Somerset take grip as Tom Abell's team stirs hopes of maiden title
Somerset 199 and 269 for 5 (Abell 62, Hildreth 58) lead Yorkshire 103 (van der Merwe 3-14, Davey 3-30) by 365 runs
Steve Patterson, Yorkshire's captain, played forward to the first ball of this morning's cricket at Taunton but missed it completely. "Bowling, Dom B!" roared "Tractor" from his perch below the scoreboard at the Pavilion End. It is a voice of the ages, a voice of deeply pledged faith; a similarly rich timbre probably greeted the achievements of Sammy Woods and Horace Hazell in the eras of the cattle market and the tweed suits. Every cricket ground is a palimpsest of former glories, former sadness.
But one impression not remotely apparent at this richest of grounds is that of Somerset's supporters saluting their team as county champions. In little more than a fortnight, that may change. These are momentous days in the West Country.
In the next over of our cricket that same Dom Bess chased down a ball in front of the Marcus Trescothick Stand and again received rich applause for his effort. Such incidents, tiny in themselves, of course, foreshadowed a wonderful day for Somerset, one that may go far towards determining the destination of the County Championship. For while Warwickshire were spending the first two sessions piling up the runs against Essex at Edgbaston, Somerset's bowlers dismissed Yorkshire for 103 before lunch and then watched gleefully as their batsmen built up a lead which stood at 365 by the close. It was difficult to see how things could have gone much better for Tom Abell's side, although "Tractor" might make one or two suggestions.
Yorkshire's first innings crumbled away quicker than fresh Worthy Cheddar on this second morning. Some attributed the decline to the cloudy conditions but the more persuasive argument is that Abell's seamers stuck to tight lines that demanded strokes and his slow left-armer, Roelof van der Merwe, seized his rare opportunity against a succession of right handers.
And so, in little more than half an hour's cricket Yorkshire collapsed from 86 for 3 to 103 all out. Tom Kohler-Cadmore was the first to go when he failed to cover Lewis Gregory's movement off the pitch and edged a catch to Jamie Overton at slip. Almost immediately Patterson played on to van der Merwe, who also deceived Jonny Tattersall into nicking a catch to James Hildreth.
The tone of the session was set. Ben Coad was absent due to illness and Yorkshire supporters were left to ponder the loss of six wickets in 44 balls. Josh Davey and van der Merwe finished the innings with three apiece. A lead of 96 appeared significant and perhaps it still is but by close of play it had been dwarfed by the enterprise of Somerset's batsmen, most of whom were barely recognisable from the hesitant bunch bamboozled by Keshav Maharaj on the first afternoon.
True, Maharaj had M Vijay leg before wicket for a duck just before lunch but nothing encapsulated Somerset's sudden domination of the game more clearly than their batsmen's mastery of the slow left-armer who 24 hours previously had only to mark out his run-up to cause general panic. Patterson tried Maharaj at both ends of the County Ground but he was greeted by sweeps on length from Abell or straight driven for six by Hildreth, a shot which caused billows in the huge white sheet which doubles as a sightscreen at the River End.
The wicket of Hildreth, caught at short leg off Lyth for 58, punctuated the afternoon's cricket; it did not disturb the flow of its prose. The stylish right-hander's 117-run stand with Abell had charted a course which other batsmen could follow. Tom Banton arrived and began to bat with unnerving confidence, first by driving Duanne Olivier to the cover boundary and then by on-driving Tim Bresnan to the rope which once lay in front of the Stragglers' Bar and below the old and long-demolished press box. That was where Alan Gibson and David Foot once celebrated the glory days and did as much as they could with the disappointments. Suddenly one wished they could be at their posts over the next two weeks.
Abell might have enjoyed chatting with Alan and Footy. Somerset's captain made his second half-century of the match on this cloudy Wednesday afternoon and in truth it was little different from his first. There was a little more aggression, perhaps - he reached fifty in 23 fewer balls - but the technique remained tight and one realised that here was a senior batsman, one upon whom Somerset cricket can be founded for the next decade. Certainly no one of his age could be more aware of what the title might mean in these parts.
Banton, meanwhile, reverse-swept Maharaj for six and was almost immediately caught at slip by Lyth for 43. Abell fell leg before wicket for 62 when playing around a fine ball from Bresnan but by now Yorkshire's attack was missing the stability invariably provided by the absent Coad. Gregory and George Bartlett helped themselves to some easier runs in the evening session and Somerset ended the day with the prospect of batting again on the third morning before setting Yorkshire a fearsome target.
And while all this was happening, Warwickshire batted on and on. They scarcely credited their luck as this news filtered though at Taunton and one understands their reluctance to take even a point for granted. But the neutrals can see that the balance of the battle between Essex and Somerset has changed and it will be odd if it is not Ryan ten Doeschate's side that needs to make up ground come Friday evening.