Somerset's bowling was brilliant on day two, while Essex are nearing their moment of glory...
SOMERSET v LANCASHIRE
Somerset sense Division One survival is within their grasp following an incisive performance by Jack Leach on the second day of the Specsavers County Championship match against Lancashire at Taunton.
Replying to the home side's first-innings 335, the red rose county saw their hopes of overhauling leaders Essex and claiming the title all but vanish as they were dismissed for 133 inside 58 overs.
Slow left armer Leach inflicted much of the damage on a pitch offering turn, claiming 5-47 to help the home side forge a meaningful first-innings lead of 202. Needing to win one of their final three games to catch either Middlesex or Yorkshire and avoid being relegated to the Second Division, Somerset enforced the follow-on and Lancashire reached stumps on 28 without loss, still 174 behind.
The dazzling Leach said: "It was a perfect day for us. We stuck at it really well as a team and had a good day.
"I knew that, if I kept putting the ball in the right place, then the pitch would do things to it. It was a case of just repeating what I was doing and being patient with myself."
Once Somerset had added five runs to their overnight tally, their focus switched to applying pressure with the ball, and Craig Overton effected an early breakthrough, inducing Alex Davies to edge a routine catch to Marcus Trescothick at second slip.
Having batted for more than an hour and faced 56 balls in scratching four runs, England batsman Haseeb Hameed was lured into uncharacteristic indiscretion by a short-pitched delivery from Peter Trego, top-edging a miss-timed hook to George Bartlett at fine leg. Haseeb's place on the plane to Australia for this winter's Ashes tour is by no means guaranteed and this dismissal will scarcely aid his cause.
Introduced as early as the 13th over, Leach claimed his 150th first-class victim when Liam Livingstone, pushing forward tentatively, edged low to first slip where Overton stooped to conquer as the visitors slipped to 39/3.
Veteran campaigners Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Steven Croft set about repairing the damage, advancing the score to 61/3 by lunch, at which point the heavens opened. By the time conditions eased and play could resume, Somerset's bowlers were left with a minimum of 38 overs in which to further impose themselves.
Leach accounted for Chanderpaul on 17, tempting the West Indies batsman to play round the corner and pop a straightforward catch up to Trescothick via bat and pad with the scoreboard on 84. Lancashire were only two runs better off when Croft, nine short of a half century, was left by an Overton away-swinger and nicked a regulation catch behind.
Dane Vilas fell to a poor shot, pouched by Steve Davies off the bowling of Tim Groenewald for eight and Leach registered his hundredth wicket in matches at Taunton, bowling Stephen Parry for one.
Devon-born off spinner Dominic Bess then accounted for Tom Bailey, expertly stumped by Davies, while Leach had Kyle Jarvis caught at the wicket and pinned Ryan McLaren lbw for 30 as Lancashire nose-dived.
WARWICKSHIRE v ESSEX
Essex's advance towards the Specsavers County Championship title this summer has included some spectacular days - this wasn't one of them but still brought a strong stride towards glory as they built a commanding position against Warwickshire at Edgbaston.
Replying to 201, Ryan ten Doeschate's men made 369 for nine, a lead of 168, before declaring late in the day to give Warwickshire two awkward overs batting.
The home side survived those unscathed on seven without loss but will have to bat with a resilience that has invariably been sorely lacking from them this season to get out of this hole. With nearest rivals Lancashire in trouble, having followed on at Taunton, Essex are on the threshold of the title.
With plenty of time at their disposal, Essex's batsmen built a position from which they will aim to close out victory on the third day. It was a collective effort led by Varun Chopra (98, 181 balls, 15 fours), Dan Lawrence (78, 130, 14) and James Foster (68, 107, 12) to which all the top eight, other than the skipper, contributed. After bowling well as a unit, the Division One leaders batted well as a unit, sustaining pressure on their opponents. The stuff of champions.
Essex resumed on the second day on 69 without loss and lost two wickets in a morning. Opening pair Chopra and Nick Browne added 72 before the latter (24, 65 balls) edged Keith Barker to second slip. Tom Westley batted sweetly for 28 (40 balls) until he nicked England team-mate Chris Woakes behind, after which Chopra and Lawrence put on 92 in 29 overs.
The princely Chopra was within two runs of a century against his former team-mates when he perished lbw to medium-pacer Matt Lamb.
Unlucky Chopra said: "It was a good, solid day for us following on from day one, so with things looking okay for us down in Taunton it could be an exciting day tomorrow.
"All season it has been a complete squad effort with different guys stepping up at different moments throughout the whole season. We have had eight guys get hundreds in the Championship and two have got 60-odd wickets so that's fantastic. Another squad effort tomorrow and who knows."
Lawrence's aggressive innings threatened to take the game away from Warwickshire rapidly but the beleaguered home side stuck to their task and hit back with two wickets in four balls for Ryan Sidebottom. Lawrence cut to gully and ten Doeschate played on for a third-ball duck.
