Yorkshire 70 for 3 trail Somerset 199 (Abell 66, Maharaj 5-54) by 129 runs
It is all too easy for folk in the West Country to fall in love with Somerset cricket and all too tempting at times to think their heroes have spurned such devotion. It is not so, of course; the players share that love, but as Yorkshire's bowlers took six wickets for 85 runs and seamers' cloud gave way to batsmen's sunlight on this first morning many spectators at the County Ground feared this would be another September in which their hopes of a first title would founder.
They may yet do so, of course. Yorkshire are only 129 runs behind the home team's 199 and still have seven wickets in hand. But the day finished rather more evenly poised than had seemed likely when Somerset were in their lunchtime doldrums. Moreover, supporters have enjoyed unforgettable occasions at Taunton in recent years and few are more clearly printed on the mind than the morning four years ago to the day when Tom Abell reached his maiden first-class century. So perhaps it was fitting that it should be Abell, now Somerset's captain, who rescued his team against Yorkshire with a patient innings of 66 which revealed all the nous the young skipper has picked up during four years in which his own resources, both mental and physical, have been tested to their limit.
On a pitch offering slow turn and help to seamers who adhered to their disciplines, Abell eschewed the rashness which brought the downfall of Steve Davies, who was caught at point off Steve Patterson for 11 in the ninth over of the day. He also exhibited little of the technical looseness which caused James Hildreth to be bowled through the gate for a single by Duanne Olivier. Instead, he played late and watchfully, rarely driving through the V, wisely preferring to wait for the balls that were either too short or too wide.
Somerset needed Abell's vigilance. This is a game the home side may need to win if they are to sustain their dreams of the title. It is certainly a match Yorkshire must win if their own slender chances are to be anything more than arithmetical. So imagine the glee with which Abell and his players greeted the news that slow left-armer Keshav Maharaj would be available for this game. It may be compared to the joy likely to be felt by Andrea Leadsom were she to be told that John Bercow was dropping round for a cuppa and a chinwag. Maharaj, you see, took eleven wickets when playing for Lancashire in the tied match at Taunton last year; he then took another ten for Yorkshire in their innings victory over Somerset in July. And on this first day, he remained true to form by picking up another five, thus taking his total against Abell's team to 26 in five innings at an average of 10.88.
After the seamers had taken the first four wickets Maharaj was summoned to bowl at the River End ten minutes before lunch. His first wicket was something of a charity donation when George Bartlett decided it would be a good wheeze to reverse sweep the second ball after lunch. He duly edged a catch to Adam Lyth at slip. Young cricketers perceive reverse sweeps and scoops very differently to the old pro's. They are part of their stock in trade. But it is still fair to ask whether the risk against reward equation worked in Bartlett's favour on this occasion.
In truth, Abell had little help until Jamie Overton joined him in a 51-run stand for the ninth wicket. Six of the first eight batsmen dismissed by Yorkshire's bowlers reached double figures but none could manage more than the 15 notched by Dom Bess before he carelessly drove Maharaj to Tim Bresnan at short cover in the same over in which he had hit two fine fours. Bess was the seventh batsman dismissed but the fourth to be complicit in his departure. Overton, on the other hand, selected the ball to hit and celebrated the award of his county cap, after 153 games in all formats if you please, by clumping six fours in an unbeaten 40. Maharaj, of course, had the last word, removing both Abell and Josh Davey leg before wicket in the space of three balls to leave Somerset one run short of a batting point.
Yorkshire began their innings as if intent on taking a first-innings lead this evening. Lyth hooked and pulled Davey for two sixes in the same over, thus taking him past 10,000 first-class runs for Yorkshire. But both he and Will Fraine were caught behind in the first six overs and after Gary Ballance had accumulated 35 runs in a little less than an hour, Dom Bess had Yorkshire's top scorer leg before wicket ten balls before the close. We are thus set for a close contest, although no one is betting it will last into a fourth day.