The Bob Willis Trophy final – a bit like big Bob’s run-up – got off to a stuttering start. Only 44 overs were possible and during that time Essex took the initiative thanks to the discipline of Jamie Porter and Sam Cook, stalwart opening bowlers who allow few liberties.
When play was abandoned for the day Somerset were hanging on at 119 for four. Given this is a five-day match and the forecast is improving the loss of half a day should not prevent one side from winning. Essex are the favourites to do that.
Somerset, as ever, omitted their England off-spinner from their squad, which means Dom Bess has played his last game for the county before he heads to Yorkshire next summer. Meanwhile Jack Leach embarked on his second game of the season and he will be in pursuit of his first wicket, a strange set of circumstances. For their part Essex recalled Nick Browne to open the batting and preferred Paul Walter to Feroze Khushi.
With constant cloud cover correctly predicted, it was no surprise that Tom Westley should opt to bowl first. The playing surface was in the middle of a square underused for the first time in decades and it is probably more benign to batsmen than most of those encountered by Essex and Somerset throughout a competition where batsmen have generally struggled for runs, especially against the two bowling attacks on duty at Lord’s.
There was not much pace in the pitch but it was dank and difficult out there and Somerset, minus the services of James Hildreth, who has a hamstring strain and Tom Banton, who is in Dubai on Indian Premier League duty, have an inexperienced lineup.
Tom Lammonby has a burgeoning reputation after two centuries this summer but here he was lbw to Sam Cook without scoring, attempting to drive on the leg side in the second over of the day. Ben Green, another converted opener from Exeter, grafted away alongside Tom Abell, who at 26 has suddenly been elevated to being the linchpin of the batting lineup. But neither could recover the initiative.
Abell unveiled a couple of crisp drives before he was caught down the leg side off Aaron Beard via the inside edge and his thigh pad. The ball looped way wide of Adam Wheater who took a fine catch at full stretch. Soon after Green was bowled through the gate by Cook.
The only time that Somerset threatened was just before lunch when Eddie Byrom struck four crisp boundaries in the space of 10 balls, which took the score to 90 for three at the interval. Thereafter the rain kept intervening.
Forty-five minutes play was possible in the afternoon session when Essex regained control. Cook and Porter were miserly, the ball started to dart around and the sense of batsmen being entrapped heightened. Maiden over followed maiden over and in the modern game such a passage of play often leads to a wicket. Before long George Bartlett drove against Cook (Sam) and edged to Cook (Sir Alastair) at first slip and Somerset were faltering at 94 for four.
However Byrom stood firm alongside Steven Davies in between the showers. When he drove Porter straight for four he reached 50 from 82 deliveries. This was his highest score of the summer and his most timely. He has kept Somerset in a game that promises much. It may be a slow burner on a slow track but, despite the absence of spectators and the dodgy weather, there was an intensity about the play that would surely have left big Bob nodding with approval.