The County Championship returns this Sunday, giving the likes of Marcus Trescothick, Azhar Ali and Nick Browne returns to first team cricket.
The T20 form of each side in the last two months could not be much more distant – Somerset sit top whilst Essex are just off bottom of the South Group.
From a Somerset point of view, they named arguably their strongest ever 2nd XI earlier this week. Trescothick, Ali, Craig Overton, Dom Bess, Jack Leach, Eddie Byrom, Paul van Meekeren and Josh Davey were all named in the three-day second eleven fixture with Gloucestershire at Taunton Vale from Monday.
But just 30 runs and one wicket into day two, the match was abandoned due to an unfit pitch. Ali fell for 22, leaving Trescothick and Byrom both unbeaten, Leach took four and Bess two wickets on day one, bowling Gloucestershire out for 252 in 87 overs.
None of the remaining first-team squad have had a red-ball run out since the brief interlude from the T20 Blast for the Worcestershire match from the 22nd July and before that back in June in Essex’s last Championship match, the two sides met at Chelmsford.
At a very dry fortress Chelmsford, Essex racked up 517-5, Bopara and Ten Doeschate adding 294 for the fifth wicket after Alistair Cook also scored 96 and Browne 66. Somerset reached 407 in reply, Hildreth top scoring with 78.
With such a mammoth first innings score this match was always meandering towards a draw, Somerset were five down in the fourth innings when hands were shaken.
Essex 2nd XI will play Durham in the Second XI Championship Final next month having topped the Southern Division table.
However, the first XI are struggling in their title defence, though it is within their own hands, particularly with table-toppers Surrey appearing twice in their remaining Championship fixtures.
Somerset sit in second position, 27 points above fourth placed Essex but 34 behind run-away leaders Surrey.
If the white-ball skipper Lewis Gregory can take his T20 form into the four-day game, Somerset fans are in for a real treat. He has lead by example with bat and ball very impressively in recent weeks, although don’t expect Simon Harmer and Peter Siddle to be as easy to smash around the park with a red ball, nor will the Essex top order gift their wickets away as they have in the T20 Blast this year.
Leading wicket taker of the Championship last year Jamie Porter, along with Simon Harmer, were the two standout performers in their title charge last season. Recent inclusion in the England squad for the first time is just rewards for a seamer many thought deserved international recognition sooner. Not much of a one-day bowler, Porter’s immaculate line and length will look to irritate Somerset’s attack-minded batsmen.
Essex are without the services of England’s all-time top test run-scorer Alastair Cook, but have been granted the use of Jamie Porter, released from drinks carrying duties for the test squad currently playing India.
Having Peter Siddle fit and keen to continue taking wickets is another massive boost for the away side. Expect Quinn to be the 12th man to be left out of the XI as all-rounders Bopara and ten Doeschate can both bowl seam and Westley and Lawrence spin if needed to assist Cook, Porter, Siddle and Harmer.
Essex squad: Ryan ten Doeschate (c), Ravi Bopara, Nick Browne, Varun Chopra, Sam Cook, Simon Harmer, Dan Lawrence, Jamie Porter, Matt Quinn, Peter Siddle, Tom Westley, Adam Wheater (wK)
Waller will be a specialist fielder and 13th man. Having missed out on the successful recent run of T20 victories (until Kent on Thursday night) Craig Overton should come back in. Josh Davey could be the other man to miss out if Taunton suits two spinners in Bess and Leach.
Somerset Squad: Tom Abell (c), Azhar Ali, Dom Bess, Eddie Byrom, Josh Davey, Steve Davies (wk), Lewis Gregory, James Hildreth, Jack Leach, Craig Overton, Jamie Overton, Marcus Trescothick and Max Waller.
Weather and Conditions
One of the driest summers on record has offered only spinners much assistance on the bowling front, but a little rain in the last fortnight may keep the seamers interested briefly early on, before likely run plundering soon returns. The bowling side will be desperate to strike early with the new ball before the pitch flattens out with a dry forecast for all but Monday of this four-day match.
Date: 19th-22nd August 2018
Ground: The Cooper Associates County Ground, Taunton