Victory puts Essex back on top ahead of title showdown against Somerset
Essex (395) beat Surrey (174 & 181) by an innings and 40 runs
As the shadows lengthened at Chelmsford, at 5:58pm, Morne Morkel had a huge swing at a delivery from Simon Harmer. Morkel missed, and the off-break took out his stumps. The jubilation that engulfed the crowd revealed that Essex were top of the County Championship again.
It had been the sort of day when spectators at one game were really spectators of two. Indeed, as Somerset made a sprightly start to their run-chase at the Ageas Bowl, and then collapsed spectacularly, Essex’s fans seemed almost as preoccupied with events there as these unfolding in front of them.
For his work at the Ageas Bowl, Essex were left toasting Kyle Abbott. But they had another South African Kolpak player who is as valuable. Harmer’s day began with a perky half-century which secured Essex a fourth bonus point. It ended with Harmer holding the match ball aloft proudly and leading his side off to warm applause.
The most remarkable aspect of his haul of seven for 56 was simply how unremarkable it was. For such unerring excellence – combining subtle variations in flight and spin, bounce and with metronomic accuracy – has been the hallmark of Harmer ever since he decided to abandon his international career and move to Chelmsford before the summer of 2017. Over three summers, his first-class record for Essex now reads 212 wickets at 20 apiece. Snaring Ben Foakes with a quicker ball encapsulated the dexterity of Harmer’s spin-bowling brain.
For all that county cricket benefits from the presence of players of the ilk of Abbott and Harmer, their success – on a day when South Africa were well-beaten in a Twenty20 international in India – highlights how the international game is weaker for their absence.
Fielding at slip throughout the day, Alastair Cook had the best view of Surrey’s collapse. Barring an Essex defeat at Taunton – and, even a defeat with sufficient bonus points could be enough – Cook will mark his first season back in the shires with a County Championship title to back up that won by Essex in 2017. Before then, Cook’s team-mates will travel to Edgbaston for Twenty20 Finals Day, with designs on a double triumph.