Somerset 203 (Van der Merwe 60, Harmer 5-105) and forfeit drew with Essex 141 (Cook 53, Leach 5-32, van der Merwe 4-41) and 45 for 1 (Cook 30*)
A season we thought might conclude in soggy anti-climax with a title formally decided by a bland announcement over Taunton's public address instead ended with warm handshakes on a sunlit outfield between two teams who had battled it out for the County Championship over the previous five months. As if to ensure that everyone remembered the value of this great title, Essex had to fight for the draw which secured the pennant. It was a glorious and nerve-shredding story, one they will tell often over the next few months in places like Colchester and Ilford. It may get a mention in Bridgwater and Glastonbury as well, although the remembrance will nothing like so as warm.
It had all seemed so simple for Essex. If the showers did not put the game out of its misery, surely their batsmen would, even on a spinners' pitch. Although Nick Browne had been dismissed in the morning session, Alastair Cook and Tom Westley had shepherded their side to 102 for 1 by mid-afternoon. Some people were wondering when the draw could be agreed; other were simply enjoying their last cricket of the summer. Then Cook was caught at short leg by Tom Banton off Jack Leach. A breach, to be sure, but surely nothing much more, we thought. We were wrong.
Over the next 80 minutes or so the rest of the Essex order were swept away by Leach, who finished the innings with 5 for 32, and Roelof van der Merwe, who took 4 for 41. Batsmen came and went like speed-daters with no interest in their partners. Encouraged by the regular fall of wickets, Leach and van der Merwe stuck to tight lines and let the pitch do the rest. It did not fail them. Dan Lawrence was caught in the gully for a second-ball duck; Ravi Bopara was taken at silly point for a single; Westley was caught at slip for a patient 36.
If only two batsmen could have stuck around for an hour there would have been nothing at all to disturb the good folk in Billericay or the Baddows. But no one stuck around. Leach bowled to an 8-1 field and six of those eight were close on the off side. Fielders swarmed around the bat like painted ladies around buddleia. The Essex tail was swept away in a few overs. In all, the visitors lost their last nine wickets for 39 runs in a little less than 19 overs; their last six in a post-tea helter-skelter for 15 runs in 32 balls.
It was wonderful stuff for the Taunton supporters, many of whom glimpsed a miracle. But wait a moment. How could victory be achieved? The answer was simple, obvious and daring. Tom Abell forfeited his side's second innings and left Essex to score 63 in seven minutes plus a minimum of 16 overs in the last hour. Spectators hearing of the drama came to the County Ground wondering if Somerset were to win their first title in the most dramatic fashion possible. They did something similar when Harold Gimblett was batting. They watch cricket at Taunton in the full knowledge that they are passing on a sacred heritage.
At which point in this afternoon's drama, sanity was restored. Calmness re-entered the crease in the shape of Alastair Cook who, if he was as nervous as his captain Ryan ten Doeschate claimed, did not show it. Instead, he made 30 not out in 59 minutes and was one of the very first to know Essex had won the title. It was 5.20pm when Abell offered the draw and Cook accepted with grace. The visitors had given a little thought to winning the game but such things barely mattered a jot when set beside the title. Even the prize money, £583,000, although very useful to any county, paled when set beside the trophy and the pennant.
This is Essex's eighth title since they first won the championship in 1979; no county has won it so frequently in that period. It is also the sixth time Somerset have finished as runners-up this century and the third time in the last four years. Such records are so simple to tap out on a laptop with the County Ground sunk in the darkness of a September evening. And then one considers the joy and sweat, the disappointment and effort, the triumphs and defeats that lie behind them. Then, if you love this game as most of those at Taunton today do, you stop for a while and ponder it all.
Marcus Trescothick fielded as a substitute for the last few overs of this match. He has been a great cricketer and he has now retired. Like Peter Wight, like Sammy Woods, like Peter Roebuck, he will never play in a title-winning Somerset side. All that is left is the respect of his fellow professionals; that was shown when the Essex players formed a guard of honour; all that is left is the unqualified love of Somerset's supporters; all that is left is his own knowledge that he has brought honour illimited to his craft. It will be more than enough.
Perhaps, after all, there are bigger things than trophies. Perhaps the Essex players know that even as they are giving it large on their coach back to Chelmsford. But that will not halt their celebrations for an instant, nor should it. They are most worthy champions. The rest of us are left with memories of a glorious county season. It has offered the pastoral glory of Newclose, the rugged grandeur of Sedbergh and the warmth of so many outgrounds and fine headquarters.
The weather was glorious this afternoon at Taunton and some folk may have thought it the mockery of the gods. After all we had seen those scarlet covers pushed on and off the County Ground far too often over the previous three days. But the sunlight was brighter than it had been throughout the entire match and it was a prelude to a wonderful conclusion to our precious season. Now there is only darkness, many darknesses really; but lighting it all like a lamp is the memory of a summer gone … and the prospect of the new season that will greet us next spring.