Somerset 140 for 2 (Byrom 53*) trail Essex 517 for 5 (ten Doeschate 173, Bopara 118, Cook 96) by 377 runs
Talk to any professional cricketer, past and present, and they will tell you that it is a horrible game to master. It plays devilish tricks on the mind, and even worse ones on the body. In a few fleeting moments you may enter the fabled "zone" but beware, for Mother Cricket is waiting to bite you on the arse at any, or indeed every moment.
It is the cruelty of cricket that so attracts its supporters. The fine balance between bat and ball. That sense of jeopardy that accompanies every delivery in the very best of matches; a jeopardy that has led some, famously, to chew through their umbrellas or even drop down dead.
While Ravi Bopara and Ryan ten Doeschate, in his first game back since a two-game suspension, were compiling a fifth-wicket record partnership for Essex against Somerset of 294, cricket, however, looked the easiest game in the world, at least for the batsmen. It was a stupendous feat of concentration on another blistering day by two men with decades of experience between them.
There were some elegant strokes, plenty of immaculate defence and, towards the end, when the imperative was to speed towards a declaration target, some genuinely spectacular hitting, but it was impossible to escape the impression that it was all too easy.
Runs, certainly for the first two hours today, weren't so much scored as extracted from Somerset's bowlers; a tithe to be paid if they wanted to share the same pitch. Dominic Bess, who finished yesterday's play covered in more grit, dust and grime than a Victorian child chimney sweep, struggled manfully on a pitch that offered him nothing.
Again he kept the Essex duo in check until ten Doeschate shifted gears late in the first session, driving the increasingly battered ball with perfect precision along the ground through the covers like a European Central Bank mandarin scything through the more hopeful parts of a Greek finance minister's budget with a pink marker pen. Bess' reward for 49 overs of earnest, and committed toil was figures of 2 for 132.
Jamie Overton, playing his first championship match of the season after injury, tried a different approach. Banging the ball in halfway down the wicket he generated decent pace, but the ball was soft, the pitch was docile and the batsmen, in particular ten Doeschate, adapted with ease. Overton's 22 overs yielded 110 runs, but at least it broke the monotony. Instead of a modest tithe, the batsmen were now extracting Super Tax.
Nearly four hours into the day, Bopara slogged at Trego and paid with his middle stump. His 118 was, astoundingly for a man who is the seventh highest run scorer in all cricket worldwide over the last decade, only his second championship century since July 2, 2014. There was time for ten Doeschate (173*) to go past his highest championship score before he declared10 overs before tea on a mere 515 for 5.
Somerset were able to negotiate the short session to tea easily. All too easily. And then the game burst into life. Neil Wagner, who gave the full pitched swinging ball two or three attempts, promptly and with commendable devotion, explored the middle of the pitch, much as Overton had earlier, but at greater pace and at a nastier angle.
The last eight overs of his marathon ten over spell consisted almost entirely of short balls. A couple, suddenly, shot along the ground. Most of them reared to chest and throat height. Davies glanced one to Wheater behind the stumps to depart for 41. Byrom and Bartlett channelling their inner Andrew Hilditch, pulled and hooked at pretty much every ball. They even middle the occasional one. It was baffling. Westley was stationed at back-stop for the top edged hook. You could hear Geoffrey Boycott mithering at their failure to sway and duck, and he may have had a point. It was ludicrous stuff, but, after hours of somnolent dominance by the bat, it was marvellous fun.
And then it stopped again. Wagner couldn't bowl all day. Sam Cook and Jamie Porter adopted a more orthodox approach. Byrom and Bartlett settled back into the rhythms of this match and the day dawdled to its close with the lights finally taking effect, Somerset comfortably enough placed on 140 for 2.