Somerset 326 (Davies 74, Bess 51, Wood 4-85) v Nottinghamshire
One shivers with excitement to think what Taunton will be like if Somerset win the title this year. Not merely the County Ground, you understand, but the whole community. Cricket is woven more deeply into the fabric of this place than it is in any other English town except Scarborough during festival week. Many of the taxi drivers would have known the county had lost three wickets in the first session on this opening day of their game against Nottinghamshire. And some of the Sunday lunchers in Brazz will have been aware that James Hildreth was one of them, magical as always when hitting six boundaries to get to 44 and then fondly fallible when nicking a swinging delivery from Jake Ball to Steven Mullaney at second slip 15 minutes before tiffin.
It reaches into the boondocks, too. At lunch on this bright Sunday the winners of the county's OSCAs (Outstanding Service to Cricket Awards) were presented with their certificates on the outfield by Josh Davey and were then treated to a carvery lunch. The problem, though, was that the first hour's play in the afternoon session probably gave those club servants a touch of dyspepsia as Somerset suffered three more reverses to reach the midpoint of the day poorly placed on 147 for 6. Winning the Championship, some said, was never going to be easy. Our batsmen will make sure of that.
But Somerset's batsmen might also ensure their team stays in the hunt for the title deep into September. While white-ball cricket has reduced the number of cricketers in the county game capable of batting a day and a half, it has also meant that the vast majority of batsmen in any side are capable of not only imitating the limpet but also scoring runs in relatively conventional fashion. Nine-ten-jack have gone the way of the test card.
Steven Davies, of course, is a major batsman while Dom Bess is a bowling allounder with a Test half-century to his name. It was not a surprise to see either play R Ashwin in an accomplished fashion or to see the pair put on 128 for the seventh wicket. Some of Davies' shots, notably his successive fours off Jake Libby in the over after tea and his cut when Ashwin strayed a fraction short, were strokes of pedigree. But his stand with Bess led a recovery which saw Somerset's last four wickets add 181 runs to their tally. To make 326 - the innings ended just on close of play - was a fine effort after Tom Abell had opted to bat first on a used wicket.
Nottinghamshire's bowlers also made a contribution, of course. Their county's suffering supporters have followed them to the Isle of Wight and Tunbridge Wells this season. The scenery at two of the circuit's postcard grounds has not compensated for the pain of defeats. So perhaps they could be encouraged by the manner in which Mullaney's attack went about their work this morning.
This was a fine day's cricket because the team currently plumb bottom of Division One after eight games made light of bowling first and took wickets on a regular basis throughout the first two sessions. By tea Ashwin had bowled 23 of the 64 overs and had removed both Abell, caught at short leg by Ben Slater, and Tom Banton, hit wicket as he strove to prevent the ball rolling back on to the stumps.
Ashwin managed to be both an anchor and a spearhead. His dismissal of Jack Leach to end our day's cricket left him with figures of 3 for 93 from 34.3 overs. His ability to bowl at a pace above classical spin and yet to possess the loop which befuddles the best marked him out as perhaps the player of the day. But if that is hard on Davies, it is also tough on Luke Wood, who bowled with enthusiasm and effervescent joy from the River End, taking the first wicket of the day, that of Azhar Ali, and then removing both Bess for 51 and Davies for 74 with the second new ball. All this in addition to bowling George Bartlett round his legs for 19
The four wickets taken by Wood and Ball from the River End prompted concerned glances from 3000-plus spectators who crowded into the County Ground this Sunday of high clouds. As ever, anxiety is the flip side of passion. When Lewis Gregory clipped Ball to Ashwin at mid-on in mid-afternoon, the worry on the faces deepened as news came in of Yorkshire wickets tumbling at Chelmsford. But this Somerset team has a harder core than many of its predecessors. When a thousand schoolchildren arrive at the ground on Monday, they will see Abell's attack trying to set up a seventh victory in nine games. And Abell's bowlers will hear higher-pitched cries than they are used to and realise that the whole of Taunton is with them once again.