Essex clinch the County Championship for the first time in 25 years after Somerset beat second-placed Lancashrie to keep their own hopes of Division One survival alive
SOMERSET V LANCASHIRE
Somerset needed just over an hour of the final day to wrap up a seven-wicket victory over Lancashire at Taunton and confirm Essex as county champions for 2017.
Needing a victory to keep their faint title hopes alive, the visitors lost their last two wickets for 22 runs as Craig Overton sent back Kyle Jarvis and Tom Bailey. Lancashire’s total of 269 left Somerset needing just 68 to ease their fears of Division Two cricket next season.
They lost Eddie Byrom, Marcus Trescothick and James Hildreth, all to leg-spinner Matty Parkinson, in reaching the target, but still took 22 points from a convincing win to Lancashire’s three.
When Tom Abell hit the winning boundary the Championship race was decided and the second relegation spot thrown wide open. Two games ago Somerset looked dead and buried, but successive victories have altered the picture dramatically.
The hosts looked anything but a relegation side in this match, supporting their bowlers with excellent fielding and showing some steel with the bat that has been missing for much of the campaign.
Overton ensured there were no last day traumas after skipper Abell had taken the decision to open with the tall seamer from the Somerset Pavilion end, rather than off-spinner Dom Bess.
It proved a shrewd move. With the last ball of his first over, Overton uprooted Jarvis’s off-stump with a full delivery as he played down the wrong line.
Jarvis had already survived a confident appeal for a bat-pad catch at silly mid-off from the first delivery of the day, bowled by Jack Leach. The umpires consulted before a not out verdict.
Leach was deprived of his second five-wicket haul of the match when Overton struck again. Another full ball trapped Bailey in front and it looked a straightforward lbw decision.
With the sun shining, Somerset could not have hoped for better conditions for their small run chase. But, having progressed comfortably to 19, they lost opener Byrom, bowled by a classic leg-break from Parkinson as he attempted to drive.
It was Parkinson’s fifth wicket of the match and he might have proved a huge threat on the final day pitch had Somerset needed even 150. As it was, Trescothick, whose hopes of ever winning a Championship title with his beloved county, surely rest on avoiding relegation at the age of 41, survived a loud leg-before shout from Stephen Parry on a pitch offering considerable turn.
The veteran former England opener took the total to 46 by lofting Parkinson over the short mid-wicket boundary on the town side of the ground, but in the same over departed for 21, caught at square-leg, aiming to sweep a low full-toss.
Hildreth immediately followed to a low catch at gully and for the second time this season, Abell found himself walking out at Taunton to face a hat-trick ball.
He steadied nerves by hitting it through the leg-side of three. At the other end England Under-19 batsman George Bartlett was showing the confidence of youth and together they moved Somerset towards victory.
With nine needed, he smashed Parkinson (three for 37) back over his head for six to finish unbeaten on 27. Abell completed the job by sweeping Parry for four to spark celebrations on the other side of the country and genuine hope in the home dressing room.
MIDDLESEX v HAMPSHIRE
A game blighted by autumnal downpours and unplayable conditions at least provided engaging entertainment on its final day as Middlesex and Hampshire tussled for bonus points in a rain-ruined Specsavers County Championship clash in Uxbridge.
Some 14 wickets fell on the fourth day before rain and bad light returned just after 3.30pm forcing the players to shake hands on a draw. By then Middlesex had reached 14 for one in their second innings for an overall lead in the match of 72 runs.
And it was 2016 champions Middlesex who were best pleased with the result too, banking nine crucial points in their bid to stave off relegation, while Hampshire travelled home with eight - an outcome that satisfied both camps.
Middlesex skipper James Franklin said: “It would have been nice to get a couple more sessions in for sure, but at the start of the day we set an objective of getting four bonus points and to take that, as well as the five for the draw after pretty much only a day’s cricket in total, is not too bad.
“I don’t think we particularly bowled that well today but we manged to bowl the out in 36 overs, which is a general reflection of the conditions and the water levels in and around the surface here over the past four days."
The best part of 250 overs were lost over the four days to weather, so inclement that additional covers had to be ferried over from Merchant Taylors School. Then, to ensure some play went ahead on Thursday afternoon, the Middlesex squad including their managing director, Angus Fraser, helped cover the square to ensure some late afternoon action.
Responding to the modest Middlesex first innings all-out total of 204, Hampshire were skittled for 146 inside 32 overs to concede a surprise first-innings lead of 58 runs.
The visitors lost acting captain Jimmy Adams in only the third over of the reply when the left-hander feathered a Tom Helm lifter through to the keeper John Simpson.
Despite looking sound and compact in reaching 35, Joe Weatherley, who started the season on-loan with Kent, was squared up by a full-length Helm leg-cutter that took the edge and flew to Adam Voges at second slip.
Ollie Rayner was introduced for the obligatory over of spin before lunch and struck with his first delivery by having Tom Alsop caught behind cutting to one that bounced.
Hampshire’s demise gathered momentum after the interval as Steven Finn had Sean Ervine (0) and Calvin Dickinson (1) caught behind, while James Harris skittled Ian Holland (23) and debutant Felix Organ (16) with near identical full-length swinging deliveries.
The luck continued to fall the way of Middlesex when Harris deflected a fierce drive by Gareth Berg onto the stumps at the non-striker’s end to run out Kyle Abbott for 13.
Finn rushed one past Berg’s back-foot defensive shot to pluck out off stump and give the hosts maximum bowling bonus points and the deposed England spearhead then polished off the innings by pegging back middle stump after Fidel Edwards missed an airy drive. Finn finished with three for 41, Helm three for 43 and Harris two for 27 as Hampshire succumbed in exactly two-and-a-half hours.
Middlesex had started the final day looking for at least one batting bonus point as they resumed their protracted first innings on 162 for seven. Their bid to reach 200 appeared bleak initially when Rayner departed in the fourth over of the day. Attempting to clip to the short, leg-side boundary against Abbott, Rayner could only pick out Mason Crane at forward square-leg and departed for nine having gifted Abbott his third wicket.
Edwards, the pick of Hampshire’s attack, then snared Helm lbw, working around his front pad with the hosts still 31 runs shy of their batting point.
Simpson took that as his cue to unfurl a few drives which, together with the introduction of leg-spin in the shape of Crane, helped break Hampshire’s stranglehold and Simson duly pushed a single to backward square-leg off Crane to raise 200 and with it, the possibly crucial batting point.
Simpson and Finn added 35 for the 10th wicket before Simpson lost his middle stump to another good delivery from Edwards who finished with deserved figures of five for 79. Abbott finished with three for 25 while Holland took two for 31.