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Somerset slightly ahead after 15 wickets tumble on day one

Somerset seamers Paul van Meekeren and Craig Overton gave Essex a real examination as they skittled the Division One leaders for 159.

Dutchman van Meekeren, 24, claimed career-best first-class figures of four for 60 on his Championship debut, with Overton chipping in with four for 40, as Essex were bowled out in 51 overs.

Only Nick Browne and Ryan ten Doeschate, who compiled 51 for the fifth wicket before lunch, showed any serious resolve on a day when the ball nipped and swung.

But when Somerset replied they found Jamie Porter in equally devastating form, taking four wickets for 27 from 12 overs as the visitors ended the day 41 runs adrift with five wickets in hand.

From a shaky 20 for three, James Hildreth and Tom Abell dug in with a patient and sensible fourth-wicket stand of 78 in 22 overs before Porter returned for a second spell.

Essex, who opted to bat, had won five of their previous six Championship outings since Middlesex had them on the ropes at the end of April in a rain-affected match at Lord’s. But with no batting points collected here, their 41-point lead at the top suddenly looked vulnerable.

The wickets started tumbling from the sixth over onwards. Varun Chopra was first to go when he missed a straight one from van Meekeren to go lbw. The Dutchman had a second wicket in his next over as Dan Lawrence drove at one outside off-stump and was snaffled at second slip by James Hildreth without scoring.

Overton switched ends to relieve van Meereken and had Ravi Bopara trapped lbw with his fourth ball. Adam Wheater went the same way, playing around one from Tim Groenewald, and Essex were 39 for four.

Browne survived a dropped chance at square leg by Eddie Byrom when 24 before putting on 51 in 13 overs with ten Doeschate that repaired the early damage. The captain gave his younger partner a 19-over advantage and had almost caught him up when he departed six balls after lunch.

Ten Doeschate was particularly strong through the covers and thumped Jack Leach over midwicket for six. He stood his ground in the belief the ball from Overton had reached Marcus Trescothick in the slips on the bounce. But the umpires conferred before sending him on his way for a 42-ball 35 that included five fours.

Browne followed in Overton’s next over, attempting a hook but top-edging so high that three fielders converged from distant parts before van Meekeren dived full-length to take it backward of square. His 44 took 94 balls, with six fours, and in the process passed 4,000 first-class career runs.

James Foster didn’t last long, caught low down by Hildreth, before Paul Walter helped Simon Harmer put on 23 for the eighth wicket – the second-highest partnership of the innings. Harmer went to a thick edge to one from van Meekeren, the ball was pushed into the air above his head by Trescothick, who competed the slip catch at the second attempt.

Walter became van Meekeren’s fourth scalp when he was bowled through the gate by a straight one. After some lusty hitting by the last pair, Porter chopped down on a delivery from Overton, only for the ball to trickle on to his stumps.

Trescothick departed in the fifth over of Somerset’s reply, caught behind from a faint edge off Porter. The second-wicket pair added just eight runs in seven overs before Tim Rouse was held by Harmer at second slip in Bopara’s first over after tea. He had eked out four from 26 deliveries.

Byrom was even more painstaking, needing 39 balls to score five before Porter got one to swing in and bowl him. But then Hildreth and Abell steadied the ship in the fading evening light. Hildreth reached his fifty from 67 balls with six fours and passed 15,000 First-Class runs in the process, but Abell departed next ball for 30 from 75 balls. Chopra took the catch at first slip and then Porter added a fourth wicket when Hildreth, on 51, mistimed a short ball and hooked to midwicket.

Craig Overton took four for 40 as Essex were all out for 159. He said: “I feel we’re on top. We’d like to have lost a few less wickets, but I feel we’re in a good position. Both teams wanted to bat this morning so to bowl them out for 159 on a hot day like it is was pretty good.

“We’re not used to this heat in England, but we all stuck to our guns and to get them out for 159 we’re really happy. We’d be happy with any lead, but ideally we probably want 50-60 at least. That would put us in a good position going into when we bowl again.

“I don‘t think it moved around a lot. We bowled pretty well and we held on to most things. It’s not as green nipper as you’d think. It is more crusty and it’s almost that the seam sticks in and holds it and the ball almost goes slowly.”

Of debutant Paul van Meekeren, Overton added: “He bowled really well. I faced him in the nets yesterday and he is quite hard to face – some balls skid through really quickly, but sometimes it comes out slightly differently and it’s tough to face. We bowled really well together.”

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Next MatchSomerset V Derbyshire Falcons

09/07/2022 19:00 - The Cooper Associates County Ground