James Anderson defies flat Taunton pitch to set Lancashire up

Valuable five-for comes before Keaton Jennings, Luke Wells and Josh Bohannon fill their boots

Paul Edwards
Paul Edwards
James Anderson is congratulated by Saqib Mahmood, Somerset vs Lancashire, County Championship, Division One, Taunton, April 21, 2023

James Anderson is congratulated by Saqib Mahmood  •  Getty Images

Lancashire 302 for 1 trail (Jennings 124*, Wells 82, Bohannon 73*) trail Somerset 441 (Abell 151, Rew 117, Anderson 5-76) by 139 runs
You cannot tell quite how pancake-flat a pitch is until you have seen both sides try to fill their boots on it. The truth of this apophthegm was made very plain during the final two sessions of this day's cricket when Lancashire's batters, having seen Somerset compile a respectable 441 in 122.4 overs, produced every article of footwear they could find and try to cram them with runs.
The advance guard of this brutal assault was led by Luke Wells, whose 109-ball 82 was merely the latest example of this batting all-rounder's renaissance at Emirates Old Trafford. But the onslaught was continued in the evening session by Keaton Jennings, who reached his first century of the season off 158 balls, having sprinted to his second fifty runs off 53.
Close of play came early when Richard Illingworth and Russell Warren stopped the fight with ten overs still to be bowled. At that point Jennings and Josh Bohannon had added 148 runs in 22.5 overs of the evening session and the opener seemed well placed to follow his 318 against Somerset last July with another colossal score on Saturday.
For once, these statistics and these alarming prospects matter. If Jennings and his colleagues continue to score at this rate, they will have a considerable lead by say, teatime on Saturday and might then be able to loose James Anderson on Somerset's still rather frail top-order. And on today's evidence, any comments about the bowler-unfriendly nature of this Taunton wicket should make a special exemption for a bowler of Anderson's quality. As to Lancashire's final total, well to borrow the helpful prediction of the association football pundit, it could be anything.
But there was a purpose to this savagery and this curiously modern cricket beyond that of building a first-innings lead and possibly embarrassing Somerset on the final day. Five batting points will only be awarded this season if sides score 450 runs inside their 110 overs and teams will receive only five points for the draw, rather than the generous eight they were awarded last year. So given that most games played on wickets like this one at Taunton will be drawn, it becomes even more vital for batters to make the most of them.
Wells was the first Lancashire batsman to fulfil this injunction on Friday and the chief sufferer was Jack Leach, for whom this was a bloody afternoon. Having quietly played out a maiden, the opener reverse swept the first three balls of Leach's second over for two fours and a six. That was dismissive enough but when England's premier spinner tightened his line he was merely driven straight and high and often. Nor did Wells' dismissal end the torture; two of Bohannon's first three scoring shots were sixes off Leach, whose figures at the day's end were 17-1-103-0. One can only wish him a peaceful night's rest.
Then again, if the weather forecast had been accurate, we all might have enjoyed a little more repose today. But the rain that had been promised for two o'clock did not arrive until after the close and that gave Lancashire an opportunity they have seized with almost frightening relish. Nevertheless, the prospect of rain closing in from the east and the fact that first-class cricket was taking place nowhere else in the land at eleven o'clock made one determined to appreciate every good thing at Taunton this morning. We were presented with a varied box of delights, too, ranging from the expected discipline of Anderson, who completed a five-wicket return for the 54th time in his career to the unexpected mayhem of a 48-run partnership for the last wicket between the two Jacks, Brooks and Leach.
Indeed, the second day began much as the first had, with Anderson taking two wickets inside the opening 45 minutes of play. Having played one of the most important innings of his young life, James Rew drove rather loosely but only edged a catch to George Bell, and Lewis Gregory was leg before for six when he missed a very straight ball. Meanwhile, the Quantocks faded into the mist and predictions about the afternoon became increasingly dire.
We ignored them. Kasey Aldridge edged Anderson to Wells at first slip, thus giving the bowler his five-fer and Tom Abell, having beaten his previous career-best by one run, shaped to push George Balderson for a single but instead fell lbw for 151.
Peter Siddle whacked two fours and a six but then became Saqib Mahmood's first wicket in four-day cricket for three days short of an injury-wrecked year. The Australian's innings, though, was merely the prelude to six overs of anarchy as Leach and Brooks' bats described increasingly exotic arcs and the ball regularly disappeared to or over the boundary rope. The fun ended when Brooks hoicked Tom Bailey to long leg where Tom Hartley took a fine diving catch. Leach went off to tiffin, where he might have lamented the lot of the class batsman who runs out of partners. Unbeaten 40s do that to a chap. He little knew what was in store for him.
The wind acquired an extra edge after lunch and the County Ground followed suit. The Thatchers Terrace, so often thronged with cider and opinions, resembled the Marie Celeste. The ice-cream man, who on Thursday had been doling out scoops like an IPL addict, fell asleep in his van. The cricket slumbered, too, for half an hour or so but pardonably as Lancashire's openers went about their business a trifle cautiously against Brooks and Gregory.
Then Wells stroked Gregory through the covers on the back foot and the loud encouragements of the home fielders pierced the cool air. Four overs later, though, the same batter lifted Gregory into the Somerset Stand and Lancashire's reply was infused with fresh purpose. Within a few overs Wells was running amok and Abell's bowlers were powerless to prevent him.

Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications

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