Somerset 314 for 5 v Lancashire
Hamstring injuries are not known to be fatal to the individual that suffers them. For Lancashire's hopes of claiming their first outright Championship title since 1934, however, the injury sustained by their captain, Glen Chapple may well prove to be the final nail in the coffin of their hopes. Indeed, if you were looking for a metaphor for Lancashire's title aspirations, the sight of Chapple limping in to bowl was as accurate as it was painful.
The Lancashire captain, now aged 37 but still the side's leading seamer, sustained a hamstring injury in just his fifth over that reduced him to bowling off a few paces for much of the day. Clearly in great discomfort, it says much for his perseverance that he continued. His effectiveness was, however, greatly diminished and there's little chance of his bowling playing much of a role in the rest of the game.
It was not atypical of a day on which Lancashire endured little fortune. From the moment Chapple lost an important toss - the 13th time in 16 games he has done so and quite a blow for a side containing two spinners - little went the visitors' way. Edges either dropped short of the slips or squeezed past the stumps and the scores filtering in from The Rose Bowl would have done nothing to lift the mood. When Jos Buttler drove Chapple to mid off only to see the ball bounce just in front of Luke Procter and travel to the boundary, it summed up Lancashire's day.
While it would be tempting to simply blame fate for their predicament, however, it would also be disingenuous. Lancashire also failed to accept a couple of important chances. Most obviously, Tom Smith, at second slip, could not hold on to an edge offered by James Hildreth off Procter when the batsman had just 21. It was not, by any means, an easy chance, but it should have been taken. A run-out chance, offered to Stephen Moore, was also missed when Hildreth was on 83. The fact that he ended the day unbeaten on 161 tells you all you need to know about the importance of such moments.
Most of all, however, Lancashire came up against two high-quality batsmen on a good pitch. Hildreth and Buttler added 170 in 51 overs, both men producing some fine, positive strokes and Hildreth recording his highest score - and only the second century - of a disappointing season.
Hildreth may never go on to represent England now. He has, it is widely suggested, shown too much frailty against pace and bounce and scored too many of his runs on the flat wickets of Taunton. Against modestly-paced bowlers, however, and on a pitch holding few terrors, he looks a very fine player. Here he played delightfully straight, caressing a series of boundaries either straight back past the bowler or through wide mid-on and the manner in which he reached his century - a drive over long-on for six off Gary Keedy - underlined his dominance.
"He didn't put a foot wrong," Keedy said afterwards. "He played brilliantly. Obviously if you win the toss here, you bat. But we're quite happy with that. Spin is going to play a major role in this game and we can still win this."
Buttler also impressed. While he is not the finished article, some of his shots bare the hallmark of real class: two lovely drives, one on the up off Chapple and another, after he skipped down the pitch and drove Simon Kerrigan through extra cover, spring to mind. On other occasions he was fortunate to survive after he came down the pitch to the spinners only to be beaten and just squeeze the ball away off pad or bat. Talk on the circuit also suggests he might be exposed by good-quality short-pitched bowling. It's worth remembering he celebrated his 21st birthday only four days ago, however. He is an outrageous talent and surely has a golden future.
In the shorter term, Somerset supporters could also be encouraged by the sight of Marcus Trescothick running on the outfield at lunchtime. No decision has yet been taken on whether he'll be fit for Saturday's CB40 final but, on this evidence, it's looking good.
That Lancashire's title Championship hopes remain alive is largely due to the continuing excellence of their two spinners. Despite gaining little help from the pitch, Keedy and Kerrigan bowled with superb variation and control and, by frustrating the batsmen, dragged their side back into the game with a couple of important wickets.
Indeed, so successfully did they restrict the scoring that Somerset failed to hit a boundary for 41 overs at one stage and added only 63 in 40 overs in late afternoon. That pressure brought wickets. First Buttler tapped a full-toss - perhaps the only poor ball Keedy delivered - straight back to the bowler, before Peter Trego, who took 22 balls over his one run, attempted to drive one not quite there for the shot and gifted a catch to cover. It was, by any standards, impressive bowling.
Hildreth, however, refused to give anything away. His first 50 runs occupied 66 balls; his second just 52 and his third 134. But, by keeping his head and retaining his patience, he survived to take full advantage of the benign pitch and take some consolation for a season that started with an England place within reach and has ended with him unlikely to even win selection for the Lions tour.
"I haven't scored the runs I wanted this year," Hildreth admitted afterwards. "I don't know why. I've done all the same things as last year, but it just hasn't happened. But I wanted to cash in here. They have two very good spinners, but it's a really good pitch."
Lancashire had started well. Alex Barrow was caught behind prodding tentatively at one on off stump, before Chris Jones' inside edge on to his pads looped up to gully. When Chapple found a way to nip the ball back through the gate of a perfectly reasonable forward defensive from Arul Suppiah it left Somerset on 89 for 3 and precariously placed. Instead of being able to attack with Chapple, however, they were obliged to utilise Smith and Procter. It allowed Buttler and Hildreth to settle in and build Somerset a decent platform in the game.
It would be quite wrong to suggest that Lancashire's title aspirations are over, however. Hildreth reasoned that a score of 400 wasn't enough to be considered par on this wicket and, given fair weather, Lancashire could yet win this match. Both sides anticipate that the pitch will provide more assistance to the spinners as the game progresses and the Somerset tail is not the strongest. It's not over.
Somerset vs Lancashire
County Championship Division One
England Domestic Season