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Unstoppable Porter takes Essex closer to title

Essex 159 (Browne 44, ten Doeschate 35, C Overton 4-40, van Meekeren 4-60) and 293 (Wheater 88, Browne 66*) beat Somerset 164 (Hildreth 51, Porter 5-40) and 109 (Porter 7-55, Harmer 3-29) by 179 runs

It was a few minutes after Essex had completed another resounding County Championship win. On a radiant afternoon, spectators were on the outfield taking selfies with Jamie Porter. Then, one asked him: "Is it in the bag?" Porter laughed: "As close as you could ask for, really."

For Essex fans, the team and Porter himself, this was the day when the notion of a first Championship pennant since 1992 moved from being a tantalising promise to an expectation.

September arrives with Essex cushioning a 36-point lead over second-placed Lancashire. Avoid defeat at Old Trafford next week and Essex will be on the brink of becoming the first Championship winners for a decade not to be a Test match hosting ground.

Should they indeed manage that, there is no cricketer Essex will be more thankful to than Porter, their totem all summer long. He is, most fundamentally, relentless in his line and length, unerring accuracy underpinned by a smooth, muscular action and fitness that allows him to bowl long spells, increased pace.

Marry these attributes with increased pace - strength and conditioning work over the winter has lifted Porter's regular speed to not far off 85mph - the ability to seam the ball both ways, a propensity for obtaining awkward bounce, ease bowling either over or around the wicket and skill using the crease to locate an awkward angle, and the upshot is a tremendous fast bowler.

The delivery that carved open left-hander Edward Byron from over the wicket, slanting away while rearing up to catch a sliver of the bat, was in itself worth of touring Down Under this winter, albeit that Porter will almost certainly do so with the England Lions. But continue his sterling improvement there, and an England Test cap will surely soon be forthcoming.

This was a day when Porter recorded the statistical feats that his unstinting excellence all summer has demanded. As he led Essex to the 10 wickets they had 59 overs to get, Porter did more than merely win Essex the match.

He claimed a five-fer in the innings, his first ten-wicket haul in a match, vaulted past 50 Championship wickets for the summer - 50 first-class wickets were already secure, for the third straight summer - and didn't stop until he had taken a career best 7 for 55, and 12 for 95 in the match. As Porter led Essex off the field to hug his mum, Chelmsford was united in buoyant applause, both celebrating the achievements of the summer so far and in expectation of what is to come.

Once again Porter found a wonderful ally in Simon Harmer, the pair combining so brilliantly that the absence of Mohammad Amir, who had a back spasm, was scarcely noticed. It fell to Harmer to seal victory, when Craig Overton played on. Harmer once again provided unstinting control and stamina, bowling a 15.5-over spell straight through from the River End while Porter polished off Somerset from his favoured Hayes Close End.

And so Essex had a fifth straight Championship win to toast during their remarkable summer. Essex have not merely outscrapped their opponents; they have positively eviscerated them. Consider Essex's margins of victories in this period: eight wickets, an innings and 164 runs, an innings 34 runs, eight wickets again and, here 179 runs.

For Somerset, all that was left was envy. A year ago they entered September with brilliant dreams of lifting their inaugural title. Now, their aspirations are altogether more modest: retaining their Division One status.

While head coach Matthew Maynard lambasted their fielding and bowling in the morning as the "most sluggish we've seen from a Somerset side this year", the greatest reason for their demise is porous batting, highlighted again by being bundled out in just 38 overs.

Only two of Somerset's frontline batsmen this season average more than Steve Davies' 27.81. The first, overseas player Dean Elgar, will not return in 2017 - and Fakhar Zaman, his intended replacement, never made it to Taunton either. The second, Adam Hose, left in mid-season for relegation rivals Warwickshire, allowed to leave on loan after agreeing a three-year deal from next season.

What is left? Not enough. Marcus Trescothick played on to a sharp delivery from Porter, second ball of the innings; a little unlucky, perhaps, but Trescothick, for all his sterling service to this club, is only averaging 21.50 in the Championship this year - he might be grateful that negotiations for his return in 2018 have already been concluded.

Still, Trescothick's numbers remain better than those of Tom Abell - even if Abell had a right to lament his dismissal today, lbw not playing a shot to Harmer for a duck when the ball had to spin appreciably to hit offstump.

Middle order fortitude should be provided by Davies and James Hildreth. Both have played the occasional fine Championship innings in 2017, but these have been too rare. If Davies was snared by an outstanding delivery from Porter, who showcased his penchant for left-handers by squaring him up from round the wicket, Hildreth would not have attracted much sympathy for his airy waft outside offstump, which only succeeded in bringing forward Essex's victory party.

Far greater celebrations beckon within a few weeks.