Half-centuries from Craig Overton, Roelof van der Merwe, Lewis Gregory and Jim Allenby batted Somerset into a strong position on the third day of the Specsavers County Championship match with Hampshire at the Cooper Associates County Ground, Taunton.
By the close the hosts had reached 534 for seven having begun the day on 257 for five, and led by 196 on a pitch still offering turn and occasional bounce for the spinners.
Overton and van der Merwe were unbeaten on 97 and 91 respectively with their unbroken eighth wicket stand worth 164 and Hampshire were looking at a last day survival mission.
After morning drizzle had forced an early lunch, play got underway at 1pm with Allenby unbeaten on 37. He went on to a 116-ball half century before the second new ball was taken at 291 for five. Nine runs had been added when Allenby, on 56, looked to pull a leg-side bouncer from Ryan McLaren and either edged or gloved a catch to wicketkeeper Lewis McManus.
Gregory and van der Merwe were soon making further inroads into Hampshire’s first innings total with Gregory hitting seven fours in moving to a handsome fifty off 79 deliveries. The pair were almost involved in a run out with the score on 302, first both racing in one direction and then the other after van der Merwe had called for a quick single. Sadly for Hampshire, the ball was fumbled and they failed to capitalise.
It proved costly as Somerset moved on to 370 before Gregory edged a drive to slip off leg-spinner Mason Crane and departed for 61.
Overton survived a chance to first slip off David Wainwright early in his innings, but in general the Hampshire spinners lacked the consistency in line and length to profit from the dry surface. There were no more opportunities as van der Merwe reached his half-century off 78 balls, with two fours and two sixes, and Overton followed from 93 deliveries, with five fours and a six.
It was van der Merwe’s best First Class score for Somerset and Overton’s best of the season. By the time bad light interrupted play at 4.50pm both were batting with consummate ease.
A resumption at 5.35pm saw Overton smash Will Smith for 4,4,6,6 in an over that cost the off-spinner 21.
Hampshire looked likely to be spared more fireworks when the umpires decided the light was too poor after just three of the 15 overs they had decreed were left in the day. However at 6.10pm the players took to the field again, with six overs due to be bowled. When their stand reached 132, Overton and van der Merwe claimed a Somerset record partnership for the eighth wicket against Hampshire, beating the 131 stand of Ernie Robson and Lionel Palairet at Southampton in 1896.
The day ended strangely as van der Merwe summoned the twelfth man onto the field with four overs to go. As they were talking, the umpires decided no further play would be possible.
At the end of a day Craig Overton who had ended unbeaten on 97 said: “The light wasn’t great out there but we tried to make the most of it and putting on those runs at the end was quite crucial. Hopefully it gives us a chance to bowl them out tomorrow. This is a bit of a special game for me having been awarded my County Cap on the opening day so hopefully I might get back out there long enough to get a 100 in the morning. If not, that’s just the way it goes and I have just got to knuckle down and help to bowl them out.
“It was all about getting runs for the team in those last few overs which is what we did, so I feel quite happy. There may be an overnight declaration but if that’s the way it goes then that’s the way it goes but we have both contributed to the team. It’s not about what I want, it’s about contributing to a winning team.”
Roelof van der Merwe, who ended the day 91 not out said: “This innings is definitely up there as far as my contributions to Somerset because at the start of the day it was still in the balance. However I think we have played well today and batted for long periods of time without them getting wickets. I think that we are very pleased with where we are in this game going into the last day.
“If the captain allows us to go out there in the morning then we will do that but for us it’s about winning the game and we will want to bowl tomorrow morning if we want to take 10 wickets, which is our priority at the end of the day. There was a bit of turn on day one and I think that the spinners will play a large part in the game on the last day, so we will be looking to get those 10 wickets. It’s been nice to contribute in the way I have and tomorrow we will be looking for the win because we need the points.