Sir Alastair Cook took centre stage by striking a superb 172 for Essex on day three of the Bob Willis Trophy final before a late rally from Somerset, at Lord’s.
Cook struck 26 fours off 289 balls to drive Essex to 271-6 in reply to Somerset’s first innings of 301 all out – the former England captain sharing a second-wicket stand of 170 with skipper Tom Westley (51).
Somerset rallied with three wickets for 11 in the third session – Lewis Gregory impressing with 4-58 – to set up an intriguing fourth day with just 30 runs separating the sides.
Cook, who scored 1,937 Test runs at Lord’s including four centuries, looked largely immovable against an attack who laid waste to their rivals in the group stage of this competition.
The average first-innings total against Somerset in the five previous matches was just 119 and the average time needed to bowl the opposition out was just over 46 overs.
Cook single-handedly went past both figures, batting with freedom and elegance – peppering the cover boundary with ease at times – and by the time he left the field, he had surpassed his previous best at Lord’s of 162 against New Zealand in 2015.
Craig Overton and Josh Davey had started well, putting both Cook and Nick Browne on alert in the first 10 overs. Browne edged Overton’s first ball of the day just short of slip, with Cook hitting fresh air with a couple of wafts outside off stump.
On two separate occasions, Overton bellowed in frustration as Cook hung on, once just clearing gully and then nicking in front of the cordon. It took a change of bowling and a change of angle – Lewis Gregory going round the wicket and getting Browne caught at slip for a scratchy eight.
Cook soon bedded down, though, serving notice of what was to come by punching Gregory for a pair of sweet hits through cover, with him and Westley seeing the score to 79 at lunch.
They made hay in the afternoon session, adding another 117 without being parted. Westley was fortunate to survive a huge back-pad lbw shout from Gregory on 30 but Cook was in his element. He contributed the lion’s share of their partnership – contributing 64 in the 100 stand and 99 in the 150.
Somerset’s attack was beginning to look a touch one-paced and it took 47 overs for Tom Abell to introduce spinner Jack Leach, who did not play at all despite 10 weeks in the England Test bubble this summer.
He served Cook a loopy full toss on 97, with the 35-year-old gratefully clubbing it through point before raising his bat to the pavilion.
Westley followed to 50 just before tea, before giving his wicket away with a loose flick off Tom Lammonby.
Gregory then had the dangerous Dan Lawrence caught cheaply on the pull and removed Paul Walter for a golden duck.
Somerset enjoyed further success when Ryan ten Doeschate succumbed to Overton with the new ball and they finally prised Cook out when the left-hander steered Gregory from round the wicket to Overton at second slip.
As part of the final, which comes nine months after Bob Willis died from Prostate Cancer, the cricket network has joined forces with Prostate Cancer UK to raise awareness and support for the charity and the significant work it does.
Prostate cancer will affect one in eight men in the UK at some point in their lives, with that statistic rising to one in four for black men. It is now the most commonly-diagnosed cancer in the UK – with men aged over 45 in the ‘most at-risk category’ – to reinforce the need for action. Fans can donate £10 to Prostate Cancer UK by texting BOB to 70004.
This month, Prostate Cancer UK launched a new online risk checker, when men and their families can find out if they are at increased risk of the disease and what steps they can take. The checker is on the Prostate Cancer UK website: www.prostatecanceruk.org
Watch day four from 10.30am on the Sky Sports Cricket YouTube channel!