Hildreth holds up Lancashire
James Hildreth’s magnificent unbeaten 161 blunted Lancashire’s LV= County Championship title bid in their final game of the season at Taunton.
Three points behind leaders Warwickshire and chasing a first outright championship since 1934, Lancashire could find no way to remove the England Lions batsman despite enjoying success at either end of an absorbing opening day.
Hildreth, dropped on 21 by Tom Smith, was responsible for more than half Somerset’s close-of-play total of 314 for five, which also featured 68 from Jos Buttler.
Their 170-run stand for the fourth wicket spanned a trying 50 overs for Lancashire, but it is to the visitors’ credit that, chiefly through the efforts of Glen Chapple and Gary Keedy, Somerset’s position is some way short of dominant.
Chapple was responsible for two of the first three wickets to fall, but his potency receded as a suspected torn hamstring grew ever more painful.
Even for a man for whom injury has been a constant companion this season, the manner in which he hobbled through his run-up late on must have been agonising to watch for the smattering of travelling fans who headed south dreaming of glory.
Hildreth is the single biggest obstacle in Lancashire’s path. He faced 274 balls en route to his highest score of the season, hitting 17 fours and a six on a surface that offered little margin for error for an attack still feeling the effects of their marathon effort to beat Hampshire on Saturday.
Lancashire, uncharacteristically sloppy at times in the field during the first half of the day, at least collected one bowling bonus point, although they have just six overs tomorrow in which to claim the wicket that will give them a potentially crucial second.
Questions were beginning to be asked about Somerset’s decision to bat first after they lost Alex Barrow and Chris Wood inside the first hour.
Chapple exploited what seam movement there was with the new ball to locate Barrow’s outside edge, and Wood was taken at gully via inside edge and pad as he pushed forward at Tom Smith
Although Chapple had by then left the field for the first time, he returned off a shorter run to nip one back through the gate of Arul Suppiah, who had taken 72 balls to score his first four and faced 99 in all for his 29.
Somerset dominated the afternoon session, Hildreth capitalising on Smith’s miss at second slip – a sharp chance to his left off Luke Procter – to race to a boundary-laden fifty shortly after lunch.
Buttler, like his partner, endured the occasional nervous moment early on as he tried to force the pace, and Stephen Moore would have had the choice of ends for a likely run-out had he collected the ball cleanly at cover.
The score was 163 for three at the time, and read 259 by the time the partnership was finally broken almost an hour after tea.
In the meantime, Hildreth drove beautifully, especially wide of mid-on against what little spin Lancashire’s pair of left-armers extracted from a reliable pitch.
It said much for his early fluency that he could afford to slow down and still reach a 118-ball century, completed courtesy of a wonderfully effortless six over long-on.
Given that Lancashire bowled and fielded with much greater discipline either side of tea, it was ironic that the breakthrough came courtesy of a Keedy full toss, which Buttler drove tamely back to the bowler.
Trego, beaten in the flight, was taken low down by Smith at cover moments later, during a 40-over passage in which Somerset failed to find the boundary.
The new ball allowed more marginally more scoring opportunities, but Hildreth and Craig Meschede were largely content with occupation of the crease as they survived until the close of a day that saw 104 overs.