", that strange, mystical figure often cited by the old coaches, has treated both players with something less than maternal kindness. Abell has been injured and out of form; Bailey's torn side muscle has kept him out of Lancashire's team since the first Roses match ended in early June.
And yet, on the last day of August Abell and Bailey found that what this game sometimes denies, it also restores to its most faithful servants. Somerset's stylish opener made 135 in a match his team may need to win if they are to keep the pressure on Middlesex and Yorkshire at the top of the table. And as their rivals' wickets fell at Edgbaston and Southampton the band of travelling fans could be encouraged by a scoreboard which read 267 for 2.
Once again Somerset supporters are daring to hope and on afternoons like this Abell threatens to fulfil their lovely dreams.
The mood among Lancashire loyalists, whose side is not yet safe from completing a hat-trick of relegations, was somewhat different. There's a members' forum here on the second evening and one or two of the hierarchy's more trenchant critics may have been wondering how much it cost to rent a set of stocks. After all, at 5.45 pm their team had claimed two wickets and did not really look like collecting any more. But the taking of the new ball under floodlights and the accuracy of Bailey when bowling with it wrenched the game out of what had seemed a clear pattern of Somerset dominance.
Four wickets fell to Bailey in seven balls. Both James Hildreth and Jim Allenby fell to catches at second slip by Alviro Petersen; Abell, having faced 249 balls and hit 19 fours was cramped for room and edged to Croft. Lewis Gregory took a small stride forward and his first ball became his last. Indeed, had Toby Lester clung on to a catch at midwicket off Craig Overton, Bailey would have had a hat-trick.
One of North Devon's finest did not capitalise on his reprieve. Instead, he lost his off stump when playing down the wrong line to Jarvis in the next over and Somerset had lost five wickets for 20 runs. They therefore were deeply grateful that Peter Trego played one of his typically uncluttered innings, making 49 not out off 40 balls as Lancashire bowlers became giddy with success and overpitched.
But when both Lancashire's revival and Somerset's riposte have been given their due this day was made memorable by the batting of Abell, who decorated the last day of August with one of the finer innings likely to be seen in this year's County Championship.
Albeit that he needed good fortune in the opening overs of the day and was dropped in the gully by Rob Jones when 32, the later sections of his century against what seemed a tired Lancashire attack had echoes of his maiden hundred against Hampshire almost a year ago. If Somerset supporters had to swap the Quantocks' gentle hills for Trafford's dark-roomed towers, that did not lessen the pleasure they derived from watching this most cultured of cricketers drive Lester through midwicket in the 13th over or stroke seven boundaries off Simon Kerrigan in the overs immediately after lunch.
Abell batted with all the easy grace one might expect from his county's heir to Lionel Palairet and Peter Wight. And if we broaden the West Country horizon, it is difficult to imagine that even Tom Graveney played better shots on what some pro's still refer to as the posh side of the wicket. Abell's cover drive off Kerrigan or his back foot four off Bailey were tiny essays in footwork and poise. In each case, the ball bowled became the mere context of the stroke.
He had help, of course, and it came from two of this game most respected professionals. Marcus Trescothick helped him put on 134 for the first wicket, Somerset's best opening stand of the season, before his pull cum hook sent the ball to deep backward square leg where Simon Kerrigan leapt to take a two-handed ctach above his head before collapsing in a delighted heap. Then Chris Rogers played with understated efficiency before departing to a leg-side strangle to give Jordan Clark his second slightly fortuitous wicket of the day.
Yet perhaps it was right that these two elder statesmen left Old Trafford to their younger colleague. Some of Abell's strokes would be gorgeous things if played in a Sunday afternoon friendly between Higher Faffing and Much Binding in the Marsh. Here at Old Trafford they transcended every context and made another day glorious.