Essex 109 for 2 (A Cook 59*) are level with Somerset 109 (Lammonby 48, Harmer 3-14, S Cook 3-17, Steketee 3-47)
An unexpected fire alarm sounded in the Marcus Trescothick Pavilion at Taunton before lunch. The official explanation was that steam from an oven had set off the smoke detector, but the timing was fitting as Somerset’s batting lineup went up in flames once again.
It has been a dismal run for Somerset, who are staring down the prospect of a sixth consecutive loss on the back of an innings defeat away at Hampshire in the opening round. They have not won a Championship game since May 9 last year and Lachlan Stevens, who arrived in the country last week after signing a two-year contract as their new batting coach, has plenty of hard work ahead.
“It’s not where we’d like to be,” Stevens said. “Scoring under 200 in the first innings is not good enough in first-class cricket to get yourself into a position to win a game, but everyone knows that.
“There’s some really good techniques in our group and some really good batters but we’re just making some decision-making errors. I understand the frustration of the playing group and the supporters alike but all I can say is that we’ll go out there every day and keep working to try and find answers.”
There were some abject shots among Somerset’s dismissals. After tucking a pair of early boundaries through midwicket, Ben Green decided to chase a wide half-volley to give Steketee his first Essex wicket, while Steven Davies poked at a wide one from Shane Snater with his hand away from his body and his feet rooted to the crease, edging through to Adam Wheater.
Tom Lammonby was the lone source of resistance, and one of only three men to reach double figures. He had two lives, dropped at slip by Harmer and by Sam Cook off his own bowling, but played with assurance as he stood tall to thump Snater through cover and clipped Harmer wristily through midwicket. He was the ninth man out when reverse-sweeping Harmer to slip for 48; the next highest score was 15.
Cook was Essex’s best bowler on the day and appears to have dislodged Jamie Porter – rotated out of the side for this game – as the leader of their seam attack, with his first-class average hovering just above 20 after his return of 3 for 17. He bowled Matt Renshaw, Somerset’s returning overseas player, with a nip-backer which he attempted to leave alone and removed Tom Abell and Lewis Goldsworthy in the same over.
England have shown little interest in Cook despite his impressive record. He was belatedly added to the Lions tour this winter but did not play in their fixture against Australia A, with his lack of height or genuine pace appearing to count against him. Essex will not worry too much about his lack of recognition: he is remarkably consistent for them, offering no real width and nipping the ball both ways off the seam.
His namesake, Alastair, cruised past 25,000 first-class runs in Essex’s response. The vast majority of his 59 so far in this innings came through his trademark cut shot, with occasional back-foot punches through cover and clips off the pads when Somerset’s seamers looked to set him up for an lbw.
Craig Overton – relegated to first change behind Lewis Gregory and Peter Siddle, having opened the bowling for England in the Caribbean – briefly threatened to break the game open after tea with a hostile spell. “You’re f***ing kidding me,” he grumbled after Cook guided him through the cordon with an open face and his mood was not improved when Abell could only tip a tough chance at third slip over his head for four.
He pleaded for an lbw decision when Cook was hit on the shin, but eventually broke through, punching the air in relief after Abell held a thick edge from Nick Browne at the second attempt, juggling the initial chance while tumbling to his right. He had a second before stumps, as Westley strangled one down the leg side.
Overton was roared on throughout by the lone, distinctive voice of Tractor, a relentlessly positive Somerset supporter who has been dislodged from his usual bench due to renovations on Gimblett’s Hill. Even he may struggle for optimism if Somerset’s winless run goes on much longer.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98