County Championship: Somerset edge past 200 against Essex

Jack Leach
Jack Leach batted for 48 minutes to frustrate Essex
Specsavers County Championship Division One, Cooper Associates County Ground, Taunton (day two):
Somerset 203: van der Merwe 60; Harmer 5-105, S Cook 4-26
Essex 25-0: Browne 16*
Essex (3 pts) trail Somerset (1 pt) by 178 runs

A last-wicket stand of 59 between Roelof van der Merwe and Jack Leach kept Somerset's hopes of beating Essex and claiming a first County Championship title alive.

Somerset were reeling on 144-9 on another rain-affected day at Taunton, but van der Merwe (60) and Leach (11 not out) took them to a decent score.

Leaders Essex closed on 25-0 as more rain saw play called off at tea.

Somerset must win to become champions, while a draw is enough for Essex.

Time is now against Somerset who have two more days to try and take 20 wickets and force a victory, although the forecast is looking better for the remainder of the game.

On a day where several matches were washed out, the rain relented in the south west of England and allowed play to begin at 12:00 BST - 90 minutes after the scheduled start.

Somerset had stuttered to 75-4 on a rain-shortened opening day of the title decider, and were soon five down when George Bartlett poked Simon Harmer (5-105) to leg slip.

Wickets continued to tumble either side of lunch with seamer Sam Cook (4-26) providing excellent support for Harmer.

The Essex spinner picked up the crucial wicket of Somerset captain Tom Abell (45) lbw straight after lunch and the hosts looked set to post less than 150 when Dom Bess was bowled by Cook to leave them nine down.

But van der Merwe, who has a first-class double hundred, opened his shoulders batting at 10.

The 34-year-old struck four sixes into the leg-side, including three off Harmer, while Leach looked comfortable at the other end.

Having taken Somerset past 200, van der Merwe was eventually bowled by spinner Aaron Nijjar attempting a reverse sweep.

Alastair Cook and Nick Browne saw out a tricky 11 overs for Essex before tea with Craig Overton and Lewis Gregory both bowling testing spells.

However, the rain returned during the interval and play was called off at 16:50 with only 45 overs bowled in the day.

Somerset all-rounder Roelof van der Merwe:

"We knew that anything around 200 would be a good score and it was my day. On a turning wicket I came through.

"It's quite tough when Harmer is in that kind of mood and bowling well. There were men around the bat, so I tried to put a bit of pressure on him.

"We just have to be patient in the way we go about things, not worry too much about the scoreboard and land the ball in good areas.

Essex head coach Anthony McGrath:

"The pitch has turned from ball one and some have gone through the surface. But that is nothing to do with me. We play the conditions in front of us.

"Credit to van der Merwe and Leachy for what was a very good partnership. It had reached the stage where van der Merwe knew he had to take some chances and it came off for him.

"He was very positive against Simon Harmer, who has had a brilliant season, so fair play to him. We now have to bat well, but we are right in the game."

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