A resolute last innings batting display secured the Bob Willis Trophy for Essex at Lord’s this afternoon.
In the September gloom and under the greyest of skies, they finished 176-6.
Short of the 237-run victory target but it mattered not. Tom Westley’s side had the all-important first innings lead and the title went to Chelmsford.
Ryan ten Doeschate, so often the hero, sapped out 137 balls out of the game for well-made 36 as he and Adam Wheater saw out the final 27 overs.
It was a fitting final between the domestic cricket’s two best line-ups. But just like twelve months previously, Essex had that little bit extra to see them home.
Three of the last four years they’ve been crowned champions; a side blessed with quality throughout and the closest of dressing rooms. No one in their right mind would argue they are worthy winners.
Quick runs were the order of the morning for Somerset if they were to stand a chance of coming out on top. They needed an outright win; any other result and Chelmsford would be the town celebrating.
A couple of sighters and Overton launched Jamie Porter over mid-on for a one bounce four. Davey stretched the lead beyond 200 with a reverse sweep off Harmer the following over. Early signs of intent.
Essex tightened the screw, Simon Harmer and Porter restricting the opposition to scrambled singles for a few overs.
Overton danced down the track and thought he’d stroked Hamer for a maximum, but Paul Walter – the tallest man on the circuit – pulled off a remarkable piece of fielding on the rope. It was a feat that defied gravity; off balance he plucked the cherry one handed and tumbled backwards over the boundary.
He had the wherewithal to toss the ball back onto the pitch before hitting the ground though, saving several runs.
Overton had his six the next over, smashing Porter over long on and shortly thereafter Tom Abell called time on the innings.
The big Devonian finished unbeaten on 45, while Porter was the picked of the Essex attack with 4-73.
It was an aggressive declaration, setting Essex 237 to win from 80 overs. But with that all-important first innings lead meaning they just had bat out the day. There was no incentive to chase too hard, or even chase at all.
But nevertheless they got off to a positive start, Sir Alistair Cook and Nick Browne both helping themselves to early boundaries. The latter whipped Overton through mid-wicket the ropes before driving the following ball down the ground for the same result.
They’d moved the score nicely onto 24 but the introduction of Lewis Gregory – so effective in the first dig – at the Nursery End paid immediate dividends.
With just his second delivery he found Browne’s outside edge, Abell taking a smart catch low down at gully.
Essex were two down the following over, this time Overton trapping Essex captain Tom Westley LBW without scoring.
Cook though was the dangerman. After his magnificent 170 in the first innings, Somerset needed him early.
But he puts a high price on his wicket and he found good support from Dan Lawrence.
Tentative at first, the youngster from Chingford grew in confidence.
Having survived an LBW shout, he ran one wristily down to the vacant third man boundary off Gregory. Suddenly the feet were moving and the defence solid. That whip from outside off came into play.
Together they navigated slightly rocky waters, helping their side reach 61-2 at lunch.
Then, with the light as bad as it had been all game, came the big one. Gregory found Cook’s outside edge and up went the umpire’s finger.
The former England skipper didn’t like it. He stood his ground, a look of bemusement across his face. It mattered little. He was on his way and Somerset were delighted.
Well they might be; Cook had just passed 201 runs in the game.
74-3 and the contest was in the balance. Somerset sniffed blood.
Walter though had other ideas. Having avoided a king pair, he set about his task of keeping the gnawing quicks at bay.
Having opened up earlier in the competition, he’s no mug with the bat and shapes up nicely. The forward press was his friend today. Stoic. Resolute.
Then on came Jack Leach. After the highs of last summer, the left-arm spinner has endured a torrid 12 months. This was only his second outing since last November. He got his first ball to grip, bounce and turn away from Lawrence.
The batsman countered, smoking one through the covers. The contest between the pair was on.
And then it was over. Leach had his man, Lawrence going for a well made 35.
Walter though was in no mood to wave the white flag. And in Ryan ten Doeschate he had an ally as stubborn as they come.
Jack Brooks, the most experienced bowler in the Somerset pack, came on and kept it tight. Leach continued to operate at the Nursery End. And then Overton – the trump card – returned. Still no way through. Plenty of vociferous appealing but the umpires remained unmoved.
When tea came Essex had moved onto 128-3. 31 overs left in the game, 109 required but still Westley’s troop simply needed to ride out any storm.
And all the while the light kept fading. Umpire Bailey had the meter out shortly after the break. Nothing doing. The shadows fell off the players in four directions. After discussions between Abell and Overton they continued.
The following over Leach was back into the thick of it, ending Walters 84 ball vigil. For the first time in the afternoon that lunge onto the front foot failed him and he fell LBW.
It was a knock worth far more than the 21 runs he posted; a fitting end to a breakthrough season. But there was still work to be done.
Adam Wheater is another man whose enjoyed a cracking year, and the diminutive right hander was in hurry to head back to the warmth of the changing room.
Time was running out for the Cidermen, and Essex are a side used to getting over the line. Winning – however achieved – is a habit and they do it on repeat.
Still Gregory kept coming, and still back came Wheater and ten Doeschate.
Abell surrounded the bat, six men in a catching position, three of them in a ring just off the batsman’s hip.
Eddie Byrom bowled an over of part-time leg-spin. Nothing going, although you wouldn’t want have been the man until the lid at short leg.
Abell juggled his pack but to no avail. Ten Doeschate was the man who couldn’t be moved, Chelmsford’s favourite adopted son determined to be there at the end. That he fell trying to sweep Leach in the penultimate over was something of a surprise. Nevertheless his job was done. Another trophy for the Essex cabinet.
Tagged Bob Willis Trophy