When Ravi Bopara fell lbw to Barker, Essex had lost four wickets for 51 runs in 17 overs and but Foster and Simon Harmer (24, 65 balls) calmly eased the total upward with a partnership of 76 in 23 overs.
Woakes ended that stand with an in-ducker which pinned Harmer, Neil Wagner edged Barker and, after Foster fell lbw to Jeetan Patel, Essex pulled out. Tomorrow they could be pulling out the corks on the champagne.
MIDDLESEX v HAMPSHIRE
Only 30.1 overs were bowled on day two of this rain-ruined Specsavers County Championship clash in soggy Uxbridge where Middlesex limped to 76 for three before a short, sharp deluge soon after lunch halted proceedings for the day.
Asked to bat first after an uncontested toss, Middlesex openers Sam Robson and Nick Compton fared reasonably well in the opening exchanges to post 40 as Hampshire’s attack struggled to find a dangerous length. Fidel Edwards then switched to the Pavilion End to rush one past Compton’s back-foot push and rearrange middle and off stumps with a slingy, full-length delivery that seamed off the pitch.
Only 18 runs on and with 28 to his name, Robson - who had just moved past the 8,000-run milestone in first-class cricket - also returned to the pavilion after edging low to Jimmy Adams at second slip off the bowling of Ian Holland.
The hosts lost their third wicket of the session when Stevie Eskinazi (13) feathered one from Edwards to be superbly caught diving low to his right by keeper Tom Alsop, which proved the pre-cursor to the first of three rain breaks.
Adam Voges made it into double figures in two bursts of play either side of lunch and Max Holden, on his Middlesex Championship debut, got off the mark with a single during a testing batting stint before the heavens opened once more.
Adams, the acting Hampshire captain, said playing four-day cricket at an outground in mid-September ‘wasn’t a great recipe for success’. He added: “We’ve lost a fair bit of time already so we’ll just have to see what we can come up with after this. Main grounds have the benefit of improved drainage and better covering, but they’ve just had a Test match at Lord’s so couldn’t fit us in with their scheduling there. It’s all just a bit unlucky really.”
SURREY v YORKSHIRE
Yorkshire openers Shaun Marsh and Tom Kohler-Cadmore replied strongly with a three-figure partnership of their own after Surrey had posted a mammoth first innings total of 592 in the Specsavers County Championship match at the Kia Oval, in which Kumar Sangakkara and Ben Foakes had earlier completed superlative second day hundreds.
At stumps Yorkshire had reached 171 for 1, with Marsh and Kohler-Cadmore putting on 162 in 48 overs of defiance to show clearly that there is plenty of fight left in the 2014 and 2015 champions as they strive to avoid a defeat that would drag them further into the scrap to avoid relegation from Division One.
Marsh remains 77 not out while Kohler-Cadmore made 78 before becoming a maiden championship scalp for Surrey’s 25-year-old slow left-armer Freddie van den Bergh, who bowled tidily in a long spell from the Pavilion End but had to wait until the last ball of his 15th over for Kohler-Cadmore to slice to Ryan Patel, diving forward from backward point.
It was the highest opening partnership of the season for Yorkshire, beating the previous best of 61 and ironically it came from a makeshift pair only brought together because of the absence of Adam Lyth on paternity leave. Australian left-hander Marsh, meanwhile, will also be replaced as overseas player by West Indies opener Kraigg Brathwaite for Yorkshire’s last two championship fixtures of the summer.
Both Marsh and Kohler-Cadmore handled seam and spin equally well, with new ball bursts from Sam Curran, Rikki Clarke and Stuart Meaker being repulsed as efficiently on what is still an excellent surface as the twin spin threat of Gareth Batty, the veteran Surrey captain and off spinner, and Van den Bergh on Championship debut.
Sangakkara had earlier eased to a magnificent 164 from 187 balls, with three sixes and 21 fours, and it was a seventh century of the summer for the remarkable 39-year-old, in his 12th championship innings. In all, he has now scored 1250 Championship runs at an average of 113.63.
Foakes, however, the 24-year-old keeper-batsman who is pushing hard for an Ashes tour place, did not lose much in comparison even with Sangakkara in his own 110 from 174 balls, with 19 fours, also oozing class in a memorable fourth wicket partnership which began just before tea on the first day and was eventually worth 258 in 55 overs.
Pushing on from an overnight 398 for 3, in which they had already reached 85 and 64 respectively, Sangakkara and Foakes entertained a good-sized crowd with a brilliant exhibition of batting in which effortless big hits were mixed with beautifully deft touches as the pair added 115 in a little over 20 overs in the opening session.
Sangakkara was eventually caught at long leg, mis-hitting a pull at Jack Brooks, who then had Ollie Pope caught at second slip for a first ball duck. And, by lunch, Brooks had also bowled Curran for 5 with one that seemed to keep low and finally ended Foakes’s fun, courtesy of a fine tumbling catch by keeper Andrew Hodd from an edged drive.
After lunch, Clarke hit out to reach 41 before becoming a third late victim for seamer Steven Patterson, who had also removed Van den Bergh and Meaker in successive balls.