|Bob Willis Trophy final, Lord’s (day three)|
|Somerset 301: Byrom 117; C Overton 66; S Cook 5-76, Harmer 2-36|
|Essex 271-6: Cook 172, Westley 51; Gregory 4-58|
|Essex trail Somerset by 30 runs|
Sir Alastair Cook made a fine 172 for Essex but a Somerset fightback left the Bob Willis Trophy final delicately poised with two days remaining.
Cook’s brilliant 67th first-class century was the mainstay of Essex’s 271-6 in reply to Somerset’s 301.
But his departure in the closing overs means Essex still trail by 30 runs with four wickets in hand.
Lewis Gregory (4-58) spearheaded Somerset’s revival in the evening session with the second new ball.
Should the match finish as a draw, the side which leads on first innings will be presented with the trophy, and that remains in the balance.
Essex looked set to finish in front at stumps as they lost just one wicket in the two sessions before tea with captain Tom Westley making 51 in a 170-run partnership for the second wicket with Cook.
But he fell to the second ball of the evening session and four more wickets fell before the close, including two in two balls for Gregory and two more in successive overs with the new ball.
Essex will resume on the fourth morning with nightwatchman Jamie Porter alongside wicketkeeper Adam Wheater with the first target for the 2019 county champions to reach 302.
Cook feasts on more career landmarks
Without question, the third day of this inaugural five-day county final belonged to former England captain Cook.
During the course of his innings, he not only registered his second century of the competition in this shortened season, but became its leading run-scorer with 532.
In a career of record-breaking feats, England’s leading Test run-scorer also moved himself further up the charts of first-class career run-scorers.
Shortly after tea, he had climbed to 141st on the all-time list, passing Steve Waugh, Ray Illingworth, Ricky Ponting and Sadiq Mohammad in the process.
Another number which may interest the cricketing statisticians is that first-class century number 67 means he has 34 to go with his 33 in Tests, 24 of which have been scored in an Essex shirt.
The left-hander’s innings was punctuated by all his trademark shots; the square cut, the leg glance, the pull and a majestic cover drive.
At times, he looked like he was batting on a different level to everyone else in the match such was his ease of scoring, especially in the afternoon session.
But as Essex were reined in by Somerset’s persistent bowling after tea, he was eventually dismissed five overs before stumps, smartly caught low down at second slip by Craig Overton off Gregory.
Departing after 289 balls, 26 fours and a stay just short of six and a half hours, it was his seventh century at Lord’s.
Unfortunately, the behind-closed-doors restrictions brought on by Covid-19, meant only a select few were able to witness it.
Close of play reaction
Essex opener Alastair Cook:
“It’s a great experience to play in any final, especially something that’s never been done before.
“It’s such a shame there’s no crowd in here for something that’s the first in our domestic first-class game and it’s been a really good match to play in so far.
“It was tough early on against the new ball and Somerset are a pretty relentless attack in their approach. But, I was happy with the way I played and it’s set the next two days up nicely.
“At one stage, we looked like reaching stumps with a healthy lead, but there’s still a lot more cricket to be played in this game, nearly 200 overs, so it’s by no means certain how it’s going to go.
On how he’s found this season with Essex:
“I’ve really enjoyed playing in this competition with this team, with lots to play for in every match and it’s been great fun.
“It’s a good club to be at right now. The changing room is a great place to be around, the team is strong and we’re winning a lot of games, so that definitely helps.
“I’ve not given too much consideration into how many more seasons I’ll keep playing. I’ve said before I will definitely play all of next season and then we’ll see what happens.
“It will be good to get crowds back in and get a full season next year, but we don’t know obviously at this point what will happen.
“When I retired from Test cricket, I was a bit scared as it’s a big hole to fill in your life. You have to work a lot on setting up what comes next and so far, I’m enjoying what I’m doing right now playing for Essex.”
Somerset seamer Lewis Gregory:
“Today was a real test for the boys after having been fantastic with the ball in every match leading up to this.
“The wicket was quite slow and Alastair showed his class. It was one of those days where we couldn’t get him out early.
“I thought we bowled really well first up. A couple of edges fell short of the slips and then he just did what he’s done for a long time, he churned out the runs and unfortunately for us, he showed why he’s still one of the best.
“It was nice to see the back of him before the end of the day for sure and hopefully we can get a couple more wickets early in the morning to get a lead.
“Hopefully, the first 30 minutes will go in our favour and we can build from there.”