Lancashire 364 for 8 (Wells 103, Croft 70, Bailey 54*, Bohannon 50) vs Somerset
Close and slow, summer is ending in the West Country. There is blackberry picking on the southern bank of the Bridgwater and Taunton canal and the purple loosestrife is in abundant flower. In rhythm with the year, the cricket season is also drifting to its close at the County Ground, not with the prospect of a Championship pennant, you understand, but with hopes fastened firm on next week's Vitality Blast mayhem at Edgbaston. Yet such matters did not obtrude greatly on this blue morning, when supporters turned up in good numbers to help heal the deep scars of the two humblings, each by an innings, that have been inflicted on Somerset over five grim days in the past fortnight. The deep roar that greeted Ned Leonard's maiden first-class wicket in the day's sixth over revealed more than joy at a 19-year-old's triumph.
That dismissal of George Balderson, caught in the gully by Tom Lammonby for 22, was followed four balls later by another success, when Alex Davies was well beaten by Jack Brooks' late movement away and nicked a catch to his namesake, Steve. But there was to be no further cause for delight in the River Stand until nearly two o'clock, when Luke Wells, having reached a fine century off 112 balls, was squared up by his 113th and nicked a catch to James Hildreth at first slip. It was the first inelegant shot Wells had played in an innings that featured 20 boundaries.
That last statistic is suggestive of more than the quality of the Lancashire batter's strokeplay in reaching three figures for the first time since April 2018, when he was a Sussex cricketer. For one thing it says something about the pace of this Taunton pitch; for another it reflects the fatal generosity of Tom Abell's attack in serving up long half-volleys and wide long hops. Indeed, Somerset's captain was more munificent than any of his colleagues, albeit that his snaring of Wells was the first of his three successes in eight balls. Balanced against his removal of Josh Bohannon, caught by Leonard for 50 when fielding at a deep, very backward point position that defies conventional naming, and his dismissal of Rob Jones, also taken by Hildreth at slip, must be placed the bleak statistic that Abell's seven overs cost 63 runs.
The failure of the home attack to hit a consistent line and length on a wicket that will reward such virtues - the skipper used six seamers inside the first 24 overs of the game - explains why Lancashire fairly scampered to 127 for 2 in the first session. It also shows how grievously Somerset are missing three injured bowlers. Lewis Gregory will not bowl again this season, Craig Overton has a rib problem, and Josh Davey was ruled out just before the game with a sore groin. The seven members of Abell's attack - three of them proper allrounders - have now played 48 games this season yet have only 52 wickets between them.
Lancashire capitalised on indiscipline at every opportunity. The visitors' chances of winning the title are not much better than their opponents yet they wore the loss of Vilas and Lamb, both leg-before in successive Brooks overs, and still got to the close on 364 for 8. Even the dismissal of Steven Croft for 71 eight balls before the close will not have spoiled their day. Their gentle progress in a third session quite at variance with the previous two was explained by the accuracy of Roelof van der Merwe's slow left-armers and by the patience of Croft and Tom Bailey, whose stand of 95 for the eighth wicket ensured their side collected a fourth batting bonus point and may yet pick up a fifth on Monday morning. Both made half-centuries and Somerset's exasperation was plain when Croft was caught at long leg on 67 only for Brooks' no-ball to be picked up by the third umpire. "If this game wasn't being televised, there wouldn't be a third umpire," said one supporter. "And if that Old Trafford Test hadn't been cancelled, this match wouldn't be on TV," added another. And so in time Somerset's failure to win the title might be explained by Cleopatra's shapely hooter. The frustrations mount up at Taunton even as the pints of Butcombe slip down nicely in The Bell at Creech St Michael.
It is hard at such times to recall that a fortnight ago Abell's team were second in Division One and the regulars in the Ondaatje Stand were wondering if this might be their season. They have pondered such delicious possibilities in several Septembers this century and you may be sure such thoughts will cross their minds afresh next April. Cricket matters more in Taunton than it does in any other town in England except Scarborough in festival week. The close-season carveries in the Colin Atkinson pavilion begin again on October 10.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications