Somerset 192 (Gregory 64*, Maharaj 4-65, Onons 3-40) and 77 (Maharaj 7-37, Onions 3-28) tied with Lancashire 99 (Leach 5-28) and 170 (Croft 51, Leach 7-74)
Well, bugger me, as they are wont to say in these parts. On the day when Somerset were threatened with a loss of points by ECB sanction the county's cricketers did the job themselves by failing to chase down 78 to beat Lancashire. Just before 4.30pm on one of Taunton's last blue afternoons of the year, with a mere run needed for victory, last man Jack Leach swung Keshav Maharaj to Tom Bailey at deep midwicket. Lancashire's newest cap would scarcely be human had he not experienced a flutter of nerves but he clutched the chance comfortably and soon disappeared beneath a ziggurat of sweating team-mates. They had got away with it.
Yes, Somerset had needed one run to win and Leach had slogged it to the only man in the deep field. A couple of overs earlier, also with the scores tied, Dom Bess had been stumped for 18 when gallivanting down the wicket to Maharaj. They are generous folk in this county but this was carrying largesse too far. Both counties collected 11 points for their efforts but while such a return may be enough to keep Lancashire clear of the relegation places, they are surely not sufficient to sustain Somerset's Championship challenge. This was the tie that felt like a defeat.
But in truth a close finish had been likely since the fourth over of Somerset's innings when Graham Onions dismissed Marcus Trescothick and Azhar Ali with successive deliveries. Onions was the little-lauded hero of a match in which 25 wickets fell to the spinners. He later trapped Steven Davies leg before and his 18 runs off eight balls had earlier done a little to give his side the paltry total they defended.
Maharaj, by contrast, will be praised throughout Lancashire and his signing hailed as a masterstroke. Bowling unchanged from the River End, his left-arm spin extracted every scrap of bounteous turn and erratic bounce that this much scrutinised pitch had to offer. Earlier in the day Leach had taken 7 for 74 to finish the game with career-best match figures of 12 for 102. Now Maharaj bowled equally tightly to take seven more and wickets fell in the sort of tumble that sends dressing rooms into a blind panic of chucked pads and foul oaths.
James Hildreth, foolishly, it must be admitted, made room to cut and lost his middle stump. Tom Abell strayed out of his ground for a moment and was smartly stumped by Dane Vilas. That made it 20 for 4, a score to prompt worried glances in the Ondaatje Pavilion. Surely they could get 78. No, they couldn't. Davies went, and then Ben Green, who had battled for nearly an hour on his debut, nicked Maharaj to Karl Brown at second slip. Tea was taken on 52 for 6 but many spectators needed something stronger than bergamot.
On the resumption Lewis Gregory and Bess seemed to be edging Somerset home. Singles were cheered with the enthusiasm hitherto reserved for victories. Then Gregory was leg before on the front foot for 12. Eight runs later Craig Overton departed in like fashion. Jeremy Lloyds, nobly putting aside his love for this county, gave both decisions: 64 for 8. Bess and Jamie Overton revived the pursuit with singles and the occasional boundary which Somerset supporters willed to the rope. Suddenly just a single was needed. Now keep your heads, murmured spectators.
A few minutes later those same spectators were coming to terms with Somerset's first tie since 1939 and Lancashire's first since 1952; it was the first in the Championship since 2003. In the history of first-class cricket, 1968 teams have been set 78 or fewer to win a game in the fourth innings. Only eight had failed to do so. Now there is a ninth.
Of course, when the story of this day is written the fall of Lancashire's last eight wickets cannot take top billing. Yet as he recovered his scrambled wits and addressed the press Liam Livingstone admitted that Steven Croft's half-century had been vital in giving his team hope. Livingstone, himself, had whacked six fours and a couple of sixes in his own innings of 39 but when he was caught at backward point, looking to hit over midwicket instead of straight down the ground, Lancashire were on course for an innings defeat. It was Croft's stubbornness in battling it out for two hours against Leach, and then Danny Lamb's useful unbeaten 20, that had given Lancashire the lead few thought they could defend, even on a pitch offering lavish turn.
Ah yes, the pitch. It may be that greater punishment awaits Somerset should the Cricket Liaison Officer, Dean Cosker, decide that the wicket prepared for this game was below average. Such a judgement would instigate a further enquiry and, since it would be Somerset's second such transgression in less than a year, it may lead to points being docked. Livingstone, unsurprisingly, was in no doubt. Last weekend Lancashire's captain played in two club games as part of his recovery and he declared that the pitch in each of them was better than the surface prepared for this game
The ECB will receive Cosker's report and very soon we shall find out if Leach's fine bowling in the second innings counts for anything more than the considerable satisfaction it afforded to those who witnessed it. It seems at least likely that there will be enquiries, tribunals, judgements, appeals. The county of Coleridge seems too glorious a setting for Jarndyce v Jarndyce but there we are.
This evening a further loss of points may not concern Abell and his players too much. They have been through one of cricket's great wringers. But maybe there was an unfortunate portent for Somerset supporters. This morning it was discovered that a judge had travelled from Lancashire to watch this game in Taunton. We wondered, for a moment, if he'd brought his wig with him and what he knew that we didn't. One doubts he retained his judicial composure as Somerset collapsed. If he did, m'lud was on his own.
There was a deep silence at Taunton after the players had left the field this evening. The bowed heads in the Marcus Trescothick Stand signalled more than a lost opportunity. They bade farewell to the precious pennant that early in the summer had seemed within reach. And some men wondered aloud if they will ever see it fluttering above this great ground.