Alastair Cook hit an untroubled century as Essex clinched the first victory of their return to the Specsavers County Championship top flight with an eight-wicket success against Somerset at Taunton.
The former England captain looked in prime form, easing his way to 110 on a one-sided third day that saw his side effortlessly chase down a target of 255 from an overnight ten for no wicket. Tom Westley contributed an unbeaten 86, sharing a second-wicket stand of 134 with Cook, whose chanceless hundred occupied 202 balls.
Nick Browne made 38 before falling to a poor shot off Jamie Overton with the total on 82. It was Somerset’s only breakthrough of the morning session on a placid pitch that made a mockery of the low scoring on the first two days. Young skipper Tom Abell continually switched his bowling attack, making liberal use of pace and spin. But a combination of clear blue skies and a lifeless wicket brought only frustration.
Cook and Browne batted with confidence from the outset and it was a major surprise when Browne slashed hard at a short, wide ball from Overton, edging a catch to wicketkeeper Steve Davies. By lunch Cook and Westley had taken the total to 101 for one from 41 overs and already the outcome looked beyond doubt.
So it proved as Cook, who had reached his half-century from 92 balls, continued to display immaculate shot selection in moving relentlessly towards three figures.
First Westley got to fifty, from 87 balls, with 9 fours, batting with equal soundness. Cook’s hundred soon followed as he collected a leg-side boundary off Jack Leach.
The stand was broken by Dean Elgar’s second delivery of his return to Somerset. The South African Test batsman, whose slow left-arm spin was introduced as an afterthought by Abell, offered up a tempting short ball and saw Cook pull it straight to James Hildreth at mid-wicket.
At 216 for two, Essex required only a further 39. By tea they had progressed to 222 for two, with Westley unbeaten on 62. Somerset took the second new ball at 233 for two, with only 22 needed. It only speeded the outcome as Lewis Gregory conceded four byes with the first delivery and Westley top-edged a six off Craig Overton. Westley ended the match with a boundary off Gregory.
Essex batsman Tom Westley said: "It's brilliant to have registered our first win back in Division One. We took a lot of momentum from drawing with Lancashire into this game and this result confirms that we can be a force at the higher level. We know our strength is in our batting so we were always positive about chasing down 255 and it helped that the pitch was not as helpful to the bowlers as on the first two days."
Westley also had high praise for match-winners Neil Wagner and Alastair Cook: "Neil Wagner turned the game for us with his second innings six-for and then Cookie did what Cookie does and scored a match-winning hundred. It's great to have him at the other end and we get on well so it was nice to repeat the big partnerships we shared in Division Two."
Somerset's new captain Tom Abell said: "We let ourselves down with the bat and I am absolutely gutted with the result. It was a strange game that ebbed and flowed and at the start today I felt we were in a pretty good position. We know we are better than what we have shown against Essex but credit where credit is due, Alastair Cook is a world class player and Tom Westley played really well too. We found it hard to extract as much out of the pitch as we had done in the first innings."
The effortless manner in which the visitors reached their target suggested that much of the carnage of the opening two days was down to poor batting. There was nothing in the day three pitch to remotely aid the Somerset bowlers, who were condemned to a slow death in the Spring sunshine.