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Cricket news - Essex keep their heads to end a mad English summer

Essex won their second championship title in three years

Essex are County Champions for the second time in three seasons. In hindsight, maybe as soon as Friday morning, the straight facts will speak of an eighth Championship won their own way.

They finish top of the pile with an 11-point cushion, one defeat out of 14 and a drawn finale against the team finishing second in which hands were shaken when Essex, 45/1, just 18 away from winning the match. But unlike in 2017 when the title was sealed with two matches to spare, anyone and everyone aligned with the club were given the fright of their lives in 90 minutes of play that saw nine of their wickets fall and, not for the first time, Somerset dare to dream.

There had only been 72.4 overs across the first three days and the optimism abound in Taunton for a positive result leading up to the fourth and final day's play seemed misguided. The county's director of cricket Andy Hurry gave such a blindly optimistic press conference on the third evening you wondered if after reminding him Somerset still needed to take 20 wickets that it would be worth mentioning Father Christmas isn't real.

There was a buzz on Thursday morning which was only tempered by a shower which meant play could only begin at 12pm, 90 minutes after the scheduled start. Around 41 minutes later, lunch was taken with Essex 35-1 after the fall of opener Nick Browne to Dom Bess.

Following the break, Sir Alastair Cook and Tom Westley combined for 67 and, more importantly, 27.4 overs. Cook registered a 114th first-class fifty inside 147 balls, one which had reduced the lead to 101. Whatever jeopardy there might have been seemed long gone.

Yet once the former England captain was dismissed to his 148th - looping a Jack Leach delivery to Tom Banton at short leg - something stirred. Cue a collapse that threatened the most outlandish of finishes.

Cook's was the first of nine wickets to fall for just 39 runs in a remarkable 18.4 over period which brought all that jeopardy right back and dragged a few more through the turnstiles in anticipation of one last hit of 2019 English summer madness. Jack Leach took five for 32, Roelof van der Merwe finished with four for 41 and, importantly, Essex were 62 short of Somerset first innings in being dismissed for 141.

With 67 minutes left of the season - 19 overs in the game's currency - Somerset skipper Tom Abell only had one hand to play. He forfeited their second innings, leaving Essex with a target of 63 for victory. It was hard not to get carried away with the roars when Somerset re-emerged in their whites just 10-minutes after the announcement. Who knows how loud they'd have risen if Murali Vijay, three balls into the final innings, had held on to a tough leg gully chance off Browne.

When the same batsman eventually fell - caught at slip by the same fielder - the jeopardy had long dissipated, like water through cupped hands. For the first time in this five-month long slog, Somerset's title dreams were unsalvageable and Essex's a reality.

It is hard to argue Ryan ten Doeschate and his side are not worthy winners. Not only have they lost just one match this campaign when the next best records have three, but that loss came in their first match of the season, against Hampshire. The same Hampshire who beat Somerset last week to give Essex the chance to leapfrog them with victory over Surrey.

There was no panic after that opening defeat, even off the back of a disappointing 2018. This is a club of robust individuals and the 13-match unbeaten run that followed was underpinned by performances all over the squad. Established names, up-and-comers and the overseas cameos all doing their bit for the greater cause.

No one has taken more than Simon Harmer's 83 wickets and, in a season tough for batting, only Warwickshire can match Essex for three batsmen tallying more than 700 runs. And just as Adam Zampa and Mohammad Amir were honoured at Finals Day on Saturday, Peter Siddle joined the celebrations in cardboard cut-out form.

Siddle's influence is just one example of their dressing room dynamic. His 34 wickets (and 227 runs) were of obvious value, but his mentoring of young quicks like Sam Cook and Aaron Beard will last longer than his on-field performances. Cook finished with 32 wickets after an immaculate 4 for 26 in the first innings of this fixture, and Beard's seven wickets against Somerset at Chelmsford in June - including a 4 for 23 which gave Essex an 85-run first innings lead - should be regarded as one of the turning points of the season.

"To have a good overseas player is one thing, to have a quality person who really buys into everything is a little bit rarer to find," said Essex captain ten Doeschate of Siddle. "We've been very lucky at Essex."

As for Somerset, they were downbeat as they walked off, runners-up for the third time in four seasons. It is a factoid that will sting the ego and do nothing to convince the diehards the universe or gods of fate are not against them. But they, too, will celebrate tonight to the service of Marcus Trescothick. Indeed, there was something rather sad that his entry into the match as a sub-fielder - a role he was unsure of two days ago - was not only a chance to give him a deserved ovation when walking on and off, but also a sign victory was finally beyond their sights.

Two years ago, Somerset were incensed by the contrivance when Middlesex and Yorkshire concocted a win-lose finish to determine the title which the former won. But there can be few complaints here. The most accomplished side have won, and there will be a shared satisfaction that all three of 2019's domestic trophies are held between both.

Four days after securing their maiden T20 Blast, an eighth Championship title means Essex are the first county to secure the both the longest and shortest form silverwares. There's a lot to be said for that.

Turning around limited-overs performances was top of the agenda when Essex convened for this summer's pre-season. But they are no strangers to the rigour of four-day cricket. Nor was the appreciation of what lies at the end of the long, winding road, especially when your time and effort is spread over so many different competitions.

"I've always said with county cricket that it's about turning up and giving your best," said ten Doeschate. "You're not going to be at your best every day, but can you turn up and try and give your best."

Experiencing this success so recently means not only do they know the high but they know the celebrations, too. And while they will celebrate well into tonight, starting with what will no doubt be a raucous bus journey back to Essex, it is tomorrow when the scale of achievement will dawn on them once they see what it means to friends, families and legends associated with Essex County Cricket Club.

"I think when you're here on the ground it doesn't really sink in," offered ten Doeschate. "The sentimental side of it really sinks in tomorrow when we see guys like Ronnie, Fletch, Goochy and our families, when everyone's around, when the whole squad is together, everyone around the club. That's when the real special moment sinks in."

Next summer's landscape is uncertain and skewed against counties like Essex and Somerset and, perhaps, this was the perfect way for the 2019 domestic season to end.

Here are two non-Test match-ground counties operating with a sense of duty to their local community while maintaining such high ambitions and standards on the field. Both a reminder the English game is fit for one and all as it is now. Especially if it is treated with respect.

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