Somerset 324 for 7 (Hildreth 125*, Overton 80, Berg 4-88) lead Hampshire 231 by 93 runs
James Hildreth plays a cover-drive at Taunton on a Saturday afternoon in May. The scoreboard flicks over and something of summer is held in the moment. Barely a good hit away the County Stores is offering cream teas at two for £6. Across town church aisles have been swept in preparation for weddings and now speeches are being smartened up, the bad jokes made a little worse. But inside the County Ground, Hildreth glides Fidel Edwards between gully and slips and down to the boundary. He is making a century and changing this game.
On Sunday morning the papers will note Hildreth's unbeaten 125 and his 133-run partnership for the sixth wicket with Craig Overton. That stand all but broke Hampshire's attack and it took Somerset into a lead which had been extended to 93 by the close of a day from which 17 overs were trimmed by bad light. Overton's dismissal when he played on to Gareth Berg for a rather cultured 80 did not end the suffering for James Vince's players. Jack Leach was also batting capably when the players finally went off.
Those papers will also make something of the absence of Kyle Abbott, who turned an ankle in the third over of Somerset's innings and could not bowl for over three hours. And they may make much of Edwards' dropped catch at midwicket which would have ended Hildreth's innings when he had only 24 and Somerset were 71 for 4. Both points will be valid but the folk enjoying their caramel lattes in Coffee#1 will recall the ease of Hildreth's square drives, the gentle tempo of his innings and all the pleasure it gave them.
Taunton's cricket ground, which is now squeezed between flats and offices, is woven tight into the life of the town. Hildreth moved into the nineties with the sweetest of clips through midwicket off Abbott and reached his century with a cut to the boundary off Berg. He had faced 138 balls and hit 13 fours in getting to his 41st first-class hundred for Somerset. But they still call him Hildy in The Ring of Bells.
And centuries are often made glorious by the circumstances of their making. Somerset were 40 for 2 when Hildreth walked out to bat. They had lost Eddie Byrom, bowled by Edwards for 10, and George Bartlett, caught at slip off Brad Wheal for 1. The prize wicket, though, was that of Matt Renshaw, who had looked in the mood to reduce another county attack to weeping impotence. His flick through midwicket had carried the mark of Zorro; his uppercut for six off Wheal had been daring theatre. But having been dropped by a diving McManus and also survived a drum-splitting lbw shout from Edwards, Renshaw was eventually squared up by Berg and caught by Jimmy Adams at second slip when looking to play to leg. Seven balls later local gloom deepened when Tom Abell hooked his first ball to Edwards at long leg, thus giving Berg the second of his four wickets. Hildreth strolled around the pitch like a farmer inspecting his land.
Something approaching calm was restored in the hour after lunch. Steven Davies and Hildreth put on 60 before the Somerset wicketkeeper was forced to retire when hit on the ankle. Lewis Gregory lasted seven balls but Overton marched out and announced his arrival with a blunderbuss off-drive to a ball from Wheal. One of Instow's finest settled in and took his cue from Hildreth.
And now we are deep in the evening session. The sun has bustled its way through tissues of cloud, prompting Jeff Evans and Jeremy Lloyds to summon the cricketers out again. The outfield carries shades of the afternoon's magic. But we face only 11 balls before play is called off on this day when Hildreth made Somerset's sixth hundred of this barely adolescent season. A year ago most of the top order had difficulty reaching double figures but victory in this game may take the county to the top of the table.
Spectators drift away hardly daring to dream. It is over eight hours since the gates opened and they streamed to their favoured spots in the Marcus Trescothick Stand and the Colin Atkinson Pavilion. For the first Championship match against Worcestershire they were queuing at 8.30am and the club played the "William Tell Overture" as the members hurried to their coveted places. All for a game "nobody watches"; all for people like Hildy and days like this.