Essex

Alastair Cook defies Jack Leach to guide Essex to County Championship title

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Essex secured their second County Championship title in three seasons on a thrilling final day of the English season.

It was a fitting climax to what has been an unrelentingly exciting English season, featuring the greatest Cricket World Cup final of all time, a barnstorming half-dozen of Test matches, including, perhaps, the greatest of all time at Headingley, and too many last-ball finishes to count.

At the start of the final day at Taunton, such drama seemed unlikely. Somerset needed a win to take the title off their Chelmsford counterparts, and with rain having taken plenty of time out of the game, that meant they required 20 wickets in three sessions, with only a first innings score of 203 in the bank.

When rain took some time out of the day, and Sir Alastair Cook, England’s leading Test run-scorer, grafted to his 114th first-class half-century, it looked unlikelier still. But when he fell, the rest of Essex soon followed in an extraordinary collapse of 31/9 in 18.5 overs, England’s incumbent Test spinner Jack Leach finishing with figures of 5/32.

Suddenly, with just over an hour left in the day and leading by 62 runs, Somerset had a sniff, and forfeited their third innings in a desperate attempt to force a result. They had the momentum, but in their way stood Cook, who belied the pressure and a sharply turning surface with another key hand, and hands were shaken with eight minutes left in the day, Cook unbeaten, and Somerset still needing nine more wickets.

Cook, who hung his boots from Test cricket at the end of the 2018 season, said he was going to continue playing for Essex at least another season, avoiding the temptation to bow out on a high. "I've had a few texts this week actually, saying 'if you win the league is that it', but I've promised Tendo (Ryan ten Doeschate) I'll be playing for another year at least," Cook was quoted as saying by BBC.

There was at least time for Somerset and England legend Marcus Trescothick to take to the field one last time, fielding at short gully, on his knees, as the West Country side tried in vain to secure a maiden Championship triumph. It wasn’t to be, but the ovation he got, and the tributes given to him by his team-mates and opponents, showed that his was an impact that went beyond silverware and runs.

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