A majestic hundred from Eddie Byrom has put Somerset in the driving seat after Day 2 of Bob Willis Trophy Final at Lords.
The left-hander’s 117 helped the Cidermen to a more than healthy 301 all out. Craig Overton chipped in with a half-century of his own while Essex’s Sam Cook added three wickets to his overnight tally to finish with 5-76.
Opportunity has been one of the upsides of this hastily thrown together competition.
A combination of extended England bubbles and overseas stars being unable to travel has meant chances that may not otherwise have materialised.
Last year Byrom made just two red-ball outings, one of those against the students of Cardiff.
He’s been an ever-present in the BWT without really sticking his hand up. Plenty of starts but nothing above 30.
Today he stepped firmly into the limelight. Resuming unbeaten on 51, he passed his highest score in the domestic red-ball tournament within the first hour and a richly deserved three figures arrived shortly after lunch.
A sumptuous punch down the ground took him to the landmark. It was a shot he played on several occasions, elbow high, head perfectly still. Messurs Key and Atherton both made the Trescothick comparisons on Day 1.
Remarkably it was Byrom’s first competitive hundred for the county; no better time, no better place.
It was worthy of standing ovation from a packed house at the Home of Cricket.
Instead, he had to make do with a roar from his dressing room, the clanks of the construction workers at the Nursery End and applause from the smattering of lucky soles admitted to the ground.
Under brighter skies it was Somerset’s morning. By lunchtime they’d moved on to 233/5 having added 114 runs to their overnight total.
Essex on the other hand had just a solitary wicket to show for their efforts.
There was a nip in the air – no great surprise given its pay day in September – and there was something in the pitch as well.
Not quite the bowlers paradise assumed on the first morning but still tricky to bat.
The one man to fall was Steve Davies. The left-hander had kicked off the day with a flurry of boundaries and looked in good touch.
But having survived what looked a decent LBW shout from Porter – the bowler assuming the double teapot – he fell for 27 the following over. The metronomic Cook teasing him outside off and Davies having a nibble.
A soft dismissal with a feather through to Adam Wheater giving the gloveman a simple catch.
But that was as good as it got for the fielding side. Jamie Porter and Cook toiled away without further reward, despite beating the bat regularly.
Byrom started out life as an opener and looked every bit top-order player when flicking through the leg side and driving down the ground.
And in Overton he found the perfect foil.
The paceman has enjoyed a stellar summer with the ball, pushing his test claims hard.
A few more runs in the mix will do him no harm, and having earned promotion to seven recently, he strode to the crease like a man intent on making his mark.
He got up and running with a whip off Porter through mid-wicket and brought up an 85-ball 50 on the stroke of lunch.
He got lucky earlier though, somehow surviving when Aaron Beard rattled one into his pads.
The bowler was wheeling off with a celebappeal but the finger stayed down.
It wasn’t long before the rain came and it was 4.30 before the clouds lifted enough to allow play to resume.
After a few overs of Paul Walter, whose bustling left-arm seam caused as many problems as anyone, the new ball came, bringing with it quick wickets.
It took just three balls for Porter to strike, trapping Overton in front of all three to break a 127-run partnership that had swung the game in Somerset’s favour.
Like London buses, two more followed shortly thereafter, Cook ending Byrom’s vigil the following over, before removing Lewis Gregory two overs later. Not before Gregory had stroked a glorious maximum over midwicket though.
Coming into the game Simon Harmer had 34 wickets in the tournament; head and shoulders above the rest, both physically and metaphorically.
But a combination of rain and seam friendly conditions restricted the off-spinner to just 20 of the 102 overs Essex bowled.
How to play the South African is a question pondered by scores of batsmen across the land over the past few years, and few have come up with answers.
Somerset though will have been buoyed with their approach earlier in the day, with Byrom in particular showing attack is the best form of deference.
Back-to-back fours in Harmer’s first over of the day caused him to switch from the Nursery End but even that brought precious little reward.
It looked like he might go wicketless for the first time this season but he was chucked the relatively new ball with the remit of cleaning up the tail.
He duly obliged seeing off Jack Leach LBW and wrapping the innings up one ball later by bowling Jack Brooks.
The players returned to the field with Sir Alistair Cook and Nick Browne facing a potentially tricky three overs. However, to their obvious relief the umpires determined it was too dark to continue and the stumps were removed.
Somerset will sleep easier tonight. Their pacemen will be relishing the challenge tomorrow. Essex have proved time and time again never to write them off.