Somerset may not have proved the force they expected to be after being installed as pre-season favourites for the County Championship but they are not yet out of the race.
Yesterday, in a match that had seen the first two innings yield 1,079 runs, Worcestershire capitulated for a mere 95 as Somerset beat them by an innings and eight runs at New Road, cementing fourth place in the First Division table, with the gap between themselves and leaders Durham down to 23 points.
Last year's unlucky runners-up, who have attracted criticism at times this season for adopting cautious tactics, must have worried they had let an opportunity slip against one of their weaker rivals when they closed day three with a slender lead of 99.
But weather conditions in Worcester had changed markedly following overnight rain, with the sunshine of the first two days giving way to a gloomy, overcast sky, and the humid atmosphere seemed to work in Somerset's favour, combined with a wearing pitch that offered help to their seamers and some turn for spinner Murali Kartik to exploit.
Somerset knew nonetheless, that early wickets were vital if the home side, whose first-innings 488 had been their best effort of the season, were not to ease their way to a draw. The start, then, could hardly have been better, as Steve Kirby struck with the eighth delivery of the morning, which Matt Pardoe edged to second slip.
It was not long before Vikram Solanki was joining him back in the dressing room after another nick, this time pouched by Marcus Trescothick, after Peter Trego had taken over from Charl Willoughby in the Somerset attack.
Daryl Mitchell and Moeen Ali attempted to restore order, the latter's form buoyed by a splendid 158 in the first innings, but when Ali top-edged a pull off Alfonso Thomas, wicketkeeper Craig Kieswetter steadying himself to take the catch, it sparked a run of three wickets in 12 balls for one run. Kartik bowled Jack Manuel, who failed to dig out a ball that hardly bounced, and then Thomas claimed his second success of the first hour when Gareth Andrew edged to Kieswetter.
Thomas saw off Alexei Kervezee and after Mitchell perished to another one that kept low, this time facing Trego, Worcestershire's lunchtime position of 84 for 7 looked untenable.
It took only 20 minutes after lunch for Somerset to wrap up a second successive win. Trego picked up two more wickets to finish with 4 for 22 before Kartik completed the task by bowling Alan Richardson.
Somerset's quest for a first Championship title in their history failed on the last day of last season, when Nottinghamshire, with whom they finished level on points, prevailed because their victory over Lancashire at Old Trafford gave them the edge by virtue of having one more win.
The West Countrymen added Kirby and Gemaal Hussain to their bowling resources over the winter but have suffered through losing all-rounder Zander de Bruyn to Surrey and because the clever seamer Thomas has been missing either through his Indian Premier League commitments or injury.
But with him back on board and Trescothick in commanding form – his double hundred here took him past 1,600 Championship runs for the season – they can again push for the title. Four of their last five matches are at home – the last one against the side currently in second place, Lancashire.
Worcestershire, meanwhile, after looking briefly capable of pulling away from the bottom two following a couple of wins at home, again face the prospect of being relegated after only one season in the top division.Reuse content