Somerset 196 (J Overton 52*, Maharaj 7-52) and 159 for 4 (Banton 58*, Abell 53) trail Yorkshire 520 by 165 runs
If he plays many more tricks upon them, Somerset will begin to suspect that Keshav Maharaj has emerged from the underworld of Annwn which is said to exist beneath the magical hollow of Glastonbury Tor. The inhabitants of Annwn were thought to be hellish creatures capable of torturing Somerset souls and, with their chances of a first Championship at stake, Maharaj is doing precisely that.
Assuming Essex bowl out Warwickshire on the final day at Chelmsford, Somerset will lose the leadership of Division One if they go down at Headingley and will go into the Vitality Blast four points behind with four matches to play. At 159 for 4 at the close, still 165 runs behind, defeat is all but inevitable. Maharaj, the South African left-arm spinner with 25 Tests to his name, is the prime reason for that.
Maharaj has only played twice against Somerset and he can’t stop taking wickets. He finished with match figures of 11 for 102 at Taunton last September, influencing a tie against Lancashire which confirmed what everybody had long suspected, that the title would be heading to Surrey. This time, having exchanged red rose for white, he is haunting Somerset in Yorkshire’s colours after returning 7 for 52 in their first innings as they followed on 324 behind.
In truth, though, Maharaj’s game is not based on magic, but precisely the opposite: method. He tries to close down the game when he bowls and open it up when he bats. The result is that Yorkshire have temporary use of a very serviceable cricketer.
This is supposedly Maharaj’s last of three matches but the likelihood is that Yorkshire will seek a further engagement before the end of the season, allowing for South Africa commitments as September draws on. That would again be tough luck on James Logan, Yorkshire’s 21-year-old homegrown slow left-armer, who took 4 for 22 against Warwickshire at York last month in only his second first-class game, but this Yorkshire attack is in transition and in such circumstances the dependability that Maharaj offers is a valuable asset.
Somerset had lost four wickets cheaply overnight and Maharaj had two of them. He claimed all four wickets before lunch, the first three in the space of four overs. Observed in isolation, all four deliveries essentially ran straight on and carried limited potency, but the devilry was in the detail because he had turned enough from an insistent line, supported by a cluster of close fielders, to persuade Somerset’s batsmen to play for non-existent turn. His arm ball is going well.
Maharaj began by trapping James Hildreth lbw for 37 in the fifth over of the day. Dom Bess fell in identical fashion and Craig Overton was bowled through the gate by a quicker delivery. By lunch, the left-handed Steve Davies had followed, Maharaj having him caught at slip from around the wicket. An arm ball did for Tim Groenewald and last man Jack Brooks, treated to some light-hearted repartee by his former colleagues, did fall to slight turn and was caught at second slip.
Jamie Overton, who strikes you as the sort of giant who would come in handy when battling the Annwn underworld, resisted at No. 9 for an unbeaten 52 from 69 balls. He launched Maharaj for sixes over long-off and long-on with aplomb, taking 18 runs off nine deliveries from the spinner while the rest of Somerset’s side managed 34 off 150 balls, essentially rendered strokeless.
“I just to tried to stay leg-side of it and keep my pads out of the way because the dangerous ball is the one that’s going to get you lbw,” he said, reasonably enough. “I was also trying to score because if you sit in there’s always one with your name on it.”
Jamie Overton’s appearance at the crease traditionally signals the potential for short-term carnage, but he is capable of adding a run or two to his first-class average of 16 before he is finished. Most personally satisfying was probably the way he slapped Duanne Olivier for a six after soaking up a blow on the body. You get the sense from the length that he bowls that if Olivier does not hit a batsman at least once during the day mythology insists he will die before the morning.
With 57 overs to survive, an equally pallid display could conceivably have seen Somerset lose in three days, but Somerset fared a little better second time around, largely due to a solid opening stand of 89 in 30 overs between Tom Abell and Azhar Ali.
Matthew Fisher removed them both. Fisher’s pace seems down on recent seasons as he concentrates on building a sequence of matches and avoiding the injuries that have plagued him since he burst on to the scene as a 15-year-old. But his skill levels were high as he held up a delivery to have Abell caught at the wicket and two overs later cut one back sharply to have Azhar Ali lbw.
In between, there had been much West Country head shaking as Hildreth, normally the most trusted player of spin bowling, followed up an urge to hit R Ashwin out of the ground last week by seeking to do likewise to Maharaj, his attempted blow over long-on dropping into the off side. A partial recovery followed from Tom Banton and George Bartlett, but although Banton lifted Somerset spirits with three dismissive pulls against Olivier in one over, it was Maharaj to have the last word – his ninth wicket of the match – as he tossed up a turning delivery outside off stump for Bartlett to edge weakly to slip.
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