Blackwell hits maiden century

When Ian Blackwell was cruising towards an untroubled century yesterday morning it was hard to believe that he had not reached a first-class 70 before, never mind three figures. Admittedly this perfect Taunton strip would probably not yield a result in eight days, let alone the maximum of eight sessions that the weather has permitted. But 22-year-old Blackwell, who rejected a chance to stay at Derby in favour of Somerset, looks like being one of the West-Country club's shrewder signings.

When Ian Blackwell was cruising towards an untroubled century yesterday morning it was hard to believe that he had not reached a first-class 70 before, never mind three figures. Admittedly this perfect Taunton strip would probably not yield a result in eight days, let alone the maximum of eight sessions that the weather has permitted. But 22-year-old Blackwell, who rejected a chance to stay at Derby in favour of Somerset, looks like being one of the West-Country club's shrewder signings.

He was hired principally for his left-arm spin. Although he has not proved to be a mystery man with the ball, his batting has given him the nod this year in preference to Somerset's other imported spinner, Adrian Pierson. Blackwell, his hair dyed blond for some reason only apparent to the very young, is of Andrew Flintoff's build and appetite, and wields a similarly heavy blade.

He reached his maiden hundred in 129 balls, and it included a huge pull for six off Scott Boswell, as close to a round-arm bowler as any quickie on the circuit. Blackwell was rightly annoyed when, with lunch in view and endless runs to be plucked, he tugged lazily at an innocuous ball from Darren Maddy and was caught at mid-wicket.

While Durham and Hampshire, locked in the basement of the First Division, were willing to gamble on a manufactured result at Chester-le-Street, the two sides at Taunton are settled in the mid-table comfort zone. A handful of bonus points and four more for the draw will do nicely. Somerset secured their fifth point just before lunch, and declared at the interval.

In the afternoon it was Maddy's turn to have fun with the bat, in alliance with Ben Smith. Without Andy Caddick, Somerset's hopes of enforcing a follow-on were slim, and they shrank steadily. Maddy was granted a life on 12, though, when he pulled a Steffan Jones long hop to Jamie Grove at square leg. Grove was to gain revenge with an lbw decision, but by that time Maddy had added a further 90, unhurried runs. On such an afternoon of easy plunder Darren Stevens, caught behind for a duck, was almost comically distraught.

* Hampshire kept alive their slim chances of staying in the First Division with a win over Durham at Chester-le-Street. The captains agreed to play for a result in a rain-affected match and Hampshire made light of a target of 291 in 91 overs. With Will Kendall making 119, they eased home by six wickets with 13.5 overs to spare.

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