Essex 216 (Cook 80) and 183 (Cook 47, Groenewald 5-51) beat Somerset 131 (Porter 5-51, Beard 4-23) and 117 (Porter 4-22) by 151 runs
In successive weeks, the top two counties in the Championship have come to Chelmsford and been sent packing. Hampshire were dismissed for 118 and 88 which at least sounded like emergency advice lines they could ring afterwards. Somerset managed 131 and 117. Fortress Chelmsford is earning its reputation.
Hampshire were so poor in going down to an innings defeat the previous week that in less than five sessions they lost all pretensions of being Championship contenders, although the way things are going they will have James Vince back from England before too long.
Somerset competed much better before falling short by the considerable margin of 151 runs; they will press for the title deep into September and still have every chance of winning it. For the moment, though, it is Essex who have momentum. They have hurdled Hampshire into second and have cut the gap to Somerset to 13 points.
When Aaron Beard knocked two of Jack Brooks' stumps out of the ground with a fast outswinger, 50 minutes into the third afternoon, a thoroughly entertaining contest could not have ended in more emphatic fashion. Beard, in his first Championship outing of the season, returned remarkable match figures of 7 for 45 in only 9.2 overs, a young fast bowler who has been champing for opportunity. Jamie Porter at least had the decency to raise a sweat, his match return of 9 for 73 needing 28.5 overs. Finding movement from an attacking length, they took some playing.
It can be a wearisome affair for Essex supporters to get into Fortress Chelmsford if they are unknowing enough to approach it from the wrong direction. Take a false step and there are more checkpoints than Donald Trump, in his dreams, would put on the Mexican border. Back in the 1980s, when Essex were also well worth watching, there was one gate sort of guarded by somebody struggling to stay awake. Now it appears that the entire retired population of Essex is protecting us all from impending terrorist doom or the danger of somebody gaining access without a pass.
But for those who make it into the ground, the cricket is wonderful consolation. Essex have won four out of four Championship matches on their home turf, the cricket at Chelmsford is always vibrant and the spectators are constantly engaged with what they are watching.
The pitches manage to stay the right side of legality, as far as the ECB are concerned, and yet they are always lively and responsive enough to provide a thoroughly entertaining battle between bat and ball. The mood is not dissimilar to the three-day matches Essex would contest a generation ago. A fourth day, at Chelmsford, appears to be just a safeguard in case of bad weather.
Ryan ten Doeschate's assessment was sound. "Conditions were tough and I thought we battled slightly harder than they did," he said. "Batting has been tough here this season but the scores aren't necessarily reflective of the pitch. If you get stuck in there are runs to be had. We have handled conditions better both skill-wise and mentally with the ball and the home record is keeping us in contention."
The person who got stuck in most of all was not lost on Tom Abell, Somerset's captain. Alastair Cook made 127 runs in the game and, in the context of a low-scoring match, it was an immense contribution.
Essex's lead was 249 with four wickets remaining when the third day began. Somerset needed to round up the rest quickly and then somebody needed to produce an innings of brilliance.
They got the wickets for another 19 runs, although not without an admonishment to Abell for not controlling the verbals from his slip cordon after Peter Siddle had refused to walk for a claimed catch. Losing the match was one thing for Somerset's supporters; for Young Mr Abell to have his chivalrous image put under scrutiny was even more of a jolt.
As for the batting brilliance, it never came. James Hildreth hinted at a successful counter-attack before Siddle had him caught at the wicket immediately after lunch, but by the time Lewis Gregory hit three successive midwicket sixes off Simon Harmer the game was up as Beard soon emphasised by sending the ground staff scurrying for a replacement middle stump. Somerset's resistance lasted only 32.2 overs.
Porter, full of attacking intent from the outset, took wickets in each of his first two overs. He plucked out a sharp return catch to his left to remove Abell for nought and then had Azhar Ali caught at third slip. Somerset were eager to carry the fight, but after pulling Beard's third ball for six, Tom Banton obligingly clipped Harmer's sixth ball to a short midwicket who had just been placed there for that eventuality. Hildreth had departed by lunch, too, when he failed to upper-cut Porter.
After lunch, Somerset crumbled. Steven Davies, caught on the crease, fell for nought as he meekly edged his third ball to slip, George Bartlett was well caught by Dan Lawrence at gully before Jamie Overton provided a replica of his first-innings dismissal by pulling Porter to Browne on the square-leg boundary. There was a time, according to cricket historians, when some cricket writers were so influential that their admonishments in print could cause players to change their approach. In the case of this correspondent and Jamie Overton, clearly quite the opposite applied.