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Essex claim the title on dramatic final day

Essex were crowned 2019 Specsavers County Championship title winners after a rain-shortened, yet ultimately compelling, fourth day of the deciding match against Somerset at the Cooper Associates County Ground.

It ended in a draw at 5.20pm, but that didn’t begin to tell the story of a dramatic finale to the season.

By tea, Essex, requiring only a draw, had reached 118 for four in their first innings in reply to 203. Alastair Cook had contributed a patient half-century, sharing a stand of 67 for the second wicket with Tom Westley.

However, in the final session the visitors slumped to 141 all out, the last six wickets falling for 15 in the space of 5.2 overs. Jack Leach claimed five for 32 and Roelof van der Merwe four for 41.

Somerset, needing a win to overtake their opponents and claim the pennant for the first time, bravely forfeited their second innings with a lead of just 62. It was a necessary gamble and Essex were left with a little over an hour to bat to secure the title.

Suddenly spectators were on the edge of their seats as opener Nick Browne was dropped off the third ball of the Essex second innings. The last hour began with only a single on the board and Somerset had a minimum of 16 more overs to complete one of the most dramatic comebacks in cricket history.

However, Cook was a reassuring presence for Essex again, contributing an unbeaten 30. By the time Browne fell for ten, 38 runs were on the board and, with seven added, the players shook hands.

There was a poignant moment in the closing overs when Marcus Trescothick took the field as a substitute for his final Somerset appearance to warm applause.

Essex took eight points from the game to claim the title by 11, while Somerset had to be content with the runners-up spot for the sixth time this century, and a feeling of what might have been had so many overs not been lost.

Only 12 overs were possible in two spells before lunch after a delayed start until noon. They brought only the wicket of Browne, caught at silly point off Dom Bess for 18.

Cook and Westley took the score to 36 for one by the interval. That had become 74 for one when another short shower sent the players off.

Cook reached a 147-ball fifty, but the next ball saw the former England captain snapped up at short-leg.

Leach struck again two deliveries later as Dan Lawrence edged to slip and Somerset homed in with seven fielders clustered around the bat.

Soon Ravi Bopara succumbed to one of them, caught at silly point, pushing forward to van der Merwe. Westley, beaten on numerous occasions by some extravagant turn, was unbeaten on 32 when tea was taken.

The final session was the stuff of fiction. Ryan ten Doeschate was caught at gully off Leach and Adam Wheater dropped on nought in the same over before Westley edged to slip off van der Merwe.

The South African quickly struck again to dismiss Simon Harmer with a ball that spun and lifted. Leach pinned Aron Nijjar lbw and then bowled Sam Cook in the same over.

When Wheater was caught behind off van der Merwe to end the innings, nine wickets had fallen for 39 runs either side of tea. However, for Somerset, the brave effort had come too late.

At the end of a dramatic day, Somerset Head Coach, Jason Kerr said: “There is a lot of emotion and frustration right now. The weather hasn’t been kind to us this week and if we had been given more opportunity to play, I think the result might have been different.

“Things have contrived against us this week, no doubt about that, but we can’t cry over spilt milk and congratulations must go to Essex.

“Finishing runners-up in the Championship three times in four seasons says we also play a lot of good cricket and we just need to get over the line.

“We have won a competition this summer for the first time in 14 years, so you could say we are over the first hurdle. That’s one monkey off the back.

“Now we have to reflect and learn from this Championship season with a view to going one better in 2020.”

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