This has been an intriguing, worthwhile contest dominated by left-handers. On the second day Eddie Byrom completed a diligent century; there was princely, predictable one from Alastair Cook on the third but perhaps the most eye-catching of the three hundreds came from Tom Lammonby on the fourth, a sparkling innings from a 20-year-old novice.
Lammonby had not played first-class cricket until this summer yet this was his third century in six matches. He has never been regarded as an opening batsman until this season. It is the toughest place to bat against a dark, red Dukes ball; he was up against a Championship-winning bowling attack and he started his innings on a pair, but none of this appears to have deterred Lammonby greatly.
With Somerset yearning for quick runs in order to win the game, which they have to do to win the trophy having conceded a first-innings lead to Essex, Lammonby batted with wonderful panache on a wintry afternoon at a regrettably empty Lord’s.
Even though we have decided this is a left-hander’s pitch this was a remarkable innings. It took him 134 balls to reach three figures. Cook, looking on from first slip, must have raised at least one eyebrow. Within the space of six games Lammonby, who has played for England Under-19s, demands the attention of those plotting the next decade of English cricket. No youngster has impressed more throughout the Bob Willis Trophy. And he is now indisputably Somerset’s opening batsman.
Somerset needed a positive start to their second innings after the Essex tail had frustrated them in the morning. A first-innings lead is important in this match because in the event of a draw the side that holds that lead walks away with the trophy.
At the start of play Essex required 31 more runs with four wickets in hand and they reached their prime target without losing any of them. The big-hearted Jamie Porter, a batsman of limited ability, did a sterling job as nightwatchman and he was still there alongside Adam Wheater when that first-innings lead was secured via a mixture of leg-byes, leg glances and the odd crisp drive.
Then Lewis Gregory snatched two wickets quickly. The obdurate Porter lost his middle stump and Simon Harmer was caught at slip by the sure hands of Craig Overton.
There followed an unusual, cagey period of cricket. The batsmen were wary and keen to bat their allotted 120 overs while Somerset for the last two overs of the innings stationed all nine fielders on the boundary, which they are entitled to do in this format.
So the Essex lead was a handy 36. In the afternoon Somerset were anything but cagey. Lammonby, drove, flicked and swept with elan; his footwork neat and precise he was reminiscent of a young Graeme Fowler, in his alert, almost mischievous, demeanour out there.
Ben Green, his colleague from Exeter and another converted opener, was not quite so commanding but he battled away in a century opening partnership. Once he stepped out of his crease to pull-drive a Harmer off-break way over midwicket for six.
Green was neatly caught at slip by Cook off Aaron Beard – and it was the sort of day when any slip catch was a minor miracle. Tom Abell scored 15 in 50-run partnership with Lammonby, another indication of the left-hander’s dominance, whereupon he clipped an ordinary delivery from Porter to midwicket.
After tea the game took another turn as Somerset lost four wickets in quick succession. Byrom, becalmed, was bowled by Porter. George Bartlett found it equally tricky to penetrate the field and ended up swiping a catch to mid-on. Then Lammonby was finally defeated by Harmer and lbw before returning to the pavilion, his bat aloft on the direction of a handful of Somerset support staff and players.
Soon after Gregory fell victim to another fine Cook catch and Somerset had suddenly sunk to 188 for six.
Essex missed a chance to turn the screw decisively when the substitute fielder spilled a catch from Overton’s top-edge at long-leg – 36 runs were added by Overton and Steven Davies before the latter edged an off-break in the classic manner, the flawless Cook taking another catch. At the close, Somerset’s lead was 191.
Throughout the first four days one can only admire the commitment and skill of the sides, who have been playing in near Arctic conditions, and they have set up an alluring final day with the outcome uncertain, another example of behind closed doors cricket working remarkably well.
The Bob Willis Trophy has stirred the imagination and both sides have been busting a gut to win it. One suspects that if Somerset are going to win they will have to find a way to dismiss Cook cheaply.