A BELOW-PAR Somerset batting display ensured Essex had the better of day one at the Cooper Associates County Ground.
Peter Trego top-scored with 48 as Somerset were dismissed for 209, a deficit Essex had reduced to just 149 by the close as Alastair Cook led their impressive response to 60/2.
Having won his first toss as Somerset captain, Tom Abell chose to bat on a used pitch that, initially, caused few problems for opening pair Marcus Trescothick and Dean Elgar.
The 41-year-old treated the excellent crowd of over 2,000 to a couple of vintage drives in the first hour as he and Elgar settled in and added 52 for the first wicket.
Spin was introduced into the visiting attack in just the 12th over, but it was the other bowling change that produced the breakthrough as Ravi Bopara found Trescothick’s edge and Alastair Cook held a fine low catch at first slip.
The same duo combined to dismiss Abell, who made just a single before nicking a Bopara delivery to the former England captain. Cook did not take the catch altogether cleanly and initially the Somerset captain stood his ground, but the dismissal stood and Abell was forced to depart.
Elgar dug in and was joined by James Hildreth, who looked in fluent touch as he helped himself to several boundaries before the lunch interval, while the South African launched his fellow countryman Simon Harmer into the Colin Atkinson Pavilion for the first maximum of the campaign – six of just 11 runs the spinner conceded from his 10 overs in the morning session.
Somerset’s hundred was brought up by a savage pull to the boundary by Hildreth in the 33rd over, but he lost the company of Elgar shortly afterwards when the opener was beaten by the flight of an Ashar Zaidi delivery and found himself stumped.
Hildreth then fell in frustrating fashion himself just three overs later after falling into an Essex trap, with the 32-year-old’s hook from a Porter short ball landing straight down Bopara’s throat at deep fine leg.
Debutant Steve Davies and Lewis Gregory followed in quick succession to leave Somerset wobbling on 143/6 and, though Roelof van der Merwe and Peter Trego began to rebuild, the former was pinned bang in front by Zaidi just before tea to cap a disappointing session for the hosts.
Trego resumed after the interval two short of becoming the first Somerset player to reach 50, but fell almost instantly as he top edged a sweep off Harmer which was well caught by a sprawling Zaidi, who found himself heavily involved in much of the first day.
The all-rounder’s departure left the home side 12 runs short of a batting point, but the tail wagged just enough to see Somerset over 200 – a landmark that was sealed by four byes and greeted with cheers from the crowd, many of whom would have been frustrated by the overall batting efforts of the home side.
The innings was wrapped up by the dismissal of the Overton twins, with Jamie clean bowled for three having a heave at Zaidi and Craig caught by wicketkeeper Adam Wheater after sending a Wagner bouncer high into the air to leave Somerset all out for 209.
Essex’s reply was interrupted after just two overs by bad light, but Craig Overton made the much-needed breakthrough upon the resumption when he clean bowled Nick Browne for 11.
Cook made serene progress for the rest of the evening, however, easing his way to 37 – including seven fours – as the visitors closed the day on 60/2, with van der Merwe’s late dismissal of Westley giving Somerset a late boost on what was, overall, a rather flat opening day.