Oh, what could have been for Somerset. How they will wish the rain had stayed away, how they will wish Murali Vijay had held on. A drawn final match against Essex sends the Specsavers County Championship title to Chelmsford, but that tells only half the story.
The final session of the season was one of its most remarkable. Essex had stuttered before tea, four wickets down after a trio of quick scalps, but no one could have predicted what was about to come. They survived just 8.2 overs more. Jenga towers have been known to collapse more slowly.
Jack Leach had Ryan ten Doeschate caught at silly point, then Aaron Nijjar and Sam Cook in consecutive balls. In between times, Roelof van der Merwe removed Tom Westley (first slip) and Simon Harmer caught at second slip, comprehensively beaten by one that spat and bounced and was unplayable. Out of nowhere, out of nothing, Somerset had revived this lifeless clash.
When Adam Wheater bottom edged behind, Somerset forfeited their second innings and set Essex 63 to win. The Taunton faithful believed. They believed that Somerset could pull off the greatest heist in a summer where thieves have succeeded endlessly. They believed that, as their Director of Cricket Andy Hurry put it, “it’s a funny old game.”
They would have believed even more, had Vijay held onto a sharp chance off Nick Browne third ball of the Essex reply. He dove to his right at legslip, the ball in and out of his outstretched hand.
But it was not to be. Browne and Alastair Cook survived and prospered, Cook feasting on a pair of long hops from van der Merwe and taking advantage of a field with at least five men, often eight, in close.
A drawn game, agreed upon at 5:21pm, is, given the drama that came in the hours before it, something of an anti-climax. But this was the finish the summer of cricket 2019 deserved. One more surreal, ridiculous ending to a season which has made them into a status quo.
On another day, how different it might have been. Ninth ball of the morning — and about three decades of cider-country stress earlier in the day — Leach hit Cook on the pad. Umpire Alex Wharf said no. The replays said yes. It was stone dead, and Cook had just five. He’d go on to make 53, dismissed nearly four hours later, by which point it was just too late.
His innings then had been quintessential Alastair Cook, with all the clips through midwicket and late cuts against the spinners. On Marcus Trescothick’s final day as a professional cricketer, it was Cook who took the limelight.
But Trescothick got his moment. With 18 minutes remaining in the match, he jogged onto the field, removed his Somerset jacket, and replaced Craig Overton at third slip. He has called this old ground “a second home”; how the inhabitants of the stands stood to applaud him then and as he departed the field, cap raised aloft, one last thank you to one of Somerset’s greats.
How fitting it would have been for Somerset to break their Championship duck in his final year.
In truth, though, even the staunchest of Somerset fans must admit that although the way the season has ended is a disappointment, the pennant is deservedly going to Essex.
Somerset have lost three games to Essex’s one. They were defeated at Chelmsford and defeated by the weather here, at the final fence. But they stumbled horribly at the second-to-last thanks to Kyle Abbott — a lethal injection afterwards might have been kinder.
Since the move to two divisions at the turn of the century, Somerset have now finished runners-up six times. Three of those have come in the past four seasons. Agonising for the Taunton faithful, although they can console themselves with the Royal London One-Day Cup – their first piece of silverware in 14 years.
It must be remembered that Essex, at one stage, trailed by 50 points, albeit with a game in hand. After only three rounds of matches they had sat atop Division One. An innings victory over Hampshire in June began a run of seven wins in eight matches leading into their Taunton trip.
Essex won all seven of their matches at home, the first time they have ever achieved the feat. They were thrashed by Hampshire in the opening week of the season; they have not lost since. Eleven points is their margin of victory. Their eight title wins since 1979 is more than any other county in the same period.
And so they depart Taunton with the Championship for the second time in three years, becoming the first team to win both the T20 competition and Division One. Somerset leave as bridesmaids once again, a superior Essex denying Trescothick the fairytale ending he and so many in these parts so richly wanted.