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Courageous Hildreth braves pain before Somerset shoot themselves in the foot

Somerset 322 for 9 (Hildreth 135, Rogers 132, Ball 6-47) v Nottinghamshire
Scorecard

Agony came in many forms for Somerset's players and supporters on the first day of a match that could feasibly bring them their first Championship. The most noticeable was that felt by James Hildreth when he was struck on the ankle by Jake Ball in the 15th over of the morning. Yet Somerset's No 4 dealt with the pain so successfully that he shared a 269-run stand for the third wicket with his captain, Chris Rogers.

Hildreth's 135 and his partnership with Rogers boosted Somerset's chances of collecting the five batting bonus points they desired to put pressure on the two leaders, Middlesex and Yorkshire, at the top of the Division One table.

But while Hildreth could deal with the severe discomfort in his own ankle, he could not prevent Somerset's cricketers from shooting themselves in the foot. With an hour or so left for play, the home side were 302 for 2, sun was dappling the County Ground and a large crowd was savouring the possibility of their side gaining a full haul of five batting points.

An hour later, those same spectators were trooping away having seen their side lose seven wickets for 20 runs in 12 overs, the last five of those wickets falling for no runs at all in 22 balls. There was stunned silence, disbelief and the occasional cry of woe.

Jake Ball had taken four of the seven wickets and finished his day's work with 6 for 47. That was a fine reward for the England seamer on a day when he had been head, shoulders and torso the pick of his team's attack.

But at least two of Ball's victims were complicit in their own downfall and at the other end Imran Tahir took two wickets after spending his preceding overs sending down the sort of tripe that butchers would not give to horses.

Lewis Gregory, who had batted well in Somerset's victory at Headingley last week, was bowled trying to waft Tahir to midwicket and Roelof van der Merwe was yet again leg before on the front foot. Perhaps he was in momentary shock because Tahir had bowled a straight one but that is really no excuse. Dear fabulous, fallible Somerset! What have your supporters done that their unconcealed devotion should be spurned in this way? Is love such a crime?

"It's frustrating," admitted Rogers, who had earlier made 132. "I think to lose seven for 20 from that position is pretty unforgivable to be honest and there were a couple of words said after the day's play. But we're still in a decent position and we just need to win the game now. We're a young side and we're making a few mistakes but it's still been a pretty good day for us."

Rogers had every right to be furious and his restraint did him credit. Allegiance to Somerset cricket is as much a matter of temperament as birth. Players arrive here and before long they call it home. Even Australians feel the pull of the combes and the gentle hills. It seems probable that Rogers is playing his final first-class game and he honoured both the occasion and the county he leads by making a century of the highest quality in what may yet become the most famous match in Somerset's history. Yes, you know, it really may.

But Rogers' innings did not attract the warmest praise on the first day of this match. That was reserved for Hildreth, who was struck that fearsome blow when he had only seven to his name, yet hobbled his way to one cricket's great monopedal hundreds. For much of his innings limping was a distant ambition for Hildreth; an agonised stagger was all he could manage.

That he contrived to bat for nearly four hours with Rogers was therefore remarkable; that he hit 18 fours, many of them quite marvellous off-side strokes, in making 135 was quite phenomenal. Yet it is the sort of stuff of which Somerset cricket has often been made, so it was appropriate that Hildreth performed his heroics on the day when his side's need was so great. What he thought as he nursed his blackened ankle and watched his hard work being tossed away like twig into the Tone can barely be guessed.

Hildreth came to the wicket after Ball had dismissed both Marcus Trescothick and Tom Abell in the first hour of the day. After taking his whack from a full length fast ball, he could really only hit fours down the ground or through the covers and midwicket. Pivoting on his right foot to pull or hook the ball was plainly excruciating. For most of his 234-ball innings he required a runner and Abell did the needful for four hours. Hildreth's was a quite heroic innings and its stature was recognised by the congratulations he received from Nottinghamshire's players.

"I had strong painkillers and we're pretty lucky that we get a runner," said Hildreth. "I felt if I could take a few more overs out of Ball early in the day, it might help our batters. I just wanted to get us towards that 400. Regrettably, I did take my shoe off at lunchtime and I looked down at my foot. I'm having an X-ray in the morning."

For their part, Somerset supporters may need to visit their therapists or perhaps they will simply take refuge in the fortified cordials. No one could blame them. They are not yet out of the hunt but the loyalists who had visions of the championship pennant fluttering above one of the ground's pavilions may need to place a check on those lovely hopes and dreams.