County Championship Division One – day three

Somerset 146 & 168-3 v Surrey 485

AN unbeaten half-century from Pakistan international Azhar Ali has given Somerset a fighting chance of saving their County Championship match against Surrey in Taunton.

Ali, dropped on 30, led a recovery alongside James Hildreth (60) and Tom Abell (21*) after Surrey had removed both openers early in Somerset's follow-on, Marcus Trescothick completing an unwelcome pair.

The newly-crowned champions remain in the ascendancy after a third day regularly interrupted by bad light and occasional rain - Surey still lead by 171 - but Somerset will be determined to display some fighting spirit on their final day of cricket in Taunton this season.

Overnight rain and persistent morning drizzle combined to delay the scheduled start to the third day by 90 minutes, and it was noon by the time Somerset’s final wicket pair of Josh Davey and Jack Leach strolled out under murky skies.

The pair added 26 to the overnight score of 122-9, with Davey playing nicely off the back foot on his way to 36 – at which point he pushed at a Morne Morkel delivery outside the off stump to provide Mark Stoneman with a routine catch in the gully.

Morkel ended with 3-19 from 8.2 overs – taking his season’s tally to 54, taken at under 14 apiece – and the South African paceman was soon making inroads in Somerset’s second innings after the visitors unsurprisingly asked their hosts to bat again.

Marcus Trescothick, on a king pair, survived that particular ignominy but couldn’t see out the first over for the second time in the match as an unconvincing push forward to a length Morkel delivery led to the uprooting of the opener’s off stump.

The 42-year-old has not yet signed a contract for next season, with discussions currently taking place – a pair would not be an especially fitting way for him to bow out in front of his home crowd.

Both openers were back in the pavilion within nine balls of the follow-on, as Tom Banton was strangled down the leg side by Tom Curran the ball after hitting the seamer for four through mid-wicket.

Azhar Ali and James Hildreth combined to lead a recovery from 4-2, each driving nicely through the covers against pace and using their feet effectively against Amar Virdi’s off-breaks – to the extent that short leg became a vulnerable position when Hildreth was on strike, with Ollie Pope subject to a couple of hefty blows under the lid.

Hildreth moved to his 74th First Class half-century – from 68 balls with eight fours – as he and Ali took the score into three figures when bad light interrupted proceedings midway through the afternoon session.

The delay lasted the best part of two hours either side of tea, and Hildreth fell shortly after the resumption when he edged a full Curran delivery behind to depart for 60. The batsman will now need to score 48 runs in the season-ender at Trent Bridge next week to record 1,000 Division One runs for the season.

It could, and should, have got worse for the hosts when Azhar Ali nicked Curran to second slip, but Rikki Clarke uncharacteristically put a routine chance down to give the Pakistan international a life on 30.

Ali capitalised on his moment of fortune to move to 61 by the close, and there is a sense the length of his stay at the crease will go a long way towards determining whether Somerset can avoid defeat.

Captain Tom Abell will resume on 21 - the 24-year-old was joined in receiving his county cap in this match by Roelof van der Merwe, who was presented with his by Roy Kerslake during a presentation at lunchtime.

Speaking afterwards, Ali said: "

“Teams always feel down when you follow-on having not done well in the first innings.

“We have a very good batting line-up which still has a big challenge ahead, but we played well this afternoon. Hildy played very fluently in in a pressure situation and we got a partnership going, which we needed. Hopefully we can build on that with further partnerships tomorrow.

“It was difficult coming on and off a lot, switching on and off, but in the end we are happy with how we have finished the day.

“We spoke about showing character and resilience in these situations and everyone agreed we needed to take more responsibility.

“It has been brilliant here in Taunton. The fans have been very welcoming and I have rarely seen these kind of fans. They offer all out support – win or lose, they keep backing you and turning out to support us at the games.

“If the opportunity came up I would love to come back. The culture is really good here, it is a very good dressing room to be a part of and I have really enjoyed it. If they keep this culture going, this club will go a very long way.

“The standard is very good. You play in a lot of different conditions – sometimes it’s seaming, sometimes it’s turning, sometimes it’s nice to bat on – so it is a good challenge. All the teams have good bowlers so it has been a good test.

“There is something there [in the pitch] but if you apply yourself you can bat on it. Since the ball changed it has started to do a bit, but hopefully we can keep these partnerships going and bat long tomorrow."