Somerset 301 and 227 for 7 (Lammonby 116, Porter 4-51) lead Essex 337 for 8 (Gregory 6-72) by 191 runs
The penultimate morning of the first-class cricket season offered both a familiar elegy and a fresh dynamic. The trees in St John's Wood Church Grounds were crisping gently into autumn and it seemed fitting that John Sell Cotman, the 19th century landscape painter, has his marked grave in their abundant shadow. The day could have been mistaken for summer's finest vintage until one stood in the bitter breeze and realised why the track-suited Essex players were muffled up as they strolled down Circus Road towards Lord's. "The sunlight on the garden / Hardens and grows cold," Louis MacNeice wrote.
Tom Westley's players could not allow either the weather or the many attractions of St John's Wood to deter them. Panzers may sell 15 varieties of tomato - is there a finer food emporium in the land? - but Essex have a cup to win and are more concerned with taking the Bob Willis Trophy back to Chelmsford. It would be their fourth domestic triumph in as many seasons and would confirm them in many minds as the best team in the land. Such an achievement, though, rested on their ability to secure a first-innings lead and then avoid losing this match.
That first goal was attained with little trouble; the second will depend on their ability to withstand Somerset's attack on what is effectively a fourth-day Test match pitch. (If they do that they will probably win the game in any case.) Until the last couple of hours on Saturday the wicket had misbehaved as frequently as the most unctuous teacher's pet but Somerset's batsmen have given their bowlers a chance. One suspects the last day of this game will hold the interest of those watching around the country on live stream before they bid farewell to the type of cricket they most enjoy. "We cannot cage the minute / Within its nets of gold," MacNeice continues.
There is, though, little doubt that Tom Lammonby
is currently making excellent use of almost every hour the gods allow him. When the Somerset opener eased Jamie Porter
through midwicket for three runs in the fourth over after tea he completed the third hundred of his first-class career, all his centuries coming in successive matches in the Bob Willis Trophy. Yet so assured had been Lammonby's strokeplay, particularly through the leg side, that a century had looked likely ever since he had swept Simon Harmer
to fine leg, thus reaching his fifty off 73 balls with his ninth boundary.
That first landmark was reached during Lammonby's 105-run opening stand with Ben Green, who made 41 before he nicked Aaron Beard to Alastair Cook. Tom Abell then offered almost trifling assistance as a further 50 runs were added off 47 balls for the second wicket; by contrast most bowlers came alike to his partner. Porter was clipped square off Lammonby's toes and then punched through midwicket. Harmer, who had been smacked over midwicket for six by Green, was driven against the spin through the leg side, which Lammonby favoured for a dozen of his 17 fours. The 20-year-old's command appeared absolute until Harmer, as he so often does, had his revenge.
Lammonby's wicket was the second of the three that fell for one run in the ten balls that may be seen as vital in determining the destiny of the trophy. Well-placed to set a decent target when they were 159 for 2 at tea, Somerset had already lost Eddie Byrom, who played on to Porter for 1, before George Bartlett perished at mid-on when trying to muscle the same bowler to the Nursery End. Harmer's arm ball then hit Lammonby on the back pad to give Russell Warren one of his easier decisions and Essex's revival was maintained when Alastair Cook, whose enjoyment of cricket remains so obvious, dived to his left to take Lewis Gregory's sharp edge.
And quite suddenly the cricket, and even the day itself, seemed far removed from the first half-hour of the morning in which Essex had gained the lead that ensured they will win the trophy should the game be drawn. That task had been accomplished in almost perfunctory fashion, one that belied the importance of the runs scored.
Essex began the session a mere 35 runs behind Somerset but with four wickets in hand. The common expectation was that we would watch a grim and glorious struggle for every run; the reality was that Porter and Adam Wheater knocked off the runs needed for a lead in 7.2 overs and there was roughly as much tension as would normally accompany the washing-up. Two sets of four leg-byes got things moving and Wheater's boundaries through midwicket and long leg off Overton brought the target down to single figures. It was fitting that a Steve Davies fumble and four byes should provide the anti-climactic moment that was greeted with understandable applause on the away balcony. By the time the innings closed when 120 overs had been bowled, Gregory had taken his fifth and sixth wickets but Essex's lead was 36 runs.
Some seven hours later Somerset had their own lead of 191 but after hoping to set their opponents a target in excess of 250, they had spent the rest of the session after Gregory's dismissal struggling towards advantage of 200. And by the close they had also lost Davies, caught at slip for 19 by Cook, who seems impervious to both frost and fever. Mortal men - or at least those of us who do not have to brave the climate on a Bedfordshire farm - are not so fortunate. Describing the weather as autumnal when the umpires took the players off seven overs before the close was an act of verbal generosity towards it. One thought of Michael Rosen's poem, "London Fields":
The wicket falls
High fives all round
Conkers shining in their nests
Mr Softee pulls away.
Perhaps they do, perhaps he does, but we have had a fine season, all two months of it. There has been sunlight on our gardens, a brighter sunlight than we thought possible. Let us pray it is a portent.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications