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Bowler denies Essex victory

Somerset 339 and 271 for 6 (Bowler 138*) drew with Essex 400 for 9 dec and 413 at Taunton
Scorecard

The nous and obduracy of Somerset's Peter Bowler, hitting his 45th first-class hundred, proved too much for a largely anodyne Essex attack, meaning that both these counties remained winless in the Championship. Perhaps it would have been different if Danish Kaneria, Essex's Pakistan legspinner, had been fit. Certainly it felt as though there was a vital ingredient missing from the fourth day.

For most of the first three days, this had been a cracking contest - lion-hearted bowling from Andrew Caddick, a big, restorative hundred from Andy Flower, and fine support acts from lower-order batsmen thwacking the boundary boards hard and often.

It came as no real surprise that the fourth day couldn't stay the pace. Even though the spring sun lit up the third evening's play, the colour had drained from the canvas when Essex ignored the dodgy forecast, batted on way too long and set Somerset a meaningless target of 475.

Still, the weather did allow a full morning session. Somerset began at 23 for no wicket and had pushed on to 44 when Neil Edwards edged Scott Brant for 19. If Edwards had some excuse for his dismissal, Cox had none for his. He steered the ball to long leg for a safe single only to turn, inexplicably, for a second. Brant's inch-perfect throw smacked into James Foster's gloves and Cox had gone.

Given that Essex could not lose, Paul Grayson set astonishingly defensive fields. Two slips and a gully represented his most adventurous gambits in the morning, and even during the afternoon, with Somerset five down, Peter Bowler - admittedly well set in the 90s - had a solitary slip.

In an odd sort of way, the strategy worked. No fielders were needed to get rid of Nos 4, 5 and 6 - all bowled either side of the first rain break, which pinched 12 overs. Burns was reddest-faced, shouldering arms and losing his off stump to Graham Napier, though Ian Blackwell should have played forward rather than back.

More rain meant an early tea, a signal for all but the real die-hards to filter out of the ground and take solace in Taunton's nearby shops. But the match had not quite died. Keith Parsons capped a dire four days by chasing a wide ball and giving Foster another catch. It meant Essex had a minimum of 26 overs to take four wickets. The joie de vivre may have gone, but the game still had tension.

But all the time, there was Bowler, quietly and obdurately collecting runs. Steadfastly supported by Rob Turner, he reached his third hundred of the season (and his second against Essex) from 175 balls. It was a mature, meticulous innings, befitting county cricket's oldest pro and its only qualified solicitor, and contained not a false move. Bowler ended unbeaten on 138.

But as time passed, the tension eased - and the draw seemed inevitable when the last hour began without a further Essex breakthrough. In fact, they barely had a shout. Half an hour later, the match was called off, with Grayson wondering what might have been.

Hugh Chevallier is deputy editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack.