Lancashire lose to Somerset as Essex win title
Somerset needed just over an hour of the final day to wrap up a seven-wicket victory over Lancashire at Taunton and confirm Essex as county champions for 2017.
Needing a victory to keep their faint title hopes alive, the visitors lost their last two wickets for 22 runs as Craig Overton sent back Kyle Jarvis and Tom Bailey. Lancashire’s total of 269 left Somerset needing just 68 to ease their fears of Second Division cricket next season.
They lost Eddie Byrom, Marcus Trescothick and James Hildreth, all to leg-spinner Matty Parkinson, in reaching the target, but still took 22 points from a convincing win to Lancashire’s three.
When Tom Abell hit the winning boundary the Championship race was decided and the second relegation spot thrown wide open. Two games ago Somerset looked dead and buried, but successive victories have altered the picture dramatically.
The hosts looked anything but a relegation side in this match, supporting their bowlers with excellent fielding and showing some steel with the bat that has been missing for much of the campaign.
Overton ensured there were no last day traumas after skipper Abell had taken the decision to open with the tall seamer from the Somerset Pavilion end, rather than off-spinner Dom Bess.
It proved a shrewd move. With the last ball of his first over, Overton uprooted Jarvis’s off-stump with a full delivery as he played down the wrong line.
Jarvis had already survived a confident appeal for a bat-pad catch at silly mid-off from the first delivery of the day, bowled by Jack Leach. The umpires consulted before a not out verdict.
Leach was deprived of his second five-wicket haul of the match when Overton struck again. Another full ball trapped Bailey in front and it looked a straightforward lbw decision.
With the sun shining, Somerset could not have hoped for better conditions for their small run chase.
But, having progressed comfortably to 19, they lost opener Byrom, bowled by a classic leg-break from Parkinson as he attempted to drive.
It was Parkinson’s fifth wicket of the match and he might have proved a huge threat on the final day pitch had Somerset needed even 150.
As it was, Trescothick, whose hopes of ever winning a Championship title with his beloved county, surely rest on avoiding relegation at the age of 41, survived a loud leg-before shout from Stephen Parry on a pitch offering considerable turn.
The veteran former England opener took the total to 46 by lofting Parkinson over the short mid-wicket boundary on the town side of the ground, but in the same over departed for 21, caught at square-leg, aiming to sweep a low full-toss.
Hildreth immediately followed to a low catch at gully and for the second time this season, Abell found himself walking out at Taunton to face a hat-trick ball.
He steadied nerves by hitting it through the leg-side of three. At the other end England Under-19 batsman George Bartlett was showing the confidence of youth and together they moved Somerset towards victory.
With nine needed, he smashed Parkinson (three for 37) back over his head for six to finish unbeaten on 27. Abell completed the job by sweeping Parry for four to spark celebrations on the other side of the country and genuine hope in the home dressing room.
Lancashire skipper Steve Croft said: "Massive congratulations to Essex. That's eight games they have won, which is an incredible effort, and they are thoroughly deserving winners of the Championship.
"We had a close game against them at the start of the season and a couple of other matches could have gone our way with a bit of luck. But it was a tough task staying close to Essex the way they have been playing and we will take a lot of positives out of the season.
"We didn't bat or bowl well enough in the first innings of this game, but fought back well yesterday and had a couple of things go against us. Now our goal is to finish runners-up. We were written off by many at the beginning of the season, but emerged as title contenders."