Sir Alastair Cook stands firm as Essex win County Championship title after Somerset clash ends in a draw despite late onslaught from Jack Leach and Co
Somerset did all they could to conjure up a county version of the miracle of Headingley yesterday before Sir Alastair Cook denied them the most extraordinary championship triumph in history.
All seemed lost for the perennial runners up when Essex battled their way to 111 for three in their first innings in response to Somerset’s 203 just before tea on the final day of a rain-ravaged title decider.
But just when Essex were getting ready to celebrate their second title in three years they collapsed on a near unplayable Taunton pitch to give Somerset a sniff of finally claiming a first championship title in their 144-year history.
This year's County Championship ended in thrilling fashion as Essex held out to win the title
Somerset forfeited their second innings in a last ditch effort to win the Championship title
Nine wickets in just over 19 overs gave Somerset a fighting chance on the last day of play
The last six Essex wickets crumbled in just 32 balls to the three-pronged Somerset spin attack with Jack Leach, one of the principle figures in England’s remarkable Ashes victory in Leeds, finishing with five for 32.
Somerset, needing victory or bust, then forfeited their second innings, leaving Essex 63 to win or to survive a minimum of 18 overs for the draw that would give them the title in a final thrilling climax to this most memorable of cricket seasons.
But Essex could thank their lucky stars they had the formidable figure of Cook in their line-up to take the tension out of the equation by making an unbeaten 30 before the sides shook hands with the visitors just one down and eight minutes left.
And the season was complete when Marcus Trescothick, retiring at 43 after 27 seasons with Somerset, took to the field for the closing overs as a substitute fielder to a standing ovation from the Taunton crowd.
It had been Cook who had earlier needed all his skill and powers of concentration to hold Somerset up for much of the final day with a battling 53 off 148 balls on a surface that provided extreme turn and inconsistent bounce.
England's Jack Leach was tasked with getting Essex out but was faced with a stubborn defence
Alastair Cook scored a half century in the first innings and denied Somerset in the second
While England’s record runscorer was at the crease all was calm but once he had fallen to Leach the landscape changed dramatically and Somerset could dream of one last dramatic twist in a season full of them.
Heartbreakingly for them, Essex held firm but at least their triumph spared the game what might have been a title decided in the committee room because this pitch was barely fit for first-class cricket.
Essex have privately been angry at the poor quality of the surface and, with Somerset already on a warning from the ECB about the quality of their pitches, an inquiry and a possible points penalty would have followed a Somerset victory.
Thankfully, that was made academic by an Essex side who became the first county to complete a championship and Twenty20 Blast double in the same season.
Somerset captain Tom Abell cuts a forlorn figure as his side tried to get the wickets required
Somerset were given something to smile about as Marcus Trescothick made an appearance
And that could be enough to tempt Cook to bring the final curtain down on his distinguished career on the highest county note after he bade farewell to international cricket with a century in a winning cause against India at the Oval last year.
Cook signed a three-year contract with Essex ahead of this season but has always had the option of bowing out before then and may consider this the ideal time to retire.
Essex are desperate for him to continue and he will first savour his leading role in a championship triumph for the first time having spent most of his career with England.
Meanwhile, Northamptonshire and Gloucestershire were promoted to Division One
But it would be no real surprise if he then, at 34, called it a day having achieved just about everything possible for both England and Essex.
Certainly, not many players get the chance to bow out with one fairytale finish let alone two and Cook could retire to his family farm with his career complete if he goes now.
For now he can savour another example of cricket’s remarkable capacity for ebbs and flows while Somerset, with their retiring legend in Trescothick leading off the sides with a guard of honour, have to accept their sixth championship second place finish this century.