Seventy-eight runs in the day from Sir Alastair Cook added a much needed sense of calm to the Essex batting to guide them to a second County Championship title in three years after Somerset briefly threatened to pull off the most almighty of comebacks.

With Essex resuming the day on 25-0 still in their first innings, Somerset needed to take 19 wickets for less than 178 runs to win the title. After the start was delayed by an 90 minutes, Somerset’s prospects were as bleak as this week’s Taunton weather. Cook, partnered first by Nick Browne and then Tom Westley, looked in relative ease at the crease compared to the other 21 players to have batted in this match. Aside from one delivery from Jack Leach that ought to have been given lbw, he was in control on a surface that has offered significant turn throughout. Even by 2019’s standards, a Somerset win would have been truly extraordinary.

But after Cook departed a ball after he reached his half-century, the wheels came off for Essex in spectacular fashion. Nine Essex wickets fell for 39 runs in a just over an hour as Somerset roared back into the match and opened up the possibility of securing what would surely have been the most drastic turnaround of 2019. Leach finished with figures of 25-9-32-5 as Somerset still clung on to a glimmer of hope with an hour of the season to go.

Tom Abell forfeited the Somerset second innings meaning that the equation was simple. Somerset needed 10 wickets, Essex needed either to survive or score the 63 runs Somerset left them to win. The key to Essex’s first innings collapse was the dismissal of Cook. Get Cook and Somerset might have had a chance. But it wasn’t to be. Suddenly, the pitch looked manageable for batsmen again and soon the added energy that the Essex collapse gave the Somerset players and fans like faded away.

With Essex virtually sure of securing the title, there was a touching moment when Marcus Trescothick was summoned onto the field as a substitute fielder for his last moments as a professional cricketer. He was greeted onto the pitch by a rapturous round of applause by the grateful for Somerset crowd and his presence seemed to have some sort of effect on proceedings as Browne edged one straight to Murali Vijay two balls after he took the field.

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But as Taunton bade farewell to one of its finest players, it was another ex-England opener born on Christmas Day who ultimately decided the fate of this year’s County Championship. For all the talk of both side’s spinners, it was the best player of spin bowling that made the decisive contribution on day four, his 78 runs in the day that settled Essex nerves and guided them to a deserved eighth County Championship title.