James Hildreth hit the most remarkable century of his prolific career to boost Somerset’s title hopes on the opening day of the Specsavers County Championship match with Nottinghamshire at Taunton.
But Notts seamer Jake Ball also had a day to remember, finishing with six for 47 as five wickets fell for no runs in the space of 22 balls at the end of the day, leaving Somerset 322 for nine. Hildreth hit an heroic 135, having been struck a painful blow on an ankle by a delivery from Ball when on only seven.
Despite struggling to walk and batting with a runner for most of his innings, the 32-year-old faced 233 balls, hitting 17 fours and a six, and shared a stand of 269 with Chris Rogers (132), a Somerset record for the third wicket against Notts.
Rogers' 75th first-class century, his second for Somerset and first for them at Taunton, was reached off 152 deliveries, with 14 fours, helping his side recover from 33 for two. After Hildreth was dismissed Somerset tweeted a picture of his damaged ankle that showed it to be almost black with bruising.
Should his innings help the county win their first ever Championship title this week, it will go down in cricket folklore.
Hildreth said: "My ankle was sore, but with a few pain-killers I was able to crack on. I quite enjoyed playing my shots and not having to run! I'll be having an x-ray first thing in the morning. There's a lot of coaching manuals and theories in cricket, but I have now worked out that you are better off not moving your feet. Maybe that's how I'll bat in future!
"The end of the day was hugely frustrating. We are better than that, but if you take it away we are still in an okay position. Every point is vital now and hopefully our last pair can add 28 in the morning so we get another one."
Things didn’t look good for the hosts after they had won the toss when Ball produced an excellent spell from the Somerset Pavilion End, removing both openers.
Marcus Trescothick had cruised to 25 when getting a thin edge to an attempted drive and being caught behind, while Tom Abell, on eight, chipped a simple catch to mid-wicket off a full delivery.
Not long after joining Rogers, Hildreth failed to get a bat on another full legside delivery from Ball and hopped about clearly in a lot of pain before continuing. Soon he had to summon Abell from the pavilion as a runner and it looked touch and go whether he would be able to continue. At times it was painful even watching him limp into position to face the bowling.
By lunch Hildreth and Rogers had taken the score to 99 for two. They then batted throughout the afternoon session without giving a chance, adding a further 116. Rogers reached his hundred with the total on 209 with a four through extra cover off Brett Hutton. The veteran Australian has not been as prolific as he would have liked in his first season with Somerset, but this was an innings to cherish.
Hildreth followed to three figures, moving to 98 with a six over deep square off Imran Tahir, before getting to his ton off 199 balls with the total on 260. When their stand reached 266 it beat the previous third-wicket record for Somerset against Notts, set by Chris Tavare and Richard Harden at Taunton in 1992.
Shortly afterwards Rogers fell to the second new ball, caught at second slip attempting a back-foot forcing shot off Ball. He had faced 204 balls and extended his boundary count to 18. Hildreth received a standing ovation from all around the ground after being caught behind fencing at a ball from Hutton. By then he had faced 233 deliveries, hitting 17 fours and a six.
At 308 for four, Somerset still looked on course for maximum batting points. But Peter Trego and Lewis Gregory were both dropped in taking the total to 322 and what happened after that was the stuff of nightmares for Somerset supporters.
Gregory was bowled aiming to hit Tahir through mid-wicket, Trego was pinned lbw by Ball and Craig Overton was taken at third slip off the same bowler. Roelof van der Merwe went leg before to Tahir and when Ryan Davies edged Ball to second slip the teams headed off with Somerset wondering how they had let such a promising position slip.
Notts seamer Ball said: "The game did not look to be going anywhere for us. But when we got the lads who were in out with the second new ball we knew there was enough pace and carry in the pitch to build on it. As soon as my delivery struck James Hildreth I knew it was on a bone and that it would be painful. He needs to film himself getting out of bed tomorrow because it might be quite funny! It was an incredible knock in the circumstances."