Somerset spinners weave web

Somerset 366 and 105-3 Nottinghamshire 479
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A WASHED sunlit evening and clear blue sky provided a pleasant contrast to a cold grey morning yesterday that brought just 69 runs in the 44 overs bowled before lunch. Had it not been for the respite from one political party's interminable internal clamouring, or the fascination of two Somerset spinners weaving a web of constraint around Nottinghamshire's batsmen, it could have been a dour morning.

With neither side anywhere near full strength, and only 242 runs scored all day, it would be stretching the imagination to say the cricket was of a high standard.

Indeed, at times it was hard to see any result other than a draw emanating tomorrow without some meeting of minds between the captains. Happily, however, there will always be Mushtaq Ahmed's multiple choice of wrist spin for Nottinghamshire to answer when they have a target to chase.

Incapacitated by a flu virus on Friday, when Tim Robinson and Paul Pollard launched Nottinghamshire's reply with a double century stand, the little Pakistani fairly fizzed and whizzed yesterday. He had the Nottinghamshire middle and lower order running the gamut of emotions from anxiety to agony. Leg spin, top spin, googlies - Mushtaq laid all his wares on the table, providing such a menu that the batsmen never knew what to pick. From the Radcliffe Road End, meanwhile, Harvey Trump was harnessing his off-spin to the breeze blowing diagonally across the ground and offering the batsmen not an inch.

Having resumed yesterday at 342 for three, Nottinghamshire would have felt that their eventual lead on first innings of 113 was well under par on a lovely batting strip complemented by a dry, fast outfield.

With two destructive stroke makers in residence in Paul Johnson and Chris Cairns, they would have been looking for a lead of more than double that to give their injury-weakened attack time and runs to bowl out Somerset a second time. Instead, they lost Johnson to an airy push to midwicket in the third over of the day, and the innings stalled.

Cairns quickly settled, and certainly read Mushtaq better than the Salford University graduate Jon Wileman. Cairns's footwork against Trump left him ideally balanced to drive off either foot, and a brace of cover boundaries in a Mushtaq over temporarily raised the siege. Wileman's drive at Mushtaq that gave an edged catch to the wicketkeeper was born of desperation - though, that said, there was also a careless touch to Cairns's dollied sweep to fine leg.

A useful stand of 34 between Wayne Noon and the 18-year-old Usman Afzaal, followed by some good, firm hitting from Andy Pick and Jimmy Hindson, ensured that the innings did not tamely fade away. Afzaal, a solidly built left hander and, as he showed in the evening, a quickish-looking slow- left-arm bowler, batted with developing confidence in only his second Championship match, while Noon was quick footed and composed against the spinners. Both were victims to the new ball and Jason Kerr.

Losing Mark Lathwell as early as the eighth over set Somerset back, the opener misjudging Bobby Chapman's line and not playing a shot. With Peter Bowler establishing himself in his inimitable way, however, Somerset was slowly putting the game on level pegging when Richard Harden's needless reverse sweep gave Nottinghamshire a marginal advantage.