Essex poised to take title as weather prevents play at Taunton

Essex poised to take title as weather prevents play at Taunton

They have waited and waited in Taunton. Only Gloucestershire and Northamptonshire join Somerset as County Championship virgins; since joining the competition in 1891, its second year, its grand prize has eluded them.

They chanted and chanted in Taunton. At the umpires, primarily, each time they ventured to the middle to inspect once again. “I’ll hold your brolly,” went one shout. The Essex supporters would have been doing rain dances. 

Somerset’s flirtations with the title are ever-teasing, like the near-miss of 2016, contrivances running amok to spoil the cider. Teasing like the near-miss of 2019 – or so it is all-but-certain it will be.

Everyone had hoped this would be the finale to end all finales. At the end of a long, magnificent, unpredictably bonkers summer of cricket, a clash between the top two in the final round. Something special was surely to be in the offing.

Not so. Five inspections with a further one planned and abandoned, numerous rain showers, occasional roars from a jolly crowd in the Somerset Stand, desperate for some cricket, any cricket. Not so. Even verti-draining did nothing to make the ground playable.

A rain shower, the first after play should have been underway, cancelled the second of the planned inspections. Just as the ground staff dragged the large plastic sheeting onto the square, some 150 miles away, parliament reconvened. Hope for a positive outcome among the politicians suddenly became more reasonable than among the Somerset faithful.

Umpires Alex Wharf, Rob Bailey and Neil Bainton seemed especially concerned by the edge of the square at the Old Somerset Pavilion end, opting not to even look at the other end during one afternoon inspection. It was that area of the playing surface which ultimately prevented play; no amount of stamping and prodding with umbrellas solved the problem.  

But this is the sad reality of cricket played at this time of year: substantial risk of the weather wreaking havoc and ruining a thrilling climax to an epic year. This is the third straight year of the Championship ending in the last full week of September. The previous two have been fine, balmy even. But even the best of gamblers lose a bet sometimes.

Of course, it can rain at any point in a summer. But pushing the Championship to the fringes of the season is a dangerous game. Attempting to play matches beyond the Autumn Solstice is a recipe for disaster. Few can be surprised by this outcome.

And so it stands, with a day remaining in the Championship season: Somerset need to bowl Essex out, then set a target, then bowl the Division One leaders out again, or Essex win the title. 

Even more scarcely believable than that outcome is Andy Hurry, Somerset’s Director of Cricket, insisting it possible.

“It’s definitely not the end,” he said. “I think our challenge now becomes stiffer. 

“We’ve put too much on the line for too long a period to wave the white flag. I think it’s important, having demonstrated throughout the whole season the courage and conviction and the belief, that we don’t lose that overnight.

“I have total belief in the players and the staff, and it’s a funny old game. This summer, there’s been some amazing cricket, there’s been some huge twists and turns. Anything can happen. We’ve got to keep believing.”

Even Journey might have given up the ghost here.

They waited and waited in Taunton, their patience thin, their umbrellas wet, their spirits dampened. They waited until 4:38pm for the announcement that play was abandoned. And, barring the most extraordinary of miracles, they will be waiting even longer for a first Championship title.

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