Sir Alastair Cook’s 67th first-class hundred nudged Essex ever so slightly towards an advantage on Day 3 of the Bob Willis Trophy Final.
The opener’s 172 guided Essex to 271-6 at close, Tom Westley making a half-century of his own. For Somerset Lewis Gregory was the standout finishing with 5-58.
If the Cidermen were slight favourites 24 hours ago after being 301 all out, those roles have now been reversed but in truth it’s finely poised with nearly 200 overs still in the game.
Cook has been churning out the runs since 2003 and passed the 31,000 mark early on this morning. Not always regarded as pretty, but today he was easy on the eye.
And with his name etched onto the honours board five times, he knows how to bat at Lord’s.
Early on he nicked one off Overton but the ball flew past Tom Lammonby at gully. The bowler let out a groan that could be heard south of the river.
Thereafter it was slim pickings for a while. For only the second time this season Somerset failed to remove an opener in the first ten overs.
They had to wait until the last ball of the 14th over here, Gregory’s introduction at the Pavilion End seeing off Nick Browne.
From around the wicket, the quick found Browne’s outside edge, Overton taking a smart catch at second slip to remove the Essex opener for 8.
But then it was Cook’s day, with his captain Westley playing a low-key yet vital supporting role.
A couple of short balls from Overton and Jack Brooks were latched onto by Cook, the ball racing to the square-leg boundary.
And when an elegant punch through the covers off Gregory flew to the ropes his side had 50. There was a sense something special was brewing.
A couple of times Somerset’s four-pronged pace attack found the outside edge, but so soft were his hands that the ball fell well short of danger. The cordon crept closer each time but no close enough.
By lunch Essex had moved on to for 79-1. It was gripping stuff.
The drama was heightened by an interesting sub-plot; in the event of a draw the trophy would go to the side who got more first dig.
302 then was Essex’s first target, far from certain against a side that’s conceded 200 just once all season.
Cook reached his 50 in typically majestic fashion, another punch through the covers off Gregory.
Then the masterclass really got going. He doubled up just 64 balls later – passing 3,000 runs at the Home of Cricket in the process – before reaching 150 in 251 deliveries.
Somerset’s bowlers have enjoyed a magnificent season but frankly when on song few can trouble Cook. He’s an all-time great.
His innings wouldn’t have looked out of place back in the Test arena, his timing perfect all day.
A nod too to Westley who registered a score of 51. He’s endured a torrid tournament, averaging a measly 15 ahead of the showpiece.
With a top score of 34 there’s everything chance he’d have felt the axe during the group stages were he not the leader.
But when it really mattered he stood up for his side.
Somerset came back into the game immediately after tea.
Westley tried to work Lammonby’s left-arm medium pace through midwicket but could only find Tom Abell, one of two men crouching in anticipation of just that stroke.
Abell doesn’t miss many in the field and flung himself to his right to make the grab.
That broke a stand worth 170 and two more fell in quick succession to Gregory.
Having switched to the Nursery End, he ended Dan Lawrence’s scratchy stay with a short ball before Walter removed LBW for a golden duck.
At that point Essex needed a steadying hand ad who better than veteran Ryan ten Doeschate to do just that.
He and Cook put on fifty and seemed to be cruising along.
But history has a habit of repeating itself and once again the second new ball changed the dynamic.
Overton returned fresh and wrapped ten Doeschate’s pads. 264-5 quickly became 266-6 when Gregory ended Cook’s vigil, again Overton taking the catch at slip.
That left Essex mirroring where their opposition had found themselves yesterday.
Adam Wheater and Jamie Porter saw out the final few overs and they closed 30 short of Somerset’s first innings total.